Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Tired is Stupid

I’m writing this on my phone, from LGA, after a very tiring week- personally, professionally, physically.

And what this week has drummed home more than ever before is that, for me, Tired is Stupid.

I don’t need a ton of sleep to function, but when you reach certain levels of tired, no matter how used to little rest you are, you’re not going to be as sharp. Your brain literally doesn’t work as well- I don’t care how cool you are and how much coffee you drink- your brain stopped working already.

This is when it’s hardest to put the phone/computer down, because it’s probably when you’re busiest- that’s why you’re exhausted! But this is also when you’re probably going to think things through the least, present things most poorly, come off badly or make a critical mistake.

I spent 5 minutes asking myself after just sending an email… “Wait, did I sound like an ass? Because I totally didn’t mean to! I’m totally not in a bad mood or upset! I’m just tired!”

When you get to the point where you don’t even understand your own email tone, it’s time to put work down and pick up a book or watch a movie. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Breaking System Constraints

During a class discussion this week the idea of ‘constraint’ came up- how we’re constrained by elements of our environment and the systems within which we work. I think we’re coming to an interesting point in the cycle of development for those systems. For hundreds of years, we’ve  worked to make processes more efficient and to make life easier. We’ve developed systems to accomplish this. But as these systems have grown, they’ve become so efficient that, in many cases, we’ve placed constraints on our ability for organic innovation. This is especially true in business systems.

What I find extremely interesting is how current technologies are beginning to explore this tension between business systems and innovation- and are trying to use systems to push innovation rather than stifle it. Social media is a great example of this, per my summer experience at NewsGator. NewsGator’s solution echoes informal online interactions that are a part of our personal lives – and transfers that form of communication to a company setting. The goal is to allow firms to leverage the speed and sharing capabilities of online systems like Facebook, thereby driving communication and innovation throughout the company.

So while Facebook turned informal in-person chats into a system of online communication, new technologies are turning that system of personal online communication into a system of business communication. What organizations that adopt NewsGator (like Citi, the US Air Force, etc.) realize are that the typical business systems they use are placing constraints on innovation and that something needs to change. By leveraging communication that allows faster sharing of information, greater informality in brainstorming, additional freedom in visual expression and the ability to create teams, NewsGator (and like companies) provide a system through which companies can replicate the informal interactions that can lead to fertile ideas while managing the process of that creation in a searchable, repeatable way.

This construct (using next-generation technology to take systems to another level of human interaction replication) becomes really interesting what you consider what companies like Oblong are doing (watch the awesome video below):

Once our operating systems begin to visually replicate how our minds and bodies work, we’re breaking a big constraint in a very cool way.

Is my iPhone fueling war in Africa?

“Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”

That’s a Cree Indian prophecy I read for the first time today on the “Travels With a Nine Year Old” blog (it’s seriously awe-inspiring; a mother traveling round the world with her 9 year old son).

While not directly related to my post, the quote convinced me to write about an issue I don’t have a clear opinion on. The issue is  “conflict minerals” and their use in consumer electronics (the below Mac/PC video gives some background).

(I offer several article links in the below; if you’re only going to read one, make it Jason Stearns’)

It’s an issue that strikes especially close to home given my fascination with tech, and off the bat, it seems extremely clear – if buying minerals assists a group or government in fueling conflict, genocide, murder, rape, etc, then we should stop allowing the companies to buy them. That’s the point of the US legislation passed in July. But critics of the bill are pointing out that sensationalism may cloud the fact that legislation will not stop these conflicts – and in fact, may make it more dangerous because we think  it’s going to (Laura Seay at Texas In Africa posts very clearly on this). Jason Stearns (as mentioned above) responds to that here.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this isn’t a question I have an answer to. I am against conflict minerals. I don’t think the legislation can hurt as long as we’re honest about what the impact of it can (and cannot) be. But I also don’t believe it offers a clear solution; nor do I think we can ignore the economic ramifications for these countries and the U.S.were we to immediately halt all purchases of these goods.

