2020 The year of the Linux Phone

I put Linux on an old phone. Specifically, UBPorts Linux.

For those who think: What’s the big deal my phone can do everything already? Yes, you are right. But: Current phones are designed to have reduced capabilities due to their form factor and business model. A lot of common features a computer can do are not possible on a phone. But we were promised a computer, in your pocket. And that’s not what we got. At least, not a full functioning PC experience. Linux can offer more. Example: Linux Phones, once connected to your monitor present a full fledged desktop experience (picture to the right – It seems Apple is also heading this way with iPad pro). You can also run software, or change core features – stuff you normally only can do on a desktop computer.

In the words of UBPorts:

Ubuntu Touch offers a completely different approach to using your smartphone or tablet than using other mainstream operating systems. The OS is built on Ubuntu, which provides us with a secure and stable base  system used by millions of people across personal computers, servers, IoT devices and even the international space station.

The intuitive user interface allows you to access all of your phone’s features by swiping from the edges of the screen to access your apps, tools and settings all with one hand and no on-screen buttons. It looks great and feels smooth.

Linux on the phone is a project that goes back to 2011, there have even been some retail versions, but since late 2019 there seem to be a real drive with hardware projects like Librem 5 ($790) and recently Pinephone (~$150) – I suspect that COVID-19 also gave a boost to this project more recently. This year has been excellent for the Linux Phone.

After installation, I set up my calendar and address books, I sync over files to my desktop with Syncthing. I can call, chat and browse the web, you can find apps on the openstore. What’s more exciting is that UBPorts embraced AnBox, it is also been possible to run Android apps natively. Don’t expect to run (non-Chinese) bank apps though, as those are tightly coupled to Google’s framework in the Android system. But simple games and such should work. In short: It’s exciting to see where this space will go, this OS is not my daily driver as it’s not mature enough… yet (Reminds me of my first Android phone, the HTC Dream). But it’s real fun to play with.

Want to learn more? Find UBPorts here: https://ubports.com/ and there is an excellent blog that keeps track of all the developments in this sphere: tuxphones.com there is also reddit.com/r/LinuxPhones/

Screenshots:

Self-isolation day: 40


An update during the worldwide Covid-19 crisis. The Dutch government announced the ‘intelligent lock down’ 24 days ago, we have practiced ‘self-isolation’ for about 40 days now. (Except for one office visit in the first week). Trains are empty these days.


My work is now remote and I’ve set up an office, borrowing a screen from my employer. I’m traveling less, and video-call more, so far I haven’t found an impact on my productivity. Regarding the social aspect, I’m doing ‘virtual informal coffee chats’, but it’s not the same. However, I’m happy I can actually work and that so far things have been progressing smoothly. It helps that my wife can look after the kids during office hours.

Regarding food, we are only eating and preparing food at home. I’m doing groceries (wearing a mask) for us and my parents once per week. 40 days in, due to the COVID-19, I spent more time reading Twitter, and we started watching the news on TV again (France24, Dutch NOS and Korean). A few weeks in, we limit media consumption to digests (and the fud/stress that comes with it) again.

We miss ‘normal’ life and the days seems to blend. To combat this, we have some fun weeklies activities like:

  • Watching an episode of Mandalorian each week on Fridays. Etc.
  • Watching the Trevor Noah’s daily ‘stay at home’ show, and other great YouTube channels that came up during this time.
  • Doing groceries on Thursdays. (Surprising this can be an ‘event’ now)

We practice an hourly schedule for the kids during the week. They miss going to school and swimming. Our house has a back garden, so at least they can play there. Up side: I spend quite some time with the family now.

Time to time we also cycle and after lunch take a walk through the neighborhood, or at the lake close to our house.

I hope everybody is staying home, limit (shop) visits and is wearing masks when going out.
Over the world, many are living the same as we are right now, but some are living entirely different lives. My thoughts are with those who lost loved ones, and the many people who work hard without rest during this crisis. I’m curious how the world will be when we get out of this.

Tips for applying for a job at AWS

I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Amazon is totally obsessed with hiring the best people, and has notorious hiring standards. Getting hired at Amazon Web Services (AWS) – the leading cloud platform – was a completely different experience then I have seen at any other company. As a newly joined employee I can share a bit on joining this company, it’s not just an interview, it’s a process of calls, work and an appointment, of course every on-boarding is different but perhaps this can give you an idea of what it’s like to join.

Step 1, Online application: I browsed http://www.amazon.jobs and applied for a job in Amsterdam, and a few weeks later on a hot summer day, I checked my phone and there it was: an e-mail to plan a phone call with an Amazon recruiter!

