Weekly Download 15.9

download-150965_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

12 Essential Life Tips That Are Counterintuitive But True is quite thought provoking. Also watch the embedded video on mirror neurons and the soft wiring of mammalian brains (or access directly on YouTube at RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilisation).

I heard author/trainer Cy Wakeman speak a few years ago in Milwaukee. She is a good presenter and a solid realist, but has a unique view on work/life challenges. See Guilty of Self-Sabotage? Find Your ‘Happy’ Again By Ditching the Drama and Spreading the Love.

The Brain’s Fast Mode hit home. What a concept: separating the type of work you’re doing to fit your state of mind! I try to reserve early morning for Slow Mode items that require my mind to be free from distraction or creative tasks, like writing. The rest of the day quickly kicks into Fast Mode.

Unplugged: A Different Pace


Photo by Mark Baker

One doesn’t need to venture far from Madison to escape the self-created, always plugged in, move to the next scheduled activity, and “What else do I need to get done today?” world. In less than 40 miles, you slip from LTE to 4G to Edge service (and frequently NO service).  Perhaps not everyone sees Edge service as a bad thing.

The weekend before last, we escaped to the Little Sugar River Farm in Albany for our second visit this year. This time, I traveled there by bike. What a great transition from the hustle bustle of daily life to a serene getaway – 2.5 hours of solitude. The ride was glorious (see picture). The weather, scenery, and nature along the way—birds, smells of spring, scurrying rabbits, squirrels, and turkeys—reconnected my senses to the natural world.

A stop in Monticello brought back connections to times past. A grandmother and her granddaughter were selling VFW “Buddy” Poppies. The granddaughter was delighted to be the “Poppy Princess,” which she enthusiastically explained as, “You sell poppies, ride in the parade, and get your picture in the paper.” It was a pleasure to donate my two dollars.

Owner Frank Goodman met my arrival at the farm with a wave from the seat of his International Harvester tractor/mower. He was tending to what referred to as his “prairie restoration in progress” just inside the gate. The weekend was off to a good start.

While the weather wasn’t great, the skies did clear for a bit of biking. Unfortunately, the Sugar River State Trail was soft due to the recent rain and not conducive to skinny bike tires like it is when dry and more heavily traveled. Instead, we went off to New Glarus for a short local ride.

An expected highlight was the lunch we had at Cow & Quince in New Glarus. The food was exceptional, a true farm-to-table experience that included local asparagus, morel mushrooms, pork, gouda, and more. They are raising funds from local backers with a Kickstarter-style “Community Supported Restaurant” campaign. Good stuff—this Isthmus review captures it well.

Along the way to and from, we saw boys fishing in a creek, children biking to downtown Monticello, and a local bike rodeo event in New Glarus, as well as much local farming activity. The weekend connected me back to some of the simpler things in life I so enjoy.

When Monday dawned, it was back to my busy, plugged-in, LTE network world.

Weekly Download 15.8

download-150965_640To avoid looking like the old guy with Ray Ban aviators trying to look cool, check out how teens currently view the various social media tools. Written by an actual teen.

Iphone Killer: the Secret History of the Apple Watch is an interesting chronicle of the watch’s development.

In The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, author/neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains how our brains are overloaded by the data in our lives today, and how we try to cope and compensate. Learn more by reading the Wall Street Journal’s review. I found it interesting, given the topic, that Levitin himself had a hard time being succinct—the book runs 496 pages. Perhaps his brain was overloaded.

The Long Tail

“The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson was originally an article published in Wired in 2004 that later became a book. Read a synopsis of “The Long Tail” theory here.

Listening to NPR in the car on the way to work last week, I heard three stories that reminded me of the subject line above.

Story 1: The Muppets Return to ABC’s fall prime time schedule

dolls-373469_640The Muppets were created in 1955 and became popular after they joined the Sesame Street cast in its 1969 debut season. Later, they had The Muppet Show (which aired from 1976-1981), a dozen or so movies, and a second TV show. This latest iteration is toured as an adult version. Hmm…I’m not so sure this will work. Who will watch it and why? If they are targeting boomers who fall asleep early like me, perhaps it’s a good thing that it is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. Central.

Story 2: Vinyl records are cool again

Vinyl sales were virtually extinct in 2005, with less than a million copies sold. In 2014, the category had rebounded to achieve over nine million copies. This still pales in comparison to historical vinyl sales. Heavyweights such as Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the Eagles Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975,) Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 & 2, Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, and AC/DC’s Back in Black have each surpassed more than 20 million copies sold. If vinyl continues its resurgence, can the return of the BMG Music Club be far behind?

Story 3: Verizon buys AOL

AOL today is not your parent’s AOL of the past. Hip and trendy resources such as TechCrunch, engagedet, and The Huffington Post are all owned by AOL. With Verizon’s takeover of AOL, we’ll see an unprecedented marriage of media and technology. Shingy approves.

