Friday, December 19, 2008

Big Three Ad Campaign... you wouldn't buy our cars, so...

I wish this was not true. It's too bad this is so small that you can't read the copy, but it's very funny, except that it will negatively affect the economy longer than just letting them fail. Didn't we learn anything at all from British Leyland?
As the U.S. authorities contemplate how to respond to pleas for help from the "Big Three" -- GM, Ford and Chrysler-- they might pause to reflect on the experiences of past British governments when they tried to help the troubled British Leyland group in its various historical forms.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Hold mute

You know what would be a huge feature of a phone system that could change people's attitudes on a phone call? Having the ability of toggling the on-hold message on or off. Half of the times when I'm on hold, the message is either loud and annoying, or so repetitive that I want to have a running fit. If I could punch it off, I'd prefer just hanging on the phone silently while I wait, and punching back on occasion to make sure I'm still connected. What I don't need is some peppy spokesperson with swingin' background music up-selling me. Or really bad muzac. Or the local traffic and weather of the place I'm calling. (However, I'm always thankful not to be in Chicago in winter, CDW!)

What an idea - put in a feature that enhances the happiness of the people who will call into your new phone system, so that they like calling you! Radical!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Living life and pondering

Sometimes, life moves too quickly, and you can't sit back and consider some of the options you have before you. Other times, reflection is mandatory, even if there is no time. A friend recently posted a great short snippet of thought that made me once again realize this fact: doing stuff takes doing. While the ready, fire, aim approach can sometimes lead to mistakes and having to smooth some ruffled feathers, getting something out there - out of your mind, out of the realm of maybe - is the only way to see it for yourself and show it to those you care about. If you don't write that story, it will never be read by others. If you never send it to a publication, it will never published. If you don't play that inner song, it will soon go away and be forever unheard.

Years ago, I read a post (in an AOL forum, of all places!) about three friends having a meal together. One was a successful self-employed business consultant. The second (the author of the post) was newly self-employed, struggling, but getting there as a computer consultant. The third was unhappy in his corporate job, wanted to be independent, but kept bringing up countless obstacles that prevented him going out on his on. Finally, the first diner said, "Tell you what. If you agree to follow my directions and to stop complaining about the problems, I will give you the secret to success as a self-employed person." The other two gaped in disbelief, but the complainer said, "Sure." The first removed a business card from his wallet, wrote something on the back of it, and handed it across. While the complainer was reading, the author said, "Wait a minute! You never offered me the secret to success!" The first man smiled, and motioned for the card to be passed to the author. Written in bold strokes was this - "Just Do It." (This was in the 90's - well before Nike appropriated that slogan as a service mark for selling their footwear.) "There will always be problems, roadblocks, excuses, and drawbacks to any business venture. You'll never get past any of them unless you decide to stop analysing, take the plunge and actually do what you're considering."

So, as of now, I'm going to start doing more, rather than just thinking about doing. Like Manton and his trees, results may be slow, but think how long it would take to get results if I never start! I will fail some, but will ultimately succeed more than if I never tried, right?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For those who are addicted to black notebooks......

....or are searching for the perfect one. I've only been journaling for the past few months using a Moleskine, but there are those out there who believe that this type notebook is the Holy Grail of design. There are others who think it is the ultimate status symbol. Others think it's a good design, burdened by hype that rises above it's true value. Others could care less, and just write on scratch paper pulled out of the wastebasket.

There are groups on flicker, mailing lists, and entire websites dedicated to finding just the right combination of good paper, binding, and usability. The perfect Black Notebook. One such site is reviewing every contender in an effort to find the champion. Their most recent review, the Piccadilly line, is surprising some, because it's half the price of the name brand, yet has a better binding. If you want to join in the search, check out Black Cover. They are in the process of cataloging all the Moleskine alternatives that they have reviewed. Plus, if you just send them an email, you can get an entry into a drawing for three Piccadilly notebooks!

