Fly in the Asian Pacific: $160 for 30 days of travel

The word on the street Asia_Pacific_Mapis you can fly between Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam as many as 10 times in 30 days for just $160.

To put it in perspective, a flight from Bangkok to Singapore ranges from $84-$124 one way.

This is not only a cost effective travel deal, but, as you may know, many countries require a proof of “onward travel” to show you’ll be leaving your destination country before you board your plane. This pass would be a great tool to grab some last minute “proofs” when the time comes.

You can read more about the deal on Thrillist here:
http://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/crazy-cheap-deal-fly-to-10-countries-in-30-days-for-160

Or just bite the bullet and book your travel with AsianAir Pass here:
http://www.airasia.com/ot/en/book-with-us/asean-pass.page

Built-in Dictation on Yosemite

What I dictated – as is and untouched:

It’s been a while since I had tried using dictation mostly because it’s never worked before I don’t know how long maps habitation on it but I figured I’d give it a shot again this blog is written completely has dictation with no edits made to see how good it aside for my poor dictation skills hopefully the words being written are exactly as I intended blow is [the dictation ended automaically maybe becasue my pause or just to many words – starting over] A link showing you how you can set up dictation on your computer. I just noticed that all the dictation coming before this punctuation so I must have to say the punctuation out loud, which is expected.

http://support.apple.com/en-us/HT5449

What I actually said – uncorrected:

It’s been a while since I have tried using dictation. Mostly because it’s never worked well before. I don’t know how long mac has had it, but I figured I’d give it a shot again. This blog is written completely as a dictation with no edits made to see how good it is. Aside for my poor dictation skills, hopefully, the words being written are exactly as I intended. Below is […] A link showing you how you can set up dictation on your computer. I just noticed that all the dictation coming before this had no punctuation – so, I must have to say the punctuation out loud, which is expected.

http://support.apple.com/en-us/HT5449

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.28.10 PM

To set up dictation go to your preferences and choose “Dictation and speech.”

HT5449-yosemite-system_preference-dictation-001-en

 

Turn dictation on and you’re all set. Press Fn key twice to start.

Annnnnnnd end scene…

Overall it’s not too shabby of an implementation considering it used to cost hundreds of dollars to get dictation software on your computer. Also, it helps that the dictation bar has always been set fairly low. To be fair, trying to make up something while dictating is a bit unnatural – so I can see why the feature would stumble through a sentence; I sure did. A nice feature is that dictation works in any website or app on your mac – all you have to do is press the function key twice and start talking 🙂

You can also go the extra mile and set up text commands. This feature is not new, and I have never found myself able to speak my commands more quickly than I could keyboard them – so I will leave that decision up to you. You can read more about voice commands herehttp://www.macworld.com/article/2834532/ok-mac-using-automators-dictation-commands-new-in-yosemite.html

Tokyo Tips & Cliff Notes

You can check out a more detailed description of Tokyo and Kyoto here. For a quickie on Tokyo notes read on.

Prices

  • Most of the time, public transportation was between $2-5 USD one way
  • Ramen was about $5-8
  • Sushi $2-$5 per nigiri
  • You can spend $45 for a single sushi plate easily at a casual place if you aren’t paying attention.
  • Banana $1-3 but then $5-10 other places. here is a story we read as to why.
  • Big Mac $3.14

IMG_7375IMG_7272IMG_7382

Things we noticed

  • Separate slippers were provided to you, after you take off your shoes, for the bathroom at the hotel and some restaurants
  • Shops and restaurants are on each level of building – explore up.
  • Lots of Department stores. Basement always had good food.
  • McDonalds highlighted chicken teriyaki burgers
  • Many Ramen shops used vending machine to dispense ticket to hand to chef at resturant
  • Strong posture in workers/waiters/hostesses. All very helpful.
  • Public transport was awesome. Not nearly as complicated as people described. If you know your final destination you can use displays to get around. If not, staff was helpful.
  • When people highlight Tokyo there is so much over characterization. Much of the city is very typical of any other big city. Strange things were tucked away, like most strange things usually are.
  • People really do wear kimonos out and about.
  • Alleys and main streets all had amazing restaurants – no bad places really.
  • When it comes to numbers – Arabic numbers seem to be used universally over native characters.
  • Major city intersections often all “all way” crossing. Where pedestrians can go diagonal, or across intersections at the same time. First all cars go, then all people go etc.
  • Some fruit is outrageously priced. Fruit is a big gift giving item. Cantaloupe $100. Single Strawberry $5
  • Uniqlo is full of departments stores

