069 iPhreaks Show - The Khan Academy iOS with Laura Savino

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The panelists discuss The Khan Academy iOS with Laura Savino.

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CHUCK: Here we go! [This episode of iPhreaks is brought to you, in part, by Postcards. Postcards is the simplest way to allow you to feedback from right inside your application. With just a simple gesture, anyone testing your app can send you a Postcard containing a screenshot of the app and some notes. It’s a great way to handle bug reports and feature requests from your clients. It takes 5 minutes to set up, and the first five postcards each month are free. Get started today by visiting www.postcard.es]**[This episode is brought to you by Code School. Code School offers interactive online courses in Ruby, JavaScript, HTML, CSS and iOS. Their courses are fun and interesting and include exercises for the student. To level up your development skills, go to freelancersshow.com/codeschool] **CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 69 of the iPhreaks Show. This week on our panel we have Andrew Madsen. ANDREW: Hello, from Salt Lake City. CHUCK: Alondo Brewington. ALONDO: Hello, from North Carolina. CHUCK: Pete Hodgson. PETE: Hello, from the City by the Bay. CHUCK: I'm Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv, and this week we have a special guest, Laura Savino. LAURA: Yup, hi. CHUCK: Do you want to introduce yourself real quick? LAURA: Sure. I'm Laura Savino. I'm an iOS developer with Khan Academy and we’re based in Mountain View in the Bay Area in California. CHUCK: Khan Academy – that’s like popular stuff. LAURA: [Chuckles] It’s pretty exciting, the things that we are able to do with the education platform in technology. PETE: Maybe some people don’t know exactly what Khan Academy does. Can you give us a one-minute elevator pitch? I guess not an elevator pitch, but describe roughly what Khan Academy actually does. LAURA: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I know a lot of people have heard of the company but maybe aren't familiar with what it does currently. It started a few years ago with a series of Youtube videos teaching Math and those videos started getting more and more popular as people who maybe didn’t have access to great Math instruction on their have found these online and said, “Wow, Math makes sense to me now in a way that it really didn’t before.” The platform started growing as we got more and more users and so I made tons of videos. Over the years, we found out that if people really want to learn how to do a thing, you would need to actually practice it and not just receive information passively via video. So we have a lot of Math exercises that you can do to really practice those skills that you’ve learned and have also expanded out with a lot of different partners with things like –. We’ve got Beth and Steven working in New York City with Art History videos and so you can learn all kinds of things about different paintings and art. There's the crash course History videos – I think just today we released content about dinosaurs; we’re partnered with NASA. There's just a ton of content that we provide people who are learning either as independent learners or working on things in the classroom. I think that’s an aspect that maybe a lot of people might not be as familiar with are the classroom tools where if learners on this have a coach within Khan Academy, that coach can actually see what the students have been working on in terms of how long they’ve spent on each problem, which problems they’ve struggled with, maybe what wrong answers they put in, and that student can be highlighted for the teacher in a report about their class and the teacher can really zero in and say, “Oh I see, this student is struggling with this particular skill” and then they can go in and help explain to the student more and give them some more personalized attention. ALONDO: So Laura, is this application geared towards students who are in K-12 or is the target audience larger than that? LAURA: Yeah, that’s a great question. A lot of our content that we’re making the most interactive right now is K-12. I would even say that the strongest content even starts around middle school, but we definitely work with community colleges. I hear people who have used it to stud for the MCAT; there's material to help people with the NCLEX, which is the nursing exam, so there's definitely content for adults as well. But right now, the bits that are most personalized are in Math, kind of middle school and high school. CHUCK: So, is this content free or paid? LAURA: Ah, that’s actually – maybe I should have mentioned that. We’re a nonprofit and the content is free and will always be free. A really important part of our mission is to educate students – meaning anyone who wants to learn a thing, anyone, and anywhere. PETE: [Inaudible] I didn’t realize it was a nonprofit. Is it different working at a nonprofit versus