Productivity Algorithms for Humans – The Zero Inbox and The Happiness Diary

In 2011 I was working flat-out but stopped for lunch with Steve. He was buying. As part of thanking me for a work introduction he imparted his productivity techniques from his workshops that cost gillisions. Steve (hi) I do hope they cost gillisions. Three days later I was on the phone to Steve berating him for his advice. It wasn’t his fault we had an Olympics to stage and we still had several years of work to fit into a year.

So began my quest for inbox sanity.

It seems the world has recently caught up with its perpetual circulating internet articles of life hacks. Why are we obsessed with hacks ? When I write code I want it to be gorgeous, poetic, readable. A classic. Algorithms for the soul.

Obviously that isn’t what happens. My code gets unwieldily as does my task list and those productivity techniques become pesky distractions as does reading those hundreds of productivity articles on twitter. So this post is about documenting and refining how I manage my task list via my diary and how to avoid being a slave to constant flow of email’s.

Email Processing

The goal of the algorithm is to reduce the amount of time we spend looking at our email. An empty inbox.

This algorithm is solid. Refined over several years. I start each working day with it and I reach for it when I am feeling overwhelmed. Just the art of processing my e-mails has a soothing effect.

Mind you, so does a Gin and Tonic. Just like the state guidelines on drinking too many Gin and Tonic’s it is important to limit how many units of email’s you process a day. I suggest running the algorithm once a day max twice. Some people like to do this before stopping work so they can unplug from work knowing they are done. I like to do it as I start work like a clear desk it’s less distracting as most of my work involves writing an email.

Continue reading “Productivity Algorithms for Humans – The Zero Inbox and The Happiness Diary”

Make a Book – with a needle and thread

Don’t just write one. Make one. In the quest to make code sometimes it is good to diversify and do something non tech. Cook. Garden. Make books ?

After all books are the lifeblood of development. When I was small I needed magazines and books for copying little bits of assembler codes. Now google has the answers. Last year when I learnt Ruby I didn’t go near a book. It was some delight that the Arduino hack day this month had books littered around.

The book making class jcn and I attended was part of Selfridges Words Words Words campaign.  Continue reading “Make a Book – with a needle and thread”

The Digital Press Office

Tim Lloyd last month asked the question What Does a Digital Press Office Look Like ? What caught my attention was that the press office Lloyd pictures has a TV screen for displaying a social media dashboard. Which is exactly what we have in the office.

With the explosion of social media I have worked with a number of teams who are either located in the Marketing department (such as at Figleaves.com), or online teams who are either editorial (Sun Newspaper) or merchandising (Agent Provocateur) depending on the products they support. I am currently experiencing what it is like to work within a Communications and PR department. It is the first place I have worked, which has a wall mounted television displaying tweetdeck.

This new experience for me has reinforced Lloyd’s observation that monitoring or as Lloyd puts it “listening to the web” is very valuable. Reuters have just released a video on how they monitor breaking news stories. Again the emphasis is on gathering analysis and checking facts. To paraphrase @fionamclaren we like this because it is how we twitter junkies monitor news stories at home or in my case from my brother’s home wondering if I can get back through the rioting and looting.
Continue reading “The Digital Press Office”

Sense and The City exhibit @ London Transport Museum

During the buzz of LoSense and the City - 02ndon 2012 One Year to Go celebrations and my teams very well received competitive tweeting campaign I was introduced to Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith.We loved his teams visualisations of the 1yr2go campaign, so it was with excitement that I tore myself away from work ‘s summer party for my first visit to the London Transport Museum.

London Transport Museum is exquisite. One has to wander through an array of London buses old and new to attend the exhibit. I met Hudson-Smith sheltering in a proposed future bus shelter and he kindly showed me the city scape data visualisations from Carlo Ratti of MIT, Aaron Koblin of Google Creative alongside his own Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London. Publicised best as ‘beautiful data’.