IMG_7373

IMG_7261Tips

  • GOOGLE MAPS IS NOT VERY ACCURATE IN TOKYO!
  • Sumo – Buy months in advance.
  • Common Words: Sumimasen (excuse me – use before asking for help ), Arigato (demo or guy may), Konichiwa, Ichi/Ni
  • Google Translate is awesome – use the card feature and just show it after you say hi and or excuse me
  • Japan Rail Pass (JRP) is awesome. If you plan to go between cities (Kyoto/Tokyo) get it. It works in local Tokyo as well. Remember: You NEED to exchange the pass for a ticket when you enter Japan for the first time. Then as a pass you just show between stops.
  • Careful of subway day passes if touring around and not sure where you will end up – many are only for one line
  • Even if there is English in signs, and even when many people “speak” English – taxis do not. Don’t expect it. Get a picture of the destination in native language to show.
  • Even if you’ve tried sushi at home and didn’t like it tries it again here – changed my mind on some items
  • Keep an open mind on what you eat. If people next to you order it at least you know it isn’t a agag 😉
  • Ask your hotel to make reservations for you in advance. Many popular places need it.

2 translation-Translate-iOS2080_05

Things We Did

With so many things to check off I ended up making a Google Spreadsheet list to track what we wanted to do and where. You can copy it and use it yourself, or use it to get an idea of things to do. Remember though, one of the biggest lessons I learned in Tokyo was that I should just stumble into places as much as possible.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 7.07.18 PM

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1r1byYIbKqSWx7MzkVAlSjWtbzNEL1Y1A6X4kky0sqPw/edit?usp=sharing

Wolfram Alpha: Product Spotlight

Wolfram-Alpha-iconWolfram Alpha calls itself a “computational knowledge engine” and was spun out of “Mathematica,” a mathematically intensive formula and graphing calculator on steroids.

Although amazingly powerful, Wolfram Alpha is not widely known, though you may already be using it. Its one of the data engines behind Siri – and one of the few Siri systems you can actually count on. It responds on Siri’s behalf for computationally based queries. For example, when you ask Siri “How many inches in 10 meters” she replies with:

IMG_7595

Notice the logo beneath the answer.

You can access Wolfram Alpha directly on the web and get some surprisingly robust answers from it. Just for kicks, while showing Wolfram Alpha to a friend (completely unrehearsed), I asked it, “How many cars are on the road?” ( Purposefully leaving it a bit vague.) Surprisingly, this is what it responded with:

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 10.00.18 PM

It helps that Wolfram Alpha is scoped. It focuses on statistical and computational questions. Therefore, it doesn’t search the web for trends and rankings since it’s primarily driven by data and math. So, to get the most out of it I suggest focusing your questions on ones that possess those qualities. It can be, for example, a good place to gather preliminary data for your research. Like this one, “number of families in the united states with an average income above $100,000 per year.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 10.00.33 PM

To be honest, it’s been years since I last played with it; it’s kind of one of those products that its usefulness ebbs and flows. Recently, however, while researching a “social product” idea, I stumbled upon this nifty feature advertising a Facebook Report from Wolfram and decided to give it a go.

Wolfram Alphas Facebook Report

Not only was the data of the report interesting but the speed at which it gathered, computed and graphed it all was a bit stunning. It’s able to give you just about everything about you on Facebook.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.57.21 PM

You can view charts of your post history over time, as a ratio between posting images vs. text, most active times of day by media types or a word-cloud of your most often used vocabulary. You can find out what post garnered you the most likes or comments, who’s commented on your posts the most and how often you use the FB app.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.57.43 PM

This little graph shows me the ratio of female friends I have to male ones and what their relationships status’ are – broken down into a pie chart. You can see the average age of my friends and where in the world my friends live.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.58.11 PM

This graph I don’t really even understand, but it looks hella informative!

