Kartones Blog

Be the change you wanna see in this world

Course Review: Essential Business English (Udemy)

Last christmas I decided to try to improve my english, so work lessons aside, I enrolled into a university course (B2 European level-equivalent), and now I'm also taking some Udemy english-related courses. This is the review of the first one I've fully studied (handy also for my incoming university exam).

Note: I'm not going to judge the price of courses because we now have at work Udemy for Business accounts so I get access to most of them "for free" and thus I cannot be totally objective regarding price/value. I prefer to focus on a small review of the quality and contents.

So, the first course I've finished is Essential Business English, which contains 2 hours of video with work-related conversations: How to hold a meeting, discuss, interrupt, making business calls, scheduling, complaining about delivery problems, introducing new employees... It also includes some exercises, both inside the videos (showing you the correct answer after a while) and in companion PDFs, online crosswords, quizs and other resources. Videos contain funny but well drawn cartoons and the pronunciation and quality of the audio is excellent.

It feels a bit short but well organized and easy to follow and study.


Alternatives to Google Services

I value a lot my privacy, much further than the mere act of adblocking half of the internet to avoid targeted advertisement and tracking. While my specific methods and tools evolve over time (although are still similar to those I wrote about in 2015), sometimes you get "vendor locked-in" and becomes hard to break free from those restrictions.

While I think Google is awesome as a technical company, they also worry me a lot because of the power to store, infer and correlate information about mostly everything. And for many years I've been using Google Apps for Domain and many of their services... They are generally great, convenient and powerful. But, at the same time, you feed more info and even leave private bits (emails, appointments, documents) inside them. And that was something I wasn't comfortable with.

So, a few months ago I decided to build a plan on how to cut my ties with GApps. This are the results and the services I use instead of Google's. There are "cheats" and I'm also restricted to use Linux so others using Windows or Mac will probably have better (paid) alternatives.

That said, let's go with the list:

GMail and mail Contacts: I'm a happy paying ProtonMail user. I exported all my old emails to Mozilla Thunderbird just in case I need to check something but I've decided to keep a "sliding window" of a few years of emails (I think is around 6) and wipe out older stuff.

GDrive: I decided to use Dropbox after getting tired of synchronization conflicts using Box, with a third-party sync script as there isn't even official Linux support. Dropbox Linux client works flawlessly.

Documents and spreadsheets: I combine Dropbox with LibreOffice. LibreOffice is painful to use (feels and works like a bad copy of MS Office 2000), but I haven't got anything better and don't want to need to boot up a VM with a proper MS Office inside for editing documents.

Keep/notes: I use Dropbox Paper, which is really nice on the desktop and works from mobile, although sometimes feels slow responding to typing.

Search: I've been using for years DuckDuckGo and don't miss at all Google's previously-incredible-but-now-increasingly-biased search results.

Presentations: Here I suffer, because despite not being great, Google Slides were a much better alternative than the terrible LibreOffice Impress. So I sometimes cheated and used my Google Apps account to create the slides, and now I just use a Windows VM with MS Powerpoint. Even a default template in PPTX already has conversion and visualization issues at LibreOffice.

Calendar: I didn't found anything fully satisfying so I built my own crappy alterantive, and being web-based, one app less to install and keep updated.

Chrome/web browser: Firefox, of course. With a few extensions and tweaks. Always loved it since exists, just left it when it got bloated and slow, but it again works amazingly well.

Hangouts: WhatsApp or Telegram, but if needs to be Hangouts there's no alternative but to use it (but only from a desktop browser).

Maps: Can't fully avoid it from mobile, but whenever possible I use CityMapper.

Youtube: Don't use it much and never from mobile, so I just watch whatever others send me being always logged out.

Google+: Only use I can think about this service is as a secret vault, as only Google employees use it and would read them. Bad jokes aside, Twitter is a much better alternative to share links and blog posts.

And then comes the big catch... What to do if you use an Android phone? Well... here basically you're screwed up. You have to keep using it, and somehow manually synchronizing your phone contacts (which are in fact GMail ones) with whatever system you use [1]. This is the only real setback I have... I ended up using a different domain name for my new email, so the account is not even Google Apps enabled. I left the old one mostly to use the phone and redirect emails.

[1] In my case I just manually add new contacts to ProtonMail, so it doesn't gets full of clutter from people who wrote or called me just once (as happens with GMail).