What's your holding your notes?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A great band (see them if you can!), and a fine room to listen in

A few months back, my wife and I took a weekend trip to Asheville, NC. Long ago, we lived there, but hadn't really been back since. Before we went, the Lovely Bride went online and found a bluegrass concert at a place called the Grey Eagle Tavern and Music Hall, featuring a band called Cadillac Sky. We'd never heard of either.

We arrived at the venue, and were a bit worried. It was on the edge of a fairly industrial area, in a somewhat rough-looking part of town we had not frequented when we lived there fifteen years ago. We drove around, trying to decide what to do. (It was general admission, so we were there 90 minutes early, and the place looked deserted.) We finally saw a few more cars arrive, so we bravely parked and headed in.

When we walked in, I saw two things that told me right off that we would be OK. First, the chalk board over the bar area was equally divided between food, wine, and beer choices. Second, on the food menu, the choices included Crawfish Étouffée, Pasta Alfredo with alligator, and Jambalaya. French Fry choices were "white" or "sweet". This was not your ordinary redneck bar, not by a long shot. And, to top things off, the whole place was smoke-free. It was like hitting the trifecta!

I ordered the pasta with Andouille sausage and alligator and a glass of something red. Ooooo, baby!

We meandered into the stage area just a few minutes before the band came on. Seating was on old wooden chairs, with a few couches strewn about for good measure. The lighting was sort of dodgy-looking as well, but when the band came on stage, I knew right away where all the money went: the sound was incredible! You'd think a bluegrass band wouldn't need much sound support, but Cadillac Sky is not your everyday bluegrass band. They had pick-ups (with effects pedals!) for the banjo and the fiddle; the guitar, bass, and mandolin were miced and had pickups, and there were additional mics for three singers. Everything was perfectly balanced and clear, yet never overly loud for the room.

The audience was involved, (you could almost say it was an interactive experience), but never rude or unruly. The stage was only slightly higher than the house floor, but separated by lights and monitors. After a song or two, the leader, (a tall, freneticly energetic mandolin player and singer) chose someone in the front row to manage the play list, creating an even stronger bond between performer and patron. The show had started off at a gentle trot, and within minutes, we were all transported into a single unit - audience, band, building, everything. It all blended into an almost spiritual cocoon around us where, for about 90 minutes, we laughed, clapped, cried, howled, and sat in silent awe as we listened to intricate passages unleashed by talented, practiced performers into a heady mixture of color, sound, and energy. Near the end, one of the band members accidently stepped on a part of the sound wiring, rendering it useless for the rest of the concert. Undaunted, the five of them jumped over the footlights into the front floor area, and performed four or five songs totally acoustically, with the same sensative balance and attention to each part of the music I had thought merely the result of fine engineering. This group has a sense of ensemble rare among musicians who usually depend on electronics for their support. You could tell they not only play together out of fun, but because they respect each other musically.

Too soon, it was over. The last song came and went, they left the stage, and our only memory had to be carried out on a CD and my camera's flash card. I'm looking forward to hearing them play again. And you can bet, next time we head toward Asheville, we'll check the schedule of the Grey Eagle for another night's entertainment. You'd do well to do the same.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Twitter and "mini-blogging"

The popular description of the unique service that is Twitter is that it's a "mini-blogging" or "micro-blogging" service. By this, they mean you can post 140 characters of text, just enough to let folks know what you're doing. Most people, as I've mentioned elsewhere, are fairly good about posting just one or two posts every now and again. Be that as it may, when certain of the folks that I am following go to certain meetings or watch some things on TV (yes, there are still people watching scheduled network TV in 2008. Go figure.), they tend to live-blog the event, rather than just toss out a micro-post or two.

I never watched a minute of the 2008 Olympics live (well, I may have seen some in a restaurant, but never on purpose), yet some folks felt compelled to document every medal, every event, as though I had NBC on in the corner. Now, this week, I am being treated to posts about the Democratic Convention. Next week, it will be the Repuiblican Convention. Don't these folks realize that this is counter to what Twitter is all about? What part of "micro" is hard to understand??