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.58.37 PM

All in all Wolfram Alpha is a fun product to play with and may even help you get some of your research started and difficult questions answered quickly.

Here are some other fun questions to ask it:

Facebook V. Twitter

How far is Saturn (Remember, distances are not static)

First cousins once removed

35,000 Words in Finish

More examples

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is deeply integrated with western culture. Although its foundation began with China, it became more influenced by British colonialism and, as such, has developed an identity all its own.

You’ll notice this unique mixture immediately when you arrive. Street signs that line the city are printed in plain English with names like “Queen’s Road” or “Russel Street”. We quickly learned, however, that you can’t count on the English versions of the roads to get around.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.44.20 PM

None of the cabs we took spoke a lick of English, nor did they understand the English version of our destination’s cross-streets. Even more complex, as we learned from some locals, is the Chinese version of the streets don’t directly translations to the English ones. In essence, many streets have two distinct names.

Tip #1: Always take a picture of the local Chinese text of the destination you want to go (or write it down) so you can show it to the cab driver. Learning a nearby landmark’s local name won’t hurt either.

Other than that, getting around town was fairly easy with Google Maps and English (remembering, of course, that it is always a good idea to learn a few local phrases out of respect for your host country.)

times-squareThere is a constant sense of old and new while walking through Hong Kong. A trendy bar filled with young business people dressed to the 9s is placed directly next to a tiny old-style market with burlap bags of dried foods displayed on its stoop. You’ll see bamboo scaffolding next to an ancient temple with rising incense smoke flowing into the neon lights of a brand new bar, only a block away from a two story aluminum-plated Apple store. The city is somehow both completely foreign yet comfortable and familiar.

Tip #2: You’ll notice symbols such as “11/F” on some signs. The pattern refers to the floor an establishment is on. In this case the “11th floor.”

ho-lee-fook-4-818x535On our first night, we stumbled through a neighborhood filled with expats. It took a moment for it to register, but rows of restaurants and bars were completely filled with non-Chinese locals. In a way, it was like Hong Kong’s American-town, nicely balancing out our China-town back home.

The concept of culture fusion continues into the world of food. There’s a continuum of tastes ranging from the very pure and authentic Chinese dishes, to its modern interpretations, all the way to an east-meets-west blend. The first restaurant we stopped into was brand new and, sadly, we were drawn to mostly on name alone. It was called “Ho Lee Fook” and it had a 1-hour waiting list. We used the time to visit some local bars and grab a drink before dinner.

Jackie has an amazing sense of finding “good spots” when we travel. She is an instinctual Yelp database. On our kill-time-before-we-eat bar-cruise her spidey-sense drove us into a small bar called the Three Monkeys. No exaggeration, we had the best drinks we’ve ever had in our lives. Perfectly blended and absolutely delicious. At this point we also began to realize that Hong Kong was not cheap by any means – each drink was around $15+ USD.

sum_1617-2373926169-o

We finished up and headed back to Ho Lee Fook. The hostess led us down into the basement; Jay-Z and Jimi Hendrix’s music filled the rooms. Once we sat down and got comfortable we realized the restaurant was filled with Americans and Brits. We stumbled into another ex-pat bunker.

Restaurant_0

Tip #3: When you are visiting other countries and time is limited you can sometimes get a slight feeling that you’re getting cheated out of your adventure when you get surrounded by tons of your own people. But, in this instance, we recognized that these ex-pat areas were very much part of the local culture and we embraced it. It helped that the food was amazing. The final bill came in around $80-$100.

We hit the must-do list.

27712944We took The Peak Tram up the famously steep climb to the top of The Peak Tower. There you get a 360-degree view of the city, 396 meters above sea level. Walking around the small town at the top of the hill finally gave us a sense of the beautifully lush, island-rich landscape that is Hong Kong.

1.1.1.2-Peak_03

Tip #4: Don’t waste your money on The Peak Tower’s 360-Degree View entrance fee. Wrap around to a nearby building’s rooftops and get pretty much the same view for free. Also, sometimes it’s foggy and you can’t see anything up top anyway. Try to go on a clear morning.