Step 2, Phone interview: The first phone interview with the Amazon recruiter was planned right in the middle of my holiday in The Netherlands, so I took the call at my parents house with the kids outside playing on the lawn. I was a bit stressed initially but it turned out to be a nice call about why I applied, what my goals were and my salary expectations, the call continued with an explanation of the potential steps ahead in the hiring process, and some tips to get hired, for example I got the tip to review the leadership principles https://www.amazon.jobs/en/principles before my next call.

When I hung up the phone, I felt a bit surprised but also happy as this recruiter was trying to get me all the information to be successful with this on-boarding. I don’t know, I somehow expected a colder approach and no help at all.  She send me this link which covers everything to learn about the Interview process: https://www.amazon.jobs/en/landing_pages/interviewing-at-amazon

The second call occurred a few weeks after that, with someone in my future role. This talk was more technical and in-depth. I could have passed this without AWS knowledge as it was a generic discussion.

Step 3, Assessments: I made proceeded to the next round which is an assessment and an in-person interview day (sometimes referred to ‘the loop’) The assessment is sent well in advance and I did it over a weekend.

Step 4, In-person interview: In the late summer, I was in between jobs and my family was away giving me the perfect opportunity to prepare for the In-person interview, I made a list of potential questions and rehearse my potential answers, one tip I got during the initial call with the Amazon recruiter, was to prepare my answers in STAR format. The STAR method is a way of answering behavioral-based interview questions by situation, task, action, and result. Rehearsing my answers gave me the opportunity to re-examine the stories I told about myself by listing experience, being accurate, and not hiding failures. The following ‘cheat sheet’ was something I carried to the interview.

Exactly one week before the In-person interview, I received an e-mail with a schedule for the day, I would be doing back-to-back interviews with various people from 10AM till 4PM. I ironed my shirts, and on a Wednesday morning, took the train to the AWS office to do the In Person Interviews. Sweaty hands but otherwise fine, the high paced interviews finish quick, at one point I took a breath and wondered if I was following the examples that I practiced. There was also a white board sessions included, the day was intense, but also over in a flash, waiting time.

Step 5, The feedback: After exactly one workweek, got a phone call from the Amazon recruiter that told me: You got the job!

There were various phone calls and emails discussing the jobs, benefits and remuneration. My starting date would be one month after my accepting the offer.

Some tips:

Check your network: If you know anybody at Amazon/AWS, reach out to them and ask them about the role. This can give you some insights before the formal chat.

Certify yourself: Whilst I didn’t hear back from any applications at first, I found that it helps to get certified. I had applied a couple of times in the past but only after achieving certifications (Cloud foundation and more importantly, Solution Architecture Associate) I was approached by an AWS employee that asked me if I had ambitions to work for AWS/Amazon. I was thrilled, this was the opportunity I was looking for! Checkout this link for more information: https://aws.amazon.com/training/

Prepare yourself: There is no harm in bringing a piece of paper with you with a ‘cheat sheet’. I made a list of leadership principles and matched my own experience to them. This gave me the opportunity to understand if I align with the leadership principles, but a way to avoid keep giving the same use cases during Interview day.

Virtual vs. in person: Sometimes it won’t be possible but I found easier to meet people in person during the Interview day than via video chat. Personally, I preferred do this one in person, even if it meant fly halfway around the world.

Amazon Jobs If you got curious about working at Amazon/AWS, please don’t hesitate to checkout their website. Here are positions in the Netherlands, but there are jobs all over the world: see jobs in the Netherlands here.

Working at Amazon Web Services

This week I started working at AWS (Amazon Web Services) in Amsterdam.

In my new role, I’ll be helping companies in Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg with their journey to the cloud, including release management, agile/lean practices and strategic delivery, with a focus on quality.

These first few months are all about further introduction into AWS and Amazon’s working, our customers, and the peculiar ways of Amazon. Next week training will kick-off with a trip to AWS in Berlin. Very excited to start in my new role.

I took this photo with the CTO of Amazon, Werner Vogels back in 2013, I never guessed I was lucky enough to be able to work here.

 

Goodbye Dr. Panda and Chengdu!

 

It’s my last working day at Dr. Panda. I’m writing this now because we will go have a little party in Chengdu tonight! :)

I joined little over three years ago, and it was quite a challenging step for me, to go from ‘IT manager’ to ‘General Manager I was an experienced IT project manager, but had only a little experience managing people, let alone a whole studio. It was tough at times, it was engaging but most of all I appreciate the team. I say this not because I work(ed) here, but Dr. Panda is able to reach a consistent high quality. I found this can only be achieved with incredible standards, relentless work and a culture that allows this. I’m very happy to have worked with such great teammates.

