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What apps make you better?

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-29 18:16

I’ve been very intentional about which applications I put on my iPhone and even where I put them. I don’t put any social media applications on my phone, and don’t put news applications on it either. I specifically seek out applications that have addictive patterns baked into them and remove them as well.

A while back I started keeping an entire page of applications that are all there to help me achieve my goals and improve as a person. Novel idea huh? This is what that screen looks like today.

Apps To Make You Better

YouAte

Keeping a food journal is a great way to eat better and YouAte does it all with photos. I had used Rise for a while which you typically use with a coach. YouAte can be used with friends for support or you can use it solo.

Day One

Journaling is a great way to reflect on things. This is by far my farvorite journaling application. It supports multiple journals and also has strong encryption.

stickK

When my book club read Nudge it referenced the work and theory behind commitments that has now been built into an offering called stickK. I haven’t used this for a commitment yet but I like the mechanics and think it’s a solid approach.

Happy Scale

This is a great application for logging and analysing your weight data. It applies smoothing to all of your data which I think is a far superior way to look at weight data.

Headspace

Meditation app with a tremdendous amount of options.

Streaks

Streaks is a habit tracker. I consider habit trackers to be very different from task management. Habit trackers tend to focus on streaks, and Streak does just that. I’ve also used Productive in the past and like it a lot. The built-in HealthKit hooks in Streak are a nice benefit to me.

Zones

Zones is a fabulous app for tracking the intensity of your workouts and letting you know what heart rate zone you were in for how long. If you have an Apple Watch and collect this data Zones can even tell you info on historical workouts.

SleepTown

Fun app that helps you keep consistent sleep patterns. This app helps me make sure I’m not staring at my phone too late.

Forest

Fun app for forcing yourself to not use your phone during the day. Great for keeping yourself from habitually checking your device.

Health Mate & Omron Wellness

Both of these are here because they support devices I have. The Health Mate app connects my Withings Scale to HealthKit so data flows automatically. The Omron Wellness app connects my blood pressure monitor to HealthKit as well. I like having as much automation as possible from measurements to storage.

What is yours?

What apps are on your mobile device to encourage good things? I’d highly recommend putting them in one place and making it a regular stop on your phone.


Removed Google Analytics

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 02:45

I’ve never desired to put a lot of tracking code on my websites, but I had left Google Analytics. I’ve decided to remove that too. In fact, I’ve removed all third party resources. You can check for yourself by using Ghostery and going to my sites.

Ghostery with No Trackers

While I found the information on what you all read and look at interesting, there are three primary reasons I’ve done this.

Analytics as Addiction

I believe there is a clear trend to use analytics as an addicting feature. How many views, likes or comments something receives is a psychologically affirming tool that services use to addict us to them. Is there any social media platform that doesn’t use these feedback loops to encourage you to spend even more time using them?

If your goal is to addict a user then, by all means, use every means possible to create feedback loops. If your goal is to drive attention and engagement on content, then show writers analytics so they can optimize that. I don’t have these goals for my sites, so I don’t need it. I’m needlessly toying with an addictive substance that I don’t need.

Residential Zone

I’m a firm believer that we need a concept of zoning on the web. When I’m in someone’s house, I have a different expectation of privacy than when I’m in a shopping mall. When I’m in a park, I have different expectations of safety and freedom than when I’m in an industrial facility. We should be able to cue our expectations around privacy and freedoms off of our surroundings. On the web this is confusing. Facebook is a shopping mall, but it pretends not to be.

Visiting my websites should be closer to visiting me, personally. If you are having dinner at my house and comment on my espresso machine, I don’t send a note to a tracking service to let them know you might be interested in buying a coffee machine. I don’t think that should happen on my website either.

Don’t be a Hypocrite

I run 1Blocker and Ghostery in my browsers to protect my privacy. In those tools, I block hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of 3rd party services and scripts. I think you should do the same. It is hypocritical for me to embed a tracking service on my sites, that I block on other people websites, and encourage people to block themselves.


AWS re:Invent 2017 Keynote Notes

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-02 00:50

My quick reaction to the notable announcements at AWS re:Invent 2017.

