Steckler in 2020

With the inept (and worse!) politicians we have today the time has come for me to throw my hat in the ring. For one, it really can’t get much worse than today. For another I am starting to show a little bit of “distinguished gray” at the temples – that’s some solid credentials there people.

My platform is simple, it consists of five (5) points.

  1. Prius drivers are banned from the left lane on all roads. If there is only one lane, they cannot use that road.
  2. If you cannot use Reply All correctly in email – you will be deported somewhere (we’ll figure out where later, this is big thinking)
  3. All video-conferencing companies must end each call with a heartfelt apology “we’re sorry this was such a terrible experience – here is a $20 gift card for your pain”. The amount is doubled for Skype for Business.
  4. If you screw up in the TSA Pre line, it’s a yellow card. Two yellow cards and you have to spend the next two trips in the standard TSA line.
  5. Pineapple is forbidden as a pizza topping. It’s not Hawaiian, it’s wrong. If caught trying this you will be assigned “what kind of pizza do you want to order” duties in group settings for the rest of your life. My administration will be tough, but fair.

My team will be taking donations and of course “pay to play” cash payments like the current President does. Stay tuned.

Why email and attachments don’t mix

While there are many tools available to help you collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations (still the work horses of business) many people still rely on sending email with attachments.

What’s wrong with using email like this?

Have you ever seen attachment with a name like Important_Overview_4_30_16_ps_td_foo_final.pptx? What this means is that someone built a PowerPoint presentation named “Important Overview” and marked it as April 30th to denote it was different than the one the day before. And then someone with initials of ps, and then td, and then foo edited it. And then someone finally said “it’s done” and marked it final. And that’s a simple case that might have actually worked.

Here’s what happened:

  1. The Original Person emailed Colleague A, B, and C the presentation.
  2. Colleague A edited the presentation and appended 4_30_15. She sent the presentation back to everyone.
  3. Colleague B edited the presentation and appended _ps. Colleague B was busy and didn’t send his edits back.
  4. Colleague C forwarded the presentation to Colleague D who appended colleague_d to the presentation and made edits.
  5. Original Person reviews Colleague A’s edits, changes them a bit, and emails them out to everyone.
  6. Now Original Person receives Colleague B’s edits, updates to Important_Overview_4_30_2016_ps_td.pptx.
  7. Colleague C, working on a very old, original version, makes edits and sends back to everyone. Everyone is very confused because wait, C’s version has none of the other changes but it has new changes. In sheer frustration Original Person schedules a meeting and they go through the presentations and manually edit things. This results in Important_Overview_4_30_16_ps_td_foo_final.pptx.
  8. Original Person emails this to everyone.

Everyone is happy, right?

Well no. First, a huge amount of time was wasted as people edited content that had already been edited, modified or otherwise improved. Second, all those manual merges means inevitably some change was lost. Don’t worry though, you will surely find that embarrassing typo during the middle of your big presentation.

And this is what happens when everyone is working hard, trying, and honestly wants to get the best outcome possible. Imagine what happens if/when that isn’t true?

Hey wait! you say. Colleague D did a bunch of edits, were those included? Nope. You see because D was forwarded the presentation Original Person never even knew Colleague D was working on edits. So that work is 100% wasted and Colleague D is now frustrated because he had important points to make.

So what is better?

The important thing to remember is “single source of truth”. Tools can be better or worse. Workflows can be better or worse. But as long as there is a single oracle, a single source that represents “the truth” then it will turn out better. Some easy patches:

  1. Store the file in a shared place. Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc. It doesn’t matter too much as long as a) everyone can have access and b) there is change history. Change history is important because sooner or later someone will delete the whole damned thing. And if you can revert to a known good state you can be a hero.
  2. Send links, not attachments. Every time you send an attachment an Office Angel weeps. Need to send someone a copy for reading but want to ensure single source of truth? Send a read-only format like PDF.
  3. Use a tool like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Groups, etc. for communication. This means there is a single channel. It’s not perfect but this way you never leave poor Colleague D out of the loop, there is an ongoing dialog about where and what the source of truth is, and in the worst case there is a history of changes so you can unfuck it.

Combine all three and you’ll be better off. Or of course you could hire someone to “own the documents” – that person will go crazy and quit within a year.

