Internet Outages in the Age of a Smartphone Executive

I’ve had two recent power and Internet outages. Call it the punishment for living in Austin which is in the heart of Texas. Austin is an adult version of Disneyland by all other measures, but it does have infrastructure issues and the rains and electrical storms we have are sometimes very impressive. So at some point we need to deal with that, and that’s where the modern mobile phone is a life saver.

In the first outage, I had to inform the power company that the power was out. Good luck trying to use computers, unless you have everything hooked up to UPS blocks, and even then you have a very limited amount of available power in most cases. Meanwhile a smartphone can be available for a day or more depending on usage. So informing them was not an issue and it was solved quickly.

The second outage was related to the Internet. We often forget how much of our lives are connected to the Internet until it’s gone. The house phone was off, the TV was off, so much for watching Netflix or listening to Spotify through Sonos, etc… etc… It was pretty bad. However, I was able to use my smart phone and a little Bluetooth speaker to keep me busy with a Kindle book and listening to Spotify. It was a tad annoying, but the hilarity came when I needed to debug the network connection on my side for AT&T.

They attempted to call me on my home phone, which worked, but then as they had me reboot the U-Verse router, they disconnected. Well, color me shocked, but of course, I still had a cell phone, so we were back on the phone very shortly thereafter. Having a back-up link to the world was a life-saver during that prolonged outage. In fact, tethering the entire house through my phone was an option I was seriously contemplating after 12 hours or so.

All of this points to what life might be like in an age where our primary devices are the very ones in our pockets that we take for granted today.

Secure Messaging

One of the most common questions I get is what secure messaging system to use on Mobile devices. That’s a rather complicated question so it’s worth digging into.

First, you have to ask, who is your adversary? If it’s the government, you’ll have to take wildly different preventative measures than, say, a random eavesdropper. But that said, some of the tactics are simple enough.

For instance, the first thing I always tell people to look for is end to end encryption. If you are only encrypted to a server and that server then can read everything you write, it’s not a good solution. For instance, email is does not have end to end encryption built in, which is why Gmail is a poor choice for secure messaging.

Next, you want to look for something that automatically deletes your messages after a certain amount of time. Lots of systems allow you to have end to end encryption but then keep the data around forever. You can’t guarantee that the messages will be safe from an adversary forever. So make sure the data is deleted after a certain amount of time.

Next, make sure that the systems are resilient against forgot password/account changes, or account takeover. Just because you are talking to a person one day doesn’t mean you are talking to the same person the second day. So lots of platforms are automatically out since they don’t warn you when that occurs.

Generally speaking my favorites are Signal (with ephemeral messaging enabled), Wickr, and Facebook messaging (when you’re in secure mode with ephemeral messaging enabled). Wickr is the only one of the three that turns it on automatically, but it’s also the least used. Facebook is great, but it is Facebook and doesn’t default to secure mode opportunistically because it doesn’t work with mobile to desktop chat. Signal is great because it is a stand alone app but it also doesn’t enable ephemeral messaging by default. Wickr doesn’t tie to a phone number in the same way that Signal does so that is a nice added feature if you want to keep that detail private. Neither Signal, nor Wickr require you to have an identity, like Facebook does, but Facebook is by far the biggest platform.

Some people will bring up Whatsapp, but they are very similar to Facebook since they are owned by Facebook. And it’s worth mentioning iMessage in passing because they do have end to end encryption, but as soon as you sync with iCloud, your information is imperiled once more.

So there are some tradeoffs and you need to research what is right for you. I think ephemeral messages are a very important feature that most people don’t think about. It’s certainly something you should be aware of before you pick one. Or use all three. But whatever you do, don’t use default built-in chat clients.

Rise of the Mobile Influencer

Since you’re reading this site, you are aware of (or are at least curious about) running an entire business off of a smartphone. You have probably set some rules for yourself on how to make your own experiment work. Considering it is currently possible to code on a phone if you’re a self-identified creator, chances are this is all old hat to you as you take photographs of your lunch with a barfing rainbow filter. Today’s guest post comes from Joe Sinkwitz, CEO of Intellifluence, on how the worlds of influence and smartphone usage as primary devices have already collided, with the result being the mobile influencer reigning supreme.