Clearly, our current internet/web/mobile connected world provides a low-cost distribution network that can generate and push out a lot of content. This creates boundless opportunities at the long tail. Playing on nostalgia with the baby boomer generation is one strategy that seems to be paying off. What is old is new again…but perhaps on a smaller scale.

The Evolution of Personal Technology

I have always tried to be organized in both my professional and personal life, and have employed many technology devices to support these efforts. I can recall using versions of the Time System planners and Franklin Day Planners early in my career. Going further back, I think I even had a modular address book that I received for high school graduation.

Later, the Outlook-centric work desktop became a corporate standard, with contacts, calendars, and email all in one place. Initially calendars weren’t shared, but it was commonplace to print them out on a weekly basis. Gradually, things migrated to all electronic, all of the time.

Then came the ubiquitous Palm Pilot and other competing personal digital assistants. They synced with the Outlook platform so you could have a current, portable download. They were clunky compared to today’s standards, but were convenient and considered advanced at the time. You were cool in the business world if you were sporting a Palm Pilot.

The next generation was the smartphone. I recall my wife (an extremely dedicated Palm Pilot user) asking, “Why would you ever want your calendar in your phone?” This form factor brought numerous features together. Perhaps the two most important initially were being always synced and having the ability to communicate via email from a small device. I hear there are still some dedicated Blackberry users out there who have not been able to tear themselves away from a physical keyboard, but their ranks are dwindling (from 85 million worldwide in September 2013 to 46 million in September 2014). By comparison, Android has over 1 billion worldwide users. As smartphones continue to add apps and additional functionality, their potential seems unlimited.

watch-756487_640Now, into the marketplace comes the connected watch. Recently, our household gained its first Apple Watch (I’m assuming it won’t be the last). However, it’s not mine – it’s my wife’s. Yes, Donna, the person who couldn’t see the need for her calendar in her phone, has a computer on her wrist. It’s a new category for sure. Fitness tracking, notifications, easy-view messages, weather, and more, both yet-to-be-discovered and yet-to-be-developed.

Today, personal technology devices have allowed our personal and professional lives to become seamless. With data coming in and going out continuously, communication is rich, frequent, and sometimes overwhelming. While I certainly appreciate and take advantage of all of the technology at my disposal, sometimes I get nostalgic for simpler times. Sometimes there is no substitute for paper and pen. Excuse me while I go look in my archives for my Time System.

Emotional Intelligence

mind-544404_640I’ve touched on the subject of emotional intelligence a couple of times in this blog (here and here), but it’s such a fascinating topic that it bears addition discussion. Why You Need Emotional Intelligence to Succeed includes excellent graphics that capture the highlights. A large part of being effective has to do with what you see in yourself and in interactions with others. If we believe this, how do we incorporate it into our daily and weekly practices?

We are so busy and constantly wired in, filling every little bit of time with interactions on our mobile devices, that sometimes person-to-person connections get the short shrift. Recently I did an experiment to test how invested I am in the relationship with my cell phone. I challenge you to do the same.

  1. Set the timer on your phone for 30 minutes.
  2. Do not touch your phone until the timer goes off.

What happened? Did you feel anxious (as I did) to not be in possession of your phone for more than a few minutes?

I love the productivity and convenience of mobile devices, and they are crucial to my work. However, I also think there is a balance. To be truly effective, we also need to be self-aware and socially aware. We need to make space (time and place) in our lives to think and to engage with others and the world around us. Let’s regain the ability to be away from our devices and not experience withdrawal symptoms. I’m working on it!

A Case for the iPad

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a very specific view of the world. However, it is also a relevant one.

FullSizeRenderLast week I upgraded my mother to her third iPad, a hand-me-down iPad 4 to replace her much-used iPad 2. It was an incredibly smooth process: install current OS, restore backup from the cloud, and verify each application and password. It took roughly one hour beginning to end, with most of the time spent verifying passwords to avoid post-conversion support.

Noticeably, her fairly new Windows 7 computer had not been turned on in quite some time. There were security updates, Windows updates, and a virus scan pending. Mom asked me, “Do I still need that computer”? Good question. My answer was an equivocal, “Well, not really, but it’s not really hurting anything either.”

Upon further reflection, here’s my takeaway for someone like my mom. An iPad is more than sufficient for communication and light email. Updates are done with simple push of a button. New applications are acquired easily (and mostly for free). The most significant adjustment for a new user is the transition from the primary interface being a browser to using a multitude of applications. Hardware replacement is easy, and doesn’t involve a convulsive change. Remember Windows XP to Windows 7? This OS change drove massive hardware replacements, peripheral changes, and application suite changes. Agreeably, this may not be a fair comparison, but it makes the point.

At the end of the day, this iPad upgrade was enjoyable and left Mom with a big smile. What a different experience a few years (and change in platform) makes.

Interesting: notice the change in curve in the history of the person computer market graph over time. Windows 7 was released July 2009 and the Windows 7 SP1 in March 2010.