Review: OneMonthRails (Part 1)

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I’ve been using OneMonthRails for about three weeks. I was first drawn to the course after one line stood out to me – the line in Mattan’s course description said there was a focus on helping students get a project up-and-running quickly. At that moment, this idea totally resonated because after two months on Codecademy, I felt I was going an inch deep and a mile wide with the basic-basics of three languages, but nothing to show for it. Mattan promised a project-based approach teaching users to build a Pinterest-like app with real functionality.  I found that he’d posted a coupon code to twitter (I don’t buy anything without a coupon), and I snagged it and jumped in.
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Review: Two Months on Codecademy

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So about two months ago I started using Codecademy. Over the course of that time I took the courses on HTML CSS JavaScript and J query. A bit of background on my lens: I’ve worked in education technology for eight years as a marketer.  About 12 years ago I took two years of high school computer science, and received a 5 on the AP computer science exam, back when the course used C++. I also have  learned – from all my years blogging – the basics of HTML. Here’s my review.
Pros:
  • First, great technology. I really like the integrated instructions, text editor, and compiler all in one browser window. Before I was using Codecademy I started with classes on Udemy (which is essentially just a video player), and the experience on Codecademy is much more interactive and seamless. With Udemy I ended up having the video playing in one screen, my text editor in another, and a browser to view the finished product, and was constantly toggling between them. They’ve invested in really great technology to get you learning within minutes and keep you engaged. Continue reading

The Virtues of Going Private

Recent headline on Techcrunch: Blackberry Considering Going Private, following Dell in bid to refocus

I’m not surprised. Having spent four years at a public tech company, I’ve seen first hand that the public markets can be disastrous for innovation. The concept of taking big risks to achieve greater long term rewards is inherently opposed to creating short term shareholder value in the eyes of investors and media. It will be interesting to see how behemoth Apple continues to innovate and take risks now that its market cap is enormous. There are already signs from the Board at Apple that innovation is slowing.

Girl Sues University for Refund on her defective education

When I buy an $80 vacuum cleaner, and it doesn’t suck dirt, I take it back, and I get a refund.

If I buy an $80K education, and it doesn’t land me a better job, and I’m still working as a barista, who do I see about a refund?
This girl asked that exact question – and the comments on Slashdot completely miss the mark. Yes – this girl’s comments come off sounding entitled and out of touch, but it’s part of a greater problem – that millions of americans are taking-on enormous student debt in the hopes that a college degree will improve their job prospects. When they graduate – there are no jobs waiting.

How I saved over $3000 using my Home Warranty

Today is the one year anniversary of the day I bought my condo. When I bought this condo, I knew that I would probably need to replace the appliances – sooner rather than later. I actually went down to an appliance store, spent a couple hours, picked out new items, paid, and then had some problems with them not fitting, and sent them back. It was around then that I had an epiphany that this home warranty might cover some of this, and started researching.
Over the past year, I have successfully used my home warranty to affect over $4000 in repairs to my condo – spending just $1000 out of pocket. You can too. Here’s how:
What is a Home Warranty:
it’s essentially a yearly/monthly insurance policy that if certain big-ticket items in your house break down, you can get them repaired for a small ~$60 deductible. Homeowners insurance covers leaks, property theft, and fires. Home Warranties cover broke down air  conditioners, heaters, washers, stoves, and refrigerators. A Home Warranty costs around $500/year.
The secret reason they exist:
When a buyer is in contract to buy a home, the buyer hires someone to do an inspection, that comes back saying X, Y, and Z are broken, aren’t up to code, is molding, infested with termites, etc.  Frugal buyers will then push on the seller saying “you need to spend your own money to fix these items, or you need to knock $XYZ off the selling price so that I can repair these things when I move in.” Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But what if something doesn’t get caught? What if, after the sale closes, the buyer discovers an appliance is broken, and tries to sue the seller, or the seller’s agent? Instead of worrying, the seller can spend $500 for peace of mind, and carve off $500 from the sale of the home to go toward this Home Warranty. Then, if the buyer comes back and something is broken, it’s covered!
Why the Home Warranty Companies stay in business:
The Home Warranty is being bought by the seller, not you – the new ower. You have literally thousands of pages of documentation associated with this new house, and different policies – escrow accounts, home warranties, homeowners association dues, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, etc. – so it’s quite likely that you haven’t gotten around to figuring out how your home warranty works and what it covers. The Home Warranty company is hoping so too. Furthermore, they’re hoping that at the end of your first year of coverage, they’ll manage to worry you enough to renew. They’ll call saying “How old are your appliances? Your water heater? Your air conditioner? You don’t know? Well, the average lifespan on that is usually just 5 years – what if it breaks down. You want to be covered, don’t you?”
How to Maximize Your Home Warranty:
Every time a repair person comes in, you pay a deductible. And if they can’t repair the item, they generally offer to buy you a replacement appliance. They’ll always pick the cheapest replacement one possible, but you can opt for cash instead. My fridge’s ice maker was broken. It was 20 years old so naturally they couldn’t find replacement parts. They offered to buy me a new $900 fridge. I offered to pay the difference between that one and the nicer, silver, “french door” model that I wanted. Then they paid for delivery and installation. The net was a new $1600 fridge for just $600 (the difference) + $60 (deductible) = $660 out of pocket.  I also had them replace my dishwasher and stove. And next week, just before the first year of the warranty ends, they are going to come fix or replace my wall heater and my leaky bathroom faucets.
Like with Vegas, the smart move is to get out while you’re ahead. So I won’t be renewing my home warranty at the end of this year. Instead, I’ll save the $500/year which should more than cover any breakdowns for the next 5 years. Luckily, since I’m in a condo unit with no water heater, air conditioning, some of the bigger-ticket items aren’t an issue for me.

