How Apple or Google could improve mobile e-mail..

We have all seen an e-mail with that ends with “Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry” or “Sent from my iPhone”. These signatures are there to let you know the e-mail was sent from a mobile device (with some not-so-subtle advertising courtesy of the network and/or manufacturer).

But isn’t it time we come up with something better?

What if the e-mail clients themselves just put a small phone icon by each message that came from a mobile device?

It is actually really easy.

In an e-mail, all of the relevant information about the message is stored in something called a header:

From: Vasant Kumar <>
Mime-Version: 1.0 (1.0)
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2011 15:39:43 -0500
Message-ID: <-1564228226113230569@unknownmsgid>
Subject: Test
To: Vasant Kumar <>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1

This header contains what is needed to properly display the e-mail.

Web browsers use headers too and include a user-agent in it to tell a website whether you are using a PC or an iPhone so it can adjust the layout accordingly. E-mail clients support the same thing — it is just never used.

What if mobile e-mail clients used their user-agent to identify themselves as phones?

Then we can get rid of things like “Sent from my iPhone” and replace it with my proposal above.

Will it ever happen? Probably not. It would need to be supported by numerous e-mail clients to work properly and, more importantly, manufacturers aren’t going to want to lose their free marketing.

Still, it’s food for thought.

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Why I walked away from a six-figure salary.

I am killing time on a twelve-hour plane trip from Tokyo to Toronto and I feel compelled to share some of the reasoning behind a few of my recent life decisions.

If you don’t know me, I left my job in Seattle two months ago to move back to Canada. Was it hard work? Yes, but for those who might think otherwise, I never left because I could not hack it.

Before I jump into the work thing, I was at the University of Waterloo for five years. Those five years were a period of intense personal growth for me. Through my program, frosh leading, and via other friends I grew a lot on a personal level and left with what I consider an amazing social network and set of friends. In 2009, I left the comforts of school to move to Seattle to work at

I was at Amazon for only 26 months. I was never the smartest or most experienced person in the room, but I honestly cannot imagine things having worked out better professionally.

Amazon was an amazing, albeit busy experience. I got to learn from people who were leaders in their field, had started their own companies, earned PHDs, and had gone to some of the best business schools in the US. Coming in with no experience, I was surrounded by people who were smarter and more experienced than me and I learned a lot. The organization was also remarkably flat, I saw the CEO in the cafeteria, it was not uncommon to have a VP at a team meeting, and was lucky enough to meet and/or have lunch with a few VPs here and there who who told me about the risks they’ve taken to get where they are.


I launched (an admittedly simple) side project that ended up making the company millions. Billionaire founder/CEO Jeff Bezos personally presented me with an award in front of several thousand people at the company all-hands meeting. I created a strong professional network, netted the highest possible scores on my last performance review that put me somewhere in the top 10% of my level and I got promoted two weeks before I left. My manager netting me the highest raises that he could and combined with a near tripling of my stock options, at only 24, my salary for 2012 would be in the six figures.

Did I make mistakes? Oh, yes. When I joined, I was 22 and green. I was far too concerned with getting things done quickly instead of correctly, acted before I thought, took feedback far too personally, and with zero years of real world experience, I was far more concerned about where I wanted to be instead of where I was.

So why did I leave? While I did more professionally in 2 years than I would have done in 4 (or more) back home, I felt I let 2011 pass me by and felt 2012 could be the same. I missed my life back home and felt like I no longer getting the personal growth I wanted.  I wasn’t quite sure where I was or where I was going. Quarter-life crisis? You bet.

I became torn between the professional credibility, stability and growth I was starting to create for myself in Seattle and personal life I had already built for myself in Canada.


In the end, I realized that I have my life to work on my career and I really just wanted to achieve more personal growth while I was still young, even if it means slowing down my career.  For me, that meant Canada. While I certainly still want a good job, I want more than just that. I already have an established social network in Canada, I can use vacation on actual vacation (instead of visiting Canada), will worry less about why I am living where I am and there is a higher chance of personal growth than starting from scratch in a new city again (at least for me).

When I was torn about leaving, a lot of people in Seattle thought I should stay and a lot of people in Canada thought I should come back. But it was complicated – I was torn between a strong and promising professional life in the states and an equally strong and promising personal life in Canada.

