Sobering news, but a great visualization

I’ve seen a lot of visualizations around COVID-19 and particularly like an approach that John Burn-Murdoch has been developing and improving over the past couple weeks for the Financial Times. Here’s an example from today:

Highlights for me are that this approach:

  • Looks at the raw time series data in a different way, creating cohorts by setting the x-axis origin as the day of the 10th death reported in each location.
  • Represents regions such as cities or states/provinces, which seem more relevant to epidemiology than larger geographies like countries.
  • Focuses on deaths reported instead of confirmed cases which can be influenced by differences in testing so seem less usable for cross-location comparisons.
  • Uses a log scale effectively, complete with effective visual indicators for orientation and a helpful explainer.
  • Is updated daily and supported by an active back-and-forth on Twitter.

The result combines a lot of data, a different perspective, and good design to give more insight into pandemic trajectories than everything else I’ve come across.

There are variants of this chart for other geographies, plus more, on the FT’s coronavirus latest page. Check it out.

Welcome to Mark Davies, Automattic’s new CFO

I’m excited to share the news, just out this morning, that Mark Davies will soon join Automattic as Chief Financial Officer.

I joined Automattic as CFO in 2012 when we had about 100 employees and were in the early days of scaling the business. I had helped organizations grow from that level before; my skills and passions were an excellent fit. Since then, we’ve built Automattic to over 1,100 people, increased revenue by 10x, and welcomed some fantastic new investors. It’s been amazing. 

I’m as passionate about Automattic today as I was when I first arrived. But we are a different organization at a different stage that needs a different set of skills and experience from its CFO. When we began this search in January, I had three attributes in mind for an ideal candidate: the know-how, record of success, and interest in building finance for companies of thousands of staff and billions of dollars in revenue across multiple business lines; fluency with the subscription business model; and enough experience working with iconic founders to keep up with Automattic’s inimitable Matt Mullenweg.

Mark matches those attributes perfectly and is an exceptional fit with what Automattic needs now. He has built and managed successful finance teams at large organizations ranging from Vivint to Alcoa to Dell. He spent the past six years building a recurring revenue business. And he spent a decade working closely with Michael Dell, one of technology’s most iconic founders. It’s rare to complete a search with a 100% hit rate on your ideal attributes. With Mark, I believe we did.

The only bittersweet thing is that it means I’ll spend less time with the teams I’ve built over the past few years. As I’ve said here on this blog, I consider these to be some of the most talented, committed, and passionate people on earth. I am so proud to have been able to lead and learn from them. It was important to me that they be in good hands with a new CFO; I’m confident they will be.

Welcome, Mark! I believe you’re going to have a huge impact at Automattic and look forward to supporting your transition into the role.

Going down the Ubiquiti rabbit hole

I have been eagerly awaiting the availability of Gigabit Fiber for my home office. Rumors of AT&T bringing it our neighborhood reached a fever pitch last year; since then I’ve regularly refreshed its availability page. A few months ago, I got the answer I wanted.

Within days, I signed up through Sonic, a local ISP which uses AT&T’s fiber network. I had my eye on that combination since Sonic received five stars in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual privacy rankings (Automattic and also earned that top rating). Soon enough, I was basking in the glory of 1 millisecond pings and consistent, symmetric, jitter-free 925 Mbps connectivity:

With about 3x the speed of my old Comcast connection, more reliability, and the same monthly price, I was pretty pleased.

Then, I started to notice (or perhaps feel) Wi-Fi coverage issues. That 60 Mbps 2.4 GHz network performance in my living room which used to be acceptable? It now felt slooooow. That got me thinking about redoing my home’s Wi-Fi. I considered mesh networking solutions like Eero, Google Wifi, or Orbi, but already have Ethernet around the house so don’t really need one of those. Plus, I was in a geeky mood.

I’ve heard a lot from friends, neighbors, Reddit, and the Wirecutter about a networking company called Ubiquiti. Ubiquiti makes high-end wireless equipment for big companies, internet service providers, even arenas. It uses a modular approach in which many of its products are perfectly-suited (and dearly-loved) by networking geeks. I jumped in.

