Category Archives: Technology

The Three Things #19

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

70Decibels – CMD+SPACE – 028 – Technology and Music, with JohnRoderick

Michael on Change: I love technology and am often fascinated by the effect it’s having on the way we do business. I work at a 66-year-old jewelry company and we spend a fair amount of time balancing new sales channels and changing customer expectations with what we still know to work. It’s a delicate balance. It’s also one that makes it very easy to relate to the kind of change the music business is facing. Different as they may seem, the struggle both industries face is much the same. You have an established infrastructure clashing with emerging opportunities. You have loyalties, strengths, and familiarities that still work, but are often ripe for disruption. The equilibrium of creators, distributors and consumers is in flux. There’s a reluctance to change what’s still working, fighting a strong sense that it won’t keep working that way for long.

As a music fan, I’ve always sensed there were similarities between our evolving industries. Myke Hurley’s interview with indie rocker and polymath extraordinaire John Roderick of Long Winters fame, showed just how similar a struggle we have. Not only was this the best interview I’ve heard in a long time, it was a highly relevant one. While it starts on a personal note, it quickly turns into an examination of the way the music industry used to be, the way it could be and the way it currently is. Myke did a wonderful job as always and John offered such a balanced perspective on the evolution he is witnessing. It’s a fascinating look at the change many industries are facing through the lens of someone looking for the best possible way to make a living despite it all.

Winter Storm Nemo

Howie on News Conferences: The real highlight of this article is how the Mayor’s Office issued the warning and link on Twitter. While maybe 15 percent of people have Twitter accounts, mobile allows those who do click the link and send to a contact list immediately. In the past a news conference or statement would be staged, TV stations would break to it, and we’d all wait with bated breath for journalists to tell us what was happening. Now any one of us can get the same information provided during a news conference through the social networks. But there is a drawback. There is no way for journalists to question authorities during a news conference (live or via phone) so it provides less accountability.

What You Think About Grammar is Wrong

Gini on Writing: I love the English language. I’m OCD about following the rules. Words such as utilize, irregardless, impact, that, and over (when you mean more than) or under (when you mean less than) drive me absolutely insane. I can’t help it; I have an English degree, which has served me very well in this content-rich technology age. This article puts an end to myths, such as you can’t end a sentence with a preposition (I’ll still make my team follow that rule, even if it’s my own), in a way that makes you think, “Well, crap. Now I have to change my writing.”

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A Pebble On My Wrist

When the Pebble watch was offered on Kickstarter, I jumped at it. The thought of my watch and my phone playing well together appealed and, well, I also got swept up in the geeky excitement behind it (as I’m prone to do). Over time, I came to regret the impulse purchase. I’m not much of a watch guy and was starting to have flashbacks to my brother’s VHS remote control watch in the early ’90s. It also took a lot longer than anyone (and this likely includes the team at Pebble) expected it would, but that happens when you sell something like 80,000 units of a watch that didn’t exist yet.

Now that it’ actually a real thing and even though I’ve only had the watch for a day, I have to admit, I’m loving it. Don’t get me wrong, it has some issues (more on what my particular whiny gripes are in a moment), but they are mostly what I would consider 1.0 software issues. There’s nothing critical that I can’t see being fixed in the very near future.

The Look and Feel

I went with the black model. It looks great (even my design savvy co-worker who hates everything thought it looked good), is comfortable to wear and easy to read. If I had to nitpick, I don’t love seeing the contacts on the side of the watch, but I’m already noticing this less. I also wish there was a white backlight instead of a blue one, but again, this is a minor gripe. I’m currently using the “Text Watch” style, but can see myself shaking things up, especially as new watch faces are available. I enjoy wearing it and it will be interesting to see if I actually stick with a watch for a change (I tend not to).

The Integration

The watch was easy to setup. Bluetooth pairing between my iPhone and the watch went smoothly and the Pebble app made it simple to get the watch updated with the current software. While integration with the phone is still limited, the early signs are promising. Text messages get delivered right to the phone, caller ID works relatively fast (you can also answer or ignore calls as well as hang up on an active call, which is great if you hate your headphone remote half as much as I do) and the music integration lets you stop or start your music as well as skip back and forth between tracks (it also plays nicely with podcast apps like Instacast).

