Tech Fanboys, Workarounds, and Lay Users

Is it too much to expect things to work correctly? I’m often aggravated to no end over technology that’s almost there, but not quite. I blow my lid when I visit support forums, where people are cool with the bugs and where people offer workarounds as solutions.

Case in point… For over a year I had Google alerts set up to search for terms, then e-mail my Gmail, which I had set up a filter to send to my work e-mail. I had the rule for said alerts set so it forwarded the e-mail, then deleted it. Nice and clean. Then suddenly in November or so, it stopped working. I didn’t find this out for a while until I noticed I stopped getting the alerts. So I visit Goolge’s help forums. Many others had the same problem and were as frustrated with this as I was. This is where the tech Google fanboys dismissed this as not a bug (working correctly). And the “solution” is to take out the delete part of the rule. Um, NO, this is not a solution. It WAS working. Now it’s NOT working.

I see this more and more. Which brings me to the lay user, which is me. I’m not going to hack into registry files and what not to fix stuff that shouldn’t be broken. The SOLUTION is never a workaround. Especially complicated ones. If the thing isn’t working right, fix the damn thing.

That concludes my rant of the day.

Thoughts on Producing and Marketing Complex Products

Lately I’ve been perusing message boards and blogs on the G1 phone. There is a tremendous debate among users as to their satisfaction levels. This, along with my own dissatisfaction with Microsoft Vista, led me to do some thinking. I think it might be impossible for companies with complicated products to produce products that will satisfy every one of their customers.

Take for example Vista. I hate it. Why? Because XP was easy to navigate and find files, folders, programs, etc. So why mess with it? I think, and I might be wrong, that Microsoft modeled Vista and produced it with a heavy slant towards users who want a {buzzword alert} rich multimedia experience. I think the casual user, like me, was left out. And my frustrations are some very basic things, like folder structure. Suddenly I had to click 3 times where it used to take me one click.

Now take the G1. I’m a Google addict. I use almost every one of their products and services. So going with the G1 was a no brainer. In my opinion, Is the G1 perfect? No. But it met my basic expectations.

This brings me to the message boards and blogs. It seems G1 users are divided into pretty distinct camps that range from the extremely technical to the very casual. You have Android fans that don’t mind using the phone with a beta mindset to more casual users who demand a finished product.

Who’s right and who’s wrong? Can Google/HTC/Tmobile produce something to satisfy everyone? Consider the phone is being judged by the following:

1) Phone service
2) Text messaging
3) E-mail client
4) Web Browser
5) MP3 Player
6) Camera
7) Everything else from GPS maps to games, the list is endless.

I do take exception to a few notions. The phone is/was marketed to the general public, so the notion that customers should put up with bugs/annoyances to me is an unreasonable response to complaints. Also, a LOT of advice on both the G1 and Vista require technical modifications. This does not suit a less technically savvy user or those who don’t have the time or desire to tinker.

How does a company take all of these considerations and produce a product that’ll be widely accepted? Do they just aim for the middle?

My Jotter Notebook Hack

When I first wrote about Getting Things Done, I mentioned that I carry a small Cross jotter around to “capture” any ideas/thoughts/notes on the fly.

Just thought I’d share how I “hacked” mine so now I use better, and cheaper, notepad refills. I hope to soon be welcomed into geekhood now that I used the word hack for something.

First here is a snapshot of it closed. It fits into my pocket pretty easily. It has a holder for a small pen on the side.

The pad it came with stinks because the pages easily tear off and it made for writing on both sides difficult. It took me a while to find, but a standard Mead notepad with the spiral on top fits perfectly if you cut about 1/4 inch off both sides of the back. It doesn’t make it too cumbersome.

Voila.

Here it is in action. Yes, I have the handwriting of a 3 year old.

There you have it.

Dick Jauron, Bills Futility, Rebuilding, and NFL Parity

This is just a mind spew. Being a Bills fan is torture.

It’s funny. A neighbor asked if my 6 month old son has any Bills gear yet. I jokingly told him that I didn’t want to put the poor kid through the torture. In reality, it wasn’t much of a joke. The truth is I hope he roots for dad’s team, but I’ll leave it entirely up to him. Well not quite entirely–he can’t pick the Jets (or Dolphins or Patriots).

