The era of food delivery services

fast food delivery
Photo by Christopher Flowers on Unsplash

Food delivery services are awesome. They provide unbridled convenience since they’re even faster than fast food when you cut out the travel time. And so far they are relatively affordable.

Amid all the “we take care of X for you, so that you can spend more time on what truly matters” marketing baloney, services like Foodpanda really deliver (accidental pun, but I’ll take the credit).

I want to take this moment to appreciate the amazing times we live in. Thank you, Foodpanda, Deliveroo, and Uber Eats!

But I also want to point out something that I’ve only recently realised to be true.

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Uber the provocateur

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A still from Uber’s “Let’s unlock cities” campaign

Ads before a movie screening in the cinema are like the tasty dessert before a meal. With the big screen and surround sound, ads become extra poignant. Recently there was one ad that really stood out for me – I mean, it really popped out.

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Bite Size Programming – How does the internet work?

bite size programming how internet work banner
Photo by Antonio Grosz on Unsplash

Here’s a rhetorical question: Have you ever wondered how does the internet work? How is it possible that you can enter (what used to be) a cryptic string of characters and have a page full of text, images, videos and user interactions loaded just like that, like magic?

That was a rhetorical question because if you’re reading this post on this obscure part of the internet (my blog, which you might have accessed (although I doubt it) by entering said cryptic string “www.nickang.com” into your browser), there’s a good chance you were already looking for answer to this question. More likely, you’d have googled the question and that’s how you landed here.

So let’s get you what you came for, shall we?

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Drone delivery

drone hovering over forest

Worms (the game) is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about drones and air-drops. “Special delivery!” and some cargo drops from the sky and lands softly with the aid of a parachute.

This being 2016, there is of course already a startup working on making that an actual thing. Flirtey is that company with a strategy that is surprisingly similar to the Worms air-drop. It flies its drones autonomously and dangles the cargo with a string until it reaches the ground, and then detaches and flies back to base. Looks cool but watching the video really got me asking “Why?” – why not just land the drone? A hovering drone with a cargo dangling and tugging on it is more precarious (to me) than a drone trying to do a landing in an urban area. Not sure why the people at Flirtey decided it was a good idea. They seem to be drumming to their own beat with strategy as much as they are with their name.

Drone delivery is a fascinating space. Heck, drones are interesting to begin with, both in industry and recreationally. I wish I could say I’ve flown one but till this day I haven’t flown one. That day should come very soon when I can’t resist the temptation to get one “for the family”.

I think drones are currently on the cusp of explosion (figuratively) of adoption by many businesses. Amazon Prime Air was announced in 2013 with two cool videos about “delivering in 30 minutes.” They also have a cool, geeky website to boot. Flirtey has already started to deliver Domino’s pizzas in New Zealand and medical supplies from 7 Eleven in the United States. The US military drones take out enemy targets without risking pilot casualties (this of course can be a whole discussion altogether). Casey Neistat has been using various drones with video cameras to shoot beautiful videos of the places he visits, and mostly of New York City. Drones are being used in many ways and people are growing increasingly fascinated with them.

DJI is already a dominant manufacturer of consumer-grade drones. A few days ago, they released their best drone yet – the DJI Mavic Pro which with a little squeezing, fits into a cargo pants and has collision detection and avoidance technology. GoPro also recently launched their first consumer drone called the Karma. Even without researching, I know there are probably 5-10 other startups around the world in the running to gain a piece of the rapidly growing consumer drone market.

So consumer drones are becoming mainstream, and the world’s largest e-retailer has begun development of drone-delivery technology since 2013. What’s next?

Things will probably start to look quite similar to the recent upheavals caused by Uber and Airbnb, perhaps with one additional obstacle that is the Aviation Authorities. If we’re truly going to enter a Jetson-esque era, we should expect resistance.

What I think will be the next big leap is the creation of sustainable businesses that subsist on managing drone deliveries, with the help of a few far-sighted governments, with Singapore being a likely front-runner. Pilot programmes would be risky at first, until a startup hits a home run in terms of execution and negate the risks. I feel like drone delivery is in limbo right now as companies are still trying to get their technologies right. As soon as one crosses the hill, we should witness an avalanche of businesses that do and use drones for delivery.

