Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Speaking of the Edges



This passage from Kim Stedman's recent rant perfectly sums up something I've been dying to say:

News about important edge case solutions, is not currently being targeted to people who might have it. It is currently broadcast everywhere, all at once, in an  information dissemination  pattern similar to that used by  hormones  (which flood the whole body until the right organ hears them),  radio  (which does that same thing to the air), or TV advertising (which does it to your brain). This is the method society is currently using to distribute this information to the 3 in a thousand people for whom it actually makes a difference. This is a terrible method of communication and wastes everyone’s energy and time.* It is also and massively discrediting.


She's talking about a particular trend in health and nutrition, but the principle applies much more broadly in the marketplace. The principle that spattering a message onto 1000 listeners to find the 3 for whom it's relevant is at the core of mass communication, mostly broadcast.

When we realize that most of the noise being made around us is concerned with the narrow and the extraordinary, we can get down to the real business at hand.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Through with Passwords? Almost.

...if you're like me, you hate passwords with a passion.

They're almost gone from our lives, but it won't happen for some time yet. (Even if it takes another 2 years, that's about a generation and a half in Internet Years.) In the meantime, there is hope!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Where Have You Been

Although it's not a technological earth shaker, this little amusement brought a smile to my face and maybe you'll enjoy it too.


The tool is something we found at defocus-blog and it allows you to tag the states where you've lived, those you've visited often, those you've just set foot in, and those you've never seen.

The color code is explained here although I modified the definitions slightly to match my experiences.  My rules are:

  • Green - Lived there and rented or owned property
  • Blue - Visited often and probably worked there on contracts
  • Amber - Been there repeatedly and probably stayed in hotel or with friends
  • Red - Driven though, might have slept there once or twice

Go see it here and generate the picture of your own travels.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Four Simple Steps to Tame Your Inbox

There's a "dirty little secret" that's no secret at all -- most of us have no idea what's in our email inbox, and we have precious little hope of ever getting to the bottom of it.

Want to be free of this and join the tiny cadre of folks who can see every unread message in the inbox at a glance?  Here are four steps that you can take to battle the "incoming tide."
  1. Form the habit of handling your correspondence regularly. Don't skip a session. If you are someone who works religiously from your calendar, then put a time block on your calendar strictly for handling email.  Make this a regular and systematic part of your day and you'll notice the backlog begins to dissolve.
  2. Vigorously unsubscribe from lists that fill your inbox with offers and specials that you are not going to use. When you sign up for a new community or a new service when you purchase something, be sure to uncheck those boxes that opt you into a notification stream. When you see offers and notices that you did not specifically request, take a moment to click through and unsubscribe.
  3. Stop using the Inbox as a To Do list. If you see something in your inbox that reminds you of a task you must complete, add the item to your To Do list (the REAL one) and then archive the email on the matter.  Gmail and Outlook both have To Do lists integrated with your mail reader now. If you don't like how they work, then try out Remember The Milk. It's free and very useful.
  4. Admit that messages over 90 days old are already beyond reach. Archive them in bulk and count on finding the important stuff by search. In fact, begin using search as your primary way to read the mail rather than subjecting yourself to the random tyranny of default inbox ordering.
There are many things you can do to convert your email box from a  into your tool, but if you do only these four things, you'll be well on the way.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Communicating in 3D

So it goes like this.

The ones among us who love the shine and polish of a new technical idea, or the view from a new plateau -- we adore the possiblities of 3D.

Those among us who have struggled and won the battle to communicate in a real world using only a two-dimensional language and medium -- those folks despise 3D. (Well not all of them...)

The transition one makes into a world of using 3D tools for drawing, communicating, playing, and even creating art ... that transition is a one-way journey. You can't be happy on the cave wall when you've discovered a luxurious cotton bond stationery that absorbes your ink like the most incredibly faithful messenger.

And you cannot be happy drawing on a flat surface when you've learned to draw in the space of three dimensions.

If you don't believe this, then I invite you to learn just a little bit about SketchUp Make.

This free tool invites anyone, from elementary school students to frustrated civil engineers (and working ones for that matter) to easily draw and design in three dimensions.

There is a professional version of the software that can be used for serious design and planning. But Make is here to let any of us get a start in a rapid fashion.  By downloading the software (there are multiple versions) and spending just a short time with tutorials that demosntrate the principles of the design tool -- just about anyone can be off to an endless adventure in design and speculation.

Give it a try and then come back to tell us why 3D is just a fad and that our brains aren't quite meant for it. I dare you!



Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trail of Techs

Technologies I've Known

I'm not sure what provoked the idea, but some reflection of mine on a long gone technology inspired me to make a word cloud from the technologies I've wrestled with in my time.