I found the past future sections the most riveting. Here was a series of images that showed transport of the future as imagined in the past. Robotic driven trains and flying cars.

Flying buses over the MallDefinition of a BlogFuture CommuterChanging Face of Maps & TicketingSense and the City - 18Robot Railroading

Most disturbing were the objects that I would once have considered every day. Such as AtoZ or the floppy diskette . The curator of this section was deeply excited by her eBay shopping. Next time, I suggested, she should come over to my house and grab my old technology from the loft. Equally bizarre was the inclusion of a terminology section detailing words such as blog and tweet.

The star exhibit for me was this set of Modern Mechanix magazines. It was also purchased from eBay. I love that every transport on the cover has materialised in some form but doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as these illustrations.   I do think we are poorer for not living the alternative universes shown in this exhibit.

Until Sunday 18 March 2012

The Bamboo Phone – Free Range Expo

On invitation by emerging new talent Eleanor Litten I attended the Free Range Exhibition this weekend. London based Eleanor Litten is a Graphiste and Illustrator. She specialises in mixed media illustrations using lino print, and technology such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Her awesome illustrations compliment any published material. Also she must have the coolest domain name crouching-pencil.org.uk. Her piece in exhibition is a meditative publication. I could easily have spent my time curled up in a corner consuming the illustrations. However that wasn’t an option as this is UK’s largest graduate art and design show and there was a lot to see.

The Bamboo Phone

A couple of pieces really caught my attention. Following the the buzz of creating my last film Free Pixel I have to mention John Peters Bamboo Phone. Much has been reported about the material scarcity in mobile technology. To reduce the use of indium and nikel the Bamboo phone uses electronic ink screens and a bamboo case. John Peters is a 3D designer who studied in South Indian International Schools and Cornwall.

The variety of design, architecture, photography, fashion, art and illustration will keep you enthralled, and with so many ideas fully conceptualised you may even find your next recruit or big idea or both.

Cory Arcangel Beat the Champ installation at the Barbican

Spent an evening considering @cory_arcangel Beat the Champ installation at the Barbican with @SmileyBen, @rossf7, Jon and Ira.

Late 1990's The first thing I noticed was the space. I had suggested that we meet at the entrance and found that space ran arched around the back of  the orchestra pit. As there were two potential rendezvous point my first experience of the show was racing through the elongated round. I felt like the protagonist of a 1980’s cyber film set inside a game.

14 massive projected video games screens and their associated noise kept me company. I really wanted to grab a board and skate through the space with the show on. According to Arcangel’s websiteBarbican install was made especially for their crazy big space” so sadly this was one you had to experience in person. Each screen showed a bowling game where the bowler threw a gutter ball each time. We worked backwards starting from games made in 2000’s. By the time we hit games made in the 1990’s the thing that was most striking for me was the varied emotions of the characters on the screen. As we weren’t the player and knew the outcome, it was easy to simply compare screens. The onscreen bowlers were angry, frustrated and sometimes distraught by their awful bowling. One constantly dropped the ball on his foot and was in massive amounts of pain.

There were a relief to hitting the games made in the 1970’s. The emotions had gone and that simplicity of game play was highly watchable. Like extreme sports the quick repetitive nature of these basic games brought through that feeling of the being in zone trance even though we weren’t controlling the games.

Once nudged out of my trance it was the bell shaped arch of realism of the games that struck me. Somewhere in the late 90’s the games were closest to a realistic bowling experience. The pins were reset after each attempt. Other lanes were occupied. The on screen bowler was truly distraught. Early games couldn’t do this. More recent games didn’t bother.

For me the most fascinating thing I wanted to take away and learn was how the games were controlled.  Arcangel  describes his games as “hacked”. It would be an easy task to film the game as it is played. However Arcangel chose a more complicated approach.  Each game was controlled by a chip.

The show moves to NYC is late May and it is worth checking out.