Compute

Databases

  • Amazon Aurora Serverless - What is a Serverless database? I’m not sure I know, but the idea of a database that has no cost other than storage when it’s idle is pretty amazing for certain workloads. Sadly this is only available for MySQL at the moment, but they promise PostgreSQL coming soon.
  • S3 Select and Glacier Select: Retrieving Subsets of Objects - Wow, this is pretty cool. Take a bunch of data and dump it into an S3 bucket and then execute SQL-like select commands against that data. This enables some very interesting capabilities.
  • Amazon Neptune: A Fully Managed Graph Database Service - Graph databases are a bear to pick, use and run. AWS offering a cloud hosted graph database will hopefully address all of these issues. There are a large number of use cases where graph databases make a lot of sense but so many people have been burned by them that they tend to solve a graph problem using a document or relational database. It’s cool to see that this supports RDF and SPARQL, core concepts of the Semantic Web. It also supports TinkerPop3 (really? can we get better names?).

Machine Learning

Other


Envisioning a Cloud Native Wiki

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-26 22:37

A few years ago I dove deeply into the wiki ecosystem and learned all about MediaWiki, it’s plugins and various extensions. I started a wiki to index all of the other wiki’s called WikiApiary. The wiki movement was huge, and it still has a tremendous amount of energy and incredibly devoted users. Wikipedia, in my opinion, is one of the most amazing creations of the Internet.

However, the wiki movement has hit the skids lately. There was a significant rush of wiki hosting platforms early on, and those mostly didn’t work. Wikia is perhaps an exception however it’s driven itself into the hole of fandom in a big way. Sadly many wiki platforms continue to sit on top of ugly PHP code and MySQL databases, with old codebases and arcane syntax.

In recent years email newsletters have seen a resurgence. I’d like to see wikis make a similar revival but for that to happen, we need to have some new energy in the wiki ecosystem. We need a cloud-native wiki solution. What would that look like?

Cloud Native Wiki

First thing first wikis should enable communities of any size, so the cost of running a wiki needs to be as cheap as possible. A serverless approach seems to make the most sense. If nobody is using the wiki the cost of running it should be no more than the storage, and that can be very cost effective.

  • Store all wiki pages and objects in S3. Store the objects in an editable format, something like Markdown, but also store it as HTML as well so it can be served directly out of S3. Think of how static site generators work.
  • The wiki itself should live in Lambda functions exposed through API Gateway. All editing and modifying of objects in the S3 bucket should be done via this method.
  • The wiki should be self-managed by a central source to update it. Wiki’s have a history of being poorly maintained. You should be able to create an IAM credential and give the ability for the Lambda functions and infrastructure of the wiki to be updated automatically.

Let Millions of Wikis Flourish

Ideally, someone should be able to start a wiki by creating an AWS account and then creating the IAM account for provisioning and updating. That account should then do all the initial setup as well as updating over time.

The content would be held in Markdown files in S3, as well as rendered HTML. This content would be easily mirrored off of S3 so it could be taken somewhere else. If the Lambda functions were all removed, the wiki should still run in static mode with no editing.

If we had this kind of capability, perhaps we could see wikis reenter the landscape for all the good that they can provide.


Deer Strike

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-21 00:44

On Friday night we were driving to the cabin, and in a split second, a deer 🦌 was in front of our Honda Pilot as we hit it at 45 mph. We had driven down to have dinner at Smoqehouse and were on highway 60 heading east, just a mile or so past I-35 right by the Dairy Queen there. Tammy was driving and just as the speed limit was going up to highway speed. Everyone is okay, and happily, the airbags didn’t go off.

Tammy slammed on the brakes, and the deer flew forward. It rolled and slid into the ditch about 20 feet and immediately leapt up and ran off when it stopped. Its legs were okay, and I’m hopeful that it either miraculously survived or didn’t suffer badly.

The car took a decent amount of damage but remained drivable. The radiator got banged up, and many parts of the front were damaged. All fixable but will be some expensive bodywork.

Honda Damage after Deer Strike


Driving Change

Permalink - Posted on 2017-07-26 11:43

The newest episode of Driving Change with Jeff Martin of Collective Genius is out with yours truly!

You may also like the episodes with Bala Subramanian, Loren Brown, Nate Ober and Lisa Schlosser.


Assembling the Weekly Thing

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-24 02:38

I had been interested in creating a newsletter like the Weekly Thing for a while but I was worried it would be difficult to do and quickly turn into a chore. I wasn’t worried about the email part, I knew a service like TinyLetter could deal with that. The daunting part was getting the content structured the right way, even when I the bits of the content were mostly in other systems already.

I knew the main item I wanted to build it around were links to other sites that I use Pinboard to collect. But how to make that easy?

