The Scroll Wheel

Click Click Scroll

Copyright yum9me (Creative Commons)

Do you use the scroll wheel on a mouse?  You know, the wheel thingy on the top of the mouse?

Mine died on me the other night.  I would scroll and scroll and all that I would get would be little tiny muscles on my finger.  (Seriously, can you imagine fingers with well defined muscles?)  Considering how much I use my scroll wheel I either needed to get it fixed, or I needed a new mouse.  Well, I couldn’t fix it.  Neither could my wife (smaller hands), so that left getting a new mouse.

My wife, however, was of a different opinion.  Why did I need to use the scroll wheel?  She never did.  Well, that just about knocked me out.  My wife suggested that I trade with my daughter, but she said that she used the scroll wheel too, so I would have to go buy a new mouse.

So I did.

But it got me to thinking that like the software that we have installed on our computers, we probably don’t make effective use of 99% of the things that we use/buy.    Toothpaste?  Good for temporarily filling in scratches on glasses.  Vinegar?  Well, other than being really good on french fries, it does an awesome job on water scale.  The scroll wheel on a mouse?

How many people never use the scroll wheel?  How many have no idea what I am talking about?  What else do you think that people don’t use effectively?

Learning from Writing

Day 29: Studies

Copyright Snugg LePup (Creative Commons)

There was an interesting article on Lifehacker the other day with regard to “Four Basic Writing Principles You Can Use in Everyday Life” that I wanted to bring to your attention.  The four principles mentioned were:

  1. Show, Don’t Tell
  2. Simplicity Is Better than Flowery
  3. Read a Lot, Learn from Everything
  4. Focus by Learning What Not to Do

I was immediately struck by how writing can be simplified down to a small set of rules.  Oh, sure, there are other rules like “Spell things correctly” that you need to follow, but creativity-wise these four are critical.  But they are so much more than just rules for writing as they apply to when you create a presentation or when you design an applications architecture.  They apply to almost anything that is creative in nature.

For example, I’m sure that you’ve seen PowerPoint slides where the font is a 10 point font and you are at the back of the room, or a complicated 3D diagram that combines 10 different elements into a single mass of colour and lines.  Oh, speaking of colour, adding lines on a graph that are so close in colour only a machine can tell the difference.  Instead of showing a graph of poverty levels to indicate that something has negative impact (telling people), show them a picture of a child waiting in line at a soup kitchen.  Instead of describing the beauty of a flower, show a picture of how that beauty is affecting people.

For application architectures the motto of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) has been around for decades and yet we continue to ignore it.  We have an application on site that has so many different parts, so many different machines and so many different parts that need to be synchronized that I am constantly surprised that it is still working.  It does, however, take forever to make changes.  Changes to the application are planned months in advance and take half a year to test.

Throughout all of our application architectures, however, we fail to do one thing:  focus by learning what not to do.  We have plenty of examples of how not to build things and yet we continue to build it the same way.  We know that mobile applications, while perhaps not prevalent in our current environment, not only make sense for the future, but that their design patterns make our existing applications easier to build and implement.  We know this, so why haven’t we learned?

Four simple rules applicable in writing and other creative endeavours.

Pursuing Dreams At Any Age


Copyright Jake Bellucci (Creative Commons)

Buzzfeed had a recent article on “15 Powerful Quotes By Writers We Lost In 2014” and there are a couple of quotes that stand out for me.  Naturally your choice of the best of the best will be different, but mine are:

It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.

Followed closely by and don’t ask me why:

Don’t sell your soul to buy peanuts for the monkeys.

Everyone has dreams.  Everyone.  For some, their dreams are small and easily obtainable.  For others, their dreams are lofty and not always attainable.  What ages us, not physically but mentally, is pursuing a dream and having it stay out of reach.  If your goal is to do something that is not normally your bailiwick, and you fail, it is a momentary setback.  But if you fail again, and again, and again, that can age you.  A lot.  Pretty soon you stop trying for that dream.  You stop reaching for the stars and settle for the rocks at your feet.

I’m older than many of you reading this note.  Heck, I’ve been in the computer field since February, 1981.  That’s probably older than a lot you and yet I still dream.  After all, it took me 51 years to write a novel – currently in the rewrite stage – but I didn’t stop trying.  I pursued my dream and, now that I reached it, I’ve got a couple more dreams.

I never felt more alive than when I hit the 50,000 word mark for NaNoWriMo.  The most important part of pursuing your dreams?  Make them realistic.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t aim for the moon, just that you may need to pursue a number of smaller dreams in order to fulfill the bigger dream.

Are good presenters boring people?

