Category Archives: Tech

Stop Planning, Start Doing

startbutton

I used to be part of a group that met every few weeks to plan all the awesome things it was going to do.  There were action plans, charts, and PowerPoints.  There were discussions about global strategy, leveraging platforms, and other important sounding phrases.  It was mind-numbing.  Eventually, I realized that planning had become camouflage for the absence of doing.  Observers saw very serious people doing some very serious planning for some very serious objectives.  It looked very serious, for a while.

Eventually, I split.  I hate planning.  I especially hate meetings where people who seem to specialize in planning want me to listen to them plan, when I could be out there doing.  Or sleeping.  Or anything else.

overplanning

Stop planning.  Start doing.

One of the favorite tools of planners is networking.  Which is usually just a fancy word for trying to convince prospects that they are semi-friends so they will, at least in theory, be more likely to buy whatever you’re selling.  The problem is that it rarely works like that.  If you want to sell your house, are you going to hire a broker just because he likes the same music you do?  Of course not.  You’re going to look around and see who’s kicking butt in the house selling department and hire her.  I realized long ago that no one is going to hire me just because I share their love of fishing, or because I agree that Rectify is a great show.  They’d rather go fishing with their kids and watch TV with their spouse.  When they hire me, it will be because they looked around and figured out I’m really good at what I do.  And maybe a little because they like me, probably because I’m not always trying to sell them something.  People buy brands.  People don’t buy your product just because you stuff a business card into their overflowing pocket and bullshit with them for five minutes about how bad or good the local sports team is doing.  When you are at a so-called networking event, everyone is selling.  No one is buying.  PandoDaily puts it in harsher tones:

Contrary to popular advice, networking is for losers. Why? Because the kind of people you want to meet aren’t out at networking events, handing out business cards. Think about it. Have you ever seen Marc Andreessen at a Tweet-up or a monthly chamber of commerce mixer? Of course not. He doesn’t have time to hang out with smankers and people trying to sell him things. Going to an open networking event is like going to a dating party for really unattractive people. There might be an occasional diamond in the rough, but usually it’s just rough.

I wouldn’t put it in quite those words, but I reach the same conclusion.  As does Jeff Archibald in a post at Lifehacker:

How many of you approach a networking event (man, I hate that term) with that sort of mindset? “I’m going to meet people who I might be able to get some business from”, or “There will be a lot of potential business opportunities at this event,” etc? That mindset is wrong. It’s inherently selfish. That’s why your networking attempts are failing and fruitless.

stopnetworking

You don’t want to plan, and you certainly don’t want to network.  Rather, just start doing it, and by letting others see you actually doing something they find useful, you can build your personal brand, let them figure out why they want to hire you without making them suffer through a poorly disguised sales pitch, forego the nonsense and get down to business.  Which is, you know, the point.

Let’s be clear, however, that a decision not to over-plan and to avoid traditional networking does not mean you just fly by the seat of your pants in a chaotic flight to who knows where.

So, yes, I plan.  A little.  Really, I think about what I need to do, until what I need to do becomes clear to me and then I do it.  Everyone is different, but for me this process usually happens when I’m working out.  Not because I’m some fitness buff, but because when I’m working out I’m so eager to be done (the best part of the day is when you step off that treadmill) that my mind does amazing tricks to pass the time.  A year or so ago, I had a major network (the computer kind) failure at home.  As a part of the fix, I wanted to greatly simplify my network setup.  While suffering through a 90 minute treadmill session, I had three successive revelations, the last of which resulted in a completely different network setup using some of the devices I already had, while dispensing with a bunch of other hardware I didn’t need.  There was a lot more to it than that, but you get the idea.  Most of my planning, from work to home, from farm to family, gets done that way.  No meetings, no mind map, no PowerPoint.

And being a geek, I use technology.  To help me.  Not as another chore where I become bound to log every decision and note every step.

The key is to use technology to help keep you organized, without letting the process of being organized take on an inefficient and burdensome life of its own.  That’s where many tech-savvy folks get turned around.  Sometimes the best mouse trap is the simple one you’ve had for years.  Everyone needs to create a system that works for them.  I use a semi-connected combination of Evernote, Reminders on my iPhone, Fantastical (my favorite calendar app) and Dictate+Connect, a handy dictation app I learned about via David Sparks, to do this.  Simply stated, I put things to do on my calendar, the status of those projects that need to be tracked (and most don’t) in Evernote, and I delegate both word processing and tasks via the dictation app.

But here’s the thing.  90% of the tasks you need to do can be simply done or delegated in the time it would take you to set up some sort of task management process for them.  Don’t over-plan.  Don’t over-organize.  Just start doing.

Trust me, it works.

An Ode to Stupid Jargon

blahMy extreme dislike of stupid words began around the time I noticed the first few car dealers replacing their used cars signs with ones that said pre-owned cars.  Put a new word on something, and instantly convince the masses that it’s something different.  The fact that it apparently works doesn’t help.  It just makes me mad at humanity for being as dumb and gullible as they think we are.

