Category Archives: Business and Technology

Book review: Trampled By Unicorns

Book cover Trampled By Unicorns: Big Tech's Empathy Problem And How To Fix It by Maëlle Gavet

In case you haven’t noticed, the big tech companies continue to grow in power. That growth is allowing them to not only generate massive amounts of wealth for investors but also shape society. When I say big tech, I’m not just referring to the public companies that make up what is known as the FAANG group of stocks that includes Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and of which I would also include Microsoft. My definition of big tech also includes privately held companies known as “unicorns”, companies that have rapidly went from zero to $1,000,000,000 valuations such as Nextdoor, Udemy, Instacart, SpaceX, Stripe, and the like.

As someone who works in technology, it’s great to see companies in this space have success. However, that success has not come without controversy. The more we learn about how these companies operate, how they make money, and how they exploit their users, the more we should be concerned about the impact they have on the world around us. It’s a multi-faceted problem that Maëlle Gavet explores in her book Trampled by Unicorns: Big Tech’s Empathy Problem And How To Fix It.

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Ruthless efficiency

Efficiency, for lack of a better word, is good. Efficiency allows a business to optimize resources. Optimizing resources leads to lower costs and higher profits, which are the foundations of a market economy. Therefore, pursuing efficiency should be a goal of business.

Pursuing efficiency is all well and good until the drive to optimize crosses a line. That line where the benefits of efficiency are no longer distributed equally, resulting in higher levels of inequality between the have’s and have-not’s. At that point, we’ve entered the realm of ‘ruthless efficiency.’ The point where there is a lack of empathy and compassion regarding the effects optimizing has on others.

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Amazon Linux 2: Upgrading from PHP 7.2 to PHP 7.4

Wordpress PHP Update Recommended warning message

I finally got tired of my WordPress installation complaining about the version of PHP I was running. I decided it was time to upgrade.

My WordPress install operates on an Amazon EC2 instance running Amazon Linux 2. I used Amazon’s excellent tutorial, Install a LAMP web server on Amazon Linux 2, to set it up which uses their lamp-mariadb10.2-php7.2 package as the basis for the web server. After reviewing a few resources on installing or updating to PHP 7.4 on Amazon Linux 2, I put the following together that goes through the steps necessary to update if you used their tutorial to set up your server.

If all goes smoothly, it should take less than 15 minutes from start to finish.

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Book review: The Power of Habit

Book cover for The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

My best source for book recommendations are from those who I know well, whether they are family, friends, or close acquaintances. We talk about books enough that they have a good feel for the types of books that I might like. It’s also easy for me to figure out how to prioritize a book by how they describe it to me. It’s how I learned about The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. A couple of years ago, my daughter Courtney read it for one of her college classes and recommended it to me. She even went as far as to lend me her personal copy, which was an old school traditional hardback. Before we dive into this review, I only have one regret with this book – that I let it languish on my book shelf for the better part of two years before opening it up.

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The Office of the Future

It’s been an interesting year for people who used to go into an office to work every day. The pandemic has forced almost everyone into a work from home (WFH) situation. With vaccination rates rising and infections starting to wane, companies are starting to mull over plans for returning to the office. It begs the question, what will the office of the future look like? Will it be a return to the way it was, or will companies ditch their office spaces en masse and embrace the WFH model?

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We must do better before it’s too late

While house cleaning blog topics recently, I stumbled across a few articles lamenting the state of the technology industry. The common theme throughout these articles was how technology companies were exploiting users for their personal gain. You would think that these articles would have been written in the last year or two.

Think again. Many of these articles were at least three or four years old, with a couple written ten years ago.

Where am I going with this? We’ve known about the dangers of the large, powerful technology companies for at least ten years. During that time, nothing has changed. Nothing. If anything the problem is only getting worse.

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The Value of Browser Diversity

At the beginning of 2019, I made a conscience effort to reduce my usage of Google’s Chrome browser. I felt like Google was collecting too much of my personally identifiable information (PII). Based on the sites I visited, I would see similar ads in Gmail, video recommendations on YouTube, and news recommendations on my Android device. It was very big brother like, and quite honestly, it started to freak me out a bit.

Instead of Chrome, I began using Mozilla’s Firefox browser. The switch was gradual, and I probably use Firefox for 2/3 of my web browsing these days. The best part, switching was easy. Outside of controls being in different places, the browsing experience is identical. It’s the beauty of the web. Standards allow any company to make a browser rendering engine, in theory.

In practice, the number of browser rendering engines is small. There are 3 primary rendering engines – Blink (Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge), Webkit (Apple Safari), and Gecko (Mozilla Firefox). There are a few others, but none have any significant market share. And of the three I mentioned, Blink dominates with over 70% market share (stats as of August 2020).

It begs the question, is browser diversity a necessity to maintain the health of the web, or is it OK if one engine dominates?

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Book review: Building a Story Brand

Book cover for Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller

I’d been vaguely aware that the ability to tell a good story was important to building your business. People like to be entertained. People can relate to stories.

What I didn’t understand was how to tell a good story. In the past, when I’ve tried to tell a story about my business, it fell flat. It was a meandering tale that I had a hard time condensing into a narrative that would capture someone’s attention. Basically, my stories lacked structure.

It turns out there is a formula that good books and movies use to tell a story. I had no clear concept of this formula until a close friend suggested I read Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. In his book, Miller walks you through the formula that writers use to capture and keep their audience’s attention. As he does so, he shows you how you can apply it to create a strong brand message and grow your business.

So how do you tell a good story, why does the ability to tell a good story matter, and how does it help you grow your business?

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