Archive for the ‘Technology and Software’ Category

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The digital safe haven

January 4, 2011

I have spent considerable time and thought over the past few months examining my relationship with technology, media, and the Internet. This was driven in a large part by my frustration with the highly variable personal ROI I seem to get from being a “power user” all the time. Fundamentally, I have begun to seriously question just how much engagement is reasonable for someone trying to live a normal and happy life.

One of the most important insights I had (and I am not unique in this) was the need to create a “digital safe haven” for myself. There needs to be a time/place that is largely disconnected from the constant stream of news, email, social chatter, online shopping, picture sharing, blog reading (and writing), etc. This sounds easy, but really takes some effort and dedication. The desire to disconnect may be strong, but the allure of connecting is a very powerful counter-force.

My digital safe haven is my bedroom at night. Since I am currently sitting in the bedroom writing this post (much warmer here than my desk downstairs!) the “at night” modifier is important. Once the evening comes, my devices are banned from the bedroom. No phone, no laptop, no iPad. My Kindle is allowed, since that satisfies my desire to spend time reading. What I have done is stopped the endless inbound chatter from these devices that pulls my limited attention in far too many directions all day long. Once I head to bed, I also stop paying attention to the devices in the rest of the house. No more getting up to check the email at 2:00 AM or see what is happening on Facebook. No more waking up and checking my email before I even roll out of bed and stretch.

Radical? No. But, amazingly satisfying for me. I feel as if I have gained back some control of my time and my ability to focus through the creation of this safe haven. I have also determined that I am no less productive because of it (and may even be more productive).

My lovely wife respects my digital safe haven, but has decided not to follow suit. I respect that and just ignore her devices beeping and blinking on her side of the room.

I believe that there are larger implications for the creation of the digital safe haven. As we are all subject to the endless ubiquity of the digital stream, the ability to step outside and take a breather will become ever more important. What will companies do to support the desires of the individual to be “left alone” for a while? Will Facebook give me a way to specify an away period and then be able to efficiently catch-up when I return? Will my co-workers respect email responses that take longer than 15 minutes, even at 2:00 AM?

The opportunity here is two-fold. First, individuals need to have ways to regain their space and not be distracted. Second, businesses need to start thinking about ways to respect this shift and empower their customers instead of punishing them for missing the endless river of content that keeps flowing by.

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Why I Love the iPad (and it has nothing to do with Apple)

May 6, 2010

I can’t add much to the hype about the iPad going on right now, but I can add a little of my own perspective on why I love the device and everything it represents.

In 1991 I began working at a company called GO on an operating system named PenPoint. You can read about the interesting history of GO, EO, PenPoint and pen computing here:

http://www.digibarn.com/collections/systems/go/index.html
http://hembrow.eu/personal/eo.html
http://www.mactech.com/articles/frameworks/6_2/PenPoint_Brugge.html

Also the outstanding history of GO as a start-up in the book “Startup” by founder Jerry Kaplan

Jerry’s book, in particular, provides context for the quest to create a computing device that you could hold in your hands like a pad of paper and use unobtrusively. He tells the story of tossing a yellow legal pad on a table in a pitch to VCs and saying that is what he plans on building.

As part of the UI/Usability team (this was before the term “UX” was in vogue) at GO I was able to experience hands-on the wonder of people holding a computing device in their hand and using a pen to tap and write. It was truly “magical” (as is the iPad). The tablet computer broke down the walls that a keyboard and a vertical screen presented to users and made the entire experience as natural as any interaction with paper.

I believed then, as I do now, that computing devices should integrate naturally and unobtrusively into our daily lives and work. They should not put up “screens” that separate us from other people, but should slip into the quiet spaces left when people interact directly with each other. The experience of using these devices should be natural and require minimal learning on the part of the user.

The iPad is the first device to really bring all of this to life in an affordable manner. It solved the handwriting recognition problem by not trying to solve the problem at all (duh). It provides great battery life, a beautiful color screen (PenPoint was an innovator in grayscale in 1990…), always-on connectivity, and easy to acquire and install applications.

Every single thing that iPad does so well was part of the vision the team at GO and EO and all the ISVs had in mind, even of the technology was not in place to make it real. We were busy envisioning a future and then doing the best we could to turn that future into something tangible. Others, such as Microsoft, believed in the power of the pen as well and took their own path to making it real.

I love the iPad because it works as Jerry Kaplan, Robert Carr, and hundreds of others imagined a device should work. Bill Campbell, who was the CEO of GO, has been on the board of Apple for many years and a close associate of Steve Jobs. I imagine Bill smiles very fondly when he sees the iPhone and iPad and how they deliver such an amazing experience to millions of users every day.

Apple may be the only company capable of producing the iPad, but the iPad was inevitable. I love it because of what it does for me. I love it for the fact that my 7 year old daughter can pick it up and be “productive” instantly. I love it because it breaks down the barriers that laptops of silently erected in our day to day interaction.

I have waited 20 years for the iPad to become reality. It was well worth the wait.

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Coding?

September 24, 2009

Today I have:
* Brought MySQL up on one of the many domains I own
* Downloaded Expression Engine
* Started searching for an IDE for Web development on the Mac
* Worried about CSS

Why?
Well, it has been a long while since I wrote a website using anything more than a bunch of pre-built templates or MS ExpressionWeb. I think it is time to start to get my hands dirty again (in my ample spare time) and build something.

My PC at home is all decked out with the latest and greatest, but now I am toting this handy MacBook Pro around everywhere and want to use it for my development. What? Run Win7 on it? Absolutely will do that in a few weeks. But, also want the experience of using the Mac as my development platform.