Course Review: GCP Cloud Architect (Udemy)

I've been exploring the online video courses "learning path" since a year and a half, making this one the third course I finish. Two are from Udemy (paid but cheap) and one from Coursera (free). As at work we're migrating some services from AWS to GCP I thought would be a nice idea to repeat Udemy, based on how good the other AWS course was.

Google Cloud Platform - Cloud Architect "In depth coverage of all Services, 200+ Practice questions & 4 Case Studies Design" Sounded quite nice, covering services like Compute, Storage & Database, Networking, VPN & VPC, IAM, Security, Management Tools, and intros to ML and BigData. And while yes, it covers all those topics, it is more like an introduction to them.

Sadly, I'll dedicate the remainder of the post to why you shouldn't bother buying that course even if has some huge discount, so let's get to it:

There is absolutely no cadency when speaking, it is a mere reading of either the slides or slide notes (those not so frequent times that there's more content than what you see). Add to that both typos and mistakes at the slides with errors when reading them, and you get a fatal combo. It was so terrible that I've studied more than half of the course without sound, pausing and advancing myself "the slides". Because another issue is that many times the author is either not even checking his "reading position" regarding the visual content, or doesn't cares, so after reading like a robot a big bullet list, if you're not fast stopping the video, you almost won't read the final line.

Other issues are terrible speaking errors and pauses, which should have meant a re-recording of the segment, but instead were left. Or mistakes like going out of MS Powerpoint presentation mode and not caring to turn it on again until after a while, like here: screenshot

Another of my top annoyances is the mouse pointer. on each and every video you see the little annoying pointer being used sometimes to remark things but many things to just leave it anywhere, usually covering letters, diagrams and most times distracting the watcher.

Everything looks like coming from a teacher/evangelist kit or directly from Google web documentation, which I'm not against but combined with all the previous defects makes the course as a whole lacking any quality. If we were given all the slides would be more productive and useful. And the few demos I tried to watch and follow, were so terribly prepared (full of long pauses, mistakes, etc.) that I skipped all of them.

Now don't get me wrong about one aspect: the author's english is not too bad and could be understood way better if he had made the effort of not reading the notes and focused on real explanations of the contents shown.

I'm a stubborn guy so I went through all the non-demo videos, because you always learn something and I was past refund date anyway.

It might be a nice introduction and less hardcore than digesting all of Google's GCP online documentation at once, but I really doubt it.

Note: I also left a 0.5 / 5 rating of the course inside the learning platform, alongside a detailed explanation of why so low.


Information regarding GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

One topic that is getting more and more attention lately is the GDPR, which stands for General Data Protection Regulation. A new regulation that should start to be fully enforced by May 25th, 2018, and that finally provides many pretty good user-related regulations and limitations. For once, and although not everything is clear or properly detailed, even in general is something that benefits everyone using internet. Even companies, although where it benefits them (performance, security, data protection) is not as interesting as user tracking, retargeting and other marketing and data related areas that must change radically.

For a decade, companies have been harvesting more and more data without our consent, so in theory in less than two months, no more automatic opt-out consents, no more dozens of trackers without at least informing you, no more Delaware-based international companies not complying with EU laws and no more tricks to not be able to delete your accounts. Or at least that's the theory, we'll see how it turns out.

Anyway, this regulation also means that most tech companies are going to be busy this two months adapting to the new laws. At work we've already started to prepare everything and the first thing I noticed is that there are many posts but relevant, quality info was not so easy to come by, so I decided to write this small blog post and gather what we've found interesting.

First, the most important link of all, the regulation itself: https://gdpr-info.eu/art-16-gdpr/

Reading all of it can be a bit daunting at first, but it contains a handy search box that allows to easily find detailed explanations inside the 173 "recitals" and of course in the main regulation itself. Instead, I recommend you to start by going through the following links links from Bozhidar Bozhanov, which provide an interesting and practical digest about the regulation in general and cookies:

If you read it, you'll see that there are hundreds of mentions to "personal data", but what really covers that term? This post is a good explanation.

Another excellent summary guide is Stripe's.

Also, while checking how it affects Google Analytics I came upon this post containing very important topics regarding both Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager and ip anonymization, among other things you should now take care about, like never sending to GA urls containing personally identifiable data (emails and the like).

If you speak or at least read Spanish, the two following links contain all GDPR info translated and into PDF:

One topic that had some discussion at the office was if regarding the "consent checkboxes" you could just go and make all of them mandatory or not allow to use your service. According to recitals 42 and 43:

Consent should not be regarded as freely given if the data subject has no genuine or free choice or is unable to refuse or withdraw consent without detriment.