While I was hitting every goal professionally, I was envious of my friends who were travelling, deciding to pursue higher education, who were happier earning less and all in all just growing more on a personal level.

Am I glad I went to Seattle? Absolutely, but I am also glad I left. I am happy I made this decision, but also need to make sure it doesn’t define me or become my claim to fame.

Will Canada work out? Who knows. Will I get a good job? I don’t know. Is it the answer to everything? No, but we’ll see how it turns out.

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There was a lot more to Dr. Seuss than we thought..

The Cat in the HatGrowing up, we all read Dr. Seuss (i.e. Theodor Giesel). Green Eggs and Ham, The Lorax and quite a few more are all sitting in a bookshelf somewhere in parent’s my home. As a child, I remember them as being easy-to-read funny stories, but reading about him as a (youngish) adult I realize there was a lot more to these stories than we likely realized.

Sure, they were easy to read, but the key to their success was that some of them were ridiculously easy to read. The Cat in the Hat used only 236 different words and Green Eggs and Ham, as a result of a bet, was written using only 50.

As Wikipedia describes:

In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. Accordingly, William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin who later became its Chairman, compiled a list of 348 words he felt were important for first-graders to recognize and asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to “bring back a book children can’t put down.” Nine months later, Geisel, using 236 of the words given to him, completed The Cat in the Hat. It was described as a tour de force by some reviewers-—it retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel’s earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary could be read by beginning readers.

Dr. Seuss wasn’t  just a literary genius because of his unique prose, he was a literary genius because he was able to his unique prose in a way that any young reader could both enjoy and understand.

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How graphs can tell us our history

Graphs can tell us our history. At Amazon, small hiccups in our graphs would serve as a funny reminder of a bad deployment or a broken feature, but in the real world they can sometimes be a sobering reminder of history we would rather forget.

I was playing around with Google’s Public Data Explorer some time back. It is a pretty interesting tool that lets us visualize and compare all kinds of fun historical data/estimates. Looking at hiccups in these graphs can draw interesting questions (like why did Somalia have a sudden spike in population growth in the late 70s?).

But sudden drops on population graphs (like the ones below) serve as chilling reminders of the death and displacement that results from genocide and civil war.

Population history of Rwanda 
[pageview width=”500″ height=”325″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ url=””]

See: Rwandan Genocide (1994)


Population history of Bosnia

[pageview width=”500″ height=”325″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ url=””]

See: Bosnian War (1992-1995)


Population history of Cambodia

[pageview width=”500″ height=”325″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ url=””]

See: Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia (1975-1979)


If you like data and history, I suggest you check out the Public Data Explorer. Let me know if you see anything interesting (or can answer the Somalian question above).

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The power of a good design..

Have you ever noticed how price formatting can vary from restaurant to restaurant?

While one menu might list the price of a dish as ‘$12.00′ another might list the price as simply ’12’. Although this is usually done for aesthetic reasons, a research paper by Cornell has shown that this small design decision can actually impact how much you, as a customer, decide to pay.

Dessert Menu - Comme
Credit: avlzyx

Such ideas are not new. In the tech world, small design decisions can really move the needle. Sites like Google, Amazon, and eBay are all famous for running ‘A/B tests‘ to optimize their pages for revenue. In fact, at Amazon, I once saw the re-wording of a particular phrase increase revenue by millions of dollars.

That said, this study is particularly interesting as it focuses on something that we all see every day. By comparing three different pricing styles (“$12.00″, “12” and “twelve dollars”), it showed that customers who got menus with the simple price formatting (“12″) actually spent the more than those who got the other two (“$12.00″,”twelve dollars”), possibly because seeing explicit references to money can instantly trigger you to be price conscious about your decisions.

I dont doubt it. There is a reason why the price tags are hidden inside shirts when you shop for nice clothes – you only find out about the price after you handle the garment and like what you see.

There are a few other interesting tidbits in the paper, namely labeling an item “Grandma’s Zuchinni Cookies” will actually leave customers more satisfied than labeling the same item “Zuchinni Cookies” (ostensibly because they feel they are getting more) and that while items with prices that end with “.99″ are perceived to be value oriented, those that end with “.00″ are perceived to be of high quality.

All in all, this was an interesting paper. If you want to check it out in detail, see here.

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