a regular company or a profitable company or a [inaudible]? LAURA: [Laughs] You know, my only other experience as a software engineer was working at a consulting company, which is pretty radically different because you need to track your time. Here, it’s more of just in terms of what do we produce for the students. I think one aspect where being a nonprofit with a mission I've been pleased to see the difference is that we have a lot of analytics in the site and a really strong data science team – they're brilliant. The thing that we’re focused on is not minutes spent on the site or number of clicks or things like that, but when we do an A/B test, what we want to know is, “Did this thing that we changed make a more effective outcome for the student in terms of things that they were able to do in terms of their learning?” The bottom line is always trying to get students to learn more effectively, rather than maybe other metrics that companies that are dependent on making a profit would look at. PETE: Interesting. Are you guys doing a lot of A/B testing in the iOS app as well, or is that mainly on the website? LAURA: That’s completely on the website. Are there A/B testing frameworks that you’ve used and liked for iOS apps? PETE: [Chuckles] There's not one that I've used and liked. I've been doing some research on that recently for a client but I don’t feel qualified enough to share an opinion at the moment. I know it surprises me that it’s not more common for people to do that with iOS; I think maybe people are scared about Apple rejecting them from the App Store. LAURA: I'm definitely afraid of the idea of things going on in the app that I can’t control. If there are multiple A/B tests going on at the same time, that’s a whole other layer at stake that I haven't tested before getting the app out the door. PETE: Great. CHUCK: I don’t know how useful having multiple A/B tests running is anyway. LAURA: Oh yeah? PETE: Well, I think so since you have, Laura, you’ve got some actual data scientists-type folks at the Khan Academy, you should chat with them about that, because it’s actually –. There are ways that you can split your cohorts so that you can run multiple experiments at once, but you have to be a lot more thoughtful about it, I think. CHUCK: Yeah. LAURA: Yeah, absolutely. And I know that there's fantastic tools for doing that on the web, but –. PETE: Yeah, I think it’s a little bit less, I'm not sure, on the native side. LAURA: Mm-hm. CHUCK: So with the videos, can you watch the videos in the app? LAURA: Yup. Actually, right now, the app is basically just in a client for consuming content. You can watch videos and read articles and download videos – that’s been kind of the state-of-the-art in the app for the past three years, I think, since it was made. We’ve been working really hard to bring exercises into the app this summer so that students can write within the app, they can watch videos about triangles and then actually practice skills that they have learned there. It’s been a ton of work because the exercises, they were written – originally meant to be consumed within the web app and to make those APIs work and make all the exercises happy in a touch environment and outside of their web app home has been more work than we really anticipated. PETE: The web ones, are they rich JavaScript-y things or are they doings stuff with some other technology? LAURA: We actually have – I say we as someone who’s not on this team – but we’ve been using React on the website, which –. PETE: Oh, cool. LAURA: Yeah! People are really excited about it and I haven't played with it because I've been focused on the iOS side. PETE: Have you guys looked at trying to embed React stuff inside an iOS app? LAURA: Well, right now, we are basically just consuming the output of – let’s see. I haven't been working on embedding the exercises myself and I don’t want to get this wrong. I know that we basically have dozens of different kinds of exercises that do different things. You should really check them out because some of them are wonderful things like they get derivatives intuition where you actually draw little dots around the [inaudible]; change the slope of a line to be tangent to a curve and then you can actually see the dots making a line themselves and things like telling time and measuring angles and reflections and transformations and all kinds of things like that, and these are all different, little JavaScript-based widgets. Basically we’re taking those and dropping them into the app in web views. CHUCK: One thing that I'm wondering about is you talked a little bit about embedding exercises – do you do that in the middle of the videos, or is it just another part of the app that you access in addition to the videos? LAURA: Right now, they are separate from videos. If our content is setup in basically tutorials, so there will be a video and then maybe an article and exercise and a couple more videos and another exercise, and you kinda progress through them in sequence. I