Bots aren’t everything

Really nice post about bots, UI, mobile efficiency, and much more at http://dangrover.com/blog/2016/04/20/bots-wont-replace-apps.html. I recommend reading the entire article but if you are pressed for time let me try to summarize:

  1. Bots are hot right now.
  2. Bots are not the final answer to interacting with our devices. The article points out several nice examples but fundamentally there are some things that are easier done *without* conversation.
  3. Good bots, the bots coming in the next generation will offer data-dense options. In other words when I contact Pagliacci Pizza I don’t want to chat back and forth about a pizza; just give me a quick menu.
  4. Good bots are integrated e.g. payments are simple, I don’t need a new app for a city every time I travel, etc.

One of the examples people should think about is from the early days of games on PCs e.g. Maria, Hammarabi, Zork, etc. These games were fun. We all played them. And yet when you could add graphics and make the game deeper, richer, and more informationally-packed the games got better. This means bots isn’t an either-or game: you don’t have to accept that bots are text-only and only about conversations. WeChat is clearly kicking butt and taking names in this realm; I look forward to Facebook, Telegram, and others joining the space and getting it right.

On my wishlist – the snap-together, desktop trebuchet by Michael Woods

Trebuchette – the snap-together, desktop trebuchet by Michael Woods — I want one The ultimate desktop tool

Source: Trebuchette – the snap-together, desktop trebuchet by Michael Woods — I want one | Bricin

I originally wrote about this desktop trebuchet five years ago. Hard to believe that a) it was five years ago and b) I still have this thing on my wish list. As I consider heading back to “the workplace” it seems I will desperately need something like this.

The good news? These folks now offer a ballista and catapult too!

outlook-androidwear-press

Going the wrong direction

Source: Microsoft Outlook comes to Android Wear smartwatches | The Verge

This is typical of most smart watch apps out there. You have a successful product on the phone so voila! put the same interface on the watch but make it small.

This is wrong. Watches are not phones. There are three very simple reasons for this:

  1. The screens are tiny therefore the fundamental way of interacting with data should not be text.
  2. Input methods are tiny therefore the fundamental way of interacting with data should not be text.
  3. Watches sit on your wrist which means you get one-handed interactions only therefore the fundamental way of interacting with data should not be text.

See a trend there? This feels like 2007 when companies with lovely desktop apps were confronted by the smart phone revolution and simply ported their desktop app to the phone only to learn that hey, the form factor and customer scenarios are different. Companies learned.

Now we are seeing smart watches on the rise (albeit slowly). And we are all going to go through the same exercise of figuring out what watches are good for and what they aren’t. Here is a quick list of the good¹:

  1. Watches measure things. Pulse, distance, etc.
  2. Watches can notify you unobtrusively. This is nice, a short haptic (buzz buzz) on your wrist for an event is really much nicer than the same buzz, dig your phone out of your pocket, check the screen, and decide the interruption wasn’t important anyway.
  3. Using #1 and #2 above watches can remind you to do things e.g. Apple’s watch reminds me to stand up and move around every hour. Yeah! It actually works and is something better than the phone. We have a winning scenario!

The smart phone isn’t going away

Too often when a new device looms the idea is that the older generation will disappear. It won’t. But some of the uses today for the smart phone will decline simply because the new, in this case the smart watch, will do a better job of it. An example – many people run today with their iPhone. This isn’t natural. We’ve bought all sorts of armbands and clothing with oddly-sized pockets simply to carry our phones to record the workout. With a watch this is no longer useful. I anticipate as watches get strong enough to do Bluetooth music that the phone will disappear from workout-land. That’s a good thing.

So the phone will stay in your pocket (or purse or backpack) more often. But it won’t be gone since you cannot effectively create text via a watch. And yes, the person who will reply “but you can dictate a message”… go try that a few times, especially in a crowded area and tell me how that goes. If you’ve ever seen photo-bombing welcome to the new world of message-bombing. Although I will admit to doing a few phone calls from my watch just so I could use the words “Dick Tracy”.