Lets look at Dick Jauron’s career head coaching record:
Bears 1999: 6-10
Bears 2000: 5-11
Bears 2001: 13-3
Bears 2002: 4-12
Bears 2003: 7-9
Lions 2005: 1-4
Bills 2006: 7-9
Bills 2007: 7-9
Bills 2008: 6-7
Total: 55-72 (.433)

Jauron coached only one winning season, which he was bounced out of the playoffs the first game. I call it a fluke season.

The Bills this decade:
2000: 8-8
2001: 3-13
2002: 8-8
2003: 6-10
2004: 9-7
2005: 5-11
2006: 7-9
2007: 7-9
2008: 6-7
Total: 59-82 (.418)

Only one winning season this decade, where they sniffed the playoffs, but were beaten by the Stealers’ third teamers in a “win and in” game in 2004.

– The Bills have been “rebuilding” for 8 years.
– Why is it that the Dolphins can go from 1-15 to playoff contention in one year?
– While the Bills wallow in futility?
– NFL salary cap/parity evens the playing field, but clearly separates mismanaged teams from well run teams.
– Coaching is THAT much more important, so…
– Even the Cardinals got it together.
– How much longer for the Bills?
– Why are there teams that are always good?
– And teams that are always bad?

I tell you there will be a revolt if Jauron is kept. There were rumors earlier in the season that he was extended, but it was never confirmed. If he was, I hope there was a clause. Because he isn’t the answer. There never seems to be any gameplan. They are continually out-coached. There is no such thing as clock management.

I hope the next coach is not another retread or another unproven.

End spew.

Getting Things Done

Pretty strong statement, no? In an effort to develop my blog more, I decided to post some of my favorite things.

What’s this have to do with Getting Things Done? Well it’s a book, as well as an entire productivity principle, by David Allen. I’m a fan and have made GTD a part of my life.

There is a TON of articles and blog posts on GTD. I don’t want to reinvent them, just explain how GTD works for me.

GTD’s main principle is to get things off your mind, and into a reliable system. Doing so will free up your mind and allow it to focus on accomplishing tasks effectively and efficiently.

Allen has a follow-up book, Ready for Anything, which I’ve read (actually listened to) as well. It’s whole premise is once you’re productive and firing on all cylinders, you’ll have the time and energy to deal with anything unexpected. Whether it’s a disaster or an urgent project plopped on your desk at 4:45 on a Friday. Since your mind won’t be preoccupied with clutter, you’ll be more creative, you’ll be able to anticipate more, in other words, you’ll be ready for anything.

I stick to the main GTD principle and steps. Right or wrong, I personalized and simplified the system. There is plenty of debate out there on the effectiveness of the system “out of the box.” My opinion is any system has to be tailored to your specific needs in order for it to be effective. If there is any bit of resistance to a system, it’ll fail in my opinion. I honed GTD for my needs, so if you read this, and you think it ain’t GTD, then so be it.

Allen’s high level process has 5 steps:
1. Collect
2. Process
3. Organize
4. Review
5. Do

So here is how I’ve interpreted those steps and what I’ve instituted in my work and personal life.

1. Collect. I struggled with this big time.

  • I carry a small notepad. It took me a long time to find one that fits in my pocket. This is what I carry: http://www.cross.com/(X(1)S(kfe1fx55qpf5mp45h2x0oh45))/home.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
  • Whenever I think of anything I need or want to do. I write it right down. I get it off my mind.
  • What do I write down? Anything. Like if someone mentions a good book to read or a good movie to see or restaurant to go to. Or any idea that pops into my mind that I want to remember.
  • From the notepad, I go to step 2.

2. Process. This was not a weakness of mine. So it came naturally. But getting things put into the process was the payoff.

  • What to do with all the stuff that’s flowing in? Figure out what to do next, if it’s worth doing, or if it can wait.
  • Can I do this now, or should it be put on a to do list, or should it wait on an idea list?