There are some issues with multiple text messages (more in a moment) and I’d love to see a call history “app” as we’ll as deeper integration into the Music app if possible (not sure if this lack of time to develop this or a limitation of Apple’s software), but this is a very nice start.

The Functionality

This is where there’s the most room for improvement. At the moment, the watch can only store one notification at a time. So if you receive two text messages in between glances at your watch, you only get a notification for one. It’d be nice if you could dismiss each notification separately or if new notifications continued to be added to one long notification that you could scroll through (they also need to limit scrolling once there’s no additional text, but I’m betting this gets fixed in future versions). This isn’t a huge deal right now as I’m rarely deluged with texts, but I can see this becoming an issue as more applications integrate with the watch.

The biggest “pain point” is switching modes. The actual act of switching is very easy, I just find I have to do it far too often. I’m mostly using the watch face or the music “app”. To shift from one to the other, I have to go to the settings screen and manually scroll past a few watch faces to get from one to the other. This is something I continually forget to do, so I find myself looking for the time, but staring at music I paused a half hour ago.

There are two things I’d like to see change here:

  • A Default Mode: I’d want the watch to return to “watch mode” after a set period of time. My preference would be to set a default watch face and have the watch switch back to this after a predetermined period of time (then again, I see how this could be problematic with some apps in the future, i.e. a running app).
  • Assigning Actions to Buttons: While the button on the left takes you to the navigation screen, all three buttons on the right only serve to activate the backlight (which can also be activated by flicking your wrist). My preference would be to be able to assign each to a feature (one of which could very well be the backlight). It’d be awesome to press one button to go to Music, another to activate the backlight and one more to go back to the last screen (which could be helpful for the “timing out” issue I mentioned above when using certain applications).

Overall, these all feel more like 1.0 issues more than any fundamental flaw with the product. And even though there’s room for improvement, it’s already pretty darn good. The watch is easy to navigate, the Music app is sufficient and works for me. I enjoy using it as is and believe it will only continue to get better as Pebble offers software updates, which they promise to do every two to three weeks.

The Problems

This is a very new product and is not without a few issues. There’s some confusion as to which notifications are supposed to come over the Pebble. At the moment Pebble talks about texts, iMessages, calls and emails, but you can send most notifications by manually toggling the individual apps in Notification Center (just switch notifications for an app off and back on again). These break the instant you lose bluetooth connectivity. While The Verge reports this as a limitation of Apple’s software and it seems to frustrate other users, I see it as a feature. I wouldn’t want every single alert from Notification Center to come over to the phone, especially when you consider that the Pebble can not see the “Sound” setting in Notification Center and vibrates with every alert. On the other hand, it would be great if developers started working with Pebble directly. I’d like the ability to get alerts from a weather app like Dark Sky, but would not want to be inundated all day long by the array of notifications that I opt to receive on my phone (with no sounds or vibration, of course).

The Surprising Benefit

It’s still early, but the thing I love most about the Pebble is that I found myself reaching for my phone less. Since I can read texts, see and reject calls, and pause or play music through the watch, I have less reasons to take it out of my my pocket. Now the actual time spent doing all of these things may not add up to much, but they serve as a trigger. A text, call or desire to change the song leads me to grab for my phone, which inevitably sends down one of the infinite time consuming temptations that live there. The best way to avoid this is to negate the need to reach for the phone in the first place and, in many ways, the Pebble helps with that.

The Bottom Line

Time it took from order to receipt was a source of amusement and frustration, but I’m glad the team at Pebble took the time they did. Even though they still have a lot of work to do, they used that time to get a lot of things right. Rather than a novelty watch that I would have enjoyed, but stopped wearing about a week later, I see this as a watch that I can and will continue to wear. I’m sure I’ll come across bugs, there are known issues with bluetooth connectivity and email notifications (although phone and texts seem to work well) as well as Siri (which I don’t use as it’s undependable here in New York), but I’m optimistic that they will be resolved. The Pebble team seem to be on top of things, in fact, their emails are how I learned about the issues, which is always preferable to finding out about them through use.

