how amazon built the echo

The Echo, originally called the Flash, has a captivating origin story. (Or at least captivating to yours truly, who is also knee deep in the consumer electronics development process.)

From scope creep impacting the BOM:

As originally conceived, the Echo was simpler and cheaper than the speaker in its current form. One person who worked on the project remembers that the company expected to be able to manufacture the devices for about $17 and sell them for $50. It now costs $180, and Amazon is believed to take a loss on each sale, once packaging, shipping, and marketing are factored in.

To scheduling issues:

Even as these fundamental changes went on, the lab’s leadership was convinced the speaker was almost ready. For three consecutive years, the product was expected to ship within six months.

And all the politics present while trying to be the innovative new product team in a large company:

“We spent so much time trying to anticipate what Jeff would do or say, and read into little words he would say in meetings,” said one former employee. “It would lead to so much additional work.”

Well worth the read.

amazon v netflix

The Seattle online retailer said Sunday it will begin offering its video-streaming service as a stand-alone option for the first time. A monthly subscription will cost $8.99, a dollar less than the most popular plan from Netflix.

Highlighting its ruthlessly competitive streak, Amazon is rolling out the new streaming-video option on the eve of Netflix’s first-quarter earnings report Monday.

Game on.

barf

In the ongoing saga that is the Bay Area housing market, it is often hard to find thoughtful, rational, well-reported coverage of the issue. A great piece by Conor Dougherty in the NYT today that boils it down well, profiling the leader of the Bay Area Renters Federation (BARF):

This might make it tempting to dismiss Ms. Trauss as just another colorful activist in a place where activism is a local sport. But the anger she has tapped into is real, reflecting a generational break that pits cranky homeowners and the San Francisco political establishment against a cast of newcomers who are demanding the region make room for them, too.

Though the conflict is usually sensationalized into "techies" vs. "natives" - it really is more about newcomers vs. existing homeowners. Existing homeowners bellow about not wanting to see the city change and that supply/demand economics don't apply to this special situation, all the while ignoring the fact that the supply/demand economics very much benefit those that have held housing assets for decades.

Layer on top of this climate SF's bizarre pseudo-direct-democracy, which causes most local politicians ("supervisors") to kowtow to every small, noisy faction of constituents, and you wind up with this inanity:

Much of San Francisco’s progressive establishment feels the city is building too much market-rate housing. Some go so far as to argue that the appetite for real estate here is so high that supply-and-demand rules don’t really apply.

To get prices down, “You’d have to, like, build another city on top of the city,” said David Campos, a progressive-wing member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He thinks the city should focus the vast majority of future development on affordable housing limited to people making well below the city’s median income.

This thinking is at odds with a February report on housing prices from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, which said underdevelopment was the primary cause of the high prices that afflicted cities throughout the coastal part of the state, especially in the Bay Area.

“Many housing programs — vouchers, rent control and inclusionary housing — attempt to make housing more affordable without increasing the overall supply,” the report said. “This approach does very little to address the underlying cause of California’s high housing costs: a housing shortage.”

(Sidebar: Every time I hear David Campos quoted, I imagine the voice of King Candy from Wreck-It-Ralph.)

I'm glad to see that my generation is starting to engage on civic issues like this one. For more background, I also highly recommend Kim-Mai Cutler's housing opus in TechCrunch.

the looming student debt crisis

While most have since left school and joined the workforce, 43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with federal student loans weren’t making payments as of Jan. 1, according to a quarterly snapshot of the Education Department’s $1.2 trillion student-loan portfolio.

There is a lot of student debt outstanding... this is very worrying.

bezos on decision making

from the annual Amazon shareholder letter:

One common pitfall for large organizations – one that hurts speed and inventiveness – is “one-size-fits-all” decision making.

Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.

As organizations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions. The end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention. We’ll have to figure out how to fight that tendency.

I could benefit from keeping this in mind day-to-day...