Erika Napoletano @ TedX Boulder (Definitely a good presenter)

Erika Napoletano @ TedX Boulder

Slideshare is an interesting site in that it allows people to post slide decks that they believe other people would be interested in viewing.  Some slide decks are aimed at marketing someone’s services and, to be honest, these are kind of boring.  A good slide deck talks about a topic, gives you important information about a topic and, as a side effect, makes you want to learn more about the topic from the presenter.

You don’t overtly advertise your services, rather you present a compelling reason for people to want to talk to you.

There was a blog posting at SlideShare that talked about “Why You Need to be Boring”.  Yes, time to use an inflammatory word (“boring”) instead of using the more relevant word (“predictable”) because the inflammatory word is more likely to bring in readers.  And, to be honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the reasoning behind why people need to be predictable so I came up with my own, some of which overlap the original presentation!

What do you need to become a great presenter/author/person?

Know when to say “no”.  To be good at something you need to spend time doing it.  How can you spend time doing it when you are constantly doing everything else?  And this isn’t just the big things, like not doing Project Xenophobe or not doing that Triathlon training, it also means not doing the little things like surfing for the latest Amiibo toy for your kids or looking at funny cat videos for the third time.  It may mean “No Meetings Wednesday” every Wednesday.  Your time is being spent.  Take it back.

Live your passion.  Most people who are good presenters are passionate about what they are presenting.  People who are wallflowers at a dance can blossom on a stage if they are engaged in what they are talking about.  TEDTalks are a great example of some of this dichotomy.  People who are introverts are engaging the audience in something that they are passionate about and it shows.

Practice.  You may or not believe in the 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell talked about in his book Outliers.  (Many people don’t.)  You may believe that to be truly exceptional you need a “gift”.  Or perhaps, as Kristen Fischer proposes in “When Talent Isn’t Enough”, talent can only get you so far.  Daniel Coyle proposes in “The Talent Code”, that there needs to be an ignition point: something needs to make you want to be better/the best.  Something needs to ignite your passion.  It doesn’t really matter in the long run if you don’t practice.

So, in essence, give yourself the time to practice what you are passionate about.  Live it, breath it and make it your own.

Expectations: Internal vs. External


Copyright Yuvi Panda (Creative Commons)

Expectations are a part of everyday life.  We have expectations of ourselves and expectations of others and these expectations impact how we feel about ourselves and others around us.  But at some point those expectations aren’t met and how we deal with that is fundamental to our mental stability.

External expectations, where you are expecting others to behave in a certain way or do certain things, affect how you perceive those individuals.  If they meet your expectations their reliability, their “status”, in your mind is improved.  How much it improves is based upon your past experiences with them, the effort involved in meeting the expectation, the time of day, what colour clothes they are wearing and, literally, thousands of other factors.  Granted some (effort) have a greater impact on the score they receive than other (colour of clothes) factors, but they all have some bearing.

Internal expectations, however, are a much different creature.  Your expectations of yourself may not even be something that you are aware of at the beginning.  Have you ever done something that you thought was simple, say a jigsaw or crossword puzzle, only to feel disappointed when it took you a long time to finish it, if you finished it?  You didn’t start the task with an expectation of “five minutes of less”, but by the time you finished you feel let down or dejected that it took you longer than expected or that it was harder than expected.

We all have these expectations of ourselves.  For virtually every task we do.  Our mind says “this will take xx minutes” or “this will be simple” and when we don’t meet those internal expectations we feel let down.  By missing our own internally set expectations we increase the amount of stress that we place on ourselves.  Increasing stress, in the case of many people, does not help us meet our expectations.  Rather increasing stress decreases our ability to properly process information and perform tasks meaning that the more stress we are under the less likely we are to meet our own internal expectations.

Welcome to the self perpetuating cycle of missed expectations.

It takes a very conscious effort to learn from missed expectations and to avoid having them adversely affect our performance.  Please note that this does not mean that we ignore the fact that we missed our own expectations, but that we learn from the missed expectation.  Learning is the key.  After all, Winston Churchill once said:

Never let a good crisis go to waste.

In my variation we have:

Never let a good crisis stop you from learning about yourself.

Every time you miss meeting an expectation, particularly one that you have given yourself, sit back for a moment and try to figure out why you missed it?  Was the bar set too high?  Did you not have enough information?  Did you jump in without thinking about it?  Whatever the reason, keep it in mind the next time you need to do something and see whether or not you can apply the lesson that you learned to your new task.  You might be surprised to find that the majority of time you miss expectations is because of one or two things.  Fix them and you will more likely meet expectations in the future.

Subscription or Purchase?