 

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Every journey starts with a single step

After leaving Microsoft and then doing fun work at Amazon it was time for me to try something, well, smaller. So I tried my own startup – Bonavika was an attempt to reduce distracted driving. It was a good idea but we were such rookies. Eventually I needed to make some money so I went to a funded, ~120 person company, Cyanogen. That was a good experience with some ups and downs. The key thing though is I knew I wanted to keep working on the smaller, entrepreneurial side – well – as long as I don’t run out of money:-)

May 23rd we published the first step of my newest leap of faith – Ramp Catalyst. Please check out our website. Clearly the paint is still dripping and we have some procedural work to get to.

More to come later.

Sometimes the best things were a surprise – Reno

I don’t gamble really. I dislike smoking, casinos, etc. So when we decided to fly to Reno to enjoy the Reno Jazz Festival our son was playing at I honestly had tremendously low expectations. We’d been to Reno once before – maybe 25 years ago or so. It was Vegas-lite. Except with a bunch of Harleys on the main drag. There were some good things (take your beer with you when you walked outside²) and plenty of unpleasant things (the food, the casinos, the smoking, and well… kind of everything).

Our expectations were low. We read a bit about the new riverwalk area on the Truckee. But as we approached the airport we were taken by the lovely snow-clad mountains (Tahoe region was clobbered with snow this year). On the drive into town our shuttle driver mentioned how lovely the University of Nevada/Reno was. We were skeptical especially as we hit downtown – the casinos look pretty bad, worn out, seedy. And like all American cities these days Reno has a homelessness problem.

We walked up to the UNR campus and wow! the driver was right. They’ve built a lovely campus that blends new buildings with old, sunny walking paths all over the place, and just a general sense of “yeah, this is a great place to attend college”. I don’t know if that is true or not but the kids walking around all seemed happy so that’s the only measure I went with.

The downtown riverwalk area is also lovely. There is a popup-style bar called the Eddy – cocktails, bocci, and watching the river go by (in almost overflowing flood stage). There are restaurants like Campo along the river too. There are snazzy-looking apartments downtown. With the Sierras only an hour away I can see how the recast of Reno as an outdoorsy place is gradually replacing the older, stodgier, seedier casino (getting 50k new jobs with a Tesla plant isn’t going to hurt either). Our hotel is the first non-smoking, non-casino place. It comes with a great climbing gym, an outdoor climbing wall that is scary-looking, and a nice restaurant¹

The drivers stop at crosswalks. The place is pretty clean overall. More than anything else it was so much better than our low expectations that we just spent a lovely weekend there and would go back.


 

¹ Of note is that service in Reno is generally terrible. Not mean or anything, folks are friendly. But the staff at every bar or restaurant seemed to be pretty much on their first day on the job (exception was the bartender at Whitney Peaks). Four or five waiters milling around… but no one could quite figure out why all these people were in their restaurant. At a lovely pub on the river one poor bartender was just confused with a simple drink order and stumbled back and forth asking for the directions again and again. So reset your expectations, this isn’t big-city dining. It’s honest but sort of stumbling along but with a general good will vibe about it.

² The outside beer thing is gone – they changed the law at some point so it’s pretty much like everywhere else in the US – finish your drink, then stumble on down the road.

Would you ski with Jack?

The Shining? Chinatown?

Look at that smile though.

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(apparently the other guy is Roman Polanski  http://groovyhistory.com/the-most-powerful-and-entertaining-historical-images-ever-taken/38 )

The zipper – patented in 1917

Everyone uses zippers. Every single day. And yet we rarely if ever think about how incredibly amazing these gadgets are. I came across an article in the BBC lately – and was amazed to learn the zipper was only patented in 1917 and not really used commercially until 1923. The name itself was coined by B.F. Goodrich.

As you read the Wikipedia article some things stand out:

  1. Making zippers is fairly complex – only a few companies in the world are capable of this.
  2. The first airtight zippers were made by NASA for spacesuits – imagine going into space with something just zipped up?
  3. YKK, a Japanese company and pretty much the only zipper manufacturer I could name holds 45% of the worldwide market on zippers.

Such a small, innocuous little device, but such an amazing history.