COVID Comparisons

Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic there’s been plenty of scary headlines, statistics and tragic individual stories. One thing I’ve rarely seen, though, is a comparative base for understanding the statistics that drive the scary headlines.

To help with my own understanding, I’ve compiled a couple of comparable statistics (with sourcing) so I don’t have to memorize them, and am publishing them here in case it is helpful for others too.

Key Statistics – Hospitalizations and Deaths per 100K people

First, a disclaimer: I’m not an epidemiologist – I’m just a guy trying to make sense of a lot of important information to make clear-eyed decisions for my family and team in a very charged and dynamic environment.

With this in mind, I generally think about the Pandemic risk in relative terms. Since there’s no way to live a full life without risk, I want to understand pandemic risk compared to other things that I see as essential to life or that society has come to accept as “the way things are” (even if it would be great for them not to be this way).

The two most common COVID-related statistics that allow for relative comparisons are measured in Hospitalizations and Deaths per 100,000 (or 100K) people. Other metrics, like the reproduction rate (R0) are useful in other ways, but to understand relative impact on health and mortality, I think these two numbers are the best.

COVID Hospitalizations per 100K

This data is regularly reported in tables of people hospitalized for COVID-19, but often it gets less focus/prominence than the raw number (which is useless unless you know the size of the population) or the change over the prior reporting period (which is interesting, but not for understanding COVID relative to other things).

The CDC provides great data focused on Per 100K numbers in their charts. The screenshot below is from the date I put this post together, and it is updated regularly.

At the time of writing, it was 3.63 for all people in the United States. It ranged from as high was 8.66 for 70+ year olds and as low as 0.44 for <18 year olds.

While this number is changing a lot (and as I write this, Delta is ascendant and there are many media reports of hospitals filling up and oxygen running low), it is important to know this number when trying to evaluate whether COVID is scary compared to other things we’ve learned to live with.

COVID Deaths per 100K

This data is also regularly reported in tables of people who’ve died from COVID-19, although international comparisons are often undercounts because they usually only count confirmed cases leading to a fatality. In places where testing is expensive/difficult, then the more accurate academic approach is to look at “excess mortality”, but this requires a very long term view and will be mostly useful to academic study into the pandemic over a period of years.

Fortunately, in developed countries where testing is both available and frequent, these numbers are generally a good place to reference on the “per 100K” basis on.

The CDC also maintains a useful dataset for Deaths over time. Unlike the Hospitalizations data (at the time of writing), this chart requires you to choose a Right Axis of Deaths per 100K people over the prior 7 days, since by default it just shows the counts (which while representative of the deep loss of a life and family, aren’t useful for comparisons of different things we have come to accept as “part of life”).

The CDC data allows you to chart up to 6 different regions, but if you want to look at a larger table, a good collation of tabular data is the NY Times COVID Tracker at who at the time of writing have a breakdown under “State trends” with cases over the last 7 days or by all time.

By clicking the row heading for State trends, you can order by Deaths per 100K people over a 7 day period:

Similarly to Hospitalization data, while this number is changing a lot, and varies significantly by location (because of uneven vaccination rates) and even more by age group, knowing what this number is provides a basis of comparison to other things.

The CDC also provides some lagging data showing the Weekly Deaths per 100K broken down by age group.

Comparison: Influenza

The most effective comparison – in my opinion – is another regularly mutating virus, spread through the air by people, which has also caused pandemics in the past: influenza.

For the last full year before COVID-19, the CDC produces an estimate of the number of hospitalizations and deaths from Influenza in a detailed report for the 2018-19 United States Influenza season.

Under Table 2 you’ll see Hospitalizations and Mortality (deaths) per 100K broken out by age.

Because this data is only broken out by age group, if we want to have a general comparison, we need to use Table 1 for the “All ages” datapoints. Note in the table below I’ve removed estimated infections and doctor visits since they aren’t part of my comparative set of how scary COVID-19 is.

For the 12 month period of 2018-19, the US population was 328.2 million (US Census Bureau).