know something that we’re playing with is this idea of having questions and ways to practice in the middle of a video. Our videos are pretty short; most of them are under 10 minutes. Students are watching an hour and then they’ll go practice, so it’s broken up pretty naturally by skills already, but we’re definitely trying to look for ways to engage people more. CHUCK: Yeah, that makes sense. Now are you just using HTTP Live Streaming or HLS to get the videos into the app? LAURA: I didn’t write that part; I think we’re using HTTP Live Streaming, but I can’t really speak to that, I'm sorry. PETE: I would guess – I would be surprised if you weren’t because it’s how to get [inaudible] it’s unusual to not use HTTP Live Streaming. CHUCK: Mm-hm. Are there any parts of the app that were tricky or hard to build out? LAURA: Well actually, I kind of brought a difficult part on myself a few months ago. The app was written by a contractor a few years ago and then didn’t get a lot of love until I joined the company maybe a year and a half ago. The app only showed videos, and after a couple of months, I really wanted to make the app able to show articles as well. But going from this homogenous content type to showing both videos and articles together was going to mean changing our model layer, and the existing architecture of the model layer was something that I had a little trouble wrapping my head around and I decided that to make things easier for myself, since our content was in a hierarchy and there are these objects that had relationships to each other and we wanted to persist this, that I would rewrite our model layer to use Core Data. I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this; I'm a still pretty new iOS developer, and that was a couple months of basically rewriting the app, which I didn’t expect to happen because our app is really just a viewer of data. All apps kinda views into data, but really, all the app does is present content statically, so for me, rewriting the model layer meant rewriting the entire app and I was pretty much the only iOS developer at Khan Academy at the time, and that was a pretty ambitious undertaking. Luckily, I had a lot of support from the community around this time. I worked with, I guess, the former Rubber City Wizards – I reached out to Josh Smith and Jonathan Penn who are amazing people. I called them my mentors-for-hire; they would work with me for an hour or two every couple of weeks to make sure that I didn’t completely explode everything while I was mucking around with Core Data in the app. But then the triumphant conclusion of the story is that I managed to rewire all the parts, shipped the update to the store and absolutely nobody noticed, [chuckling] which was exactly what I wanted. PETE: Triumphant victory – no one knows you did anything. LAURA: Mm-hm [chuckling]. CHUCK: Yup. LAURA: And then we were able to add articles and it wasn’t really a big deal at that point, and that also laid the groundwork for us. Now we’re adding exercises because the model layer can now handle all kinds of different content. PETE: That’s kind of funny. I think, it’s always kind of slightly frustrating but slightly – I get this kind of double feeling of super pride that I've managed to do something without anyone noticing but also kind of sadness, like, “No one knows.” [Laughter] CHUCK: I made their lives better [crosstalk]. LAURA: Now the release notes for that one were [laughs]. PETE: What did the release notes say? LAURA: I think I was really peppy and trying to say, “Lots of things happened under the covers and you might not notice, but this is going to make things easier for me, your tirelessly working developer.” [Chuckling] CHUCK: Yeah. PETE: At Khan Academy, do you have pretty free reign to decide what you're going to work on? I guess you kind of touched on that a little bit with not having to log your hours, but did you just kinda decided this is what you wanted to do or did you have to kind of go and get by from someone somewhere that, “Oh, this is going to be worth it for the future of our platform.” LAURA: That’s actually been a really wonderful thing for me, working here, is that the [inaudible] on the product, the directly responsible individuals have a lot of leeway in terms of deciding what the future should be and have a ton of independence and trust, so for me, this was – going from being a junior developer at an agency to being the person deciding what to do, and it was really exciting for me. I still remember the first time after – I think about a month or two of working here and iOS 7 betas had just come out and I mentioned to the engineering lead that I would like to drop iOS 5. He said, “Yeah, I think that makes sense” and I kinda went, “Yes, great!” and he said, “No, no, no. I just want to make sure you understand – I was just giving you information of my opinion, like, yeah I think that makes sense to me; that wasn’t permission. If I would have said, “No, I don’t think that makes sense to me” – it