We Love City Living: Reversing 100 Years of Suburbanization

Note: This Facebook post sparked a healthy debate, so i thought I would expound on my original statement and re-post the thread below.

For the first time in nearly a century, cities are growing faster than suburbs. I believe this is partly about economic realities – young people are having difficulty finding jobs, so they’re staying close to cities where those jobs are, delaying marriage, kids, and buying their first home, and avoiding buying a car. However, I’d also like to believe that our generation, more than those before it, genuinely enjoys city living, and that even after this wave of unemployment has passed, we will continue to see them chose to stay in cities. Yes – the economic downturn has created an opening for companies like AirBnB and GetAround to help us travel on a budget. But we don’t just do it to save money. AirBnB has genuinely positioned itself as aspirational – as a cool, innovative,  and exciting way to experience distant places. It’s not for poor people – it’s for people who are Thrifty. Same thing with companies like H&M and Zara – who are notorious for rapidly-copying runway fashions and rolling them out in stores at affordable prices. Our generation genuinely likes our loft apartments in converted warehouses, our gourmet food trucks selling mini creme brulees, and city life over the white picket fence and Ford Explorer. We want to walk to a coffee shop listening to our iPod, not drive a suburban to the mall. Our generation is willing to compromise on less space to be closer to the action – closer to music, art, food, and each other. We appreciate character.

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TaskRabbit Layoff – Bad Sign for Collaborative Consumption

TaskRabbit Layoff – Bad Sign for Collaborative Consumption

It seems like TaskRabbit – which offered the long tail of peer-to-peer services – is laying off perhaps 20% of its 65 employees. That’s really disappointing and troubling for me. I’m a huge proponent of the idea that collaborative consumption will re-shape the way we consume goods and services – it will make us more efficient as a whole, and will enable each of us to get by without having to “own” everything in our lives and instead renting what we need “on-demand” and therefore deploying our capital more efficiently over our life and our society’s capital more efficiently as a civilization. Therefore I was really hoping to see great things from TaskRabbit. perhaps what we can learn is that highly-focused community-marketplace startups like AirBnB – which is just doing house-sharing really well – are easier for users to latch onto, and they fill an existing use-case: “let me find a short term sublet” or “let me find a hostel or other cheap short-term accommodation in city X.” Whereas taskrabbit was “get a person to do anything for any amount of money at any time” without doing a great job with giving the user a list of potential use-cases beyond “assemble my ikea furniture” and “go pickup my dry cleaning.” 

I’m still very hopeful that RelayRides, GetAround, AirBnB, and others will prove successful.