Since the Influenza data is for an entire season (year), and many of the reports of a highly dynamic pandemic use a trailing 7 day average calculation, we need to try and change the yearly number of a weekly number by dividing by 52. This isn’t truly accurate (most influenza hospitalizations and deaths in the US happen in the winter), but it helps to convert a yearly number to a weekly number for comparison purposes.

TotalPer 100KWeekly Per 100K
Hospitalizations490,561149.472.874
Deaths34,15710.410.200

The key comparative insight is that only weekly COVID Hospitalization rates above 3 and COVID Death rates above 0.2 per 100K people are worse that Influenza.

One other interesting comparison is the age-based Per 100K Hospitalization and Death rates. Using Table 2 Data (which is already Per 100K calculated), converting the Yearly total to a Weekly number shows the following:

Age
group
COVID-19
Hospitalization
Influenza
Hospitalization
What’s
Worse?
COVID
Deaths
Influenza
Deaths
What’s
Worse?
0-4 yrs0.44*2.46Flu 5.5x0.02*0.025Equal
5-17 yrs0.44*0.75Flu 1.7x0.01*0.008Equal
18-49 yrs1.37-3.87*0.93COVID 1.5x-4.3x0.05-0.31*0.035COVID 0.7x-8.9x
50-64 yrs5.13-6.04*2.98COVID 1.7x-2x0.620.173COVID
3.6x
65+ yrs8.6610.2Flu 1.2x1.12-3.08*0.937COVID
1.2x-3.3x
* Ages Not Broken Out Equally by CDC COVID Data and Influenza Data

Importantly, the COVID-19 data is incredibly dynamic – I’m using mid-August weekly rates but a better approach would be to use a longer time period (since the numbers for young people in particular bounce between 0 and 0.05, which makes for a different result). However, even using these point-in-time dynamic numbers, it is worth noting that COVID-19 is only 1-2x as likely to put you in hospital as Influenza but it is between 1x and 9x as likely to kill you (with the highest relative impact being for middle-aged folks at this point in time).

At the time of writing,

Comparison: Road Accidents

Another effective comparison which comes from the “risks of living life” is Road Accidents. This national data in the United States is maintained by the National Highway Transportation Safety Board (2019 Report). There aren’t good reports for “hospitalizations” but instead “injuries” are tracked which is likely to over-count our comparison with COVID-19 since at least some road accidents are not going to require a trip to the hospital.

TotalPer 100KWeekly Per 100K
Injuries2.74M834.8616.055
Deaths36,83511.220.216
Source: NHTSB 2019 and Traffic Facility Data

The key comparative insight is that only weekly COVID Hospitalization rates above 16 and COVID Death rates above 0.22 per 100K people are worse than the risk of dricing in a car on any given day.

As of writing, in almost every State and Territory in the US you’re more likely to be Hospitalized for COVID than being injured in a road accident (Florida is worst at 76, and only UT, MD, CO, NY, MI, MN, NJ, RI, CT, MN, NH, MA and VT are below 16), with the national average at 30.

Conclusion

Interestingly – and coincidentally – the risks of dying from Influenza or in a Road Accident are almost the same (0.2 for Flu vs 0.216 for the Roads). You’re 5.6x as likely to be injured in a road accident than be hospitalized for Influenza, so to get a good grip on how scared to be of COVID is helps to focus on mortality rates.

The national risk of dying of COVID-19 right now is about twice that of dying of influenza or getting killed in a car accident (0.41 vs 0.22 per 100K), but in 19 states you’re actually at lower risk today (MI, UT, IW, ND, WI, NJ, MD, RI, SD, PA, CO, NH, OH, NY, NE, VT, MA, MN, CT and MN).

That said, in the worst affected places you’re way more likely to die of COVID than from Influenza or in a Road Accident, such as:

  • Mississippi: 1.51 per 100K or 7x more likely
  • Florida: 1.22 per 100K or 5.6x more likely
  • Louisiana: 1.17 per 100K or 5.4x more likely
  • Arkansas: 0.98 per 100K or 4.54x more likely

So, if you’re living in a place with a death rate above the chances of catching the flu or going for a drive, you should be scared of COVID. However, if you’re not, then you probably should chill out a bit unless you’re going to avoid humans and roads forever.