We also headed to see the “big buddha” by the way of gondola and got even more breathtaking views of the country.

hk-cablecar

But mostly we ate.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.39.42 PMI’m not sure, but I imagine it’s quite rare to visit two of the least expensive Michelin star rated restaurants in the world back to back. We had dim sum at Din Tai Fung, which was good but not mind-blowing – and a bit pretentious. Even more memorable was the savory gravy biscuits we had at Tim Ho Wan on the bottom floor of a mall for about $1 each. They close early so make sure you check the hours before you go. We got there a bit late, but they were nice enough to make a few to go boxes for us take out. We shared one biscuit from the bag as we walked away and they were so good I ran back to the restaurant to get six more.

My biggest food fumble was made by my weakness to marketing propaganda. Everywhere we went we saw a McDonalds promoting “the prosperity burger.” I had to know what it was so I finally gave in and ordered it on our last day. All it was was a McRib with onions. Yuck.

prosperity burger

Finally, I want to give a shout out to the awesome stay we had at Hotel LBP. They staff was friendly, the rooms were super nice and we got it at a great price (possible from a promotion.)

3 reasons why I’m bullish on extensions, plus a better scheduling app.

simplicity-b2b-content-marketingScheduling time to meet with someone is one of those things that’s just hard enough to be annoying, but probably not complex enough to need a whole new tool to simplify it. It’s one of those problems that makes for a perfect example of how-to, or how-not-to, create a great product.

Often in the product world we find a problem we want to solve and end up creating a far more complex system to solve it; one in which the user has to change usage patterns or require ramp up time. As a result, minor problems and annoyances (like scheduling meetings) don’t get dramatic improvements because the cost v. benefit v. ramp-up never quite get to a point in which the user is willing to change their habits to gain the benefits from a new tool. “I’ll just send an email” or “I’ll just use a spreadsheet” can kill the potential for “robust” products. And rightly so, email and spreadsheets are comfortable, versatile and already understood between groups.

That’s why I have been bullish on extensions, especially the Google Chrome ones.

The good ones are able to find a balance between:

  • A lack of ramp-up time.
  • An integration into the tools and workflows I already use.
  • No requirement for other parties to have the platform in order to use it.

189171-bf657de80640275b84d3931444d6fafe-medium_jpgAn example of a great extension I was introduced to recently is Assistant.to. Assistant.to is a Chrome extension that links to your Google Calendar and extends your Google Email composer so you can easily drop-in potential appointment/meeting times as text and links in your email. There was no setup, all the interaction happens within the GMail composer, and the form factor works in a way that needs no additional explanation or signups for the receiver.

It is a must have tool for sure! Here are some screenshots of the workflow:

 

Checking_in____-_sean_shadmand_gmail_com_-_Gmail
Extension overlay

 

Checking_in____-_sean_shadmand_gmail_com_-_Gmail 2
Expanded overlay

 

Checking_in____-_sean_shadmand_gmail_com_-_Gmail 3
Select availability

 

Checking_in____-_sean_shadmand_gmail_com_-_Gmail 4
Available times copy and pasted

 

Assistant_to_-_Your_Personal_Scheduling_Assistant
Meeting confirmed

As a note, another great extensions I’ve been using lately is the one Grammerly.com that allows great inline writting corrections and tools.

Product Review: A great new way to write better emails, blogs and more

1901937_900007186684939_6521091158949317344_nIt’s no secret, out of all the talents I may have, the acuity for perfect grammar is not one of them. As a child, my poor spelling was covered up only by my even worse handwriting. As hard as I try, remembering to use “then” instead of “than” seems to find a way to slip by me!

Spellcheck and other technology gave me the confidence I needed to write more often, and a 140 character limit on Twitter helps force you to find more value in fewer words. However, those technologies are limited in scope and miss simple word confusion like “then” and “than” that slip by now and again.

If there are others out there like me, and it sounds like there are THEN I need you to check out this great new tool! It will help you push out more consistently proofed and well-manicured copies of writing THAN you’ve ever had before!

The tool is called Grammerly.com. I’ve only been using it for less than 24 hours, but I’m already impressed. The basic plan is free, and it comes with this neat little Chrome extension that super-charges your browser-based text. Here are a few of examples:

 extension

Unfortunately, it still missed some “then” and “than” mix-ups, as well as a few situations where two words should be one (e.g. proofreading). These are mistakes that only a person would catch. That’s where the fun part comes in.