I’m only a day in. I’m sure there are things I’m missing and will discover. I’m also likely riding the high from seeing what was starting to seem like a Kickstarter fantasy turn into a reality, but something tells me when I look down at my wrist a week, a month or even a year from now, I’m still going to see the Pebble (or something like it if Apple ever decided to enter this space) wrapped around it.

Making The Most of Meetings

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels. Despite being damn smart and damn handsome, Stephen also has a knack for being damn practical. His Capture Form single handedly changed the way I approach meeting notes, so it’s only fitting that he’s talking about how you can make big things happen when you find yourself sitting in them.

I –like most people in management — have to spend a lot of time in meetings. Whether it be with other manager, my direct reports, vendors, volunteers or the boss, I often find myself across a table from someone, needing to share and receive information.

Before the iPad, this often meant dragging in my MacBook Pro to review documents and plans, and to capture any information or tasks.

I was never super comfortable with using my laptop in meetings. The screen creates a barrier between me and whoever I’m meeting with, and there’s always the temptation to be looking at Twitter or some other non-related items discreetly.

The much more horizontal iPad solved these problems for me. In addition to being less of a wall on the conference room table, the fact that other people can see the screen helps me make sure I keep on task.

(I have never been a fan of those stupid keyboard docks for the iPad, in case you were curious.)

For some time now, I have used Evernote to keep up with various pieces of information I am responsible for having with me. In addition to meeting notes, I keep plans, cut sheets, photos and more in there, all just a few taps away. If someone asks me something about work and I don’t know it off-hand, chances are what I need is in Evernote. It’s my personal wiki for everything work-related.

As strong as Evernote is at serving in this capacity, the app isn’t the best thing I’ve used to take notes on my iPad. Even with the recent update to version 5, Evernote for iOS can be clunky and crashy, and I have found myself cursing under my breath in meetings.

For years, I used numerous Dropbox-based text editors for taking notes. (Notesy and Elements are both nice, as is new-comer Byword.)

But recently, I have been using something even simpler than the iPad in meetings. While I still carry my tablet for reference use, I find myself hand-writing notes more and more. Paper and pen create zero friction in meetings, and I am free to doodle or draw as needed, which is handy since many of my meetings are about construction-related issues at work.

For a long time, I would take notes in meetings and they just wouldn’t go anywhere. I might remember my tasks, but I would never be able to refer back to them, as they weren’t organized very well.

Regardless of how I take meeting notes, my post-meeting work these days is always the same. I copy (or scan) my notes if I need to keep them, and file them away in Evernote with tags and the date in the note title.

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The Three Things #13

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Inbox Intentions — Shawn Blanc

Michael on Scaling Back: I’m yet to write this up, but one of the best things I’ve done this month (and likely this year) is assess and adjust my digital usage. I’ve been scaling back and realigning the way I use tools such as email and social media to better fit my life. While I plan to talk more about my approach and where I ended, all I can tell you is that the process has helped me remember what I love most about both. For those who may want to take a moment at the end of the year to determine where things such as email might fit into your own life, Shawn Blanc has assembled the thoughts of several great thinkers while adding a few of his own. Recommended reading for anyone who’s starting to feel the weight of an overloaded inbox and a bloated digital presence.

Anonymous Hacks the Westboro Baptist Church

Howie on Internet Power: I find it fascinating groups such as WikiLeaks and Anonymous exist. That the Internet allows the average person or hacker to form groups to balance the power of governments. It is the media’s fault hate groups such as Westboro Baptist are known in the world. They don’t shoot or steal. They just picket. They have freedom of speech. We all know that for every Westboro or Rush Limbaugh there are 1,000 hate groups or racists. It is great to see people power coming together using the Internet as forces of good (my opinion) who fight for transparency or fairness. Otherwise we are at the mercy of forces beyond us as individuals to do anything to fight the good fight.

Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me with Martha Stewart

Gini on Comebacks: No matter how you feel about Martha Stewart, you have to respect the fact that she built an empire around crafts and recipes and homemaker-y things, went to jail for insider trading, and came back to build even more net worth. This is one of the best interviews I’ve ever heard and it’s on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me so you know it’s really good (and funny). When she talks about how to get pomegranate seeds out of a pomegranate, you will laugh out loud.

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The Problem with iOS

Note: This post should probably be titled My Problem with iOS, I just couldn’t help the hyperbole.

I’m a diehard Apple fanboy (or whatever it is you’re calling me these days). I live a significant portion of my life in their ecosystem. Moving away from their hardware is something I have no desire or intention of doing, but there’s a problem I continually find myself running into. While I love Apple’s hardware and their operating system, I don’t love their apps. There are few instances where their default offering is my preference.

Now Apple attempts to solve this problem with the App Store. It has brought me solutions like Camera+, Fantastical, Due, Notesy, Instapaper, Check The Weather, Instacast, Spotify, Google Maps and TextExpander, which all enhance standard functionality and have improved upon my iOS experience. What it hasn’t offered is a way to best align these tools with the device.

The ability to align my workflow is a big part of the reason that I still prefer my Mac to iOS. In OS X a well-thought-out workflow can make it difficult to tell where one app ends and another begins. This is a benefit that lets me focus less on the tools and more on my work. The same hasn’t proven to be true on iOS where I’m consistently running into small points of friction that come from wanting to use better alternatives to the default software while reaping all of the benefits that my iPhone and iPad have to offer.

Recently, James Gowans made the shift to almost entirely Apple apps on his iPhone and iPad. I knew several of the benefits individually, but it wasn’t until he put them in perspective that I fully realized how much I was missing by not using Apple’s default offerings. I can’t use Siri with many of my favorite apps, I can’t swipe up on the home screen to my camera of choice, I can’t click on an email address and have it open into a different program, I can’t get the most out of notification center, I can’t use TextExpander in emails (JUST LET ME USE TEXTEXPANDER ALREADY). These are all minor gripes, but collectively they diminish the experience. I still believe I’m better off with the kind of fractured, yet powerful experience than comes from third-party apps, but James helped me realize why I still struggle to make the most out of my iOS devices.

Apple’s apps offer insight into what their platform is capable of, the work of third-party developers show just how great each aspect of that experience can be, but the limitations that are being imposed on these third-party apps keeps iOS from ever reaching its true potential. Or at least it does for me.

I crave something that won’t be permitted to exist: an Apple-caliber experience with third-party applications. I want the best possible platform with the best possible application to create the best possible experience. I know I’m a power user, I get that most people don’t care about these kinds of things and that this clearly isn’t affecting sales, but it’s disappointing that Apple seems determined to limit other applications rather than doing what’s needed to prove that their way is best.

I’ve always paid Apple a premium for a better experience, but as they look to hold on to control, I can’t help but feel like the premium is beginning to come at the expense of my experience. When I moved to the Mac, the driving desire was to get away from Microsoft’s vision of how I do my best work in order to find my own. I just really hope that, as a fan and a customer, the day never comes where Apple’s desire for control drives me to a similar crossroad.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term

As our office’s resident Apple geek, I often find myself in conversations about the company, its products and competitors. Considering my working world is well outside the realm of tech, these conversations tend to be far more casual than the geeky, and often overly informed, banter I enjoy online.

Lately, these conversations focus less on Apple’s offerings and more on the company’s relation to Amazon and Samsung. I find myself being asked if I relish in Amazon’s struggles to turn a profit (which I don’t) or if I’m tempted by some of the newest features on phones like Samsung’s Galaxy 3 (which I’m not).

I’m a big fan and customer of both Apple and Amazon. I even love my Samsung TV, but tend to be less than impressed by their philosophy, which seems to emphasize creating slightly better (in the case of their TV’s) or more feature rich (in the case of their phones and tablets) products at a comparable price to their competitors. When it comes down to it, Apple and Amazon seem to be looking down the road while Samsung is overly focused on the here and now.