Copyright epSos .de (Creative Commons)

Software vendors want you to subscribe to their software rather than buy it.  It’s purely a money grab on their part, but is it a good deal on your part?

Adobe was the first large company to switch from a purchase orientation to a rental orientation.  (OK, people can argue that Oracle switched before that and IBM has always been that way, but that’s not the point of this rant, so hang on to those thoughts.  Thank you.)

Adobe did some research on the topic before they entered the rental market and what their research told them was that people did not always upgrade their Adobe products in a timely manner.  Indeed, most people skipped at least one version and many skipped two versions before upgrading.  With releases every two years that meant that Adobe would see money from a customer in one year and then not again until four or even six years later.  If you depend on people giving you money then model kind of sucks.

Enter in the Adobe Creative Cloud.  Instead of paying $2500 for a suite of Adobe tools you can pay $30 per month (existing customers) and get the entire Adobe lineup.  $20 a month gets you a single app whereas you would normally pay $700 for Photoshop.  So who benefits?

Well, Adobe gets a more consistent income.  They can come out with versions faster, incrementally improving the product instead of trying the big bang approach.

Users have a much smaller price tag to pay all at once.  While it is cheaper in the short term it works out to be more expensive in the long term.  The more Adobe tools you use, however, the more advantageous it is for you so that if you are an Adobe fan boy … it is most definitely cheaper.

And, let’s not forget, if you start using more tools and become an Adobe evangelist then more people will take a look at Adobe (wow, look at that low price of entry!) and perhaps get a subscription themselves.  I have to admire Adobe as I believe with their current plans they have hit the right price point with the market.

So, who else is doing this?  Darn near everyone wants the rental market.  Software as a service is the rental market, but many of these companies never really sold their software in the first place, so they don’t have the same marketing power and customer base to capitalize on.  Of the big players many have realized that a little bit of money from a lot of people is the key to success.  Microsoft’s Visual Studio online is an example of a change from Microsoft.  For $45 per month you can get Visual Studio Online Professional, essentially the Professional version of the VS toolset with TFS in the backend, or you can pay $667 to buy it outright.  If you only need it for a couple of months, you rent the tools.  Microsoft is willing to bet that you will want to stick with the tools once you try them.

The ability to add/remove subscription licenses makes things much more flexible for an organization that fluctuates in size or fluctuates in technology use.  And, while it makes some things easier, that ease of use does come with a cost.

So, is it better to subscribe or buy?  For me personally, it all depends on how mad my wife would be if I bought it versus rented it.  (By the way, Adobe has an excellent Education program.  Thank goodness my daughter is going to be in school for at least another five years!!!!)

I feel sorry for the younger people

Lunar footprint

First boot imprint on the moon


I had this really bizarre thought the other day that kind of threw me for a bit of a loop.  There are billions of people alive today who were not alive the last time mankind was on the moon.  If you were born after 22:55 on December 14, 1972, you were not alive when man walked on the moon.

Just think about that for a minute.

Man landing on the moon was a big event for many of us.  (I’m actually old enough to remember seeing the black and white pictures on our television when it happened.  The whole family was gathered round the tv to watch.)  Indeed, in some respects landing on the moon is one of the crowning achievements of mankind – walking on the surface of a celestial body other than the Earth.  You would have thought that this would have been the start of a glorious expansion of mankind into the cosmos.

It wasn’t.

Indeed, since that event mankind has not left what is called “low earth orbit”, less than 2000 kilometers above the surface of the Earth.  Compare this to the 384,000 kilometers to the moon.  Our children don’t know the thrill of a lunar landing event.  They haven’t had to hold their breath waiting for word to be relayed that the crew is OK.

For three and a half years we were a spacefaring race.  Now we fight each other over the smallest of things.  We used to have the stars at our fingers.  Now we have blood on our hands.

What happened to mankind?  Why did we change and was the change for the better?

Why does my phone run out of power?

Low battery

Copyright Tom Raftery (Creative Commons)

One of the most common complaints from people is why their <insert electronic device here> runs out of power so fast.  If we are building faster computers, higher density displays, better 3G/4G/LTE devices, why can’t my battery last longer?

For comparison purposes, let’s take a look at the battery on an Apple iPhone.  When the iPhone was originally introduced it packed 1400 mAh of power into it’s little case.  The iPhone 6 has 1810 mAh of power.  The power increase isn’t that large, considering that there are six years between models, but the most notable thing is what that power has to do.

The biggest consumer of power is probably going to be the screen.  The touchscreen on an iPhone has gone from 320×480 pixels (153,600 pixels or 460,800 subpixels) to 1334×750 (1,000,500 pixels or 3,001,500 subpixels).  There are over six times the number of pixels that need to be powered and yet Apple has managed to increase the battery life of the iPhone.  Originally introduced with “8 hours of talking” it has gone up to “14 hours of talking”.