So what should apps do

Smart watch apps should focus on the scenarios that real watches do and extend them. Reminders are great. Counting things works really well e.g. take a stop watch and extend that in new ways. Tracking biometrics is an obvious win; now what can you do with all that new sensor data? Payments, ID, airline check-ins, and other simple transactions are obvious – why do I need to lug out my phone or gasp my wallet to do something simple². Games might work but the current crop is completely violating the first law of smart watches i.e. “it’s not a miniature phone”. I can imagine games that use some of the motion of the arm somewhat like the Nintendo Wii used those goofy controllers we all used for a year or two while pretending we were really getting exercise.

There’s a million other scenarios out there but first-and-foremost start with the idea that this is a) very new and interesting, a computer on your wrist and b) something very old, it’s a watch, what can we learn from hundreds of years of watches.


 

¹ Obviously not a complete list. If I had the complete list I’d make a bajillion dollars writing apps that relied on the complete list.

² Using Apple’s payment system at the grocery store on my watch is wonderful. I love it. The other day the payment machine glitched and I had to swipe the watch twice. The checker apologized and I smiled and gushed “are you kidding me, I just paid for my food with my watch… this is MAGIC”. It truly is.

Can we go back to RSS yet?

And that you’ll subscribe to your favorite blogs by RSS, because it’s mostly uninterrupted by people who’d rather you didn’t get what you were hoping for. Just you and the blogs you want to get.

Source: Seth’s Blog: The choke points

Many years ago the future was RSS. Every site worth knowing about had an RSS feed. We used Google Reader to read through our curated RSS feeds. It was quick, it was simple, it avoided spam, and best of all it generated no email. Great, right?

But somewhere along the line some chimp decided that sending information via email newsletters was a better idea. And for someone trying to peddle their wares email newsletters work; this is why markets, SEO companies, SumoMe, and everyone else under the sun¹ pitches the value of increasing your readership and hence revenue via email. And it worked. For them. For the first-movers, the people who decided to crap on the commons so to speak.

But email isn’t good for this. It means the majority of people have an inbox that is 33% stuff they need to read, 33% complete nonsense, and 33% things they subscribed to and want to read but in a very lightweight “hey, if I miss an article it doesn’t really matter anyway” way. Google is trying to combat this by breaking your inbox into different tabs. I find this incredibly inefficient but maybe others like it.

What I’d like to see is a return to good old RSS (or similar):

  1. Email is for email i.e. important things I need to handle. The less I have, the better.
  2. News-reading and all the other stuff comes in via RSS (did you know you can configure Slack to receive RSS? Not the best reading experience ever but if you think every problem can be solved with Slack this tip is for you). While Google Reader was shuttered Feedly is pretty good and if there were more RSS feeds other companies would create innovative new tools.

For this to work we’re going to need to allow the publishers to make money. So yes, the RSS feeds will have ads and you need to see them. Or pay a fee to receive the fee. If you think about it by opting-in to an email newsletter you’ve basically given the publisher that same right but have less control. Crazy.


 

¹ I tried these tools for Sports Brief Daily and Whalesight. Neither have been very effective in their email use but that’s likely more a statement about the content than the tools. So yes, I’ve lived in the glass house.

5 years later: Photoshop for iPad Live Demo (Eric Reagan/Photography Bay) | Bricin

Another sign that the iPad is moving closer and closer to replacing many PCs. I assume the small screen size will be a blocker to some actions being simple, but those aren’t mainstream. My guess is…

Source: Photoshop for iPad Live Demo (Eric Reagan/Photography Bay) | Bricin

The two things that stand out from this post from five years ago:

  1. The iPad has not replaced laptops at work. While Apple has sold that vision and is still selling that vision if you walk into any office building you will see people using laptops. Why? At a guess the deciding factor is still the keyboard. While some people like me will invest in becoming good at typing on an iPad for most a keyboard and mouse is still critical. Maybe in five years the new iPad Pro + stylus will change this but for the moment that doesn’t seem to be true. And I was certainly more enthusiastic about this iPad reality then than I am now.
  2. The news source from which I originally gleaned this story doesn’t appear to exist anymore. It’s amazing that a business could be up, running, and then gone in the span of five years. That *shouldn’t* surprise me but it does. Somehow I thought web content would be more robust than other businesses in the sense that it’s often easier to simply let it linger on an isolated, dead-end server than to take it offline.