After a few Amazon orders, and some pleasant hours tinkering, it’s mostly humming. I started with Ubiquiti’s UniFi Security Gateway (often abbreviated to “USG”), the UniFi 60W 8-port PoE switch (“USW”), two of the Unifi Access Points (“UAPs”) the UniFi UAP-AC-Lite and the UniFi UAP-AC-In Wall, and a UniFi Cloud Key (“UCK”, seriously 🤮) to run the UniFi Controller software.

What I love so far:

  • Faster Wi-Fi. I now get consistent ~450 Mbps via 5 GHz. 🎉
  • Better handoff. I use Wi-Fi calling, Zoom, Slack, etc. and regularly pace around my house. With my old setup, I’d often drop audio or video calls. Roaming feels much more robust now.
  • Stats! The UniFi Controller provides fun data on how my home actually uses the internet. For example, we have 32 network-connected devices (eight per person!). Deep packet inspection reminds me what every network I use can see about my activity.
  • Solid mobile apps. The UniFi Network app handles most settings with an interface I prefer to the Controller’s web interface. Another app, Ubiquiti WiFiman, has well-designed tools for Wi-Fi testing.
  • Fewer cables. Ubiquiti’s use of Power over Ethernet, or PoE, means each access point needs only an Ethernet cable and not another for power. To the minimalist in me, this is deeply satisfying.
  • So many updates. Ubiquiti shares builds in between official releases. You can sign up for access to the UniFi Beta Blog. Even as the novelty of near-daily firmware updates fades, I like feeling I can always have the very latest work from Ubiquiti’s software team.

Some other observations:

  • Complexity. The set up is not crazy but it’s not consumer-grade. After years with a pair of Apple AirPorts, five different devices to set up, connect, and configure is an adjustment. It was particularly wonky getting the UniFi Controller software on the Cloud Key to “adopt” the various devices. Also, both my AT&T router and the USG default to so I had random weirdness from IP address conflicts until I changed the USG’s LAN IP range.
  • Strong community. The internet seems full of helpful communities of Ubiquiti enthusiasts. The company’s forums are bustling and well-maintained. There’s an active subreddit. Throughout both, Ubiquiti staff set a positive, helpful tone.
  • Hardware limits. Software-defined networking is great until hardware becomes a limiter. For example, the USG’s CPU is pretty lightweight. Routing is done in hardware so can keep up with fast connections. But capabilities which rely on the CPU can struggle. The most noticeable for me is the UniFi Controller’s speed test which runs in software on the USG and can generate only about 300 Mbps of test data. Weirdly, that becomes the max it can “measure.” Intrusion detection is also CPU-limited; using it reduces the USG’s throughput to 85 Mbps.
  • Many, but not infinite, choices. Once you have choices on access points, you want more! I prefer the smaller access points; the larger ones are as big as full-sized frisbees, look ridiculous in my house, and would likely be banished to a connection-limiting cupboard or shelf. None of those smaller APs has an extra Ethernet port so don’t work well in my home office where I also want to plug in my laptop. I could get another switch, but that would be cluttery. I’m trying out one of the “in-wall” APs which comes with two Ethernet ports so sort of works. It’s ugly, though, so I want even more choices.
  • There’s always an upgrade. I started with the entry-level access points. I might switch over to Ubiquiti’s HD series, e.g. the UniFi nanoHD. I don’t necessarily need 4×4 MU-MIMO Wave 2 802.11ac but that doesn’t stop me from wanting it.
  • Reasonable cost. My initial Ubiquiti setup cost about the same as my old setup, two Apple AirPort Time Capsules. Given the additional power and capabilities, that’s pretty impressive.

Bay Area CFO of the Year Awards

On Wednesday night I attended the Bay Area CFO of the Year Awards, an annual tradition that supports the great work Larkin Street Youth Services does to help homeless and at-risk youth in San Francisco.

I ended up winning the award for Emerging Company CFO of the Year. Past honorees at this event include people I’ve admired and looked up to in Silicon Valley like the CFOs of Apple, Google, Intel, Cisco, eBay, and Pixar. What a cool honor.