Are there hurdles? Of course! A drone might fly into something and fall to the ground and hit someone or something expensive. One might fly into a manned aircraft and cause a “drone-strike”, needing another Miracle on the Hudson. What about the possibility of a hijacked drone delivering a dangerous parcel? Or hackers that reroute a fleet of drones on a kamikaze mission? These are tricky issues that need to be ironed out. But like cars that are legally allowed to drive at 100 km/h, drones will zip around next to buildings and among people. I think it’s a matter of one or two decades before we see that. If not, I’m at least sure it will be in my lifetime.

I honestly hope that the flame of innovation in this area won’t put out by mega-corporation push-backs and government bureaucracy. The time for drones is now!

(Image: Jason Blackeye)

The generation that sees google as a word, not company

I had just left another hardware meet up (called Hackware) and I’m emanating inspiration now, so I thought I’d write it all down while things are fresh.

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The theme was Single Board Computers, so everyone who spoke had to talk about them. That includes the world renown Raspberry Pi, but also other less known things like an Intel Edison chip and so on. All very geeky and so interesting to an outsider like me.

What left the strongest impression on me was the presentation by two secondary school students. They showed that they’re conversant in computer and engineering speak as they presented two of their projects — both drones.

They’re just in secondary school… this fact is really profound. I was busy chasing after my current wife when I was their age, occasionally studying because I (think I) knew in some fuzzy way that it’d affect my future. That was my grasp of the life then, and this is their grasp of life now. They’re building drones and have an understanding of technology like it’s their mother tongue.

While I’m doubtful that they have as great an understanding of the applications of the things they’re building as professional engineers, the fact that they understand how to put technologies together into a useful project is amazing. Just think about what they’ll do when they’re in university, and what they can do when they’re done!

So at the end of today’s session, I moved one seat over to ask one of the team mates (they’re schoolmates, essentially): How did you learn so much, enough to make these incredibly sophisticated things while having what seems to be a complete understanding of how it works by yourself? What resources did you use to learn?

I had nothing but admiration for them, and asked in the humblest way I could. And his answer was ridiculously simple: google. That’s google with a small ‘g’, because I’d just realised the crucial difference between them and me —they grew up with google by their side.

Google is a word, not a company name to their generation and those after them.

I believe that that has a profound impact on how they think. This is not to say that every 16 year old is like them. The fact remains that guys like them make a very small percentage of their generation. Most still spend their time looking at and going after girls, trying to be cool, or maybe trying to ace every test to clinch some fuzzy idea of a bright future.

So they googled

What’s the big deal? Everyone can google. I speak like I’m some old man but in fact, I’m only 26. Google became mainstream when I was in junior college, and I’ve since learned a thing or two about how to get search results that I want.

But the big deal is this:

How many of us make use of google in a manner that is proactive to learn something new altogether?

Judging my own behaviour and that of my friends’, I’d say almost none of us do. Most of us search for learning resources for keep-sake, not for immediate use. Having come into close and regular contact with technology much later than these boys means we are older when we stumble upon the treasure trove of tutorials online. Older means less time to learn (as we like to think about it, anyway), and we end up being resource hoarders.

Thing is, there’s really no point in bookmarking sites like Code academy or Free code camp or some Udemy course. It’s like a pill — it only starts to work when you ingest it. Then you slowly digest it. To become newly skilled at something (like say, programming), you will need to take multiple pills as part of a course. It’s like antibiotics. You just have to keep going and finish the course.

You just need to use it

Google is there, you just need to use it. That’s basically saying that the manuals and tools are freely available, and all you need to do is manage your time and show up.

Taking inspiration from these young guys, I’m going to build some stuff I’ve been wanting to build for a while but have been putting off mainly because “I’m not technically sophisticated enough yet”. That’s actually my excuse to myself and to people who ask, verbatim. It’s flimsy considering the power of google is just a few centimeters above on my screen in that search bar.

The list of projects I want to do over the rest of the year:
  1. A drone that can fly, and can be controlled by a person.
  2. Some security camera that records footage whenever movement is detected.
  3. Single-board computer based home server.
  4. A video camera + server setup that records footage and automatically uploads them to my own server.
  5. An automatic electronic door lock with PIN access.

The plan from here for the rest of the year

I don’t really know just how achievable this is, but I know only one way to find out.

And if my progress learning web development full-time using Free Code Camp since almost two months ago is any indication, then I think it’s doable, though probably by a stretch when it comes to time.

My priority now is to learn web development (HTML, CSS, JavaScript and soon, Ruby on Rails), while occasionally dedicating a full day to working on a hardware project. I’ll keep a log on my website, and maybe update here on Medium too.