Workflow to the Rescue

As I thought about this I tried a number of options. I tried making an Automator workflow but that was weird, and even worse it meant I had to be on a Mac and I knew I would want to send this when I wasn’t near a computer. I started to look at Workflow and realized it might do the trick.

Workflow has a great feature to retrieve published metadata, such as description and date, from a URL (Get Article from Web Page). Sometimes when I stored URL’s I didn’t write a description so that would be nice. I pulled the data using Pinboard’s RSS feed, put it in a loop getting a variety of data and assembling the draft content as I watched. Voila! 👏

The entire process that I use to create Weekly Thing is based on RSS (mostly) and tied together with Workflow on iOS. I have a collection of workflows that I run, with one master workflow that kicks everything off. The master workflow is responsible for ordering the sections and setting the cutoff date for content, which in my case is midnight of the relevant Saturday. The master workflow spawns the other workflows for each content section, passing into it the cutoff date for content.

Each workflow is then free to do whatever it wants as long as it returns a valid block of HTML back to the main workflow. I can chain as many of these modules together in whatever way I wish. Some of them don’t use RSS, like the photograph one. That prompts me to look at my photos and pick one, then fills in all the appropriate template text for me to finish off.

At the end the workflow combines all these blocks of HTML into one fully assembled newsletter and gives me the option to copy it, share it, generate a PDF or anything else I wish. I’m very happy with this. From here I put it in TinyLetter, do a final review and hit send!

Extensions

Since this is extensible, I can easily add new modules by creating another workflow that is then stitched into the assembly process. And because I’m using Workflow in iOS, I can access a wide variety of data from different systems. RSS is a basic one that many services support, but Workflow can look at my Calendar, Address Book and many others. I’ve thought about weird things like calendar statistics for example. Or if I really wanted to overshare I could pull in recent data from the Health app.

I’ve found that it’s easiest to understand Workflow when you see what other people do with it. Perhaps this will turn some lightbulbs on for others on how they could automate use Workflow effectively!


Introducing the Weekly Thing

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-17 04:00

A while back I tried a way of sharing links to things that I found interesting every week. I did it by making a link blog post and then sharing links to that blog post. I got more positive feedback on those posts than I expected. People really liked them and found value in what I was highlighting.

But I didn’t like the link posts cluttering up my blog. They felt different and I eventually decided to stop doing the posts mostly because I was frustrated with how my website was coming along.

Email Newsletters

I enjoy a number of weekly newsletters. I subscribe to MacStories for the members only Club MacStories newsletter. Patrick Rhone’s One More Thing is a very well written personal newsletter and a treat whenever it comes. Sitting down with an espresso and my iPad to casually read through weekly newsletters is a treat on the weekend.

Email newsletters are ‘old school’. There is something about the medium that feels more personal and more conversational than others. I wanted to try this out, and realized that those old link posts were the right foundation to build upon.

Next I wanted to see how hard this would be. I quickly looked into TinyLetter and realized it would be pretty easy. I like that TinyLetter exists as a way for personal email newsletters. It’s very easy to use.

Weekly Thing

With the basis of my links I decided to put together a newsletter. I went with the somewhat goofy name of the Weekly Thing playing off my last name. Total aside, but I used to own the domain thing.org in the mid 90’s. I was at the U of MN at the time and I got an email from The Thing, a museum in Germany, asking if they could have the domain. I transferred it to them, seemed the right thing to do. My future as a domain squatter was determined at that time.

I’ve been quietly publishing the Weekly Thing for a few weeks now to an invited group of friends. I’ve been testing out my automation and the structure. I’m very pleased with how it’s working and this week put the [subscribe] page live and started sharing it. My first goal is to get to 100 subscribers and continue to flesh out the content. I hope you all enjoy it!

Go to the Weekly Thing to subscribe!


OmniFocus Tip: Using Context Notifications

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-09 12:04

I use OmniFocus as the core of my GTD system. I also keep notifications on my phone to a minimum, including for OmniFocus. OmniFocus on iOS has the ability to give you a notification when you enter or leave a context with a location. This is pretty handy and I’ve used it for some specific locations associated with my Errands context. Errands : Hardware store gives me a nudge if I am nearby and have tasks available. I’ve never used this feature with Home and Office contexts because it would be very noisy.

There are times however when I would like OmniFocus to be in my face at home or at the office. I may have a task in OmniFocus that I need to do when I get to work on Monday morning, or when I come home on Friday evening and a notification would help. I realized there is a really simple solution to this.