3. Organize. Before GTD, I was what I describe as “so organized, that I can’t find anything.”

  • A single to do list.
    • Well actually 2. One for work, and one personal.
    • The lists have 2 sections. One is “to do”, and one is “waiting for”
    • The to do includes a next action to complete a task. A complex project is broken out into its steps.
    • The waiting for list is for outstanding items that are on others’ plates and are owed to me.
    • I keep work and personal separate since there is no overlap. I helps to reduce distractions.
    • For work I use a pen and paper–one side of one page only. For personal I use Remember The Milk.
  • Idea lists.
    • Again one personal and one for work.
    • These are stored in Google Docs. Can access from anywhere, but doesn’t need to be there on demand.
    • This is what Allen calls “someday maybe” lists.

The lists are the backbone of my personalized GTD system. Groundbreaking, no. But this simple discipline alone freed up a lot of wasted mental energy. Now I:

  • Remember what I need to do. What I’ve promised, etc.
  • Remember what I’m waiting for—which helps me follow up when things are late. Nothing slides.
  • Speak in terms of an action, instead of vague references.
  • Have a consolidated list instead of a bunch of unorganized notes, post its, reminders, etc.

4. Review. My system is far less formal than Allen’s.

  • Since my lists are always “live” and active, the review is constant instead of weekly.
  • The key for me is to have only 4 lists. I once had lists squirreled everywhere. This made for a lot of duplication, contradiction, and of course frustration.
  • The paper list is redone when I run out of room on one page.
  • I regularly scan the idea lists. Note regularly. When something jumps out, I know it’s time to take action. For work, often times I refer back to them and fire them off when asked my ideas on X or Y. They’ve been captured. No need to waste brainpower trying to recall them all from memory.

5. Do

  • Quite simply, set the wheels in motion on the items on the list.
  • Like I said earlier, I mark what I’m waiting for so the process is a closed loop.
  • Momentum will pick up. Procrastination will lessen.

6. Other – Mostly recurring tasks

  • I threw in an “other” because; well because I feel like it. And because they are more ancillary to the process outlined above.
  • I use Google calendar to remember birthdays and to remember personal appointments and other reminders, etc.
  • Outlook calendar is used for work appointments and recurring work tasks.

Other than “knowledge items”, the same principles apply to physical items, like mail. The quicker you process the better. So you get mail… Is it garbage, reference, or something to do? Throw it in the garbage. File things you may need later. Put the to do on an action list.

Expressing things next actions has been effective outside of personal productivity as well. Defining actions often is what helps ideas get from fluff to execution. For example, instead of bake cake, you should write, buy eggs, buy milk, buy flour, etc. Before you bake, you need what goes into it. That’s just a basic example. The effectiveness is clear once you start thinking of tasks in terms of actions.

Often things fall in the middle of the process, so not everything goes from 1-5 if it doesn’t have to. I don’t write in the small notepad if I’m by the relevant to do list. There are a million examples, I hope you get the point. I also don’t need to get EVERYTHING into a system. This is where I roll my eyes at some of the GTD blogs and message boards. If I have a cold, I don’t need to put “blow my nose” on my to do list.

The high level and being disciplined are what makes it pay off for me. The high level makes sense so it was easy for me to commit and become disciplined. I get frustrated when a system is too complex and when it creates more work. The idea of productivity is to be productive, right? Since doing this I’ve become far more productive, far less forgetful, and since it gives me peace of mind, far less stressed. I’ve never run around like a chicken with my head cut off.

There are other productivity tools I use, but as far as a system, I stick with my version of GTD. I will post about other productivity tools later.

Political/Intellectual Arrogance – Defense of the Average American

I’m tired of political commentators who depict the voting public (except their own circle) of being stupid. Both sides do it and it makes me sick. Listen, Barbara Streisand isn’t brainwashing young dumb impressionable voters to vote liberal. Also, conservatives aren’t dumb war mongering racists who don’t want a Muslim (yeah I know, I know) in office.

I’m more tired of people buying into this sentiment.