Big Cats

Tad obsessed after watching the first episode of the the recent BBC documentary on lions. I didn’t know that lions could count or that they roamed most of the earth some 32 thousand years ago.

I think of Big Cats as fundamental to India. However I was painfully made aware that this is not longer the case. Once on a trip to Jim Corbett’s park I didn’t see a single tiger not even a paw print. Elephant rides desecrated swaths of the so called jungle which was more like a home counties forest found on the edge of a nice cricket field hosting picnickers with their Pimms. Not a vibrant colourful place full of creatures.

The decline of the big cat in the wild makes me sad.

Wild big cats should be preserved and their are countless great campaigns to help. Virgin Airlines are currently showing a documentary on their flights that explores the forest of Burma. The idea is to create a corridor between isolated South Asian tiger communities. In effect creating a highway allowing these amazing creatures to mingle, date and maybe create beautiful cubs.

I have to do my bit. If you have a birthday coming up don’t be surprised if your gift is a Tiger. Adopt a Tiger from the WWF.

Concept Phones Films

I got the following my inbox today

“congratulations on the film [Free Pixels]. i like the concept but it maybe feels a little corporate. maybe it’s the office setting, the even light & the music. the stop frame is excellent and very cute. i also imagine how difficult it must be do to the inserts and media stretching!”

He was right. Although the film was shot for less than 100 uk pounds in my front living room we wanted the movie to feel corporate. Why ? Because we felt this was where (if anywhere) Brit’s should and will, be inventing stretchy phone and nano robots that form pixels and any other crazy future technology we can imagine. William Stopha had originally set the film in a technical lab but we didn’t think that would convey possibility of this object transferring to a real market. Hence we set it in a corporate work station.

We did a lot of back research on recent concept phone film.

Artistically Jim Stevenson started our concept video research with the Nokia888 which has nothing to do with Nokia but won the DesignAwards2005. A day in a life was great way to do a concept film.

Former Digital Deli business partner Richard Ayres pointed me at  a design agency who had created the Mag Plus device concept film. He explained that the concept had gone viral and the chaps in the film were invited to San Francisco to discuss how iPad should work about 3 months before the iPad was released. For me the mix of real and concept worked well as film technique.

We looked at a couple of fully CGI films. The first a stretchy nano device who’s concept video was created jointly by Nokia and University of Cambridge. The other being Mozilla Labs (which came out half way through filming). We dismissed this as a film technique for us. By being fully animated the whole thing felt to futuristic and thus false. Like the adverts for Milton Keynes kids don’t run around with red balloons, sadly. We didn’t even think about how we could achieve those effects in Final Cut or iMovie.

The technology films that make me go ‘woah’ are the ones from MIT. For example Sixth Sense and the film where we the Free Pixel title Luminary Lamp.

In writing this I feel happy that the film Free Pixels struck the right balance between animation vs live action and corporate vs imaginary.

The next Axial Age ?

I think we might be starting the next Axial Age.

German philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the term Axial Age to describe similar revolutionary thinking which appeared in China, India and what we now call the middle east. My understanding of the period running from 800 BCE to 200 BCE is shaped entirely by Karen Armstrong‘s incredible book The Great Transformation. As I read Armstrong’s book Buddhism I wonder if we could be at the start of another Axial Age bolstered and supported by the Internet and other forms of technology.

Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Small Change Why the revolution will not be tweeted’ article shows that revolutionary thinking isn’t a product of the Internet and he of course is right. Platonism, Buddhism, Confucianism were all revolutionary and all formed key stones of the Axial Age. However Gladwell concludes that a “networked, weak-tie world” will mean “more of the same”.

I disagree.

There are non religious ideas and human organisation that arose through the Axial Age and as these break down with the advent of the Internet it will be anything but the same going forward.  Technology has already pummeled, shaped and reinvented key systems of human and idea management. Many of which were created well after the Axial Age ended. We, humanity, are rethinking books, libraries, agriculture, banking, music, news dissemination, film and television to name a few. However it is the things that have been left unscathed so far that worry, scare and excite me. These were the bedrock of the Axial Age and if these change, we may see a complete change in the direction of humanity. Evolution perhaps ?  I am thinking about such diverse trends as story telling, trade and governance.