Awards like this go to an organization and team more than an individual. Automattic is an extraordinary place, and the teams I lead include some of the most talented, committed, and passionate people on earth. I am so lucky I can work with them, every day, to help build our company and support the WordPress community.

Related, the San Francisco Business Times today has a profile notable for its photo of me next to the most CFO-y thing in my house: my kids’ toy abacus. 🙂

P.S. we’re hiring.

A new toy: the “flying camera”

I took the plunge and got a drone a few weeks ago, a DJI Mavic Pro, which they market as a “flying camera”. The big attraction for me was its portability, and I ended up testing it out on a recent family vacation. Here’s some of the footage we got from the Amed coast in eastern Bali. It starts with the morning sun and fishing boats off the beach in front of our hotel, has a cool shot of Katherine and Claire snorkeling at midday, and closes with the sun setting over Mount Agung:

Notes on the Mavic Pro and why I chose it:
– I’d been contemplating a drone for a few years, but its portability finally pushed me over the edge.
– It has a built in 4K camera with an excellent gimbal for smooth video and all sorts of other bells/whistles.
– The controls/software seem pretty easy to use (which is important because hard-to-use things tend to crash).
– It packs down to roughly the size of an SLR (or a one-liter water bottle) which is pretty impressive; it fit easily into both my regular checked baggage and also my little carry-on backpack.
– I got the “Deluxe bundle” which includes two additional batteries (which are handy since, when you go to the park or a beach, it’s more fun to have three 20-minute batteries to enjoy), a bag (perfectly sized for the drone, controller, and the spare batteries), and few other things which I’ve generally found worth having.

Notes on my first attempt at aerial photography and editing:
– Avoid jerky cameras movements while recording. The Mavic Pro’s cinema mode helps with this but still lets you move too quickly.
– If you adjust the drone or camera direction while recording, move just one direction per shot e.g. forward or turning or gimbal up/down.
– In particular, adjust the gimbal up or down very slowly otherwise it’s nausea-inducing.
– Don’t rely on auto focus, auto exposure, or auto white balance for important shots. They will adjust while you are recording. I lost a couple cool shots because of big changes halfway through.
– When editing, I thought I’d want 20 seconds minimum per shot. More like 5-7 seconds feels right.
– Music matters; it provides mood, pacing, and structure. H/T Jake Shimabukuro for the above.
– My first few flights I recorded everything so a single 10-15 minute file per flight. Major pain. Better try to keep each shot its own separate video file.
– On the Mac, iMovie is better for browsing clips than Photos, but it feels quite primitive. I’ll have to try out some pro package.
– I’ve got a 13″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar loaded with the 3.3 GHz Intel Core i7 and 16 GB. That model comes with the “Intel Iris Graphics 550 1536 MB” GPU. I also have the newish LG 5k external monitor. Trying to edit 4k video in iMovie with this setup doesn’t really work that well. Playback with iMove is pretty glitchy even if I reduce the iMovie preview window to a small size. When doing final timing checks on the video, I generally had to just export a final rendering and check that rather than trying to do within iMovie.

Wikimedia v. NSA

As a Wikimedia Foundation board member, I’m proud to support a lawsuit it filed today:

Today, we’re filing a lawsuit against the National Security Agency to protect the rights of the 500 million people who use Wikipedia every month. We’re doing so because a fundamental pillar of democracy is at stake: the free exchange of knowledge and ideas.

See New York Times Op-Ed for more, or the Foundation’s WordPress blog.

We Proudly Have Your Back: EFF Awards 5 Stars For Protecting User Speech

Transparency Report

The Electronic Frontier Foundation yesterday released a new version of their Who Has Your Back? report, focused on protecting user speech from “copyright & trademark bullies.”

yeeaaahhhWe’re proud that was awarded all five possible stars in the report — one of only two services to earn that honor.

“When a private citizen or corporation wants to silence speech on a major online platform, the quickest method is often a copyright or trademark complaint,” the EFF correctly noted. This isn’t what the law intended, but it’s a practice that we see all too frequently.

We strongly support the rights of all creators to reasonably protect their works — users create millions of original (and copyrighted!) posts every day, after all — but we are irked when IP holders stretch their legal rights to the point of abuse. The law is meant to also preserve free expression and fair use…

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