Since then, there has been a steady stream of invented words, designed to fool us into all manner of beliefs and action.  Web 2.0, semantic web, thought leader (by far, my most hated), etc.  In real life, when people start talking at me in this language, I belittle them by saying “I don’t understand all these made-up words you’re using.  Can you just talk regular?”  The look on the person’s face and the laughter from anyone who overhears this (some of whom, by now, know it’s coming) almost make it worth it.

It’s harder to stop this semantic madness when you’re reading stuff online or (if you enjoy day old information) in those quaint newspapers.  Over time, you become less sensitive to it, but it remains a mild irritant.  Like shirts with starch in them.  And ties.  I don’t need a neck tie, because I have buttons.  I don’t need to reach out to someone, because I can email them.

I’ve always been a Weird Al fan.  Now, I have another reason to be one.  This is my favorite of the recent Weird Al videos.

weirdal

NOTE: Some stupid deal made by somebody seems to be preventing people from embedding the video, which means we all get forced to the WSJ page to see it.  I just love the way old media tries to apply the old media rules to the web.  It doesn’t make us love you, folks.  It makes us as annoyed as some of the words in the clever music video you are holding hostage.

Regardless, the video is worth the trip.  Good stuff.

When the Web was Cool

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The Atlantic has a great read on the good old days when coolness (or maybe not) ruled the web.  Back in the 90’s, when all of this was new, there were some mostly (and mostly thankfully) now-forgotten trends.  One of them was publicly shared bookmarks- a list of (allegedly) interesting sites to visit.  This evolved into blog rolls, which you still see once in a while.  Another was guest books, where visitors could- if they were so inclined- add their names and acknowledge their visit.  Sort of a communal “Kilroy was here” sort of thing.  Another was were script driven, rotating lists of links where you could add your page’s link to the top.  Then return later, after it had rotated off, and add it again.  I remember adding the first iteration of Newsome.Org to such a list hosted by (and I’m not even kidding) some teddy bear company.

outpost

And there were awards.  Everyone had one.  The one I bestowed on lucky web masters was called the Rancho DeNada Outpost of the Week.  Awesome, right?  The graphic above is the original award from the mid-nineties (converted to png).

Here’s a screen cap of the page with the lucky winners, also from the mid-nineties.

Click for a larger version of this vintage awesomeness!

Click for a larger version of this vintage awesomeness!

Of those, the only one I still visit is IMDB.  I can’t even remember most of them.

Of course, the mid-nineties version of Newsome.Org also won some awards.  It was hard not to.  Here’s a screen cap of the page with some of those approbations, again from the mid-nineties.

Click for a larger image of this vintage awesomeness!

Click for a larger image of this vintage awesomeness!

Those were fun days.  Looking back, a lot of these trends look like the digital equivalent of a bad haircut.  But like haircuts, what looks silly today was rocking back in the day.  Or was it?

Tech Farrago

Here are a few tech related items I came across recently.

Google Voice wants to make its transcriptions better.  That’s cool, since they haven’t gotten any better since this (which was over 4 years ago).  I like Google Voice, but the transcriptions are only useful as unintended comedy.

Speaking of Google Voice, you can also save the audio voice mails to Google Drive with this handy script.  I don’t do that, but it’s cool that I could if I wanted to.  What I want more is for Google Voice not to die a Google Reader death.

Save a web page as a PDF here.  You could probably just print to PDF via your Print menu, but where’s the fun in that.  I am still looking for an Automator, Apple Script, Hazel, etc. process to reliably and automatically convert documents in a specified folder to PDF.  Sounds simple, right?  But it must not be, because it doesn’t exist as far as I can tell.

labelmaker

I shouldn’t admit this, but I’m intrigued by the new Brother label printer.  I’m a big fan of Brother printers in general, and I too had one of those rotary label makers.

I love Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners.  Brooks Duncan (number one web site for paperless living) tells us how to disable the progress window.  I scan a lot of stuff, so this is good.

Not technically tech related, but awesome.  The New Yorker is opening up its archives.  Only for three months, though.

James Berardinelli explains exactly why I rarely go to movie theaters.  It’s the people, man.  Always the people.  I’m probably going to make a exception for the new Planet of the Apes movie this weekend.

As I noted the other day, I like the Philips Hue line of automation devices.  This light switch looks very promising.

My friend James has an idea for a new Apple device.  I don’t know.  The Windows convertible devices I used back in the day were, well, not fun.  On the other hand, I haven’t worn a watch in years, and I’m very curious about the iWatch.  Maybe Apple can recreate two previously obsolete devices.

Automatic, Not for the People

automaticsda

I’m very interested in automation and the aggregation of life data, and am a longtime user of Dropcams (excellent), WeMos (very good), SmartThings (kludgy, but OK once you get them configured, and possibly about to suffer death by acquisition), Philips Hue (good) and IFTTT (maybe the best thing on the internet).

So when I read about the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant (a reasonable $99), the under-dash device that promised to connect my car to my iPhone and then to IFTTT, giving me all kinds of helpful data, geolocating my car, and making me a better driver, I was interested.  A month or so ago, I took the plunge.  Shortly thereafter, I bought a second one for my daughter’s car (some teenage driver monitoring can be done now, via the device, but Automatic has indicated better monitoring features are coming in the future).  Here’s a summary of my experience so far.