What I do know is that this is a cautionary tale.

The proliferation of stories/photos/blogs in the Age of Information we live in has definite negatives- we’ve all seen and commented on this (why is Lindsey Lohan in the news? why is CNN telling me this non-news? etc.). Because we live in an age of instant information, we expect instant answers and solutions. And so we draft bills, issue statements, and build committees that may not actually solve the problem- but they quickly appease the ravenous news cycle of the moment. So the machine churns on to the next story, leaving problems half-solved, partially addressed, but believed to be finished. Whether a bill will or will not help this problem is a question. What will help answer that question is our ability to provide continued pressure and examination of the issue as we implement this and other laws. It is the danger of our times that information moves so fast.

As our continued use of mineral resources ravages the planet and we are forced to make tradeoffs, speed of information will continue to become a double-edged sword. On one hand, we are lucky to live in an age where information is this available- we are more informed about issues than ever before. On the other, speed can result in poor decisions, half-executed plans, and the abandonment of yesterdays crisis for the story du jour.

The class I am most grateful to have taken this year at Darden is Ethics, because I learned very quickly that I am like most people- I default to a given position without truly thinking it through and then defend it out of sheer ego. I was lucky to have a class setting in which to realize this, and lucky to have a professor that helped us develop our own frameworks for preventing this (creating the focus and patience to think through and challenge the position I was defending). Without that class, though, I don’t know if I would have realized how often I fall into that trap, and how restricting that trap is when faced with complex and challenging problems – like conflict minerals.

Challenging one’s own beliefs is a skill that is not only valuable in the careers/hobbies/relationships/lives we each build, but is also one that is absolutely necessary if we want our actions and decisions to make a true and sustained difference in the world.

Barcode scanners and digital content? What iPhone app is that?

Did the update to iOS4 on June 21st, although I can’t afford to invest in the iPhone4 right now. Enjoying the upgrade and the features, but more than that even, lately I’ve had time to enjoy some apps I’ve been playing with- thought I’d share some.

  1. The “not used daily but too friggin awesome to not mention” award goes to the StickyBits app. StickyBits lets you attach digital content to real world items by scanning it (you hold a product in front of your iPhone until the camera captures the UPC), attaching a text/photo/message to it online and uploading that. So the next time someone else scans that product (not the actual item but a product with that UPC), they can see what you uploaded! While right now this is just a “for fun” item, imagine the possibilities for viral marketing?
  2. The “must have on the bus” award goes to Instapaper. This is easily one of my top everyday apps- a Read Later bookmark for the internet. When you find an article but don’t have time to read, open Bookmarks and click on the Instapaper bookmark you’ve installed. Then go to your Instapaper app, open it up, and voila the article is there. I use this very specifically to ward off frustration from my constantly absent AT&T service in downtown Denver. I use Instapaper to pick a couple articles, mark them for read later, then open up the app right there and load the articles (it needs an initial internet connection to sync). Then I close it. Later on, when AT&T inevitably fails on the bus and I can’t access my RSS reader, I open Instatpaper and read those pre-loaded articles.
  3. The “wouldn’t read/know half as much without it” award goes to NewsGator’s NetNewsWire. I do love my RSS reader…seriously. FeedDemon for Windows is my absolute favorite thing in the world, but NetNewsWire is easy to use and star. It’s my everyday on-the-go fix.
  4. The “keeps me out of a lotta trouble” award goes to the extremely useful and always accessible Evernote, which keeps me from forgetting important things. I like it better than the original iPhone notes for a couple reasons. Having the option of text, pictures, voice notes is great but my absolute favorite part is that I can email things directly to my notes that are then saved remotely.
  5. The “just for fun” game of the month- Scribattle. Check it out; the graphics are so much fun because they make you feel like you’re cutting 5th grade history class to play; it’s just old skool like that.

Anyone have any other sexy apps I may be missing?