Image Credit: “COVID-19 in Washington DC” by dmbosstone is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

E-3 Visa Renewal without Travel via I-129

I’m the US right now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns/shutdowns across most of the economy. One of my friends and colleagues happened to have his E-3 visa expiring next week, and so the usual options of a visa dash started closing down pretty fast. Canada closed their borders on March 16th, and while Australia will have you back (if you can get there), the Consulates have limited their operations from March 17th which basically means unless you have a mail-in application, you’re going to be waiting a long time to get your visa approved. Even if you got your passport back via a mail-in renewal, the chances of making it back into the US this side of June is pretty questionable. 

There is, however, some good news: you can apply for your visa on-shore and as long as your employer sends in your application before your visa expires, you’ve got an immediate extension of up to 240 days where you can continue legally working in the US.

This approach is normally a lot less attractive because it takes a lot longer – at the time of writing, the Vermont Processing Center was taking 3.5-5 months. Compared to a quick trip to Vancouver, Toronto, Mexico City or back to Australia where you can get in and out in around 1 week, this slow process was pretty unattractive. However, with COVID-19 in full swing, flights suspended, consulates basically closed and borders closed, the I-129 route (and being stuck in the US while they adjudicate your case) is actually not such a bad thing.

The I-129 Form

The I-129 Form is not a new concept – it has been around a long time. Most folks doing E-3 initial visas or renewals, however, don’t know about it or choose to do it because it is a lot slower.

You can download the I-129 form from the USCIS here. They also provide really quite clear and helpful advice on completing the application (ie, what boxes to tick for what you need to do) in their I-129 Instructions PDF.

The way it works is that you get your LCA (which could be also difficult in these times) and send in the Petition (the employer is the petitioner) to the Vermont processing center (at the time of writing). The form and the additional materials come to about 60 pages, but the good news is that E-3 visas (once again) get off pretty lightly – most of the higher cost and additional paperwork is for H1-B and some other visas.

The instructions PDF at the time of writing said the following information would be required along with the I-129 form:

For all classifications, if a beneficiary is seeking a change of status or extension of stay, evidence of maintenance of status must be included with the new petition. If the beneficiary is employed in the United States, the petitioner may submit copies of the beneficiary’s last 2 pay stubs, Form W-2, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) transcripts of the beneficiary’s federal individual income tax return for the three most recent tax years, and other relevant evidence.

Principles of Extension

From an employment perspective, as I understand it there are two things someone on an E-3 visa needs to remain legal in the US – permission to be in the US, and permission to work in the US.

Permission to be in the US (the I-94)

Whenever we cross the border into the US, the guy/girl behind the counter at CPB (in between asking about our work and taking our fingerprints) is creating a new I-94 for us. The I-94 is the document that gives us permission to be in the US. Per the USCIS FAQ on extending your stay:

“..the admissons (sic) stamp in your travel document or the I-94/I-94W shows how long you are permitted to remain in the United States, but your nonimmigrant visa (if a visa was issued) does not. A visa only shows when and how many times you may seek admission to the United States from abroad based on the classification noted on your visa.” (emphasis added)

As long as your passport is valid and you apply before your I-94 expires, you’re generally able to apply to extend your stay from within the US.

When it comes to our I-94s, I honestly don’t know why they give us 2 years from date of arrival – I’ve seen I-94 dates extend beyond the expiry of a passport, and except for showing up the date our visa is granted, it also means the I-94 expires after our visa. Considering how inflexible/crazy the whole system is, it is pretty strange to me that they do it. I’ve also heard that it isn’t guaranteed that your I-94 will go for 2 years from the date of entry, so it might be laziness by CPB officers who just know the visa is a 2 year visa and so set the expiry of the I-94 to be that long. If it is laziness, that’s great, because having an I-94 expiring in the future is critical to being able to do the extension via I-129 process.