The Intersect

Perhaps the easiest way to describe how the mobile influencer came to be the most powerful advertising force is to look at the intersection of growth among the demographics of smartphone users and specific social network uses.

Leading social networks
Leading social networks

Keep in mind that Snapchat, WhatsApp, Vine, and Instagram are effectively “mobile only”, not mobile first, which is what Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Twitter have become. Not only is mobile set as a default to being more important, in some networks it is the only way to play, a chiefly important distinction considering that largest and fastest growing networks have moved in that direction.

Evolution of Influence

Discussed in significantly more detail here, the concept of influence is a very old one; effectively all advertising is influence. It is designed to play on different psychological triggers with the purpose of getting you take a certain action (purchasing a product being the primary use). Starting out as word of mouth, and moving through all forms of mediums, from print to radio to television to online forms of adverting to where we are now, which is an interesting crossroads since word of mouth has essentially begat digital word of typing fingers and snapped videos/photos.

Why Influence

The question becomes: why is influencer marketing now such a hot topic? There are a multitude reasons, but the simplified explanation is as follows:

      Ad blocking wars continue to heat up, of which influencers are currently immune to, providing a destination for ad dollars.
      The quality of customers acquired from influencer marketing is skewing better than traditional acquisition channels.

Quality of influencer graph
Quality of influencer graph

Smart brands recognize not only that authentic advertising can exist, but it can convert better, which helps to explain this trend:

Social media spending graph
Social media spending graph

Social media spend is poised to double over the next few years, which helps to explain why brands are flocking to it, and thus giving more power to influencers.

How much power? Check out this 60 minutes segment on influencer marketing – a lot of power.

So…Mobile Influencers, huh?

Yes. Mobile influencers. From the 60 Minutes piece and the trends referenced above, we can see that the majority of ad spend over social is skewing towards those that are created primarily using their phones. Ad hoc videos for Vine and YouTube at $200,000 a piece; Kim Kardashian’s Instagram of her life worth millions… The money is beginning to flow more towards these platforms than sponsored review blog posts, as the latter were more dominate 5 short years ago (though sponsored reviews are certainly not dying, and can also be created entirely using a smartphone). Should the trends continue we will likely see a future by 2019 where 80%+ of all influencer ad activity is created via smartphones, which will become and easier decision as phone choices continue to improve.

Learn Python On A Smartphone

You can learn to code Python on an iPhone or Android relatively easily. There are lots of classes and tutorials on where to start, but all you really need is a Smartphone and a good search engine to get started. I like to tell people that there is no singular more important/useful thing that you can learn other than to speak and read/write. You’ll never look back on your life and say, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t learned this incredibly useful skill.” It may seem crazy that you can learn Python on an iPhone, but it’s actually really simple, and anyone can do it.

  • Start with the right peripherals. Specifically invest in an Apple TV or Chromecast and a Bluetooth keyboard. You’re going to thank me later when your thumbs aren’t falling off.
  • Next, download something like Python 2.7 for iOS ($1.99). It’s not quite as full featured as the full blown thing, but it’s a great place to get your feet wet as you’re learning, and doesn’t require Internet access, which is great when you’re on an airplane our out in nature and still want to be learning/practicing.
  • If you want an eBook that you can read on the road without lugging a heavy book along with you you can try Introduction to Python Programming ($9.99 on Kindle). There is a free Kindle app for the iPhone too, which is even better.
  • Once you feel a little more comfortable programming you can shift to getting yourself a FREE Amazon EC2 instance. Yes, Amazon has a free tier to get you started. They want you to like and use their products and what better way to entice you than to give it to you for free, right? You’ll want an Ubuntu install for this, because it works really well with Python.
  • Next you’ll download and install the Coda App ($24.99) or an equivalent SSH client. This will allow you to connect to your EC2 computer in the cloud. Just copy the private key and use that with the username provided, which will be “ubuntu” and you should be off to the races. I recommend you also run the command “screen” upon login so that if you get disconnected you can just type “screen -r” and recover the session without losing anything. This is a key bullet because it will allow you to build a website too if you want.
  • Then you can use your favorite terminal editor. I prefer vi, which has a steep learning curve but is very lightweight and powerful. Here’s a great tutorial on vi. If that’s too complicated pico is a nice option.