Let me take trade as an example (not least because e-commerce is currently my stock in trade). Trade can be traced back to prehistory. Hammond in his book Smart Retail explains simply, that once man has taken care of his family and community, and had surplus produce, he would then embark on trading what was left. From this activity markets and merchants were born. Producers sold what they produced and peddlers “a chancery bunch’  would purchase goods that they could resell at a profit. Markets become permanent shops. By the end of the Axial Age shop chains were formed. A lack of trusted workers and long-distance travel maintained the shape of this kind of retail till the 19th century. However excellently simple Hammond’s history of retail, his statement that “the Internet is just a development of catalogue-based mail order and don’t kid yourself that it isn’t” is hilarious. Websites that allow customers to search product catalogs might indeed make Hammond’s point. Companies that provide markets online such as eBay and Amazon have done really well. Virtual worlds that copy real world practice have also done well. However this surely is just a starting point. The Economist explained how Robert Jensen a development economist at Harvard University surveyed the price of sardines along Kerala’s coast before and after the introduction of the mobile phone. Free flowing information about price and availability from the market out to sea allowed the fishing community to meet supply and demand more effectively raising their profits but reducing the cost to the consumer.

Could the future of the Internet be the development of transparent and fair market places ? Certainly it will become more than products in database. If so, is that revolutionary thinking in itself ? Or will that lead to more revolutionary thinking which will change the way we organise ourselves ?  If is difficult to know, this is just a single blog piece and we are very much inside the eye of the storm. Well maybe to the left of center of the storm.  Also Armstrong introduction in The Great Transformation should give this dreamy question a realistic kick. “Perhaps every generation believes that it has reached a turning point in history”.

Perhaps. However we are in a transformative age. That maybe this transformative age may mimic the original Axial Age.

My Mobile Phone

I got my first phone in 1995. It was a massive Motorola brick. It was so heavy it wore out all the pockets in my jeans. My phone needed to be smaller or my jeans stronger.

As the century rolled over my mobile phone finally become tiny. Small. Beautiful. It broke, if dropped once. I connected it to my HP PDA and used it to download email and news content. Juggling both devices and my non existent iPod meant something would be dropped sooner or later. In a rush at Gatwick airport I smashed my lovely PDA and blamed the phone. When would I get a single device that could provide all the software a modern women needed ?

2009 and now all those devices are merged and in a single device. I drop my iPhone all the time. It bounces, scratches but stays intact. Just. It still isn’t good enough. It doesn’t scale. Isn’t fit for purpose. Apple tells me I need an iPad and iMac. I need a TV and Radio and Games Console. In fact I need phone. As my iPhone doesn’t really make great phone calls.

At each stage I knew what I wanted and it wasn’t available. When it finally arrived it wasn’t good enough, I was by then ready for the next device. My imagination far out paces what can be delivered in the market place. Yet I do nothing about it. I wait and hope that the corporate machine will catch up. It doesn’t.

Future Technology for Mobile Phone’s

I have spent the summer looking at how we could create a mobile phone of my dreams (and hopefully yours).  The results of which feature in a small concept film called Free Pixel.

My research focuses on the geometery of the mobile phone (or form factor). History has produced a series of phones which are rigid or have a moving part (such as flip phones).

I however am looking for form factor that is extensible, a single device that has a display that is the size I require to do the job in hand.

This Samsung phone is a great starting point. I love how is looks like an old ‘skool’ (by which I mean 2003) phone and folds open into a square screen.

For a number of years my friends and some clients have been waiting for a paper like digital screen to replace their newspaper and books. These screens are robust and have great display for example sony have a form factor that they are showing off currently.