Slowly I build up my role, and combined the role of general manager, executive producer, a manager for production & backend team and a producer of games, all at the same time. My boss, the CEO, was very patient with me and coached me. I look back on 100’s (!) of initiatives started with many completed, and am particularly proud of the transition from a traditional production company to self steering teams that we now have at the Chengdu office. The team matured, and I feel now it’s a good time to move on.

Last Friday I went to Shanghai and said goodbye to friends and colleagues at our Shanghai office.

The reason why we are leaving is family related. We have loved every day in China for 7 years total now, we got very comfortable living here. But we feel it’s time to move on, stay tuned!

Cherry plucking in Wenchuan 汶川

We spend the weekend in Miansi Town, close to Wenchuan 汶川. it’s only about two hour drive from Chengdu. We spend our time in the Dayu Farm House (汶川大禹农庄). The farm house received us very well, very kind and hospitable. In the afternoon we enjoyed the hot-springs. In the evening after dinner, there was a bonfire with dancing.

From early May until the first week of June it’s cherry season. As we we’re late in the season, we had to go all the way up the mountain.

 

 

Dr. Panda 8.8km

To promote an active lifestyle, Dr. Panda’s head company TAL Education Group, prompted our HR to run a 10km run. I was very surprised with the turnout of the entire team. We outsourced the organization of the event, which was a very good idea. Not only did they provide water, they also provided the nametags, drone footage and everything. All and all a great event.

Personally I didn’t run for a while, so this event marked also a nice external motivation to pick that up again. Being one of the oldest teammates in this company, I felt I had to train well, so I got up at 6am twice a week to run besides the Jin river in Chengdu. As the event was nearing, I got worried with the temperature in Chengdu. Luckily, it rained and the temperature dropped to only 20 degrees. The whole company started running. As the track was short, I wanted to run a fast time. So I started to accelerate and I managed to finish first. I’m very satisfied! I’ll run more often. There is something about the runner lifestyle, getting in shape is just one benefit.

 

Andaman Camping trip

After last year’s camp site, we spend another weekend at Andaman (Hubaba) outdoor camping. Surprisingly, our youngest (just 2 years old) also had fun on the zipline course. Last year we setup a tent, this year we could rent already setup tents. We spend the day adventuring in the nature, and the evening we took a walk with flashlights. It was raining all night but we didn’t care, it was fun. The next morning we were awakened by birds singing, and we had another day of adventures in the park. After all the kids ziplining, I also did a zipline. I’m not a fan of these hights, but with the kids cheering for me, I couldn’t stop!

Korean New Year (설날)

Korean New Year coincides with Chinese new year. I had the opportunity to attend, as in Asia, this is the time to come together. We wear formal clothes, or traditional clothes (hanbok,) and bowed to our elders, we performed ancestral rites, and the children received a personal grace and money from their elders after performing a formal bow. We also eat traditional food, with tteokkuk 떡국 (soup with sliced rice cakes).

Lhasa, Tibet

Visited Lhasa in Tibet with my dad. In the past year I visited many Tibetan communities in Sichuan and Yunnan (1,2), Lhasa represents to me the centre of Tibetan culture and definitely an important visit. We took the train, saw a beautiful lake and learned about history and Buddhism.

Xining (西宁) to Lhasa ལྷ་ས་ (拉萨) by train We flew to Xining and took the train to Lhasa from there. We wanted to avoid altitude sickness, landing by plane above 3,000m can lead headache, dizziness. We figured the train would take us up slowly and limit the effects. Xining is a city located between Chengdu and Mongolia. It’s centre is completely rebuild around the new train station. Majority of population is Muslim, we had the opportunity to visit biggest mosque of China, on the inside too. From Xining, we took the world’s highest altitude train line. Most of the track is above 4,500m, with a peak at Tanggula Pass at 5,200m. The special train has an oxygen supply in the cabin, emits a hissing sound. (Picture below, right bottom)

The 1,960km long train ride from Xining to Lhasa took little less than a day.