If you’ve ever wanted to pick up a new skill, this is a very inexpensive way to do it. I always recommend starting with something simple that you need to be done repetitively. A simple program that alerts you when something happens, or something that allows you to write something down in a format that’s easy to retrieve are both good examples of things you might need to be done on a regular basis. Start simple and start with something you need and it’ll be a lot more practical.

This is one of the many ways in which smartphones are helping to democratize business. Even someone with just a smartphone can start a business, learn to program, or generally produce great content. I hope this has been helpful! Good luck!

Writing Code on a Phone

Learning to program on a phone is actually easier than you might think. You just need the correct peripherals and the right software to help you accomplish the goal. One such software apps is the Coda by Panic, Inc.. It has all of the benefits of a normal SSH client but also helps create SSH keys, and gives you easy access to multiple sites. Combined with screen on the remote host and you can easily pump out code on a phone.

You can learn Python, or Java or Ruby or whatever you fancy. Coda also has a nice feature where you can preview your code before you bother uploading it. Combined with the Transmit application you can easily sync between your phone and the remote server. You can use the remote machine as a file store, or a backup, or as a test server, etc. All you need is a couple of apps and the determination to learn how to develop on a command line and you’ve got everything you need!

I’m always amazed when people don’t take advantage of things like free EC2 accounts (as an example). But if you are just learning how to program, and want to get started, you don’t need anything more than a free EC2 account and an app like Coda to get started. A quick note on EC2 though – EC2 is free to use as long as you don’t use it a lot (lots of CPU usage, or disc usage, or bandwidth, etc), so if you’re going to start doing something significant, you’ll want to think about your options a bit more.

Like always, I think that trying to program or do any meaningful tasks without a full keyboard is slow and tedious, so make sure you have a Bluetooth keyboard. But just today, I wrote several small programs, compiled Java, set up some aliases, copied code around and many other administrative tasks all from my phone. It’s always going to be easier to do it on your desktop, but we’re getting closer and closer to a world where you won’t miss your laptop one bit!

Fastest Path Through Airport Security

Last week I traveled to Munich on an annual pilgrimage to Oktoberfest. It’s for work, I promise, though I do manage to have a good time, don’t worry. But being that it’s international travel, I’m always wary of going through security with stuff of any kind. I try to limit what I bring to only what I can carry in my backpack for ease of navigating airports and increase physical security since there is less to be lost or stolen. But this time in particular was the fastest I’ve ever gone through security by leaps and bounds.

On the outbound flight from Austin, I had both Clear and Precheck. When I went up to the Clear agent, he walked me to the front of the line and I was able to bypass both the regular line which looked to be about 45 minutes long, and also the Precheck line too which was probably 5 minutes of time savings. I had a boarding pass in the United app on my phone so I cruised through with a single swipe of my phone. The other nice things about the United app are that it carries your Mileage Plus and United Club cards, your boarding card(s), flight status, you can book a flight and it gives you access to inflight entertainment – that’s a lot less you’ll have to carry. When I reached for things to remove from my bag, I realized I didn’t have to. Precheck allows you to keep your shoes on, your electronics in your bag etc. All you need to do is remove metal from your pockets. So I put my phone and my wallet in a tiny cup, walked through the metal detector and was through security from start to finish in under a minute, including my interaction with Clear. I hadn’t gone through security that fast since prior to 9/11. Being mobile only with this setup saved me around 45 minutes at least.