After a couple of months now of using Mac OS as my primary system, I have to say I am generally underwhelmed. So many years of using Windows and the amazing strength of Win7 have created a pretty strong bias in me. This is after having used a Mac as my primary home machine form about 1985 until 2005. Long time, lots of Mac OS versions.

My years at MSFT taught me, however, the power of the Windows platform. It also taught me to be patient and suffer through the quirks of Vista knowing that Win7 was on the horizon. Through the Win7 beta period it impressed me more and more, from the performance on my NetBook to the beauty on my desktop big screen monitor.

Now, a new job and a new focus have put the Mac at the center of my day to day activity. I am going to be a fully dual platform type of fellow.

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Mobile post

August 3, 2009

Well, having made part 1 of the switch to an iPhone, I am now going to try a little blog post. The specifics of having a multipart move from my WinMo device to the iPhone is a story for another time. In the meantime I have the nifty little WordPress app and am giving this a go!

I am really amazed when I see people write massive amounts of content on their mobile device. I find the cognitive load of using the virtual keyboard just big enough that I really don’t feel like my other thoughts are as good as they can be when I am on a physical keyboard. I think I am just too deeply entrenched in my thoughtful writing occuring on the luxury of a big keyboard.

But, I am constantly pushing my boundaries.

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Apple becomes Microsoft and Google turns 10

September 7, 2008

Daniel Lyons in Newsweek has a nice piece on how Apple is turning into Microsoft. As any company comes to control an ecosystem it inevitably starts to squeeze the smaller players and exert its power over pricing and availability.

From inside Microsoft this is pretty amusing. The success of a partner ecosystem means that the partners are successful. I believe Microsoft understands and lives this every day with our partners around the globe. It is a shame to see that Apple might be developing really bad habits.

In other news, Google turns 10. I figure it will be another 10 years before they turn into Microsoft.

Having been through a few cycles in this industry I can very clearly see that some things are pretty inevitable. You just can’t be really big and really small at the same time. It would be amazing to see Google figure it out, but I am not holding my breath.

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The world is flat

August 31, 2005

I had the good fortune this morning of hearing Thomas L. Friedman speak about his new book, The World is Flat. This was a real treat, as his book provides some very incisive commentary on where we are and where we are going in the era beyond mere Globalization.

I strongly recommend you read the book, as well as his earlier works.

Friedman was very energetic and interesting speaker, a treat in the era of authors who really can’t seem to communicate beyond the page. Although his presentation was clearly “scripted”, he delivered it with genuine enthusiasm and interest. It was clear that he feels passionately about the subject and expects the audience to do so as well.

His audience was probably a lot further along the “gee, Globalization has happened and technology has changed everything and the best is yet to come” scale than typical. One thousand Microsoft employees in a room is likely to make anyone rethink any premise. The people are smart enough to be able to pick apart any argument, even the most rock solid. In this case, however, the audience was gracious and the questions very on point.

It is useful to remind myself how far along the curve my little universe is when it comes to the reality of leading the 21st century instead of being stuck in the 20th. If only someone like me was President.

Go read the book and enjoy the coming changes. You will only get a few warnings.

I think it is time to teach the little one Chinese.

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My choice. I am burned out on blogs. Yes, there …

August 19, 2005

My choice.

I am burned out on blogs.

Yes, there is such a thing. I honestly found that after reading so many blogs each day, and diligently writing mine as often as possible, I just couldn’t take it anymore. My mind could not focus on, nor differentiate among, the endless stream of words and opinions. I had nothing more to say.

What is the cause, I began to ask myself (after essentially just dropping out of the “blogsphere” — could there be a more idiotic name?). I was really attempting to deconstruct my own deep engagement in a fundamentally zero-sum game. I read and read and repeated and repeated. No steps forward and no steps back.

There are a few blogs that a truly innovative, interesting, and capable of rising above the day to day musings of PC prophets or the oh-so-cool insider rants on everything from fashion to fetish, bits to bats. There are writers out there that I admire and envy, some so fiendishly good that they deserve a dedicated stream on the internet all their own. And, then, there is everyone else.

As best as I can determine, for every great blog there are at least 10,000 ordinary blogs. Not necessarily just plain bad, but ordinary in the purest sense of the word. Like a conversation at the Laundromat, the barber, or the health club. A simple exchange between two ordinary people just like me.

Therein lies the problem. I can only take so many of those type of conversations in real life, and the same applies online. I don’t want to have 20 of those type of conversations a day. I want to be able to have a few and from them extrapolate all I need to know about other people for the day.

The solution, or so I read in about 600 blogs, was RSS feeds. Yeah, right. Now I can have those same ordinary conversations following me around everywhere I go. Like a curse placed on me by a lazy witch, I would have to listen to the innermost thoughts of everyone I passed on the internet. Not working for me, babe.

I detached. I never even opened my RSS reader anymore. I stopped reading all but a very select few blogs, and those very topically focused on the things I care about offline. This was my secret shame (I DO work for the biggest software company in the world) and my secret pleasure. I could go for days without the voices of others gently interrupting my day.

Am I hypocrite? Sure. Who isn’t in some way? Are my own words exceedingly ordinary? I think so, but you might decide otherwise.

I am stepping back lightly into pushing my own ordinary voice into the wilderness. It might be an essentially one-sided affair, but I think it is better for me than reading all those other voices. I am selfish, ego-driven, and perhaps as in need of external validation as the next person.

Validate my thesis and stop reading me. Validate my ego and read me some more.

Your choice.

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