I have a Office context, and inside that context I created a Office with notification context. The context with notification has a location and notification with it.

Now I can easily put a very small number of tasks in the Office : Office with notificaiton context and know I will be notified when they are avialable. I’ve created a similar context for Home with notificaiton. This has already allowed me to not forget a couple of time sensitive things.


Thinking in Decades

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-06 02:35

This week I worked with Yahoo! customer support and deleted my Flickr account. I had deleted my Yahoo! account a couple of months ago when they had their second massive security notice of compromised accounts. When I got a notice letting me know that the Privacy Policy for Flickr was changing in association with the sale to Verizon I wanted to delete my account. I have no interest in Verizon hosting my photos, and frankly I don’t use Flickr anymore.

That was when I realized I had no way to access my Flickr account since the Yahoo! account was used to connect to it. I was happy thought that Yahoo! customer support was quick and made this easy to get done.

My Flickr account is no more now. I created that account probably a decade ago. Long before it ever became part of Yahoo!, back when Flickr was amazing and cool. Looking back this is a good reminder of how long our content lives online. Yet another example of how companies come and go and services come and go. To all of you using Facebook to keep family photos and pictures of your kids, think about this. This is why I feel so strongly about owning my content. It really isn’t that hard.


Turing Tumble on Kickstarter

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-30 12:06

My mother sent me a link to Turing Tumble on Kickstarter and the video totally got me. It is a super cool concept and a great way to explore the fundamental concepts of computing. The bits that can be flipped and other various objects are really neat.

I backed this and am looking forward (and hoping!) for the November delivery. This will be a great present for the kids (and me!) for Christmas.

The results of the Kickstarter are impressive. It has been live for less than 1 day and it’s very close to hitting it’s goal!


Speaker Suggestions

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-27 02:35

Through my work and being an active member in the technology community, I have a chance to see a lot of people present. Some of these are formal presentations with slides and ceremony, many of them are demos. As a result, I get a lot of chances to see people lead an audience through a topic.

Here are some things I see speakers do that I would recommend never to do.

“Utilized”

I challenge if there is any place where utilized is a necessary word. In conversation, we may talk about how we use something, and if discussing systems, it’s common to discuss the utilization of something. But utilized? The most common place to see this word is on a resume. I tend to find this word starts coming out when people feel a need to formalize or make a topic bigger than it is. Speakers often talk about how teams utilized something to their benefit. You just used it.

Also, apply the above to leveraged. Keep your vocabulary simple and conversational.

This is worth the time

Sometimes speakers will start out by saying we’ll “get through it quick.” Maybe a reference to “I’m the only thing between you and happy hour.” The assumption is this is humor, but it immediately frames your listener to start thinking about the next thing, instead of you. Either your content is worth the time or not, whether it is before lunch or happy hour shouldn’t impact that.

Related to this is an even worse pattern of “I’ll try not to bore you too much.” Self-deprecation is a common thing from speakers, but I really can’t think of a worse way to start your presentation.

Don’t steal your thunder

An anti-pattern I see very often is a presenter giving a demo but before the demo showing a slide that has bullets for all the things they are going to demo. It’s immensely more powerful to show the demo! There are a handful of capabilities that you want to highlight, but don’t highlight those in a static bullet list beforehand. Your audience wants to see it working, and you’re stealing your thunder by highlighting the capability before people see it!

Imagine if before unveiling the iPhone Steve Jobs would have shown pictures of it in slides, highlighted all the key features and capabilities, all in slides. And then after you’ve seen all that, showing you the demo. You can’t imagine it because it wouldn’t happen. Show the product, hit your key value points afterward when the audience has taken in the awesome stuff you have created. Those are the items you want them to leave with, and they will care more about them after they see it working.

I believe there is a corollary to this. The more “slideware” and bullet lists that precede showing working software — the worse the working software is. The slides and bullets are compensating for a poor solution.


Using Project Templates

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-20 01:31

I’ve seen and read about people using project templates for a while, but I’ve never adopted them myself until recently. Mostly I found many of the means of managing project templates to be bothersome and I never dug into it further. That has changed recently, and I think many systems now support robust ways of importing projects and using them as templates.

What is a Project Template?

A project template is a set of actions and tasks that can be brought into your task management application. It’s significantly more powerful if the templates allow for some variable substitution for words or dates so that it can be customized for each use. It is even better if you can do some minor calculations on things like dates and indicate that one task is deferred or due relative to the date of another task.