There are plenty of news videos and YouTube videos of stupid Americans who don’t know how many states there are or how many senators there are, etc. Do you think they keep or cut footage of everyone who answers right? Don’t you think they are sensationalist for ratings? How fun would it be to watch a video of people answering correctly? So they cut the boring footage, produce the video, and then publish it for the enjoyment of “highly intelligent” finger pointers. Plus, and a BIG plus, I bet a lot of the people who don’t know how many states there are aren’t even registered to vote–or know when Election Day is. These hand-picked sound bites don’t represent every American! C’mon!

There are outliers on both sides. If you draw conclusions based on them, well then you are generalizing. Shame on you!

Seriously look around you. I know my friends and family aren’t stupid. People in my social/work/neighborhood network aren’t stupid. Sure I disagree with others’ views. But I don’t think any of them are stupid. A few may make me go hmmmm, but I don’t think they are dumb.

If you think anyone who doesn’t share your political views is stupid or misinformed, then well you are viewing the world through a narrow, arrogant, pretentious, and ignorant lens. And no matter what side you favor, it makes you a hypocrite.

Deducing that people think the way they do because they are unintelligent is a lazy cop-out and defeatist as well. It’s easier to label someone stupid or uninformed than trying to figure out what really makes them tick and what makes them think the way they do—their background and values. It’s easy to throw your arms up and blame everything on these stupid people.

If Americans were stupid, then how would companies run? How would anything get done? America isn’t perfect, but it isn’t stupid.

Bookmark Site I’d Like to See

I use both delicious and Google Bookmarks. Both are ok, but both also have their limitations. Not so much for capturing and saving bookmarks, but for giving you access to them. It hit me when I saw All My Faves that delicious or Google Bookmarks (or any other for that matter) should let you customize a page and lay out your bookmarks the way you want. Perhaps even giving your “public” or “shared” bookmarks a public url.

You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em

No not poker, but cars. It’s great having cars with no car payments for years. It kind of feels like playing with house money. But sooner or later you’ll be faced with weighing mounting repair costs vs. the cost of getting a fresh new car. That’s where I am now. With 2 cars mind you. A 2000 Mazda Protege and a 1994 Ford Explorer. The car is holding up well (knock on wood). But the truck’s 4 wheel drive doesn’t work anymore, the AC doesn’t work anymore, has a crack in the windshield that spreads more and more every day, it’s been making more and more noise, and now the speedometer is acting funky. Just the windshield alone isn’t worth fixing, in my opinion. Because the next day might bring a more costlier repair. When do you stop? Well, I fold on the truck. Time to go car shopping!

My Google Wishlist

I love Google and use almost all of their apps, but some things just bug me. Especially seemingly simple things and how all of their services are tied together (or not tied together). I’d like not to have to use other apps or services to manage or hack (e.g. gmarks or Remember the Milk). I use the Toolbar, Gmail, Reader, Notes, Docs & Spreadsheets, Blogger, Calendar, Webmaster Tools, Analytics, AdWords, AdSense, Chrome, and try out most if not all of everything else they offer.

Reader
– Add “Blog This” to Google Reader for a one click posting to my blog.
– Have shared items show up in “your shared stuff” page.

Bookmarks
– Let me edit urls.
– Allow for a public html page (sort of like delicious) so I don’t have to log into Google to access my bookmarks. Preferably set some to private and others public.
– Allow subfolders or sub tags for better organization.

Picasa
– Allow for more than one account to access and update so my wife and I can maintain one photo gallery. This applies to both the desktop software and the online pages.

Gmail
– I know this kind of goes against one the things Gmail is all about, but have a “traditional” view so e-mails aren’t grouped by conversation. It’s a pain in the neck and hard to follow when a conversation is forwarded and there are several threads with the same subject.

Calendar
– Give me a simple to do list feature. Nothing fancy.

Shared Stuff
– Let me share calendar items, bookmarks, Picasa items, blog entries, reader items.

Blogger
– Use the same profile info as my main Google account profile. Instead of updating separate profiles.
– I HATE the blogs I follow feature. C’mon. Let me manage this through Google Reader instead of having to import and maintain 2 lists.

Chrome
– For the love of God, integrate the Google Toolbar!

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