The processor on the iPhone has gone from a single Samsung RISC chip running at 620MHz to phone with a dual core ARM 1.4GHz and a quad core GPU.  Six processors in the phone.

So, the number of processors has gone up by a factor of six.  The number of pixels on the screen has gone up by a factor of six.  Power density of the battery?  It has gone up 80%.  Yup, it hasn’t even doubled while everything else on the iPhone has gone up by a factor of six.

It appears that the biggest problem is the fact that power is stored and released through a series of chemical reactions.  While we have optimized our use of the existing king of chemical reactions (Lithium-ion) we need to step beyond Li-ion to find our successor.  Li-imide technology, which can use silicon anodes instead of graphite anodes, looks like a good contender for an evolutionary step as it greatly increases capacity and decreases recharge time.  (As an aside, did you know that Li-ion cells, when exposed to heat, decompose into hydroflouric acid?  Never store Li-ion batteries in the oven.)

So, while we may be able to charge cell phones from 5 meters away until we change the battery from Li-ion to something else – Li-imide? – we are limited in how long we can use our smartphones before we need to recharge.

Vulnerability and the human connection

Brene Brown - The Power of Vulnerability

Brene Brown at TEDxHouston

I recently watched a TEDTalk with Brene Brown called “The Power of Vulnerability” and some of the things that she was talking about I could really empathize with.

Her research was originally focused around the human connection – what is it that allows us to empathize with each other?  What is it that allows us to feel that we belong?  After a lot of research she came up with four items:  courage, compassion, connection and vulnerability.  After much internal struggle she came up with the conclusion that:

“… vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness but it appears that it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, and love…”

What is it about vulnerability that makes it the core of so many things?  Vulnerability is part of authenticity, giving up what you think people are expecting of you and just being who you are.  People keep describing people/companies that they look up to as being “authentic” or “genuine”.  People are describing other people who are being vulnerable, people who are willing to show the world their true selves, warts and all, and accept what other people think.

One of the problems of vulnerability is that it can hurt.  When you expose your true self and you are rejected, it is a deep wound that it leaves in our psyche.  Many people can’t handle that sort of psychological pain so what they do is try to numb that emotion.  They numb it through alcohol, food and drugs.  It just so happens that we are also the most addicted, overweight generation on the planet.  Is there a connection?  We also convert uncertainty (fear) into certainty by moving to extremes – I’m right and you’re wrong – with no possibility of change.

For parents who want to bring up children who are more compassionate, more courageous and have a deeper connection with others emphasizing and embracing vulnerability is key.

Our job is to look and say “you know what”?  You’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.

Whether or not you believe her representation of vulnerability as key to the success of the human race, you do have to agree that, as parents, our job is love our children.  And, in many respects, simply loving them for who they are gives them the opportunity to experience the human connection in all it’s glory.  Show your children that vulnerability is a good thing.

Creativity in little pieces

Solving jigsaw puzzle

Copyright Yoel Ben-Avraham (Creative Commons)

There is the false assumption that creativity occurs in big waves.  One minute everything is normal and the next minute there is a tsunami of creativity and life changes so fast that the pants you put on in the morning go out of style by noon.

Things don’t happen that way.

Granted, there are sometimes huge changes that overtake us, but they are usually the result of tens, hundreds, thousands of other changes that, combined together, create that tsunami.  I was reading an article from an author recently who talked about how it had taken him “eight years to become an overnight success”.

You’ve seen those buckets that when filled with a certain amount of water tip over and unleash their contents?  Like this one?  Change, as a result of creative influences, is kind of like that.  Each change adds some water to the bucket, but somewhere, sometime, there is a change that makes the bucket tip over and flood everyone.

Creativity does not need to be a big event for it to have a big impact.  Small events can lead up to a big change.  For instance, on a personal note I thought that I would create “A Writing Prompt A Day” for the entire year.  Essentially the first paragraph of a short story / flash fiction / novel.  The writing prompt needed to provide enough information that someone could take it and create a complete story around that introduction.

Approximately 100 – 120 words of creativity for 365 days.  It’s not a lot, but it is forcing me to be creative.  It is forcing me to come up with different things on a day to day basis.  It is allowing me to grow a little bit each day.  Just like adding water to the bucket.  And when that bucket overflows?  Either movie deals or a wet head, not sure which.

Challenge yourself to be creative.  Challenge yourself to do something that stretches your mind for just a couple of minutes, but do it often.  Do it for a long period of time and see what changes occur for you.