On the way back I went through the process of signing up for the Mobile Passport which is an app that the TSA uses to speed up passport control. It asks you the normal questions you have to ask when entering the country but in many ways it’s actually easier to read and enter since you only have to enter your passport information once – the very first time you use it. I was a bit wary of using it, given that it didn’t seem like it would actually speed anything up. Wow, was I wrong. Going through Newark I was able to bypass a line that was easily an hour long and walk up to a far shorter line. Once there, I simply had to swipe the phone, and zero questions were asked. I was through in less than 5 minutes in the passport control section. Then there was a secondary line where you drop the forms off. There was no going through that line quickly, but once there, I swiped the same app again on my phone and cruised right through. Then the last part is going through security once more. Once again I was able to quickly go through security because of the mobile boarding pass and carrying next to nothing. All in all, using my phone saved me at least an hour.

As far as I can tell this is probably the fastest you can get through airport security, with the possible exception of global entry, which I haven’t yet broken down to do, yet. If you’re a weary business traveler, this may be something you want to look into. Of course they’re not exactly privacy friendly options, but security never really is.

Privacy Screens

Traveling really is awful for all kinds of reasons. But from a work perspective it’s even worse. Not only is it hard to do work on airplane because it’s cramped, you also have to worry about people looking over your shoulder.

Privacy screens are polarized film that go over your screen and act as both a protector against scratches but also make it hard to see what you’re looking at from an angle.


In these pictures you can see the image completely, but from the side it’s very difficult to tell what I’m looking at. If I were to dim the screen it would be almost impossible to tell I’m even looking at a lit phone except for the ambient light around the edges.

Privacy Anti-Spy Screen Protectors are a very cheap piece of mind when you have to write something sensitive before you forget it.

Now be warned, it doesn’t work in the vertical dimension, only the horizontal, so if you turn the phone into landscape mode it will still be visible. But as long as you know that and keep your phone in portrait mode, it becomes a lot harder for people to see what you’re doing unless they’re right behind you.

Fuse Chicken BOBINE

I was recently turned onto a different type of cable for a different type of application. Yesterday I talked about the Kenu 2 in 1 and it’s virtues, but one thing it gives up in being lightweight is rigidity. That brings us to the Fuse Chicken BOBINE.

The BOBINE is basically a flexible semi-rigid USB to lightning cable that allows you to work on your phone in a semi-upright position. For the most part I don’t think there’s a lot of value in this, except when you’re traveling.

Just as a test, I laid down on the ground and used the BOBINE to semi-connect it to my backpack. I’ve had to use my backpack as a back/headrest in airports on extremely long layovers when there is no open Admiral’s club in sight. I’m not proud of it, but sometimes a business traveler has to do what they have to do – even in a suit. And sometimes that’s laying on the ground with food poisoning and yes, that’s happened to me.

The nice part about the BOBINE is that you don’t have to use your arms to keep it in place and in view while you’re in strange positions – like on your back feeling like you stomach is on strike from the rest of your body. When you have your hands free you can use a bluetooth keyboard easier and get more work done, or you can simply watch videos and try to distract yourself from that feeling in your stomach.

Anyway, I think there are far less uses for this than other cable management systems because it requires me to remove my case to fit properly, but still an interesting one to have with you on International flights where you might end up having to deal with some extremely odd layovers. A little comfort can go a long ways.

And in case you were wondering, it was the oysters that did me in. Of course it was, I can hear you saying.

Kenu 2 In 1

One of the problems I’ve regularly run into as a Smartphone Exec is that I regularly have the wrong cable for the occasion. I either have a microUSB cable or a lightning cable, but often the wrong one at the most inopportune times. On a flight I ran across an advertisement for Kenu Tripline (pronounced “Canoe”) that offers a pleasantly simple solution.

The nice part about it is that it has both cables in one. If I happen to need one to charge my headphones, I have that, if I need the other to charge my phone, I have that. All in a lightweight package. I also happen to like that they have 3′ and 6′ options. Often times I make the mistake of thinking shorter is better, but keep in mind how often you are using shared plugs in conference rooms and having an extra foot or two of distance is a life-saver.

That’s even more critical when you’re using your mobile phone during a presentation. Often times the plugs are on the floor and 3′ is barely long enough at the best of times. 6′ is just much more comfortable and I find it’s worth the added ounces. And it’s still less weight than two cables that get caught up with one another and misplaced. Reduce and simplify. That’s the mantra, right?