Consent is presumed not to be freely given if it does not allow separate consent to be given to different personal data processing operations despite it being appropriate in the individual case, or if the performance of a contract, including the provision of a service, is dependent on the consent despite such consent not being necessary for such performance.

So, if I interpreted them correctly, you cannot make it an all-or-nothing choice unless it is really critical for the service to work. Which means, you must provide a way to use the service without being tracked by third parties and the like.

As I mentioned before, let's see how all this gets implemented, but at the very least we'll now be able to own a bit more our data, and also request data exports from any service, the "right to forget" (data deletion). or "processing restriction" (in theory, you allow the service to keep your data but they're forbidden to use it for anything else than basic functionality).

Update: Added Stripe's guide link.


Book Review: The One Thing

Review

The One Thing - book cover

Title: The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

Author: Gary W. Keller, Jay Papasan

I am a bit wary of self-help books as I usually feel I either fully trust them or won't get anything of use (and that some are mere money grabbers). Thankfully, this title is not one of them. It is "only" about focusing your energies, work efforts and even lifestyle one one thing at a time, plus creating a plan to achieve "the one thing" that really drives you, and then proceeding towards that ultimate goal by applying some efficiency techniques.

At around 220 pages, it both contains some really interesting tips, advices and tactics, but also lots of bloating, small stories which sometimes are given a (at least for me) fragile interpretation to adapt to that "one thing seeking" and sometimes multiple paragraphs going in circles around a single concept. It is not bad, and maybe is just that I prefer more condensed information, but my general feeling is that the book could be half the size.

That said, you might fully or partially agree with the topics exposed but I think that there are some good ways of increasing your focus to achieve more.

Notes

  • No one succeeds alone. No one
  • "Where I'd had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success varied, my focus had too"
  • Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus
  • Success is built sequentially. It's one thing at a time
  • "Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least" -Johan Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Equality is a lie
  • When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal
  • The 80/20 Principle (aka Pareto's Principle)
  • Prioritize a to-do list so it becomes a success list. Also, go small, go extreme and say no/discard
  • Multitasking is a lie
  • Disciplined life is a lie. We don't need more discipline, but to direct and manage it better
  • Success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right
  • Once a new behaviour becomes a habit, it takes less discipline to maintain
  • It takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit
  • The act of living a full life by giving time to what matters is a balancing act
  • In your personal life go short and avoid long periods where you're out of balance. [...] Nothing gets left behind
  • In your professional life go long and embrace long periods out of balance. [...] is required [to remove lesser priorities]
  • Life is the art of progressing
  • Think big - Act big - Succeed big
  • The quality of an answer is determined by the quality of the question
  • Asking questions improves learning and performance by as much as 150%
  • Sometimes questions are more important than answers -Nancy Willard
  • Out putpose sets our priority and our priority determines the productivity our actions produce
  • Financially wealthy people are those who have enough money in without having to work to finance their purpose in life
  • Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now -Alan Lakein
  • Purpose without priority is powerless
  • Hyperbolic discounting: the farther away a reward is in the future, the smaller the intermediate motivation to achieve it
  • Goal setting to the now: someday goal -> five-year goal -> one-year goal -> monthly goal -> weekly goal -> daily goal -> right now
  • Getting the most out of what you do, when what you do matters
  • Time blocking: Way of making sure that what has to be done gets done
  • Resting is as important as working
  • Recommendation: block four hours a day
  • Be a "maker" in the morning and a "manager" in the afternoon
  • When stuff pops out in your head, write it down on a task list and get back to what you're supposed to be doing
  • See mastery as a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at
  • 10,000-hour rule: It takes 10k hours to achieve mastery at something
  • A different result requires doing something different
  • absorb setbacks and keep going. [...] persevere through problems and keep pushing forward
  • Circumstances won't change by themselves
  • The four thieves of productivity:
  • Inability to say "no"
  • Fear of chaos
  • Poor health habits
  • Environment [that] doesn't support your goals
  • When you say yes to something, it's imperative that you understand what you're saying no to
  • You can't please everyone, so don't try
  • The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook -William James
  • High achievement and extraordinary results require big energy
  • Spend the early hours energizing yourself
  • Surrond yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher -Oprah Winfrey
  • To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping -Chinese proverb
  • Twenty years from now you will be more dissapointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do -Mark Twain
  • A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one way that stands above all others is living a life of no regrets
  • Life is too short to pile up woulda, coulda, shouldas

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