Use Cases

I have found project templates to be particularly useful for three types of projects.

Frequent Activities

The most obvious use case for project templates is for recurring, relatively frequent events. At the office, I have multiple meetings that happen on a certain schedule, such as a team all-hands. Each time I do one of these meetings, there are a set of tasks I need to do. Determine agenda, prepare a draft, get input from others, arrange a guest speaker. Using a template for these events is very helpful.

Business trips are another good example. Each business trip has a series of before, during and after actions. I put these in a template with the proper variables and relative dates to help with trip planning and preparation.

Multiple Instances

One area where templates can be great is when you have multiple instances of the same thing with a slight variation. The best example I have for this is doing performance reviews. I have to write several of them, and each one has multiple steps. They are mostly direct copies of each other, but the person is different and possibly the dates. To make this easier I create a template and then run it for each person and can quickly build the multiple sets of projects that I need to get done for this process.

Infrequent Activities

I have found project templates to be a good way to make improvements to things that I rarely do. In fact, this is probably my favorite use of templates. It feels like a way to apply continuous learning to things you do once a year.

The template I made for Daylight Savings Time adjustment is a great example. I do this twice a year, and every time I tend to forget one or two clocks. There are also a couple of clocks that are tricky, and I often end up searching the Internet each time for instructions.

This year I made a project template for this that helps in many ways:

  • I put them in walking order so that I can optimally move through the house and not backtrack.
  • I made sure to capture the clocks that I tend to miss, like the timer for the aquarium lights.
  • For a couple of clocks that are very confusing to update I put the relevant notes directly in the tasks so I don’t need to search.
  • We have some clocks that update themselves, like our thermostats. They are not on the list so I don’t have to try and remember which ones I can ignore each time.

Now that I have a template I can do it faster, more efficient and know I didn’t forget anything.

A similar example to this is a recent template I made for Apple OS Upgrades. I have Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TV’s that all need upgrading. I now have a template so I can easily capture those activities when needed.

Another example that I’ve come to like a lot is project templates for major holidays. Christmas is a perfect example of a very fun time of year but also a complicated time. Sending Christmas cards out, traditions and getting presents add up to a lot of things to make sure you get done and don’t have a bunch of last minute things to do.

I created a template for this and was able to capture all of the main things that we do each Christmas. This let’s me have more confidence that I do not forget anything. The last item on these templates is usually a task that suggests to “Update template with any changes from this year” which is a great way to get better for next year.

Scheduling

Project templates are handy, but often you want them to get setup on a schedule. I’ve decided to keep this out of my task management system and instead I have a task list in the Reminders application called ‘Project Reminders.’ This is where I set the annual triggers to create various projects from their templates.

Next…

I purposefully kept this post independent of the tools that I use so I could just make a case for using project templates in your personal GTD system. In a future post, I’ll talk about the tools that I use to implement this.


Horseshoe Pits Completed!

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-18 02:30

Last weekend we finished putting in the horseshoe pits at the cabin and I’m very pleased with the result!

We have a lot of yard games at the cabin and I though it would be a lot of fun to add horseshoes to the mix. I honestly didn’t think that much about it and put a horseshoe set on my wishlist for Christmas. After getting the set I realized I had bit off more than I realized.

I found a great site for horseshoe plans. My brother-in-law helped me get the wood and cutting done and unfortunately the winter came before I got it all done. We finished digging the pits into the ground this spring after the ground thawed.

I really like the throwing platforms and the backboard. This is a more complex pit than you absolutely have to have, but it’s really nice to play on. Now I just have to work on my game!


Minnesota Original: Layne Kennedy

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-11 11:37

My friend and photographer Layne Kennedy was recently featured on Minnesota Original. I met Layne when I took his Wintegreen Dog Sledding workshop and he’s a great photographer, teacher and amazing story teller.


A Minnebar Ticketing Proposal

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-18 23:00

I’ve recently put some thought into how tickets are managed for Minnebar and Minnedemo. I’ve been very close to these events for a long time, and on the board for several years now, while our ticketing process has remained relatively unchanged over that long time.

The Problems

Why spend cycles thinking about the ticketing issue? I think there are some large problems with the way that tickets are managed.

Timeliness

The ticketing process encourages people to act immediately upon issuance and get tickets since they will all be taken immediately. Often people will take a ticket before they have even made sure they can attend. This timeliness requirement unfairly penalizes people that are occupied and not watching Twitter at that exact moment.