Our research also led us to Displax product Skin. It is completely transparent and works on surfaces that are also transparent such as glass. This hardware operates via a grid of nanowires embedded Skin’s polymer film. Each time a user makes contact with the surface “a small electrical disturbance is detected allowing the micro-processor controller to pinpoint the movement”.  Probably not likely to make a great mobile phone in the near future. Unless we carry glass screen around with us at all time. mmm maybe.

For a different take on mobile phones what about one that projects tactile images onto the surface of the phone. The New Scientist described one in Sep this year.

So then we turned our attention to projection technology. Firstly I was inspired by this Ted Talk which shows how a mobile phone and projector can be combined to make an extensible device.

And also from MIT is this device which hasn’t had nearly enough online buzz about it;

These project concepts were extended by Mozilla Labs in their concept phone video.

So where is this all leading ? Well I want a mobile phone that really works and made my own concept film called Free Pixel.

How much do you charge for an electronic service ?

Are you going to the US within the next two years ? Then get your ESTA thingamajig now while it is free. According to Martin’s Money Saving Expert a bill has been passed in the US Congress which has given permission for a “cover the cost” charge on ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). The charge is expected to be $10.  See Article

I applied for an ESTA recently and it is a rather basic website which asked similar questions to the ones asked from you on the plane on a bit of paper (not even a whole sheet) supplied to you by smiling airline staff as you try to sleep. So in effect we will now have to pay because something that was probably not adequate for the speed of modern life, or modern security threats, and required a small forest, but free has gone electronic.

So how do you decide what price to charge ?

Reading the requirements issued in Congress I would suggest they need a secure web server that could scale for peak usage. The application would gather the data from the form, storing it in a datastore and then moving it as quickly as possible away from online hackers. Once safely  out of hacking way it can then be combined with other databases and any data analysis performed. All that stuff in the document about combining biometric data can be done here . To take payment you would need a light weight e-commerce platform or such like and don’t forget the form has to be managed in a CMS so it can published in lots of languages quickly.  As a high target high profile online system once up and running the system has to be continually maintained and monitored.

This is a complicated system and would take some money to build and lot more to run not to mention any human admin or reporting that will be required. Based on this unscientific analysis my initial reaction, of how can you now charge for such service, I now ask why not claw the money back from each application? In fact $10 seems a little low. However the Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Thompson back at the start of systems implementation suggested that failing to implement ESTA properly may discourage certain travelers from participating, causing additional strain at embassies but one assume the implications could be more complicated. Read Statement.

So it is probably priced to cover some costs but not deter people from making the application.

I wish them luck and I hope that they planned for the application rush before the payment starts.

Update: Just got my 3rd ESTA for $15, what a shiny website it has become.

Trains

I love train rides. Probably my favorite way to travel.

In the US I have been from North Carolina via a stop in DC to NYC. Met some amazing people making ends meet migrating from state to state to work.

In Europe one elbows business people traveling from London to Cannes Film Festival or long trips across Switzerland and Austria for ones ski fix. Watching out the window is simply uplifting. I spend a lot of time covering the UK by train especially cherished is the 6 hours to Scotland.

In Asia I have spent a lot of time in Indian trains. Down right crazy but fantastic food. Last year on an overnight train I got a eye infection that left me slightly blind for three days. But don’t let that put you off. In Japan I did an overnight train from Kyoto to Amori (a tiny place in the north on the main island famed for its cherry blossom). I am just back from staying with American Airforce friends in Korea where I spent the best part of the day on a train through rice padies on the way to the beach and a ferry ride with locals. However the oddest Asian train journey was 17th hours to the birth place of Kung Fu (China) and 15 hours away from it. Ridiculous. We couldn’t fly or buy a sleeper carriage fare, so were in chairs. Everyone smoked  and ate smelly sticky chicken so toxic, they ate it with plastic bags. I was proposed to three times in the first hour. We tried to buy six seats to Xian so that we had room for bags and a bit of air but found the seats where across a gangway.