Not just for remote-work… everyone should ask these questions

Many of you may have noticed that there’s a new “perk” or “category” that’s been popping up in job listings a lot more l…

Source: 6 things to ask when interview for a remote job — Medium

The gist of this article is that remote-work requires a certain amount of dedication and thoughtfulness. The truly interesting part is that your co-located work (i.e. what most people think of as work) should be asking these same questions. To paraphrase and revise this list then (skipping #1 which is purely about remote-work):

  1. How do you typically communicate with your team? If you don’t have a strategy for communication it will devolve into a morass of emails that don’t quite reach everyone or hallways conversations which are guaranteed to miss someone. Have a strategy, evolve the strategy as your organization changes, and understand which tools work and which don’t. Hint: email is not it.

  2. How much does the team use Slack/HipChat on a daily basis? Good teams communicate. The tool itself doesn’t matter as much as the fact that everyone understand how to do asynchronous communication (i.e. when you don’t need an answer right away) vs. synchronous. In the old days when we needed an answer we’d call someone. Now you can use Slack, HipChat, any of the various IM tools out there, or even text messaging if needed. But the team needs something. Hint: email is not it.

  3. How do you work through ‘collaborative problems’? This list notes that doing this on a whiteboard means someone is left out. That’s true in a co-located office as well because 90% of the time someone is sick, on vacation, in another seemingly-endless meeting, etc. In other words 100% of the people who need to be involved won’t be. So you need to capture the heart of the discussion and outcome and communicateCapturing this could be a quick photo of the whiteboard + notes. Or it could be using a nice wireframing tool like Balsamiq. There are many techniques but the key is capturing the information and then communicating it. Hint: this might be a decent use for email but probably better for a shared server/Dropbox or similar.

  4. What time do people usually sign off for the day? Every culture is different. Developers tend to come in late and stay late. Others come in early and leave early. That’s okay. Have a known rhythm and stick to it. Fire-drills should be rare and not repeated (i.e. fix the problem so it never repeats). Death marches (this is when you command a team to work nights, weekends) are a function of poor planning and bad executive management most of the time.

  5. How many tools do you use with your remote workers? What are the tools you need? Have they evolved with the times and your business? Does everyone have access and does everyone know how to use them? Are the tools a sensible part of the workflow; if they aren’t you will never get adoption. Hint: you need some combination of shared storage (Dropbox, Box, Git for engineering teams, etc.), asynch communication (email, forums, Slack, Yammer), and synch communication (IM, Slack, HipChat, etc.). Beyond that the tools will vary between designer tools like Adobe/Sketch or source code tools or project management tools (Smartsheet, TeamGantt, JIRA). Know what these tools are and make sure you are evaluating new tools.

Wish I read this sooner…

Seth Godin had a nice blurb today…

Don’t finalize the logo before you come up with a business plan that works.

Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your vacation policy before you have a product that people actually want to buy.

I am still noodling over a longer post mortem write-up for the fact that my startup didn’t get off the ground. But part of the reason, one of many, is that I forgot to think about the big questions all the time and so often thought about the smaller things.

Sure, sometimes it’s fun to work on the logo and you need a break from the business plan. But too often I focused on the logo (or the email system or ….) before I focused on the product. I feel stupid in hindsight, but then again everything is easier in hindsight.

Invest in good video-conferencing tech: Remote Working – 3 Year Retrospective

Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, if you only do *one* thing in this section, invest in decent video conferencing. When you have remote employees, *every* meeting they are in will necessitate a video conference.

Source: Remote Working – 3 Year Retrospective | blog.jonliv.es

Of all the common points involved with remote work, this one always stands out. Whether your team is 100% remote, partially remote (i.e. some people are remote while others work in offices), or distributed (everyone works in an office but the offices are geographically different) the most common complaint is video conferencing.

There are two avenues that I have seen that fail:

  1. The company goes the cheap route and invests in nothing. The employees muddle through with Skype, Google Hangouts, or whatever random solution they can get through the expense reporting system.
  2. The company invests in tech but a) it’s usually poorly designed, b) it’s poorly maintained, or c) the rooms in which video conferencing (VC) tech exists are too few and usually booked.