The good?  Installation is easy.  When it works, the device and app combination clearly has potential.  The developers have an active and friendly presence in the support forums.  I want to love this device.  Hopefully, one day I will.

The bad?  Just about everything else.  The device is completely dependent on your phone for capturing and recording data.  Most annoyingly, the device only connects to my iPhone about half the time (and yes, even with the app open in the background).  Which means that I get data on about half my trips, and nothing, nada on the rest.  A taste of honey and all that.  One of the killer (potential) features of the device is that, via IFTTT, it will automatically create a spreadsheet on Google Drive that automatically logs your trips.  Awesome, right?  Except here’s a screen cap of my current log, which- like the Automatic app itself- says I haven’t driven since Monday (three days ago).

automaticlog

There’s a lot more information in the spreadsheet. It’s more awesome than the limited capture above.  When it works, that is.

That’s actually better than the one in my daughter’s car.  It says she hasn’t driven in over a week.  She just got her license and her first car, and drives all the time.

Automatic says the failure to connect issue has, at least in part, to do with limitations under iOS.  OK, but isn’t that like selling a jet pack and then saying its failure to work properly has to do with gravity?

In sum, the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant clearly has potential.  When it works, it’s pretty awesome.  But it isn’t quite ready for prime time.

 

 

Don’t You Know that I Can See

You have to click play before you can proceed.

Generally, I am a strong proponent of knocking down walls and tossing the gatekeepers out on their selective ears.  Remember how much we used to care about who linked to whom?  And sometime before that, I actually cared about the NBA and thought soccer was boring.  That was all wrong.

Like much of what one reads in the so-called press these days.  Now that the newspapers have been killed (generally good) and most content has been drug to free, anyone with a MacBook and an internet account can be a journalist.  Or at least portray one of the internet.  Sort of like I’m doing now.

That means more people competing for the same number of eyeballs, which results in more and more extreme stories, marketing and editing.  This is math, inevitable.  Which means you have some people who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper bag hammering out half-baked and overly dramatic headlines.  Link bait is the new journalism.  Long live BuzzFeed.

foxnews

Add to the mix some extreme polarization between ideologies, and you have a constant stream of bullshit that either pisses you off or reinforces what your preferred plutocrat has told you you already believe.  It’s a hot mess.

I was off the grid for WWDC this year.  When I read some of the recaps, it seemed like a very underwhelming event.  Macworld has a great recap of the rush to fail.  I was disappointed.

Until I watched the video of the keynote.  And realized that, while no new hardware was announced (it is, after all, a developer‘s conference), Apple announced some things that are not only awesome but destined to materially improve mobile computing.  In other words, it was very impressive.  Something I would never have known based on the news reports.

See for yourself.

Evening Reading: 4/22/14

NOBI14-140422

Here’s a great read on the life and abandonment of AIM.  Here’s my take on instant messaging, from the day before Google Talk was released, in 2005.

Apple (or someone) really needs to come up with a reverse-lookup phone book.  The majority of calls I get at home are from suspicious numbers.  Google used to do it with a simple phone number search, but some Chicken Littles whined about privacy so Google removed most of the functionality.  Maybe Truecaller is the answer.  Maybe.  The taking a screenshot thing seems burdensome.

The Atlantic (love it) is streaming the new Old 97’s record, which will be out at the end of this month.  Here’s the title track.

Who Originally Said “I’m Not A Doctor, But I Play One on TV“?  I watched the show back then, and still didn’t remember.

The reason people hate airlines, and especially United, is because the gate attendants simply aren’t always nice.  I was on my way to Dallas last week and got to the airport early.  I walked up to the departure gate as an earlier flight was leaving and asked if I could get on that fight.  Not one of the three ladies behind the (not at all busy) desk looked at me or acknowledged my inquiry.  I thought maybe they didn’t hear me, so in a minute or so I asked again, nicely.  Nothing.  Eventually, one of them started typing away on her computer.  A few minutes later, she finally looked at me and said she’d put me on standby.  All I needed was a glance and some sort of response (yes, no, maybe) to be satisfied.  What I got was the sense that I was bothering them.

I was relatively late to the Oxford comma.  But I generally follow that approach now.

Fortran, FTW.  Fortran was the first programming language I (sort of) learned.  I thought it was a lot of work for a small reward.  Sort of like blogging.

This is exactly why I have never acted on my recurring urge to switch to a standing desk.

Yeah, I’m thinking Facebook’s Paper app is on the Google+ trajectory of use adoption.  I tried it.  I deleted it.

Not recommended:  Three times I have tried to use an Eye-Fi card.  Three times I have tossed them in the trashcan, irritated by the user-unfriendly, non-intuitive interface.  There is no way I am going to go through that sort of hell again just to create more cloud space, when Google and Amazon( AWS) are almost giving it away.

They aren’t that hard to swat.  If you have a fly swatter.