was still up to me as the directly responsible individual to make that call, and that’s been pretty amazing. PETE: I've not heard of that term before, “directly responsible individual.” Is that something that’s unique to Khan Academy or did –? LAURA: I know it’s also an Apple thing; I don’t know the origin of it though. PETE: Interesting. Is that like each small feature or each product? What's the scale of your responsibility as a DRI? LAURA: At our company, for example, there are many DRIs for each feature. There might be, someone is currently the DRI for a project on changing our testing framework or fixing the search in the app, or for this system I mentioned earlier where coaches can watch what their students are doing. So each of those components will have a DRI. CHUCK: Do you work in a team environment? Because it sounds like – you mentioned, “I don’t work on that part of the app,” or “I didn’t build that piece” or whatever. LAURA: I know that I have a terrible memory and I want to make sure that I don’t misrepresent what other people are doing. Yeah, there's a pretty strong sense of cross-team collaboration. There are maybe – I want to say 30 engineers, 35, and projects tend to be pretty small, maybe two to six people on a project. But we have a really open organization in that each team will have a HipChat room, but that HipChat room is open to anyone in the company who wants to join. Often there are people who kind of lurk and just see what's going on in the data science world, or what's going on in the mobile world. PETE: And do you have, as well as iOS, do you have an iOS team and an Android team, or do you have a mobile team or –? LAURA: For a really long time, I was called the mobile team even though I was only working on iOS. Something that’s been really exciting recently is that we have been expanding the iOS team a lot. We have hired Mike Parker who hadn’t done iOS in a long time, but is brilliant and humble and obsessed with naming, and so it’s fantastic working with him. We’ve had a couple of engineering interns, who are also amazing. They’ve gotten so much done this summer; it’s wonderful. We have also been – I don’t know if it’s been maybe a month and a half, but Andy Matuschak has started working as the lead of mobile at Khan Academy and it’s been just amazing working with him. Having all these people working together and really putting a focus on the iOS app, whereas before it maybe got a little bit less love, it’s really exciting. There is not an Android app now. As I mentioned before, it’s been a lot of work getting exercises to be happy, getting these interactive exercises to be happy in a mobile environment at all, and so we’re trying to kind of have all these headaches now in iOS land before starting on an Android app. Then hopefully, once we’ve solved the API issues and things with versioning the exercise frameworks, then it’ll be much more straightforward when we do start on an Android app. CHUCK: When you build out the Android app, is it going to be the same mobile team that does it or –? LAURA: You know, that’s a good question. I'm not sure. I know that we do have a couple of people who are really excited about the idea of building Android apps even from other areas of the company. It would probably be faster to work with somebody, to hire someone and work with somebody who had Android experience directly, but one thing that Khan Academy is really supportive of in engineers that I like a lot is the idea that if you’ve learned on technology pretty well, you can probably learn another technology also. And if you're interested in doing that and you really want to contribute there, that’s something that the company really supports. So, I don’t know; I could end up writing Android apps. We’ll see. PETE: Have you guys looked at any – or have you considered some of kind of a cross-platform things that are out there to try and share stuff across these different platforms once you start building out the Android part? LAURA: Well right now, the exercise content – the interactive practice content – is web-based, so that will share pretty nicely. But one thing that I know Andy is especially excited about – and the rest of us are too – is making a native client that feels really good, like a first class citizen kind of client. I haven't seen cross-platform solutions that are really wonderful in that way, and then you always end up making the UI tradeoffs where it maybe feels more Apple-y or it feels more Android-like. And then we handed the iOS app to a couple of people who were really developed – maybe that’s the wrong word – but they're really strong Android users, and they kept trying to tap the titles of things to go back to the previous section. PETE: How interesting. LAURA: Yeah. Things like that, I think we have plenty of UI challenges already without trying to make one solution for native apps on both clients. ALONDO: You run into performance issues with regards to sort of pulling this information down or is it just by nature