It’s hard to believe in 2016 that most small, remote companies haven’t latched on to a solution*. It’s even crazier that big, distributed companies still struggle with VC tech. As the author of this piece notes “If it takes 20 mins out of every meeting to get people dialed in, it frankly sucks.” And worse, sometime during that 20 minutes inevitably someone will announce “let’s go to voice only”, the team switches to an antiquated conference calling number, and voila… you have an inefficient, frustrating meeting that reinforces the belief that remote/distributed work cannot work as well as co-located.

What’s the solution? Easy, set a goal for VC meeting efficiency and monitor as you would anything else. Imagine you had a build system or source code repository that broken between 12.5-25% of the time (i.e. 1-2 hours daily) and cost your engineering team that much productivity; would you allow that? If the tool isn’t meeting your company’s goals… replace it with something that is.

5 Years Later – Podio Threatens To Replace All Your Project Management Tools | Bricin

Podio Threatens To Replace All Your Project Management Tools Project management software is essentially in the same place it was ten years ago. When pushed most people use an Excel spreadsheet (pro…

Source: Podio Threatens To Replace All Your Project Management Tools | Bricin

Five years ago I wrote this blurb about Podio, an up-and-coming app designed to replace all of your other project management tools. Guess what… it didn’t. And that’s not a knock on Podio; I’ve lost count of the number of project management tools out there. Some survive by filling a particular niche (e.g. Smartsheet for Gantt charts and end-to-end planning) or by getting bought (e.g. Wunderlist). Podio hasn’t done too badly: $4.6mm in funding and then acquired by Citrix in 2012. That’s a success.

But we’re still not where we need to be with project management tools. Some of the requirements:

  1. Ubiquitous – a tool needs to be everywhere that a worker is. Mobile, laptop, tablet, etc. Moreover it’s not good enough to simply cobble the same tool into each platform and call it good. The scenarios using a mobile device are very different than on a laptop.
  2. Integration – Most companies cannot simply move their other processes to your stack. Any tool then needs to integrate with Slack, email, GitHub/BitBucket, JIRA, etc. You could do fairly lightweight integrations via Zapier but if you want to truly succeed you need to make the seams between your app and the other pieces of the workflow disappear.
  3. Multiple workflows – Kanban boards are great for some purposes. Gantt charts are great for other purposes. Story-pointing and other agile techniques need to come into play. You can’t dictate the workflow or you will break adoption. Your tool can *definitely* suggest a great workflow where none exists but don’t force it.
  4.  Reporting up and down – the tool needs to be useful in all areas of the management chain. As an individual contributor you need to get all the mess out of the way and get your job done. As a senior manager you want visibility into progress (or velocity or KPIs or whatever your org needs to be successful). Any tool needs to provide this both directions otherwise you wind up in a world where either a) workers are forced to use a tool that hurts productivity or b) someone manually cobbles together the visibility senior management needs which is wasteful.

There are plenty of other requirements; I should at some point really write all this down. But it’s a good start and it helps clarify why it’s so hard to build something for project management.

Slow Cooker Brisket with Brown Gravy Recipe

Get the recipe for Slow Cooker Brisket with Brown Gravy via @FoodNetwork:

Source: Slow Cooker Brisket with Brown Gravy Recipe : Sandra Lee : Food Network

I made this recipe last week and it was a hit. I was skeptical about how a brisket would come out; usually I use the smoker with a brisket. The result was great, family loved it, no mess or hassle to prepare.

Note: I don’t know what “pot roast seasoning” in the ingredients list means. There was nothing like that at the grocery store so I dumped in a little extra salt, pepper, and brown gravy mix.

Ingredients

  • Avocado oil, for searing. Original calls for canola oil but I don’t like using that.
  • 1 (2 1/2 to 3 pound) brisket
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 bunch parsley, stems reserved and leaves chopped
  • 2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can beef broth
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (.87 ounce) packet slow cooker pot roast seasoning. I still don’t know what this is. I just used a little extra brown gravy mix.
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages mixed wild mushrooms. I forgot to put these in. Oops, would have just made the dish better.
  • 1 (.87-ounce) packet brown gravy mix
  • 1 cup cold water
  • Special equipment: a slow cooker