Apple and Amazon are in it for the long haul

Apple and Amazon are playing long-term games. Yes, they go about it it differently, but both seem to have clear visions for their future. Years from now, I still believe that Apple will be the place where I buy my devices and my content (with the possible exception of books) and Amazon will be where I go to shop for all other physical products (and my ebooks and audiobooks, as they seem very focused on the space). Apple seeks to get there by offering quality products and a polished experience at a premium while Amazon looks to succeed through their diversity of offering, ease of purchase and economies of scale.

Samsung smart, but short-term approach

Let’s compare this to Samsung. Like it or not, they’re killing it right now, both in sales and marketing. Their products are well received and their advertising strikes at the short-term desires of prospective smartphone customers. But when you take a step back, all they’re really competing on features rather than any kind of a long-term vision. Slapping together two phones to swap data sounds really cool, but in reality the phone’s been out for several months and I’m yet to see two people doing this out in the world. Much like Apple’s Siri, it’s a feature that sells devices, not one that makes them especially useful or makes you likely to stick with Samsung in the long run.

Why does the long-term outcome matter more than the short-term results?

Amazon is willing to grow their future business at the expense of current profits. Apple is willing to ignore today’s feature requests for the sake of focusing on tomorrow’s experience. While this has and will continue to leave both companies vulnerable, it’s what I believe with inevitably lead them to continued innovation and success. With every passing year, I buy more types of things from Amazon. Where they were once only my bookstore, they are now my first stop for purchasing anything from a new camera to diapers for my toddler. As Apple refines its cloud offerings and aligns their platforms, they retain not only my business on their devices, but my data.

Both have a long way to go. Amazon is only now starting to focus on higher margin areas and Apple has had their fair share of challenges with services like Siri, iCloud and Maps. Yet their long-term mentality gives me faith that these initiates will continue to improve and, eventually, pay off big time for the companies and their customers. On the other hand, Samsung may be the brand I chose for my television today. They may offer mobile devices that appeal to many, but I don’t see them doing anything that gives people a reason to stick around when someone other company with a short-term mentality comes along with something better.

The Three Things #6

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Squarespace – Sandy Updates

Michael on Dedication: This week has taken its toll on many of us here on the east coast. While myself and my family were more than fortunate, there are many who have not been so lucky. Through all of the stories of pain, there have also been tales of triumph, both personal and professional. While there are many to choose from, I’ve been particularly impressed with the efforts that the team at Squarespace have taken to keep their service up and running. If you want to see what doing right by your customers and your service looks like, especially in the face of serious logistical and emotional adversity, take some time to read through their regular updates.

Michael’s podcast.Disclaimer: Squarespace is a frequent sponsor of

Fake Storm Reports

Howie on the Virality of Content: I blog often about the limits of social media due to the platform’s short comings. That any tweet or Facebook post will be seen by maybe one to three percent of your network, due to the high volume of posts and size of your network. Typically, individual content never goes viral but topics do, such as updates on Hurricane Sandy. This article covers the recent discussions about whether speed is more important than accuracy and how often it compromises the quality of reporting. Obviously this one tweet got lucky that it was picked up by the right accounts and reshared. Even the Washington Post admits being duped and it cost someone his job.

When a Daughter Dies

Gini on Medical Care: I’m not going to lie. This father’s story about his daughter’s 20 day battle with cancer made me cry. Told on the Freakonomics blog, Steven Levitt’s dad (who is a doctor) tells the story of how his 50 year old daughter had an unsteady gait and went to the doctor only to discover she had brain tumors. During the next 20 days, she goes from being healthy and active to needing ice chips and morphine. While the blog post is written in highly technical medical terms, I think it will affect you the same way it did me. Near the end he says, “In this era of molecular biology, the most valuable medication was morphine, a drug that has been available for almost 200 years.” Amen, Dr. Levitt. Amen.

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