Permission to work in the US (the E-3 visa)

Since this is about extending your visa, this is where the focus of the application/process is. I still have a few questions at the time of writing about how this all works, but given the alternatives right now are close to nil, I figured this was posting about (was going to wait until the process completed, but COVID-19 has a lot of people unable to travel so having something out there is better than nothing).

An important note here is that for an E-3 visa extension/renewal/modification, it is ideally the (new) employer who is petitioning USCIS on behalf of the employee (the FAQ at for Temporary Nonimmigrant Workers calls out E-3 as one of the visas that someone can submit their own I-129 for).

The easiest method (and only one I’ve tried) is the extension of same role for same employer, and I’ve read conflicting information about whether this approach works for changing employers – H1-B and H2-A statuses are specifically allowed to change employers while the I-129 is being processed, but E-3 might get caught in the rule “The employee cannot begin working for the new employer until USCIS approves the petition.” (see this FAQ under “Changing Employers” heading)

For the extension of a visa for the same employer (from this FAQ):

To extend the period for which a nonimmigrant employee was admitted, an employer must file a new Form I-129 petition for the employee. Generally, the employee may continue working for the same employer for up to 240 days or until USCIS makes a decision on the petition, whichever is sooner.

If you’re the employer, you need to submit a new I-9 (asserting you’ve checked the validity of the visa/work rights of an employee), and since you can’t eyeball a visa that isn’t yet in their passport, you should:

write “240-Day Ext.” and the date he or she submitted the Form I-129 petition to USCIS in the margin of Form I-9 next to Section 2

Special Note if you have dependents:

While the employer files the I-129 for your E-3 visa, you need to file a single I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status for all of your dependents and get them processed at the same time. From the same FAQ above:

If your employer files a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, to extend your stay and your spouse or unmarried children under age 21 also want to extend their stay, they need to file (paper based or e-file electronically) using Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. They can all be included on one I-539. It is best to file the I-129 and I-539 together so that they can be adjudicated about the same time. Remember, though, that they are separate applications. Therefore, you and your family members (and your employer) must follow the instructions and attach all supporting documents with each application, even when filing the forms together.

What I haven’t been able to determine is what happens when USCIS actually comes back and says “sure, you’re approved to extend stay”. The visa in the passport is still showing a date that has expired, so you won’t want to come back across a border without getting a new visa in your passport – I don’t know if you can then apply for a fresh visa on-shore or if you’re basically going to be looking at your next international trip also incorporating some time on a visa-run.

How to get useful feedback on your business idea

A startup mailing list I’m on recently had a customer-development survey link posted to it for an idea I thought was absolutely terrible. It is another “buy food from an app and have it delivered to you” product, but in this case they take inputs from you about your food preferences, dietary issues, etc and a personal chef puts together a menu for you, cooks the food and delivers it themselves.

I didn’t think it was a terrible idea as a consumer – but as a business it is pretty much doomed. This is due to:

  • High customer acquisition cost (especially in mobile today) and a small addressable market who’ll actually pay (a lot more) money for more healthy, convenient food (as opposed to those who say they will).
  • High churn. Having used a number of these product before, the reality it that you get to the end of a busy week where you ate out once or had something after work you didn’t expect and then you look at those expensive leftovers in the fridge at the end of the week and cancel. If you go on vacation/holiday for a week, you cancel and you don’t come back.
  • Horrible unit economics. Even if you find people affordably and they stick around more than for any other service who’ve tried this, your main variable input cost is labor which has to be geographically proximate to your high income buyer, so that won’t be cheap. Your other key input is food, which is perishable and the personal menu thing eliminates economies of scale in procurement and production.

Like most of the other app-driven food businesses I’ve seen raise money and fail here in San Francisco, it seems like a great business to make a small fortune with – as long as you start with a big fortune!

It got me thinking though: how in the hell did this nice, smart guy think it made sense to build this business?