So, next time you're planted in front of the tube, or if you're in a conference with a great speaker, monitor yourself. If you've posted more than two tweets in a half-hour during an event (@replies don't count), do your followers a favor. Stop. Turn off Twitter, and fire up a real blogging tool. You have stepped over the line, and are no longer micro-blogging, you're "fer real" blogging, just with the wrong tool. Capture those Tweet-worthy ideas into the proper tool, ruminate over them a little, compose a proper post, and then push it out into the world - and make sure you tweet the post, so we can all read it. Your friends who have purposely decided not to watch what you're participating in will thank you. Your friends who are at (or watching) the same event will kick themselves later when they see your wise, polished words on your blog, and compare it to the disconnected slivers they burped out during the event, while not paying attention to the next point. Through your post, there will be a second chance for you and the world to consider your recollection of the event, and the blogosphere will have more quality material from which to search and quote. Future generations will possibly benefit as well.

And maybe there will be fewer FAIL-Whale sightings.

Edited Monday; September 22, 2008:
I just found this great piece (as usual) from Merlin Mann, which puts forth the idea of pausing far better than I had thought about it. His idea is that all social networks need a pause button of some sort, just like you can pause your newspaper or mail delivery. The nice thing about pause, rather than the "unfriend/re-friend" sequence is that it's invisible to the followee, and thus avoids the drama that certain folks have with people managing their own information inputs.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Posted on 28 Jul 2008 at 16:55 UTC

So, what's good about posting from your phone? That remains to be seen. The iPhone, while a great device, still suffers from a bad keyboard. I'd love to have it pair with a small Bluetooth unit. That would be a game-changer.

[The above was posted from my iPhone using CellSpin, a new blogging service/application. While I think it's nice and all, I was irritated that I could not send my post here without also sending a duplicate to the CellSpin website. They use ads effectively within the application - why do they also need me to build content for them? If there's no way to turn that off, it will end my use of the service.]

Friday, July 18, 2008

Design versus information

I am increasingly irritated by websites that force a PDF down your throat because they want to "preserve the look of their design." Here's a great case in point. Our State magazine, a beautiful, photo-heavy monthly about North Carolina, used to publish a web-based, constantly updated listing of editorial plans and photography needs. I would pop it up on occasion, to see if I was interested in trying to shoot something worth submitting. (This is megalomania, but I enjoy my fantasies. Move along.) Here's the former link - a nice, clean web page.

Now, however, for no apparent reason, it's done in .pdf - which means I have to download a file, (cleverly named "photo.pdf"), hunt it down, open it and read it to find the same information. Maybe this is being done to act as gatekeeper - only the truly dedicated will stay with it. I fear, however, that it's likely either one of two things, both of which, as with all things not good, point back to Microsoft. Like the idiots control freaks who cannot deliver a message in email, but insist on sending it as an attachment, they are more concerned with the design of their message than with getting it heard by their audience. So those who get press releases or memos are left with dozens of files (usually Word, but, increasingly .pdf) in their downloads folder. Gah!

Or it’s due to people using Word to compose their email and sending it from there, so that anyone using any other system (ie - not Windows) will get it as a Word attachment. Is the content of your message really that dependent on your font choices and design? Can it not stand alone within the email program or web browser of your reader? That says something slightly negative about your abilities as a writer. (I know, I’m going to hear form designers who say the whole of the message, the gestalt, includes typeface, font size, column width, spacing and color, but really - do you need to force me to read your PR piece in your paragraph stylings? Usually these things are in fairly standard formats, but they have the company logo above the text.) And putting your data into pdf without an index effectively removes it from being read by anyone using a screen reader.

OK, I feel better now.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Order v. Chaos

I just spent a week and a few days traveling. While I love being away, seeing new places, meeting new people and such, I also like being at home, in my bed, with my dogs on the floor to each side, hearing the breathing of my Lovely Bride on her pillow beside me. I hate having to fill out reports for the expenses those trips cause, but I adore the security of seeing clean clothes in the closet, knowing that I don't have to worry if my luggage will be lost, or what time is checkout, or my next train.