of people typically being interested in one section – has that mitigated that at all? LAURA: I'm not sure I understand what you mean; can you say that in a different way? ALONDO: Well, I mean, there's a lot of classes and lots of – I'm looking at the content, and if there's a lot of content, I’m just wondering if that’s a problem as far as getting that down. Are people experiencing lags or any sort of performance issues while playing videos or anything like that? LAURA: Sure. The way that the app is currently written – and this is my fault – we have, as I mentioned, this hierarchical system of content where there's topics that have subtopics and subtopics until you get down to content. Right now, when one of our content creators will edit an exercise or a new – or [inaudible] will upload a new video – what we call the topic tree has changed. Right now, the app actually downloads the entire topic tree when something changes. But as I mentioned, my amazing co-worker Mike has recently written something so you can just get a diff and bring that down, so that one’s super reduced the amount of data that people are consuming. But yeah, right now, if you use the app, you'll notice that there's a little bit of time where it kind of stops working super well – the UI becomes a little unresponsive while it’s parsing all this information. [Laughs] ALONDO: [Crosstalk] ready to start talking about some –. Sorry, I was actually going through some of the navigation. [Laughter] LAURA: No, it’s alright. ALONDO: I did the King’s Cupcakes class and I really enjoyed it; that was really a fun way to introduce the concept of [inaudible]. LAURA: [Chuckles] Nice. PETE: Wait, what was the class? Cupcakes? ALONDO: Yeah, King’s Cupcakes – it’s a way to solve the problem you're presented with this challenge of a king having a party in your honor for saving one of his children and you have to determine how many cupcakes you need to have based on the number of adults and children that are [crosstalk]. LAURA: That brings a whole new element to word problems. PETE: Anything involving cupcakes sounds like fun to me. CHUCK: No kidding. ALONDO: Well I was hooked as soon as I saw the title. I was like, “I'm in!” [Chuckling] CHUCK: So do you ever have features that are driven by a particular course or content as opposed to some capability that you want in general for Khan Academy? LAURA: That’s a great question; it’s something that we’ve been talking about internally. The Khan’s – some of our content like Art History might be better served by being presented in a different context than our current browsing library experience. Maybe we really want to build something out so you can zoom in on these gorgeous images, but putting all of those different styles of presenting content into one app could get super awkward, like it would feel like it was made by a lot of different people. Having all these different sorts of personalities coming out in different sections of the app, I think it would feel pretty strange. But at the same time, having different apps for all of the different content really presents its own challenges. There's so much exciting content around there – there's physics and all these interactive things that you can do with Star Maps, and that could be a really interesting standalone app. But then if a student says, “Okay, I've gotten this far in physics, but I've realized that what I'm really missing is exponents and I don’t understand those,” at that point, do we kick the student back to flagship Khan Academy app? Do we have a separate Math app that they need to go and get? It’s a super complicated question that we haven't figured how to solve yet. PETE: It is kind of a tricky one, because you want a consistent look and feel – and not to bump people around – but you also want freedom for different content creators to stylize things in different ways. LAURA: Exactly. Another case that I'm thinking a lot about is there are some people who take a more casual approach to the content, like, “Oh, I'm really interested in History, and I think I'm just going to watch these videos for my own learning just because it’s something that I find fascinating.” Those people may go through the content more than [inaudible]. Maybe they would watch every video that we've got on dinosaurs, and then other users will come to – I guess learners, I should say – will come to us because there's a specific thing that they're hoping to learn. I know someone recently who was going on job interviews and realized that they really needed to relearn linear algebra and matrices and just jumped into Khan Academy to brush up on those things and then was done. There's a really different way, I think, that you should treat learners, where some people will say, “Oh, I just started doing linear algebra” and will say, “Keep going! You can do it! You can learn all these things! Don’t stop studying linear algebra!” and kind of encouraging them to keep going more and more with the content. But for a learner who really just