I could be wrong, but my hunch is the cause lies in how he validated his initial business idea. The process is usually:

  1. The entrepreneur has an idea they think is awesome. Sometimes it comes as a result of trying too hard and for too long to think of something (so the relief of being done is a payoff enough in your mind). Smart people have lots of shit ideas – that’s normal unfortunately.
  2. The entrepreneur pitches this idea to their friends and family as their idea. Your friends and family like you a lot, so they’re very disincentivized to say something that will hurt you. This, combined with the “everyone get a trophy” view of life (reward for trying!) means you get reinforcing feedback from most. Those who have critical feedback will tell you in a way that is non-specific so they don’t make you feel like an idiot.
  3. The entrepreneur gets encouragement and validation and moves forward. The journey they embark on soaks up their savings and a decade of their life, often on a shit idea they fell in love with and in no small part because the people who care the most about the entrepreneur didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

The solution to this problem is to reverse Step #2.

You’re still going to have ideas, and you’ll be emotionally invested and too close to them so you need external input.

You’re still going to pitch friends and family and folks you know because they’re the only ones who’ll listen to you long enough to hear you out.

But instead of telling them about your idea, you tell them about “this startup” you recently met with and you’re thinking of investing in them.

Then tell them about the idea of “this startup”, and for extra seriousness tell them you’re thinking of investing the money you’ve saved for a house downpayment (or mortgaging a house you already own).

Then you’ll get real feedback on whether what you’re doing makes any sense to them as a buyer (and they’ll extrapolating to include their own friends, experiences, colleagues, etc). They’ll tell you what they really think. Many people will tell you you’re insane to invest money in a way that has risk (see Loss Aversion for more on this), and you should politely park the financial advice feedback. What you’re looking for is objections or insights into the problem that you’re trying to solve (through the fiction of “this startup”). Welcome all the objections, and understand them, because if the people you’ve asked are your target market, you’ll be facing anyway, often unseen and unheard, in that target market. This negative feedback helps you to get ahead of them.

This is probably the most important thing an early stage startup founder can do, but also realize you can’t do it 3x times a week. Save this for the ideas that you really really think have legs, cause you can only do it once a month at the most, but seek out negative feedback bias – the positive stuff is much more commonly the path to ruin.

Stopping Autoplay Videos on News Websites with Adblock Plus

Like many Aussie and Kiwi ex-pats I know, checking in on the news in the old country is both a habit and an escape, but the constant attempts by the old print media to “reinvent” themselves as broadcast/video media had lead to an irritating and increasingly prevalent feature on news articles – the Autoplay video.

autoplay-facebook

For the many folks out there already using an AdBlocker, here’s how you can add a couple of custom rules you can add to AdBlock Plus to stop these videos from running.

  1. Click on AdBlock and choose “Options”.
  2. In the top menu bar, click on “Customize”.
  3. In the lower part, click on the “Edit” button next to the “Manually edit your filters” heading.

When you’re there, add the following two lines to the list of filters to block:

http://ffxapm-a.akamaihd.net/*videoId=
newsvidwsj.news.com.au
brightcove$domain=nzherald.co.nz

The first one will block videos from running on smh.com.au, theage.com.au and (probably AFR) as the videos themselves come down from Fairfax’s account with Akamai, a content delivery network. Note that it is just blocking requests with videoId= in them – so other stuff coming from Fairfax’s Akamai account will still work.

glorious-video-player-error

The second one will block videos on websites powered by News Limited (such as news.com.au, and if you’re one of *those* people, dailytelegraph.com.au). It means hard-blocking the video server used by news.com.au.

glorious-video-player-error-news.com.au

The third one blocks anything with Brightcove (the name of the vendor that provides the video tech) in the title on the New Zealand Herald – since the NZ Herald is still using Shockwave, you basically need to stop the Brightcove player from loading it all rather than blocking the content you don’t want to autoplay.

glorious-video-player-error-nzherald.co.nz

I’m well aware that this isn’t the most elegant solution – having a way to set the JS preference/cookie to respect the “Never Play” and have it work even when you’re using Incognito mode would be much nicer – but this gets the job done pretty quickly using an extension used by millions.

Hope this helps other people avoid this irritation, especially when you’re reading the news at your desk at work and you don’t want some shittly produced video screaming out of your computer speakers.

Oh, and if you’ve got your own examples to add for your fav news websites, please add them in the comments!