I think there is some of that in all of us: a love for the security of routine, but a longing for just a touch of mystery, chance, or adventure to spice up life. Once the ability to meld with travel gets into your psyche, though, it's tough to get out. My dad traveled for much of the thirty-odd years of my life. He was almost always home for weekends, but would leave most weeks on Monday or Tuesday for a few days of visiting customers. While I understand this now as a businessman, I remember missing him being there, yet enjoying hearing about the places he went.

The iPhone 2.0 phenomena that is currently raging has this same duality. There are those who are excited about the changes, glad of the new features and tools, longing for more, and there are those who are sad that they have lost the security of knowing exactly where the icon for each application would be. This is but the newest disruption to the lives of technology users, as sure as the changes of RSS, IM, and that mysterious Web 2.0 we hear so much about.

I presented to a group this week on these new technologies, and the powerful changes this can make to your interface with information and people via the internet. I forget that I work with a technology company and we expect everyone to use these things. Many people in the group, peers of mine, have companies that filter IM traffic, do not allow "unauthorized" web access, and generally treat their employees like children being held after school for detention.

While I'm sure there are abuses of the lax attitude we have toward these factors, I'm also sure that my colleagues bring in more varied and useful information from these explorations than they would with limited access, and we are able to share and discuss that information more freely and fully as a result.

While reading this article, I was wondering about the future of those companies my friends work for. Would they eventually have IT departments that crumbled under pressure from their workers insistence on newer tech, or would they wither and die, due to employees who left to work in better places? Maybe that's research that needs to be done. As we (the company I now work for) grow, will we have larger IT structures that grow to contain and control us more, until the creative innovators all leave? Who knows?

Meanwhile, I have to re-do my expense report with daily exchange rates from an official source, in exact week increments. ::Sigh::

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Depth of Field

Originally uploaded by Mr. Gomez
In project management, the tendency to hyperfocus on a single aspect of a project can cause you to lose focus on other items that may blindside you later on. Widening your depth of field (in the photographic sense) allows you to see what's near and far with clarity. Too narrow a depth, and you lose site of what's in the background.

Although, as this photo from Mr. Gomez (a flickr friend) shows, there are times when you need to hyperfocus on the near-term events, if only briefly, because they may be very important.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Twitter mash-ups

I am amazed how functional Twitter is, and how many little sites are popping up to take advantage of the TwitterSphere. (or is it TwitterVerse? Whatever....) Two are from the creative mind of Damon Clinkscales, a colleague who's been in Austin for many years, and is very active in Austin on Rails. Those two sites are SnapTweet and DoesFollow.

SnapTweet is truly addictive. It has all the goodness of flickr, added to Twitter, stirred together to make a yummy fajita. Here's how it works. You have a flickr account, right? You're taking photos of your life, work, entertainment, or vacations and putting them out there for the world to see. So, how to you get folks to look? Send a link via Twitter, right? Here's how the process used to work:

1) Take picture.
2) Upload to flickr.
3) Grab the URL of the picture.
4) Paste URL into Twitter.
5) Raelize that the title and the URL are longer than 140 characters.
6) Go back to flickr, get a tinyURL of picture.
7) Tweet it.

Yeah, you've done it, haven't you? Now try this:
1) Log in to Snaptweet with your Twitter and Flickr account names.
2) Choose a tag you want to use. (Default is "snaptweet")
3) Post picture.
4) Tag it with "snaptweet."
5) There is no step 5, 6, or 7 - and you only have to do steps 1 & 2 once.

So, suddenly your twitter feed starts to be populated with items like this: Rain clouds at sunset -

You can also just send a direct message to @snaptweet and it'll post your latest flickr upload with the title as the message. Way cool. This is the essense of Twitter - sharing events in your life with those who wish to follow you, with the least effort.

