Zion National Park

Laura and I had the opportunity to spend a couple days in Zion after CES. It’s actually a great place to visit in the Winter. The park was practically empty, places to stay were cheap, and it was perfect hiking weather.

Angels Landing, with its steep narrow final stretch, was definitely a highlight. Quite a few people on the trail had turned back before reaching the end (and the signs continuously remind you that quite a few people have fallen off and died), so I was actually expecting it to be more narrow than it is. When I got to the end, I didn’t realize I was there because I was expecting to hit a point where I questioned whether I’d continue. Not to say it isn’t intense.

Here are a few shots, first from the West Rim Trail hike on the way to Angels Landing:

Samuel Kornstein: Zion National Park &emdash; Zion_National_Park-1

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Samuel Kornstein: Zion National Park &emdash; Zion_National_Park-3

And here’s the final stretch:

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It actually felt steeper on the way down:

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We drove around and had some good views, mostly in the evening and the following morning:

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Another highlight was the Watchman Trail, where we saw a bunch of mule deer:

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And the view at the top:

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Check Out Startup from Gimlet Media

I’ve listened to NPR on a regular basis for years, but hadn’t gotten into the habit of subscribing to shows using a podcast app until recently. I would typically listen to RadioLab, The TED Radio Hour, and Planet Money, all through the NPR app. And I’d sometimes catch This American Life on the radio. All this probably makes me an extremely typical casual NPR listener.

To me, good online radio has always been synonymous with NPR, and I had never seen a compelling reason to explore further. Not because I didn’t think there was other interesting content out there, but I figured that if it hadn’t found me, it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

That has changed. I’m now a podcast person, and it began with a new series called Startup.

I first learned about it a few months ago when a friend told me about how my business school classmate, Matt Lieber, was a cofounder of a venture backed startup. I asked what they do. He said they are a podcast, but also a podcast platform. I asked him to elaborate.

He explained that it was a bit confusing, and that they might be a technology platform, but they definitely have created a podcast about their startup. And he thought they were trying to make more podcasts, but he was also almost certain there was a tech play, likely with an app. I told him that this made no sense to me. He said he was still trying to figure it out as well, but they definitely had momentum because they raised a bunch of cash. So I was very much confused, but intrigued.

It took me a while to finally look into Matt’s startup. When I did, I understood the initial vision after listening to two minutes of the first episode of the Startup podcast.

In short:

-Alex Blumberg used to be involved with This American Life and Planet Money

-He contributed to the success of these shows, and understands first hand what it takes to build awesome audio programs

-While there are many great audio programs out there, he thinks it’s a shame there aren’t even more, as he believes the market could be much larger if there were more organizations innovating and catering to a diverse range of interests/topics

-His vision is to build an ad supported for-profit audio content company that thinks up and produces a bunch of awesome new audio programs

-He decided to document his journey building this company, and so he started Startup, a podcast about building a podcast company

Startup received a good amount of media attention, which ultimately helped facilitate an initial round of funding at a very favorable valuation. At some point along the way Alex realized he needed help from someone with business experience, and he found Matt.

After listening to the first episode, I was hooked and went through the next nine over a span of a few days. There are a few angles to its appeal. To start, it’s a good story. Alex is a talented storyteller, and he’s woven together his experiences taking this company from an idea into a funded business in a compelling way.

It also offers a rare glimpse into the process of raising a round of funding, and getting a startup off the ground. Regardless of the industry, many of the challenges Alex and Matt face – pitching investors, coming up with a name, negotiating equity with a cofounder, hiring employees – are relevant to most startups.

And finally, it’s really honest. Throughout the series, Alex walks through many of their mistakes, challenges, and fears. Botched investor pitches, a bad start to the equity negotiation with Matt, a really embarrassing advertising mistake, burned out employees. Many startups go to great lengths to hide or spin their mistakes and worries, and to inflate their success. Alex and Matt aren’t, and it’s refreshing.

The story also really evolves as their business grows. By episode eight, the company had hired a team to launch another podcast, and Alex introduces their second show, Reply All, which is also worth a listen.

Here’s the first Startup episode, give it a shot:

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A Dog that Rides the Bus Alone

Continuing with my above average quantity of dog-related posts, my friend Jenny recently sent me this article, about a dog in Seattle:

Commuters in Belltown report seeing a Black Labrador riding the bus alone in recent weeks. The 2-year old has been spotted roaming the aisles, hopping onto seats next to strangers, and even doing her part to clean the bus — by licking her surroundings.