Watching ABC’s iView from outside Australia without a VPN

As an Aussie expat, it is a shame that all the awesome stuff on ABC’s iView site is locked away. Aside from wanting to keep across what’s going on back in Australia, there’s truly world-class content produced regularly for 4Corners, Foreign Correspondent and stacks of great documentaries too.

The good news is that it is actually really easy and inexpensive to get this content where-ever you are in the world using a service called Unotelly and either your web browser or a copy of their Android app.

Unotelly

Unotelly is an awesome and inexpensive service (can be as cheap as US$3/month) which uses some trickery around DNS (which is like the internet’s phone directory) to trick the ABC servers into thinking you’re in Australia when you’re not.

Unlike a VPN (which requires you to designate a destination and puts a bunch more stuff between you and the stream you’re trying to watch), the Unotelly service just tricks the providers at the point of authentication/connection, and then the actual stream (which you want to be fast) comes down without anything between the server and you watching the video.

After signing up for an account (which you can trial for free for 8 days) and getting the service set up (they have a handy wizard and how-to guides for many services), you simply use the “Dynamo” config screen and scroll down to find the reference to ABC iView. Check the “Australia” radio button, and then head on over to iview.abc.net.au and start watching.

unotelly-abc-iview

Note: if you’ve previously been to iView and gotten the “Sorry, you can’t watch this from outside Australia” message, you might need to clear your cookies or use an incognito/private window to get past the fact they’ve previously blocked your browser.

Watching iView on Android

If you’ve got an Android device, you can also get iView going on your phone, which then also allows you to use your Chromecast to watch iView programs on your big TV screen.

While anyone who’s in Australia can install ABC iView from the Play Store, if you’re outside Australia you’ll be told the app isn’t compatible with any of your devices. This isn’t actually true – it is a policy choice by the ABC, and has nothing to do with compatibility.

Thankfully, the folks over UKTVApps.com have provided the installer files for ABC iView (and SBS On Demand) you to download and install manually on Android. I downloaded and installed the iView app and because my phone is using my home WiFi (which is configured to use Unotelly for DNS now) I just had to fine up the app once installed and start watching!

Watching NBA without Blackouts or a VPN (and much more!)

As a big fan of the NBA (and particularly my adopted home town team, the Golden State Warriors) I was pretty excited to get into this year’s season. While previous seasons have been aided by borrowing the Comcast credentials from a friend and streaming games via the CSN Bay Area channel (laptop to HDMI to TV), the friend in question has now moved away and cancelled their account, and I was stuck trying to work out the best way to watch games. After a bunch of trial and error, I think this is the best way for cord cutters to stream the NBA without being jammed with an extra $400 a year in cable fees.

The awesome NBA League Pass – and its massive flaw

The League Pass service from the NBA is awesome. You can choose to buy a season-long package for a single team or the whole NBA, and you can stream games from lots of different devices – pretty much perfect.

Except for its massive flaw.

I don’t have a lot of spare time, so I tend to just watch the games of the team I follow: the Warriors. Buying a team-pass for $120 comes out to a bit under $20/month (given the length of the regular season), which seems like a fair deal.

As you’d expect, the team play half their games at home, and half their games away through the season. Unfortunately, though, the club (or the NBA?) has done a deal where Comcast (the monopoly Cable TV provider in San Francisco and most of the Bay Area) is the only provider allowed to show games in the San Francisco Bay Area, via their CSN Bay Area channel. This means, after buying the NBA League Pass, 50% of the games I want to watch aren’t available to me – the League Pass service applies a blackout.

I called Comcast (because the NBA League Pass can be provided through your cable provider too) to see whether buying it through them would unlock the blackout, but unfortunately it doesn’t; buying through the cable company is just a reseller billing thing with all the same restrictions. The only way to get all of the games would be to upgrade by package costs by 50% to get the one channel I need, at a cost of around $400 per year. This is only 50% more than buying League Pass, but like most people forced to buy from a monopoly, I’ll do almost anything I can to avoid giving that pack of arseholes any more money on principle alone.