They have this neat feature called “Professional Proofreading,” and for $0.02 per word, you can request a real live human to read over your material. Below is my experience and what provoked me to write up this blog!

 

professional
Request proofreader
ready
“proof complete” notification and email
corrected
download red-lined copy in only a few minutes.

 


Of course, you wouldn’t use a professional proofreader all the time, but for important emails to the public or to double-check each blog post, it may be money, and time, well spent. Enjoy!

 

 

​I invested 50/50 in Betterment and Wealthfront and this is what happened

022312_etfs_front_leadI’ve been hearing a lot of debate between financial “experts” and casual investors around the pros and cons of ETFs and managed VS. unmanaged accounts.  As I mentioned in this posts about “when experts disagree do your own thing” I figured the only way to get a non-bias answer is to spread my investments in them all and see what happens in 30 years. Sure, anything could happen but if nothing else I’ll learn a lot.

​I recently invested 50/50 in Betterment and Wealthfront for my unmanaged ETF test (based on my good friends Daniel Odio’s post) to see how they perform overtime and to compare the results to my fully managed investment account. This won’t be as much of an investigation and extension of any debate but rather a summary of my personal experience with products and services across the board. For this post I will focus on what my initial experience has been between Betterment and Wealthfront so far.

I thought it would take a while to start spooling up some experiences but in the first inning (as a new depositor into both Betterment and Wealthfront accounts. Same amounts, risk settings etc  ) Betterment is definitely ahead, here’s why: the stock market took a plunge these last few weeks and I wanted to  invest in the possible fire sale. Now whether or not that tactic is sound is another story. What matters to me personally is that I was able to invest directly from my bank account into Betterment within 24 hours seamlessly. In addition the site and my app showed me the money was deployed and begun to display gains/loses immediately. Wealthfront took over a week to transfer and although the money shows as being pulled from my bank account there is still no sign of it in the Wealth front app or dashboard. The app has no insight into anything and just shows a list of recently posted blogs by the company.

That lag has already cost me 3% and If the market continues to recover it who knows how much that will mean long term. Of course if the market continues to dip the lag in wealth front will be a lucky break but I don’t use a service hoping it will work poorly so that sways in the market will work in my favor. 

Regarding the apps, Betterment is the winner so far as well. Welathfront may have no more information and graphs once the funds display correctly, but who knows at this point as a new investor – current there is just a 0 on the screen that is not clickable. Betterment lists my pending transaction, as well as current deployed capital broken down by earnings to date. And it’s the same story for the website. From a user experience point of view Welathfront just shows me the same form it showed me when I initiated the bank transfer – no updates or info is accessible for this account with any useful information.

The lack of “warm and fuzzy” information I am getting as a new customer leaves me concerned for what my future experiences will be like with Wealthfront.  It’s far to early to count them out since, if after the funds are deployed, I may get great graphs, information, tax benefits, and more but as a new user the cold hard fact it I am more satisfied with the way Betterment is taking care of me than Wealthfront.

In closing, at this stage of the experiment I:

a) hope that the post-funding user experience at Wealthfront is way better than the ramp up experience.

b) suggest that WealthFront improve upon the points listed above.

I know there may be many features and options that I am missing that both can do but in the initial experience where features are limited as is my expertise with using the systems I can only comment on what I know as a new customer and that is what I have done. Honestly, I win if both do well so I mean it when I say: best of luck to the challengers!

My greatest life lessons from Computer Science

I really appreciate  my education in Computer Science. The most valuable mental shift I gained was the understanding that there are no “hard problems.” To recognize that even extremely difficult problems were easily solved once you were able to deconstruct them into smaller more simple ones. Problem-solving is about figuring out how to simplify, dismantle, and rebuild toward solutions. Simplifying is all about getting good and asking the right questions.

For instance, playing the guitar is hard, playing chords with rhythm is easier, playing chords is even easier, playing a note is more easy – and so on and so forth.

Just breakdown what you want to accomplish and get great at each little piece of it. Then, get great at putting each individual piece together and your problem isn’t all that bad.