Understanding Churn

The current process reduces our ability to understand how many people have stopped going to our events. We routinely see a high number of “first-time” attendees, and along with that a high amount of churn. Is the churn because people weren’t ready the second that tickets came out, or because they don’t want to come?

Redemption

Many tickets go unused. We manage around this by predicting what percentage of tickets will be unused, but it is more art than science. The rushed nature of ticketing may decrease redemption rate as people just jump on tickets as quick as possible.

Quantify Demand

All of these events “sell out” (to the extent a free event can sell out) within minutes. This removes our ability to know the true demand for the events. If 800 tickets are picked up within 15 minutes of release, how many people wanted to go? 900? 3,000? That is anyone’s guess.

Limitations

When considering how to better manage tickets, it is important to consider some limitations.

Identity Is Unknown

There are numerous ways to manage ticket redemption that would focus on reputation. Mainly this is a means to solve redemption and put rules in place such as not being allowed a ticket if you don’t use the last three tickets.

Cannot Be Complex

We’ve entertained some options that avoid identity and reputation but encourage careful assignment of tickets. The most commonly referenced one is to use some form of a cash deposit. For example, you would pay $5, $10 or $20 to get your ticket to the event and that money would be refunded back to you when you show up at the event. This would certainly reduce the number of unused tickets but at the cost of managing a significant amount of complexity and risk.

Requirements

Before looking at the proposal let’s recap from above what our requirements are:

  1. The solution must not require managing identity. You cannot know a ticket holder from one event to another.
  2. The solution would ideally allow us to understand how many people would like to come to an event.
  3. The solution would be able to manage preferential access for certain groups.
  4. The solution would allow for improving the precision of “no shows”.

It is important to note that while “no shows” are something to consider, I believe it is a lesser problem than understanding the true demand for the events, churn and making the ticketing process more equitable.

Proposal

Taking these objectives into place, I propose the following ticketing process.

Phase 1: Get in line!

First thing, get in line. Rather than distributing tickets in groups we propose everyone get in a line (or list) to attend. This line opens up at a prescribed date and time, and anyone and everyone that wants to come to the event would then get in line. The line will close at another prescribed time, but as long as the line is open more and, more people can get in line.

This line dampens the urgency to take immediate action. Please note though that Phase 3 does reward people for getting in line early. It is valuable to the organization to get a sense of demand quickly, so getting people in line sooner is a good thing. However, no matter when you get in line you may get a ticket.

Phase 2: Priority Access

Once the line is complete and closed we then deal with priority access. There are some groups that get priority access to the events and are guaranteed a ticket:

  • Volunteers: Anyone volunteering at the event.
  • Community Supporters: Individuals (not companies) in the community that have donated $100 in the last 12 months.
  • Sponsors: Packages get different numbers of tickets. If you are in line under one of those slots you get a ticket.
  • Students: We look to encourage high school students to attend our events, and wish to give them priority access.

Once these special groups have priority access, we’ve used some of the tickets and now have a smaller line.

Phase 3: Ticketing Groups

The remaining line is now divided into groups. This is where some further math and heuristics could be applied to better manage tickets over time. For now, just assume that all these numbers are potential variables and you could optimize the solution over time.

Take the remainder of the line, let’s say there are 1,000 people still left, and for easy math put them in 5 groups of 200 people.

Each one of these groups is then ticketed. Remember that these groups are in the order they got in line, so the early people are in the front and the last person to get in line is at the end in position 1,000.

We also at this point know how many tickets were assigned to priority access groups and can make a determination about their “no show” rate. Likely those groups have a very high redemption rate, so assume most are used. The remaining tickets will be assigned to the five groups of 200 people in a decreasing percentage. All of the people in group 1 get tickets. 70% of the people in group 2 get tickets. 40% of the people in group 3 get tickets and so on until we get to something like 10% of people in group 5 getting tickets.

Over time these groups may be able to provide more accurate data on redemption, and we may know that Group 1 people redeem tickets at a higher rate than Group 5 so we can assign more tickets in Group 5 knowing more will go unused.

Additionally, it is important that any tickets that get returned before the event, when people realize they cannot come and notify us of that, should be returned to the group it was assigned to. So, if a person in Group 3 returns there ticket, it should go to another random person in Group 3. This could be managed by creating different classes or types of tickets for each group. If there are no people left in that group without a ticket, like Group 1, then flow the returned ticket to the next group in line.

