Disconnect (product that protects our online privacy and speeds up internet browsing)


Like most great products, services, and businesses that I am inspired to write about, Disconnect seems to share my philosophy that there is no detail too small when it comes to the user experience; and that this philosophy doesn’t stop at just the product design. User experience includes all stages of the product lifecycle, including support; and this is reflected in Disconnect’s payment / donation web page and experience.

What Disconnect does and why the company/product is interesting:

  • Disconnect is browser plug-in/extension available on Chrome that blocks the multitude of websites that are capturing your browsing activity on a given website.  These sites that are capturing your activity are advertisers, analytics, and social sites; and they are not only capturing your browsing data but this capturing of your data greatly affects your web browsing experience, which is what really bothers me.
  • It is pay-what-you-want software.  You can pay nothing or whatever you are able.
  • Send them an email with any feedback or concerns up to a year after you’ve paid them, and they will refund your money for any reason–even if they’ve already donated your money to charity.
  • You can pay with BitCoins
  • You can “pay/donate” for the software and make a separate donation to the “Charity of the month – as voted by Disconnect users”


The largest lost-and-found in the world


Source: http://www.thetileapp.com

I just came across the Tiles and the Tile smartphone app product (watch video demo here), the product/company that will create the largest lost-and-found in the world.

Below, I’ve highlighted both why I think this is a noteworthy invention and app that we should all download, and two quick ideas for how the value proposition might be further extended.


What I really like about Tiles and the Tile app:


  • App harnesses the power of mobile and sensor technologies to remember where it last “saw” a given tile.  I guess the app is remembering when and where it last was within a certain proximity of a given Tile.
  • App “surfs the crowd” to locate Tiles/items that have been reported as lost/stolen.   Much like the winning MIT team from the DARPA Network Challenge, Tiles and the Tile app harness the fundamental power of mobile technologies and the crowd.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tile app soon becomes a top-downloaded/used app of all time, demonstrating people’s comfort with trusting services that–in theory–could be used to infringe on one’s privacy when when the value they are receiving in return is large enough.  Working in the mobile technology field, I know that it is easy enough to design the system and tech such that all personally identifiable information is safeguarded, and so I predict Tiles will be a great success so long as the company (Reveal Labs) addresses customer privacy in an opaque and easy-to-understand manner.
  • Company makes it easy to recycle Tiles.  Since Tiles last one year and electronics are highly toxic to the environment, I like that the company reminds you when it’s time to order new Tiles and also sends you an envelope to recycle your old ones.

The ironic thing now is that Tiles and the Tile app (as a system for locating my most prized possessions) now make my smartphone an even more critical tool in my life, so what do I do to locate my lost/stolen smartphone and the tile I put on it?


Two ideas for further strengthening the value proposition:

1. Integration with police systems

Also, now that Tiles, the Tile app, and cloud can be used to locate stolen items, can a feature be built into the app that enables one share a live feed of a lost/stolen Tile/item location information with police? Or another feature that could enable the owner of a given Tile to request police assistance for retrieving an item at a specific location?

2. Sponsorship by insurance companies

If Tiles and the Tile system can be shown to reduce theft and/or increase recovery of stolen items, will insurance companies be willing to compensate customers who use them? Didn’t car insurance companies reduce premiums for customers who used LowJack?

P.S. The company is currently raising investment funds via Selfstarter, and expects to begin shipping Tiles to customers winter of 2013.  You can pre-order Tiles here (limited quantities).

Objectified [movie]


For all my friends who aren’t too familiar with industrial design and the role it will play in our future, I recommend watching this movie called Objectified.   It is available on Netflix.

Some of my favorite highlights from the film are:

  • Japanese toothpick design that features a breakable tip that breaks off flat and that is intended to act as a rest to keep the toothpick off dirty surfaces, such as tables, so that you can reuse the toothpick without worry.
  • Practitioners of the Japanese craft of bonsai say that one should trim the tree in such a way to imagine that a small bird should be able to fly through the tree.
  • For all the time Apple spends on designing its devices, Apple spends a significant amount of time designing manufacturing processes.  For example, one critical component of the MacBook Air (a solid piece of aluminum into which multiple other pieces are bolted) required being physically held by a variety of different tooling machines; hence Apple had to figure out how to have its robot tooling machines hold the piece at different stages of its crafting, so that it could be produced in large scale operations.
  • An indicator should only be visible when indicating something, and it should therefor be hidden otherwise.
  • Design firm SmartDesign, designs for the extremes and lets the middle take care of itself.  That is, it designs for the most capable of experts and the most incapable of novices, because the firm believes that such as process yields designs that will naturally satisfy the needs to users that sit between these two extremes.  For example, when the firm designed the OXO brand of kitchen utensils, it designed them for use by people with arthritis and weak grips.
  • Hamster and hamster-ball directed Rumba vacuum; and the innovations that are made possible by opening up technology platforms for development by third parties.  This was an ingenious way to satisfy the random pattern of covering the room floor.

Romantique Hotels

Ever since I visited the Casa Santa Domingo, a 16th century convent that was converted into world-class hotel (see my blog post from my visit), I am interested in staying in historical hotels with wood-burning fireplaces.

Staying in historically significant buildings just adds so many layers to the hotel-staying experience.  Staying in building that is hundreds of years  old makes for a romantic experience, which I describe as a connection to timeless aspect of human life.

I’m not surprised therefore to have discovered Romantique Hotels, which is a network of privately owned, historic hotels in Europe.   I think this selection of hotels make for efficient directory of places to consider for your wedding, anniversary, or just your next vacation.   Order a catalog of all the hotels in the Romantique network here, or browse the different specialties (e.g. wine, gourmet cuisine, etc.) and activities (e.g. golf, culture, etc.) offered by the different hotels.

Casa Santo Domingo (Antigua, Guatemala)

If you ever travel to Antigua, Guatemala (say for a destination wedding like I did), I highly recommend staying at the Casa Santo Domingo.  The converted 16th century convent, now luxury hotel, is a special place.   In January 2010, it was a Conde Nast Gold List Hotel (#681) – World’s Best Places To Stay, and #1 in Guatemala.   Thing seem in balance there.  Nothing moves too quick or too slow.  The centuries old architecture (from the monastery) blends in balanced form with modern accents and accommodations.  The rhythm of nature dominates that of fast-paced technology, making for a relaxing retreat inside the walled fortress-like compound of the hotel property.  Gardens, patios and balconies off every room, tropical plants that grow in the air drape walkways, and even macaw parrots are kept near the pool area.   Everything is kept in proper proportion to remind you just enough of where you are, which is very much still an ancient Spanish speaking village.

The food served at the hotel restaurant is also excellent.  Knowing we were staying in a country where tap water was not safe to drink, we all ate and drank confidently and happily the food and drink served by the resort restaurant.

Pricey, yes, but Casa Santa Domingo is worth well worth visiting if you travel to Guatemala.  If you are looking to get away from it all and just decompress, it may even be worth traveling to Guatemala just to stay at Casa Santa Domingo.    P.S. You would be mistaken to interpret the outdated design of the resort’s website to be reflective of anything more than it being a low priority of the resort.


One style of room at Casa Santa Domingo



Use Redfin.com to find bargain home prices:

  • Use the Redfin search window to find a neighborhood by name or ZIP code. On the “Overview of homes for sale” page that appears, click “reduced listings” to show a list of price-reduced homes in the area.
  • On Redfin, at the bottom of each home’s listing page, see “listing price history,” showing the dates and amounts of any price reductions.
  • Farther down the same page, you’ll find a bar graph labeled “Should I wait for a price reduction?” This tells you how long homes are staying on the market in the neighborhood and at what point sellers are dropping their prices. You can get an idea if the time is right, given local trends, to make a lower bid. (Read more about this tool here.)

Pequa® Heavy Duty Drain Opener

If your shower or sink drain needs opening because it is clogged with soap and/or hair, and you want a liquid plumbing solution, purchase a bottle of Pequa® Heavy Duty Drain Opener because it works amazingly well and better than Drano Liquid Plumber.   My local hardware store told me about this stuff, and I sure am glad they did, because I was tiring of wasting my money on buying bottle after bottle of the Drano® brand product.  

A side note…    If a bottle of Pequa® used as instructed does not solve the problem, you might want to try buying a metal snake attachment for your electric or battery powered drill.   This is the next least expensive and best potential solution to a clogged drain, relative to having a plumber make a house call.