“All the bus drivers know her. She sits here just like a person does,” said commuter Tiona Rainwater, as she rode the bus through downtown Monday. “She makes everybody happy. How could you not love this thing?”

When the dog got off the bus – without an owner – at a dog park last week, it piqued the curiosity of local radio host Miles Montgomery of KISW-FM.

“It doesn’t really appear to have an owner. The dog gets off at the dog park. I just look out the window and I’m like, ‘did that just happen?'” Montgomery asked. “She was most concerned about seeing out the window, and I couldn’t figure out what that was. It was really just about seeing where her stop was.”

I recommend just watching the video:

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You wanna know what takes real courage?

I am very much looking forward to the last weekend in February:

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Mother: Interesting in Concept, Creepy in Execution

One thing I saw at CES was Mother, a a ghost-like bowling pin-shaped hub that has a glowing smiley face. It comes with “motion cookies” that you place on various objects. You set goals (e.g., I want to drink more water), place the cookie on a water bottle, and then “mother” tracks how well you’re keeping up with your goals. Seems like some interesting technology, although seems a quite bit excessive for most people. I just couldn’t get over the way it looks:2015-01-06 10.49.51

mother senseHere’s a promotional video with more examples of the device and use cases:

I’m not sure the “Mother knows everything” motto evokes the “this will make your life easier” vibe the company is shooting for:

mother1 Sense Mother   because mother always wants the best for you

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Tech East and More of Day 1 at CES

I wrapped up at Tech West (previous posts here and here), and in the afternoon I ventured over to Tech East at the Las Vegas Convention Center where many of the larger tech firms have their exhibits.

A big theme this year was obviously the Internet of Things (IoT) — connected everything, with a focus on connected home devices. There seems to be a lot of innovation here, and many companies seem to be pushing their products closer to the point at which the benefits of some of these devices justify the (falling) costs, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

Zigbee had a big home automation demo, showing everything from connected lights, speakers, flood monitors, motion sensors, and more:

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New connected lights from Sylvania, which appeared to be competitive with the Hue and Lifx at a much lower price point:

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More home automation from Wemo:

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Not sure who would use this, but there was Droplet, a Roomba-like robotic sprinkler system. Kind of amusing. Who knows, maybe it works:
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There were a few exhibits showing sleek connected car interfaces, and all digital dashboards:

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Of course there were drones, and luckily for everyone at CES, they were all in drone cages:

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I was very impressed with a company that created electronic waterproofing technology. They showed a working circuit board powering a TV above (not shown) and iPhone submerged in water:
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They also had a fully functioning TV, operating in a tank of water:

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Water-free solar panel cleaning robots:

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I was excited to see Nikon’s setup, as I was hoping they’d announce an update to the D7100 camera, but no such update yet. Only a new entry level SLR, the D5500, which does look nice.

2015-01-06 15.52.49I did get to play with a bunch of beautiful lenses. I loved the 300mm f2.8:
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Too bad it’s $6,000.

They had a guy telling stories about amazing photos he took on an African Safari — I was blown away by some of the shots he had taken:

There was a “mirror” that shows you an image of yourself wearing virtual clothes:

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Towards the end I made it over the to bigger exhibits, which were impressive, but nothing too surprising.

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Just when I thought 4K TVs were only getting started, there were 4K Ultra TVs, 4K 3D TVs that didn’t require any glasses (they made me dizzy), and a whole new line of 8K TVs. They looked beautiful, but with all the competing technologies, it just made me think I don’t want to upgrade my TV for a very long time.

Curved TVs were a big craze. Nearly all of Samsung’s TVs were curved:

2015-01-06 16.25.17 2015-01-06 16.24.58They just made me think of this from Vizio:

Curved TV seating chart


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And finally Sony:

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That was it for day 1. My iPhone step counter says I walked 11 miles.

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3D Printing at CES

In my second hour at CES, after spending some time looking at health trackers, I stumbled into the 3D printing area. There seemed to be hundreds of firms showing off their 3D printing skills, and all of the plastic things they printed. I was struck by how many firms are eagerly competing and innovating here.