wants to go in and say, “Yup, I've learned this one thing; I'm done. I'm ready to move on,” us kind of chasing them and saying, “Hey, remember this linear algebra thing? Why didn’t you finish?” I think that would be pretty frustrating to them. It’s another challenging problem dealing with these really different use cases of people trying to learn things. CHUCK: How many downloads has the app seen? LAURA: I just looked this up the other day; I think we’re at about 4.5 million. CHUCK: Wow. Does it change the way you approach the app at all, or did you always just do things a specific way and assume it would work out at scale? LAURA: Actually, surprisingly, the app is a really tiny percent of the traffic to Khan Academy as a content provider. In some ways, almost still a beta platform because most of the innovation right now, most of the ways that you can really sink your teeth into our content are on the desktop web app. In that context, I feel like the app downloads and the app usage is pretty small. CHUCK: We’re kind of at the limit for our time, so we should probably get to the picks. Is there anything else that we should know about Khan Academy or about the app? PETE: I want to hear about some exciting new feature that’s coming up that you can tease us with. LAURA: [Chuckles] Well, I think the most exciting new feature is going to be this ability to actually practice Math problems from within the app. That’s been something that users have been requesting from the beginning and we thought was just too hard to do, and that’s something we've been working really hard on. It’s actually going out to beta users almost as we speak, and that’s going to be really exciting. But honestly, the thing that I am most excited about is after starting to work with Andy, just talking with him about –. We have this big, ambitious, difficult project we’re doing of getting exercises from the website into the app and we’re going to ship this to users and his response was, “This is great and important, but we get to think bigger than that. We have a chance with these devices that people carry around with them in their pockets every day; we have a chance to make some really rich, interactive learning in a way that is more difficult when you have a keyboard and a mouse.” We honestly don’t even know what that’s going to look like; we’re just starting to play around with prototypes and saying, “What can we do things different with, getting people to really [inaudible] derivatives or different kinds of skills?” and I am just so excited to see where that goes in terms of –. Right now, I think the way learning in the app will work is that you will watch a video and then practice the skills that you learned. But I'm excited to see us flip that so you will learn a skill by practicing it and will lead you through that. I wish I knew what that was actually going to look like, but I am so excited to see it. ALONDO: I think that’s a great idea, but I want to see how you would handle that challenge because it just so upturns that basic learning model on its ear, and I think a lot of people would benefit from it. LAURA: Absolutely. I mean, that’s what the really fantastic teachers are doing already, and taking inspiration from that so that all kids can feel like they’ve got a personal tutor or something that we’re really excited about making happen. ANDREW: I've been a sort of fan and follower of Andy since before he was at Apple; he wrote Sparkle, which is a Mac software update framework that I've used for a long time. Anyway, I'm really excited to see what you guys do with so many smart people there; it seems like Khan Academy wouldn’t be bringing smart people in if they didn’t have some big plans. It will be interesting to follow what you guys do. I’ll be looking at your stuff closely. LAURA: [Chuckles] I'm really glad to hear that. CHUCK: So didn’t John Resig work there? LAURA: Yeah, actually he still does. He is working on the CS curriculum, which, if you haven't looked at it, you really should. It’s, again, only on desktop web but it’s JavaScript-based and is so approachable because it’s one of these side-by-side coding environments, so the left side will have some code and the right side has the output of the code, but it’s really visual. The left side, for example, might have existing code that draws a face – a circle, two dots and a semi-circle – and the challenge that we’ll give to the students is, “Please make this a crazy face. Make the eyes different sizes and give it a really big mouth.” All the students need to do is go in and change a couple of variable values, and then they can see the face change on the other side. To an eight-year-old who’s playing with this, it’s completely hilarious and it makes programming seem a lot more accessible to them. And then there is software detecting what the student has typed, and so it will say, “Congratulations! You made the eyes different sizes,” or what have you. “Now, let’s make the eyes the same size, but let’s do it using a variable,” and