Overcoming the Blackout without a VPN

Now, like any techie out there knows, the strongest solution to this problem is the same solution to ham-fisted online censorship or security/privacy overreach by bone-headed sovereign governments – a VPN.

The effect of a VPN is to take your internet connection here in, say, San Francisco, and tunnel or connect to another country. When your data pops out of that other location, you’ll look like you’re actually in that location, so if you want to get around things like these League Pass blackouts you can use a VPN to appear to be somewhere else.

Unfortunately, there’s a few issues with VPNs, mainly around hassle and performance. The ability to tunnel is cool conceptually, but when you’re trying to stream a real time game in high quality video, having to have all that data go via another country to get into the tunnel (as well as the overhead in encrypting/decrypting it) isn’t ideal. Additionally, most VPN implementations are “all or nothing” affairs, where every bit of traffic going out from your network goes into the tunnel. (Note: while it is possible to define just some traffic to use the VPN via routing tables, the idea of having to keep track of all of the NBA League Pass server addresses to make sure I’m routing the traffic right is more hassle than I’m prepared to put up with).

So, ideally, I was looking to overcome the backout without needing to implement a full VPN if I could help it.

The great news is there is a solution out there, and it can actually save you money too!

Unotelly – overcoming geoblocking/blackouts without a VPN

Unotelly is an inexpensive online service designed specifically to help regular people get around the headaches of this sort of geo-bullshit with a minimum of effort. The way is works is that you update the DNS settings of your device (usually you do this at the router – the thing which connects you to the internet) so that the act of going to a website like watch.nba.com gets tweaked and fools the NBA servers into thinking you’re somewhere else in the world.

The folks at Unotelly have put together a handy guide, and the good news is that it really works well! Basically, once you’ve got the Unotelly service active, you turn on the “South Africa” option in the Dynamo section of their control panel, and then you can go to the NBA League Pass website and sign up for an account.

When you’re signing up to league pass you’ll need to have a postal code for South Africa when getting your account – I used a part of Cape Town (postcode 8001) and it worked fine. It also allowed me to change the billing address on my credit card to be my address here in the US, and while the signup on the NBA site was frankly slow and clunky, it did work in the end.

With Unotelly, I’ve now got the ability to fire up a game in my Chrome browser and then hit the Chromecast option and have it stream in super high quality to my TV. Because I’m not using a VPN, the delivery of the video stream does not go via South Africa – this is just used for the account sign in and auth piece, which means I can watch my Warriors games without any blackout restrictions at all.

Oh, and the saving money bit? Because of the end of the commodities boom and the incompetence/corruption of Jacob Zuma’s government in South Africa, their currency has plummeted around 25% this year. This, combined with the NBA’s choices about what each country can afford to pay means the price of a single-team league pass right now (middle of the season) is less than US$60! So, with 4 months to go I’m spending $15/month with the NBA and $3.50 a month for Unotelly to watch any Warriors game without blackouts.

And there’s more!!!

The great thing about the Unotelly service is that your subscription with it unlocks more than just NBA League Pass – check out my other post on how you can also stream free content from ABC’s iView app (normally restricted just to Australians) using the same Unotelly account.

Advice for folks “putting my feelers out to find opportunities” in SF/Silicon Valley

From time to time someone will email (or be introduced via email) who’s exploring career opportunities in San Francisco or Silicon Valley. Here’s a variation of an email I recently wrote to answer this question – hopefully by putting this somewhere Google can find it I can help more people who are wondering how to have a look at the epicenter of the tech boom for themselves.

To start with, pick a conference or event that is here in a field you’re into and come. Plan to spend 2 weeks or so – aim for an AirBNB or some other form of non-hotel short term rental.

Do a lot of networking upfront – LinkedIn is very well used here.

The main conferences will have plenty of opportunities for Meetups – using Meetup.com and Eventbrite is the best way to find them; they’re often free and sponsors often pay for the hospitality/drinks so they’re great on multiple levels.

Make sure you time your run between the start of September and the middle of November, or then between February and the middle of June. These are the main conference and business seasons – the “holidays” (which is the last 6 weeks of the year from before Thanksgiving until January) and the summer break up these two seasons, and everything you’re looking for – networking, connections, insights – slows down a lot.