But seriously do not let me put you off. Get on a train and spread out in a way you can’t do on any plane. Watch out the window for the changing landscapes. Meet people on their short trips. Observe commuters in the morning and kids trek home from school in the afternoon. I have read some the most cherished books on a long train journey, laid my best plans and done my best work.

Marketing and the TCK

The World Cup is on. As a TCK this should be easy I live in England and my parents birth country didn’t qualify. However as I am visiting South Korea I want my host nation to do well. Even more gut wrenching NYC my preferred second home means USA is high on my list and will be riding higher that England in their shared group based on the first game performance. Complicated as this is for the  TCK squared it is also a huge opportunity for people with a product to sell.

TCK’s group have an interesting demographic. They come from well educated semi affluent backgrounds because TCK’s  parents are often on secondment to the new countries for work knowing they would go back home eventually (See wikki).  And I am guessing that due to the travel TCK’s are early adopters of communication devices such as Skype and international text messaging. I know from experience that unlike business travelers TCK’s engaged with the local culture consuming media and products from several nations. However the definition of TCK is that they are close to other TCK’s picking up ideas and products from each other.

My suggestion is to consider this a excellent test market for new communication technologies and internationalisation of your current product. Once upon a time I observed that my Indian and Hong Kong Chinese TCK friends would be passing stacks of M&S shirts to their families where M&S hadn’t arrived. Is it any wonder M&S have had real success in India when they finally opened a local store.

Republic have range of World Cup T’shirts for a variety of nations. As a TCK I won’t be able to buy one to represent my mixed up support unless of course I can give up and  get a Brazil shirt just for the nice colours.

TCK Squared.

I write this blog from an American Airbase in Korea while on vacation. Wait, I mean holiday.

While I am taking a break from business and technology things observing 3rd Culture Kids (TCK) up close means I am not taking a break from ideas.

TCK was coined back in the 60’s for children raised in another culture than there parents. By grouping themselves with other local based children from other different parents they form a new third culture. Like the kids here on base or my own upbringing. In the 1990’s I called my TCK friends Internationals. However when I saw TCK used for the first term (a joke passed on from my “North America/Indian TCK but now holding a UK passport” friend) the term had warped to mean adults who lived in culture that wasn’t their parents and were raised in a 3rd culture entirely. Lets call them TCK Squared.

Newspapers

After four months of working with Rupert Murdoch’s News International (The Times and The Sun) this sketch from Yes Minister explains it all.

XBRL and UK accounts

The team at KSL Consultants who produce the accounts brought to my attention that by 2011 we will no longer be able to provide our accounts to the UK government in PDF format. Instead some scratching of heads occurred as we googled XBRL formats.

As a SME we of course had the immediate panic, our current software doesn’t produce such a format and will we need a costly systems upgrade, but this is just a new file format. We will probably just need a new version of whatever we are using or widget that creates such a file (bit like the PDF creating software for Mirosoft word). A quick search showed that isn’t actually anything on the market that yet so we shall be parking this decision till next year.

The cynical side of me was impressed by the adoption. The HMRC technology team  has created a great role for themselves and are now able to run across the globe working with the leading software companies to create a XBRL widgets. Lining up their next job in the process.  However I am not that cynical the benefits of having a both parties providing their accounts in a form that can be easily understood will be beneficial (as the Documentum case study will show).

However I was wondering if you are going to make such a widget especially for SME’s then lets take it to the next level and create a BOBBooks like integration. When I am doing my due diligence and judge a company on the quality of their website and the accounts. A glossy accounts is very impressive. It is considered so impressive that a charity I know in Glasgow received a donation from a leading city organization to create an glossy set of accounts. Therefore I would upgrade to a system that created my XBRL format file for the government but also something that formats beautiful looking accounts and sends it to the printers.

Anyway I shall probably have look again for a widget this time in 2010…