Getting a little geekier, you may want to check the "friend status" of someone you're thinking of following. Doesfollow can help. Remember, Twitter traffic is your decision. If you follow everyone, your feed will be quite busy, and you'll feel like you're being spammed. This is lunacy (unless you want that feeling of constant information!) If you see a few tweets from someone in a friends queue and wonder if that person follows or is followed by someone else, if can be a real pain to slog through the large list of some Twitter users. Damon has created a simple tool that answers quickly whether one user is following another. Simply enter their names in the correct order, and you'll get a "Yep!" or a "Nope!" (I mentioned he lives in Texas, right?) Very clean, simple, fast and easy tool to see how some of your friends relate. Give it a try.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Twitter is ruining my marriage....

I love Twitter. I think the reason I do is that it's fast and limited. The 140 character limit forces you in to a short message, and you also know those you follow are being terse in their prose as well. Only essentials are passed along. (There are those who abuse this and send frequent messages, especially during basketball season, election season, NASCAR, long boring car trips, and hockey playoffs. That is what TwitterSnooze is for.) Most people on the service just send out a quick blast every so often, to let friends know where they are, physically or mentally. It's like passing someone in the hall on Monday morning, saying "How was your weekend" and getting the short version back: "We went to the lake," or "Saw a great concert," or "Did a ton of yardwork." But instead of having to wait until Monday morning, you see it pass by in real time. Say you're reading your RSS feeds over coffee on Saturday morning, gearing up to clear out storm damage in the back yard. Suddenly, a window pops up, and a buddy two time zones away says "Looks like a yard work kinda day." And now you have a work companion. So, three days later, when you're on a call with him, you say, "How's the yard looking after Saturday's session?" You don't have to go through the "What have you been up to" thing, where the person being questioned has to remember how far back in his life the questioner wants to go in the limited time available. It's like you're neighbors, without all that having to hear their motorcycle at 2 am stuff.

Rands hit it on the money in his excellent post, We Travel in Tribes. Here's the juicy bit, for me, anyway:

Twitter is … a social network without the superpoke scrabtaculous zombie noise and, for that, I’m thankful, because I’ve got work to do. Yes, I could spend days tidying my profile and scrubbing my friends list, but to what end? I want to know more people, and sure, it’s interesting to see what they’re up to, but what I really want to know is what is going on inside their heads with a minimum of fuss.

I want to see how they see the world. This is why I follow people on Twitter. This is why they follow me.

Now, how is this ruining my marriage? Funny you should ask. My Lovely Bride, for all her wonderful qualities, has little patience. (I know, I know - those of you who know me well are trying to figure out why she's stuck around for 27 years with me, since I require lots of - um - patient understanding. Some have even called me high maintenance. It's just the power of love, I guess. I'm not about to question that now, however.... I might jinx it!) When we're out-and-about, and I'm sending tweets to folks, she doesn't want to wait for those 140 characters to be typed. She is in "hang with the hubby" mode, not "watch hubby broadcast random facts of our life to a self-selected group of his friends" mode. So we're still, in our semi-argumentative way, working out how to integrate this into our marriage. It's a process. (It took 15 years for her to stop saying "you love that computer more than you love me," so it may be a while.) I'm trying to be less obvious about things, and she's working on understanding it. Twitter is new and different from anything we've had in the online world before, so it is, as a good paradigm shifter should, challenging our conventions and making us actually think about how relationships work.

Not a bad thing, just a thing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New phrase - I'm putting it out there for anyone to use....

....but I want credit. What do you call it when you join a mailing list or chat forum and just watch what's going on? Right - lurking. So, when you purposefully join a group to lurk and benefit from the knowledge being transmitted, without answering questions or specifically asking for help, it's called "Lurk 'n' Learn."

Pah dum pow! (Thank you, thank you! I'm here all week!)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

OK, This is a real blog now.

I have been told that posting twice a year and limiting myself to something like Palms or iPhones is not really a blog. So here is my little house on the internet. I will attempt to fill this with thoughts, links to things that are interesting, and links to my photos and stuff that are posted elsewhere. I look forward to your feedback.

from dusty archives - Largo Lodge

[ed. This piece was written some time ago, but I found it recently while moving hard drives on a computer. I thought some folks may find it ...