then, again, our grading software will notice when the student has used a variable to do this or not and leads them up through programming in a way that I think is more similar to how a lot of us got into coding, which is having an existing program and wanting to tweak some values so that it does something slightly different, rather than being presented with a blank screen and saying, “You can code whatever you want.” It’s a much more step-by-step bit. CHUCK: I think I need to get John Resig onto one of my other shows and talk about this. LAURA: [Chuckles] He’s a fantastic person. Actually, Pamela Fox is also working on the CS curriculum and she’s a fantastic, fantastic speaker. PETE: It’s got an all-star team over there. CHUCK: I’ll hit you up afterward and see if we can get some folks on some shows, but yeah, that’s really cool. That’s exciting. LAURA: Yeah, and I think – I don’t want to take up too much time, but actually one of the more exciting things that we’ve done in the past couple of days has been this new campaign, which is the You Can Learn Anything Campaign. We’re basically trying to convince people that intelligence is not something that’s fixed at birth, that if you try, you can get better at a thing. More than trying to tell people like, “Hey, you should learn Math,” or “You should learn this specific thing,” the thing that we’re really trying to change people’s minds about is whether or not they can learn something new. There's more content on the site about the science and research behind your brain growing the more you use it. A pretty exciting new thing, too. CHUCK: Yeah, I like the inspirational aspect. I do have to say that people really should learn Math, though. [Laughter] Alright, let’s go ahead and get into the picks. Alondo, do you want to start us off with the picks? ALONDO: Sure! I think my first pick is right in line with learning. I've been reading some new books and I wanted to recommend one that has kind of a personal [inaudible] right now. It’s called The Human Brain: A Guided Tour from Susan Greenfield, and it sort of takes you through the basic understanding of the characteristics of the brain and brain function and things like that, so it was really an eye-opener for me, so that’s the first pick. The next three picks are all related and you'll understand the connection. Just charities that I think are really important and I wanted to sort of give them a little bit of pub. I know that there is the Ice Challenge going around, but this one’s a little more personal to me. The first one is the American Brain Tumor Association, along with the National Brain Tumor Society and the American Cancer Society – just three charities that are of great importance and it would be great if people could learn more about brain tumors and brain cancer and support them. So those are my picks. Thanks. CHUCK: Awesome. Andrew, what are your picks? ANDREW: I've got two picks today, and they're a little bit unconventional. My first one is American Express. It’s a little bit of a weird pick, but I went on a trip for two months, and unfortunately a bag full of stuff that I had was stolen and American Express has this purchase protection thing and so I was actually able to get money back from them for stuff that was stolen. The reason I'm picking them is because unlike a lot of big companies like that, I've had 100% positive experience with them, with their customer service, with calling them, so it was really actually quite surprising and pleasantly so. My second pick is taking a vacation. This is certainly the longest trip I've ever gone on, but it was also a little unique and I didn’t do any work while I was gone; I didn’t really even think about work, and I think it really was good for me to get away from programming and thinking about technical things and solving problems and just learn new things and meet new people and have new experiences, and I think it’s given me a fresh perspective, so it’s important to remember to do that every so often. Those are my picks. CHUCK: Cool. Pete, what are your picks? PETE: Spookily, I was going to pick taking vacations as well. I just got back from a 10-day vacation – not quite as awesome as Andrew’s vacation – and that was nice to not have a computer, so I’ll pick that. I'm going to pick a place I went on my vacation; I went to Mount San Jacinto. It’s just above Palm Springs in California. In Palm Springs, it was 110°F and like 95°F at night, and I wanted to go backpacking with my wife. We took this trolley car up 9,000 vertical feet to the top of this mountain, or near the top of this mountain, and we had an awesome two days of backpacking in 70°F weather, with light rain every couple of minutes or every couple of hours for a few minutes, and it was just super perfect, awesome backpacking trip with amazing views. If you're here in Southern California and you want to do something in the middle of the summer that doesn’t involve 110°F, then Mount San Jacinto is your place. I also went to San Diego