Some readers here may have become familiar with Wordle  (http://www.wordle.net/) as a handy online tool to create word clouds from source material you supply.  It seemed a perfect tool to visualize this set of operating systems, programming languages, and communication protocols.

The job of creating the word could was easy. A quick list of the names typed into a Google Doc gave me the source material.

A visit to the Wordle website allowed me to paste the words in and experiment with layout for a bit until I had the look and distribution I wanted.

Where I find this particularly interesting is when the process creates the word cloud from a substantial body of work. The primary concepts begin to emerge visually and the tone of the work can be seen a little as well.

Since this was a simple list and the frequency of the words' appearance could not be used to emphasize the important ones, I had to use an advanced feature of the tool at Wordle.

This one allowed me to supply a weighted list of words and phrases and using that it would generate the image.  A little bit of experimentation here with the weights and layout -- and a picture finally emerged that in my opinion, effectively depicts and emphasizes the technologies that have required my attention.

The fun part about this was admiring the final result.  As my eyes wander over it, I am reminded of the quirks and crannies that I've had to discover and adapt to.  I have to confess that a tear comes to my eye when I think back fondly to the rock-solid sturdiness of SCO Unix. It was rock solid that is, if you could somehow live through the installation process from 42 floppy disks and the complex partitioning of your hard drives as you did the installation. There was always the fear that disk #39 would be bad.

I love thinking back to the wild-west chaos of Perl programming syntax where everyone was free to write the program in a completely different way and in a completely different style. And Everyone did! So almost every feature addition or bug fix by a new programmer required that "the whole thing had to be rewritten from scratch."

I remember defending the hermetically sealed isolation between Java programmers and their beloved pointers. And promising that program startup time was not consistent with runtime performance, so it would be okay to write server code with it, maybe even more than user facing code.

I remember arguing with Solaris kernel engineers about the pros and cons to various memory segmentation strategies. And marveling at the elegance of a new filesystem design that seemed capable of lasting through a virtually infinite number of iterations through Moore's Law.

I remember scoffing at the simplicity of HTML and then learning that being simple doesn't mean being easy, and realizing that I'd have to internalize many of the fundamentals (and quirks) of this markup language simply in order to get my job done.

There are dozens of other memories that come back as I look at the trail. I hope that as you gaze upon the odd path through the technologies of the past couple of decades, you'll find your own memories of that time come to light. It's been quite a ride so far, hasn't it?

If you feel inspired to make your own technology Wordle, be sure and drop back in to let us know where to see it.


Monday, January 7, 2013

I Never Learned THAT in School


...I ran across a comment by an NFL lineman one day that went like this, "they asked us a bunch of stuff that we never learned in school."

I realized in the moment that I heard it that most of us relate to knowledge as something we've acquired in a classroom.  Do I know "skill X?" Well, not really, I never took a class about that.

All through the '90s I saw people flock to classes about HTML, about Perl, about Dreamweaver and Photoshop and every other thing they thought would make them into an "Internet Consultant."

All through the last decade we saw people flock into webinars and download white papers in the hope of becoming "SEO experts," "social media consultants," and "web marketing gurus."

Today if you want to make a bundle quickly, just open an "academy" that promises to make people into "mobile app developers" or "cloud computing consultants" in just 72 hours.

But please don't do that.  There's something more powerful that you can do -- and it will transform your career as well as empower your business for the modern marketplace.


Simply consider the possibility that YOU can learn and master any skill you want. You don't need permission, you don't need an "academy" or an O'Reilly book (although either of those may help you), and you don't need night school, a degree, or a certification.

What you need is the desire to learn a skill, the realization that is IS already within your grasp, and the commitment that will have you put in the time needed to master it to the level you desire.

This Forbes article about a data analyst who learned enough programming to supercharge his job provides a perspective that you may find useful for yourself.  We don't need a degree in computer science to become programmers. We need a development environment, and some time to learn the basic practices of a programmer.  (The CS degree program provides that implicitly, but you have the tools at hand today if you wish to use them.)

If you want to learn Python programming, or HTML 5, or the Fundamentals of Economics, there is no reason you can't start right this very minute. (I mean, finish this article first, but right after that...)

Most of us say things like, "I'm not REALLY a programmer," or "I'm not really a web developer," or "I'm not really a teacher."  Let me tell you though ... you can do those things, even if you don't think you can BE them.

And most importantly this: You really ARE a teacher! You've been doing it (maybe without knowing) all of your life.

So claim your laurels here.  You have been teaching people around you all of your life, and you can be the teacher you need to master a new skill to the extent you need it for your work.  Did you want to learn Java programming, statistical analysis, or the fundamentals of corporate finance?  Don't let anyone tell you that it's beyond your reach.  You just have to decide you want it, and then take the steps to get it.  You can begin today!