The first printer I saw, and maybe my favorite, was Zeus: A 3D scan, print, copy, fax machine:

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When pressed, the Zeus guy admitted the fax button just sends a copy of a scan to any other connected Zeus machine over the internet, but still. I was impressed. I asked about resolution, and learned that it’s measured in layer microns, and the highest (smallest) resolution of this machine was 80 microns, but it could print more quickly to other resolutions. Here they made a copy (left) of a Zeus figure (right):

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And here’s an elephant, printed at 200 microns. The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but it has a number of moving, interlocking parts, all of which were printed in one go, with no need for assembly:

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Another printer we spent some time looking at was the Cube, which offers a range of consumer-focused 3D printers
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While I know 3D printing technology has come a long way in the past few years, going from an interesting idea to an effective way to illegally make guns or to send tools to the international space station, the sense I got from the conference is that this is only the beginning, and quality keeps rising while prices have dropped to the point where you can easily buy a 3D printer for less than $1k. Good stuff.

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First Day at CES

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I spent my first full day at CES, and most of the descriptions I’ve read are spot on. It’s a complete zoo, it’s exhausting, and it’s awesome. I started the day at Tech West, spending most of my time in the Sands Expo. I first worked my way through more fitness/health trackers than I previously could have imagined existed. There were obviously dozens of Fitbit-like step counters and sleep trackers, which seemed increasingly irrelevant as much of this functionality, at least the step counter part, is a feature on most new smartphones.

I found a “Smart Basketball”, 94fifty, that sends real time data on your shot speed, backspin, arc, and dribbling to your phone:

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There was Skulpt, which initially sounded ridiculous to me, but within minutes I was very impressed. It’s a piece of hardware that measures the strength of each of your muscles. You have to hold it to each muscle area — forearm, bicep, tricep, shoulder, quad, etc — to get a reading. It then rates each muscle on a quality and fat percentage scale. You can then use the readings to set goals and track results with follow-up readings. Again, it sounds ridiculous. But it was very easy and quick to use. The hardware seemed thoughtful, and the software looked impressive and easy to use and interpret.

I rolled up my sleeve and the founder put the hardware up to my arm to get a reading, which took about two seconds. My muscle quality was 110, which was characterized as fit, while my fat percentage was “amazing” — must be all the pushups from the 10K Pushup Challenge:

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Here’s their breakdown of muscle quality readings:


I tried another health reader, MyBiody Balance, which requires you to take their hardware and hold it in one hand while touching the other side to your ankle, and it reads bone mass, muscle density, hydration, body fat and a few other metrics. I found the hardware to be awkward and klunky. It’s a French company, and it was amusing to watch the two representatives arguing in French accents about how I should be holding it. When it wasn’t working, they kept insisting it was the simplest thing in the world, implying the lack of a reading was entirely my fault. After a few tries they got it, and then the device synced some data to an iPad that basically said I was in good health. Not sure who would use this:

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The device looks like a half guitar:

Then there was obviously Fnitbit:

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And a company that makes small tracking devices to put on bikes, skis, snowboards, surf boards, and any other activity hardware — once you’ve attached the devices they track speed, spin, and other motion to provide a 3D rendering of whatever it is you do (e.g., bike jumps, ski flips, etc). Seemed pretty interesting, but obviously not too relevant for the average person:

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I never figured out what this was:

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Of course now that human activity trackers are becoming mainstream, the new frontier is per trackers. There was FitBark, which is a small device that goes on a dog collar to measure steps and distance:

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There was also a wireless pet fence system:

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Bellabeat is a device that allows you to listen to your unborn baby’s heartbeat. Really?

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And finally, not sure why this was here, but there was a free tooth whitening booth:

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So that pretty much covers my first hour of my first day. I’ll hopefully post more soon.

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Lightroom 5 Preset: Highland

It’s been over a year since I’ve added a new Lightroom 5 Preset. I’ve actually got quite a few new ones in the works, and over the next few months will plan to post them. Here’s my thirteenth preset: Highland. It’s a vintage looking filter, with nice oranges, reds, and browns. I’ve found that it’s often helpful to adjust highlights and exposure after using it. Below are some examples. Hope you enjoy, and thanks for all the support.

A highland cow, which inspired the preset:
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An old Porsche that was parked outside my brother’s Vancouver apartment when I visited:
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A couple Mariachi’s waiting for the bus in Meixco City:
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And a few produce traders in New Delhi:
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Here’s the download: Lightroom 5 Preset: Highland

To install it in Lightroom, simply right click any preset, select import, and then select the downloaded preset file.

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More Population Density Maps

As a follow-up to my earlier post here, Vox just shared a city level visualization of population density for nine cities. Similar approach, but much more granular city-level data:

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