  • We took a soft sleeper (slightly more expensive, but good place to sleep)
  • We shared the cabin with two others going to Golmud (first stop), the wake up service woke me up as well! (Woman suddenly opening door and shouting to them to get ready) – I was sitting up straight before I realized what was happening.
  • There is good food on the train.
  • Watched the sunrise above the moon like landscape.
    The train left in the evening dark, but the moon light revealed the mountains outside. The next morning we enjoyed the sunrise and just looked outside for hours on end. Left my book alone, no need. The mountain moonlight silhouettes changed to blue sky with green hills, then rolling yellow hills with grass. Here and there some yak. Nomads fetching sheep with motorcycles, then finally snow-covered giant mountains in the distance. We read a book about the construction of this train line. Build above permafrost, which ice can sink meters at any time, they put most of the train line on poles, elevation and put isolating stones at critical places. Since it’s a plateau above 4,500m, there are no trees, the stretched out hills have snow on them. There is a highway being constructed along the way. A few hundred kilometers before Lhasa we passed the holy Namtso Lake (གནམ་མཚོ།) even though I took the picture though the train window, you can imagine how vibrant it was.

Lhasa ལྷ་ས་ (拉萨) – Finally we arrived in Lhasa. We had to get permits checked and our guide picked us up at the station. We had read up about this place, but didn’t know that KFC and Burger king opened up in Lhasa. I guess that can tell you enough about how this city is changing. In a lifetime, it went from a secluded place and grew tenfold and construction is everywhere. But there is still a lot authenticity to explore, and particularly trace roots of Buddhism that came here from India. We enjoyed traditional Tibet food, but also Indian and Chinese food is available. There are local restaurants that sell momo (yak dumplings) and yak butter, yak butter tea, yoghurt and meat based dishes. Potala (ཕོ་བྲང་པོ་ཏ་ལ་) (布达拉宫) Ah, the iconic the Potala Palace. There are many written books about this place, and they explain it better than I could so I won’t go into it’s significance here, just very brief. The king of Lhasa meditated in a cave in this hill. Then later the white part was built by the fifth Dalai Lama, and later the red.

  • It’s a nice mix of tourists and pilgrims visiting this time of year. (After harvest)
  • It houses eight Dalai Lama mummies inside beautiful golden tombs.
  • Tourists can only visit the red-painted wall parts, all white wall areas are off bounds.
  • The white part paint with lime and milk.
  • No pictures are allowed inside. (Fear of replicas to be switched with real artefacts)
  • In the past, up to 6000 visitors came each day, now it’s limited to 2300. Also each tourist must be accompanied by a guide. Inside you can spend 50 minutes.
    Some wise words from the 6th Dalai Lama that stuck: You need compassion, wisdom and energy to achieve anything.

In the evening there is light and fountains show. We enjoyed beers in the park. The Potala looks flat if you look up from front.

Johkang temple (ཇོ་ཁང།) (大昭寺) The center of Lhasa is Johkang temple. Our guide explained that you can compare it to Mekka but then for Buddhism. It is the original center of Lhasa. He was right, hundreds of people walk around the and pray in and around the temple, even late at night. Some bow constantly while going around, kneeling and putting their forehead on to floor. Knee protectors to keep going. Inside the temple, the monks from red, white, black, yellow sects (in order of creation) come down here to maintain the temple for several months at a time. Currently the yellow (Gelug) sect is maintaining it but they accept worshippers from all sects. The Jowo Sakyamuni statue represents Buddha at age twelve. There are many chambers with statues and art. Our guide explained that other Buddha statues everywhere are modeled after this one. When they make a statue, they come here to bless it.

Yamdrok lake (ཡར་འབྲོག་གཡུ་མཚོ་) (羊卓雍錯) We visited one of the holy lakes in Tibet, Yamdrok lake. It’s a hundred kilometers south of Lhasa, close to Bhutan.  The lake is turquoise coloured and lies at 4,441 meters. Our guide and our driver took us the 3 hour ride there.

To get to the lake, you have to cross a 4,800m pass by car. We met some Chinese tourists and took some silly photos. Then we drive down and felt the ice-cold water. Enjoyed nice Tibetan noodles. On the way back the sun was out and the fall colours came out. The lake trip offered some new sights from the bus. And you can pose with Tibetan dogs for 10 RMB.

Drepung འབྲས་སྤུངས་ (and Sera)

Two important monasteries close to Lhasa. Drepung hosts 7700 monks and nuns. This is where the first five Dalai Lama resided before Potala was build (between Drepung, Lhasa and Sera) by the fifth.

  1. Lots to see inside including an 800 years old Buddha from India.The amount of monks is decreasing. Now they all assemble in the central Hall, instead of their building. Before most young monks have teacher, and when teacher get old, they take care of them. Now amount of students are decreasing. So they put all old monks together close to assembly house to take care for them. A bit like a retirement house.