and for those of you who don’t know, San Diego has amazing beer, so I'm going to pick San Diego and the beer that is in it. Specifically, Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale is my beer pick this week. Karl Strauss is like one of the oldest San Diego breweries actually, and Red Trolley is very, very good red ale, so if you can get a hold of that, you should try that. And just for a fun, computer pick, I'm going to pick a Tumblr called Terrible Swift Ideas. It’s pretty hilarious. I'm enjoying a lot, seeing all the stupid things that people can do with this new toy that they’ve been given, so check that out if you want to giggle. CHUCK: Very nice. I'm going to go ahead and – I don’t know if I've picked this or not, but Apple’s Swift book is actually good. It’s not the best programming book I've ever had, but it does get you through how to put stuff together and things like that, so I’ll give it a pick. If you’ve listened for the last while, you'd know that I'm a big fan of Audible, and I've been listening to several books on Audible so I'm going to pick a couple of those. One of them is called Virtual Freedom by Chris Ducker. If you're busy, with lots of stuff going on, it walks you through how to hire virtual assistants and freelancers to help you get your work done, so definitely a fan of that. The other book that I read is by Elizabeth Smart and it’s called My Story. Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from Salt Lake City several years ago – she was 14 years old – by a crazy guy who made her his second wife and all of this stuff, but it was really interesting to read about and kind of get an idea of what she went through. If you want an interesting, true story, then go check it out. I do want to warn you though that it doesn’t get into graphic detail of what this guy put her through, but  at the same time, there are elements to this that if you're sensitive to them, then you may want to pass on the book. And yeah, that's it. So Laura, what are your picks? LAURA: First one, I actually just got into conference speaking a few months ago and hadn’t done anything since high school kind of basic PowerPoint and I used Deckset App to put my presentation together. I really loved it because I could write in markdown, which made it a lot easier to me to use with version control, because when I was making a presentation and putting it under version control just seemed to make a lot of sense, and then it came out looking really sharp and I was really happy with it. And then I've got a couple of books. Creativity, Inc has been recommended to me by so many people. It’s by – I may pronounce his last name wrong – Ed Catmull from Pixar, and it’s basically how to scale a creative company without becoming one of these corporate giants that feels a bit soul-sucking and keeping company culture alive and strong and productive. The last is a different Swift book. I actually started working through Swift with Daniel Steinberg’s A Swift Kickstart, and it’s just a really basic introduction. The thing that I love about it is the tone is so conversational and so approachable that even if you're feeling intimidated by this new language, he really makes it sound like this was a thing that you can learn. At the end of one of the chapters, it even says, “You know, that was great. That was a lot of work though, you should probably take a little rest now.” [Chuckling] It’s amazing. CHUCK: That’s awesome. And I know that all the Swift authors out there have been doing Swift for like 12 years, so. LAURA: Clearly. CHUCK: Yup, but that sounds good. Definitely put a link in the chat; we’ll get it in the show notes. Thanks everyone for listening and we’ll catch you all next week.[Work and learn from designers at Amazon and Quora, developers at SoundCloud and Heroku, and entrepreneurs like Patrick Ambron from BrandYourself. You can level up your design, dev and promotion skills at Level Up Con, taking place on October 8th and 9th in downtown Saratoga Springs, New York. Only two hours by train from New York City, this is the perfect place to enjoy early fall at Octoberfest, while you mingle with industry pioneers, in a resort town in upstate New York. Get your tickets today at levelupcon.com. The space is extremely limited for this premium conference experience. Don’t delay! Check out levelupcon.com now]**[This episode is sponsored by MadGlory. You've been building software for a long time and sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. Work piles up, hiring sucks and it's hard to get projects out the door. Check out MadGlory. They're a small shop with experience shipping big products. They're smart, dedicated, will augment your team and work as hard as you do. Find them online at MadGlory.com or on Twitter @MadGlory]**[Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net]**[Bandwidth for this segment is provided by CacheFly, the world’s fastest CDN. Deliver your content fast with CacheFly. 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