The other comment to make is that the Bay area is absolutely inundated with folks – from great schools with great resumes and networks – who want to get into opportunities in the tech space coming out of business schools etc. For 20 years all these folks went to New York and tried their hand at consulting or investment banking or something else that pays smart people very well.

This decade so far, the Bay Area is the new “New York” where smart people come to make their mark, even if they aren’t naturally tech folks or with tech skills – lots of smart folks want in even if they don’t quite know what it is they want into (or have any specific skills or backgrounds to help them stand out other than being smart and going to good schools etc).

I’m just telling you this to set expectations that an email or intro from someone who is “exploring opportunities” isn’t going to get you far – this place is insanely competitive, but if you say “I’m an engineer who helped define the MPEG standard for variable bandwidth video streaming in 10 years ago with a focus on low-power decompression and I’m looking for a new project in the VR space” you’ll get much more of a hearing.

Americans (at least on the west coast) are also very polite, will rarely tell you no (partly because they want to have the option to re-engage if it turns out you do have something special to offer) and a lot of the non-operators in the industry (VCs, lawyers, advisers, marketing people etc) make their money harnessing smart ideas from smart people (operators) so they rarely turn down a chance to chat with someone just in case they’re the next big thing. So, keep that in mind as you evaluate the connections you form (and whether they’ll progress from a genuinely polite conversation and a promise to ‘keep in touch’) while you’re here.

Best of luck – this place isn’t easy, but then being the commercial center of the industry that’s reshaping the world probably shouldn’t be easy anyway 😉

Geoff

Why Uber (and Lyft) Win (over taxis): Public support 500x more than cabs

Got an email from Change.org inviting me to sign two competing petitions. One of them is to ban “illegal” Uber in one state of Australia, and the other is to change the rules to allow Uber in another state.

taxi-vs-uber-petitions

On face value, the numbers are pretty clearly running in Uber’s direction (at time of writing).

So, on this basis people are 4:1 in favour of Uber – which is why in pretty much all democracies the rules are changing to support what people want over the interests of a cartel.

Then I had a look at how long these petitions have been published and promoted. The Taxi protecting petition has been running for 8 months, but the Uber supporting petition has been running for 2 days.

This means, in time adjusted terms, the ratio of support for Uber vs Taxis is around 500:1 (i.e, the average number of signatures in the taxi-protection camp is 7.3 per day, but Uber-support is seeing 3354 per day).

Obviously these are two change.org petitions so these statistics are not in any way mathematically rigorous and the people who sign change.org petitions tend to be younger and more tech savvy, but 500:1 is a massive tilt – enough to tell you why any country where the citizens expect their governments to not run a protection racket at the expense of the populous Uber (and Lyft etc) win.

Avoiding chavs/bogans/white-trash while on vacation in Majorca

Port de SollerThis summer my fiancee and I took a vacation to Europe, and we decided to go to Majorca (also spelled Mallorca) for our “relax by the Med” part of our trip.

One of the hardest things to work out what was how to avoid the hordes of chavs (also known as bogans or white trash) who I’d heard take cheap flights from all over the UK to Majorca. Having been stuck in the past in hotels with the loud, obnoxious and proudly ignorant folks (we’ve got plenty of them in Australia too, where they ruin Bali) I was hoping to find a review or some advice on how to avoid them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck – the tourist industry in Majorca needs their money as much as anyone else’s, and the only reviews in Tripadvisor forums were clearly clever and funny spoofs – so no use there 😦

Thankfully, we took a chance on Port de Soller, figuring it would be further from the airport in Palma and chavs are as lazy as they are ignorant (unless there’s an all you can drink inclusion in the package deal, in which case they’ll go anywhere).

Turns out we got lucky – Port de Soller was a great choice, a super lovely place on the coast with amazing mountains around it and a really nice feel. It had a great cross-section of visitors, including couples, young families, grown up families and elderly folks too. Everyone was friendly and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending the place if you’re looking for a truly beautiful part of Majorca without hordes of chavs, bogans or white trash.