Summary

This may seem complex at first, but I think the implementation could be reasonable. Eventbrite could still be used to get in line but getting a “Line Ticket”. The list of registered email addresses could then be manipulated with a small program to do the rest.

I do think that this would meet our goals of:

  1. Understanding true demand for the events.
  2. Allowing special access to some groups.
  3. More fairly assigning tickets to the remaining people.
  4. Minimizing the urgency around ticketing.
  5. Optimize “no show” management over time.

Very importantly this would also help us understand people that stop coming to events. If you get in line we know you want to come, but if you don’t get in line many times in a row you are deciding our events aren’t worthwhile and we’d like to know that.

If you have suggestions or comments contact me. If you would like to help solution this that would be great too!


Creativity Vampires

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-18 19:00

I have observed in myself this dynamic of low-effort, low-value activities removing the need to do high-effort, high-value activities. The graph below illustrates what I mean.

Urge to Write over Time

The more I tweet, the less I blog.

Tweets are easy, simple and fast. They are also low-value, ephemeral and simple. When I tweet I satisfy this urge that I have to write and express myself. It reminds me of constantly taking the pressure out of a system.

The problem with this is that I never build up that urge to express a more complex thing. I find that if I limit these low-value frequent outlets, I eventually feel a pressure inside me to create, to express myself. Then I make something that is much more valuable (at least to me!) and expresses a complete thought as opposed to a digital belch. It’s not even an option to me because I will get a need to do it. That need never happens if I’m constantly relieving the pressure.

There is something here related to the concepts in Amusing Ourselves to Death, which was written before the social sharing digital world we are in now, but continues to be relevant.


Steve Wozniak at Augsburg College

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-18 18:00

Steve Wozniak, or “Woz”, was a guest at Augsburg College today and it was a pleasure to see him talk about his early days in technology and his first experimentations with microchips which eventually led to the creation of the Apple I and beyond.

Woz is an amazing person. He individually did more to create the personal computer industry than possibly anyone else. He is a creative genius with technology. He so clearly is passionate and understands the design of technology like nobody else. On top of all that, Woz just seems like a nice person. Woz seems like someone that you’d love to have dinner with and just spend time discussing the world. He’s an “engineer’s engineer”. You could give yourself a nearly impossible challenge just by looking at your project and asking “What would Woz do with this?”

Steve Wozniak at Augsburg College

Some highlights from the discussion with Woz:

  • Woz shared many stories of working with Steve Jobs and how the two of them worked together. He also took great lengths to highlight the role that Mike Markkula played and referred to him as the “third founder” of Apple.
  • Woz talked about his early experimentation with technology and how he focused on “smiles minus frowns” as a simple way to guide himself in life. Add up your smiles, minus the frowns, and if that works, you’re going the right direction.
  • I chuckled when Woz mentioned that the Homebrew Computer Club met every two weeks, which is now by far the most common iteration length for agile development teams.
  • The open culture of the Homebrew Computer Club is one of those early framing events that continues today in open source software. Everyone was sharing designs for the betterment of the group and the industry.
  • The Apple I design was given away to the club, but Woz had the Apple II design already done, and they knew that was what they would build Apple Computer on.
  • Woz highlighted the role of “builders and makers”, and that that continues today.
  • Much of Woz’s designs were driven by strict constraints of time and money. The original Apple designs were done with minimal components to reduce cost and elegant designs. The Apple floppy drive that Woz created used 8 chips compared to 40 or 50 in other drives. Woz also shared the funny story how the floppy drive was made in two weeks so that he had a reason to go to CES in Las Vegas.
  • It was fun to hear Woz highlight the importance of continuing to learn and doing that through side projects. He would design systems all day, and then for fun, he would design systems for a different purpose. Always learning and driven by passion.
  • It was so fun to hear underneath Woz’s engineering drive a constant desire to focus on the person. The person is always more important than the device. Figure out how to make the device usable. He highlighted how his original design for the Apple I and Apple II were driven by this, while others in the industry just showed complicated “computers” with switches and buttons.


Minnedemo 25 Recap

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-17 06:00

Minnedemo 25 was last night, and it was fabulous. I’ve gone to all but a few Minnedemo events and realize that sometimes the demos are just a bit better than other times. Last nights was a great serving of everything that Minnedemo can be. We had very polished demos with clear paths to markets alongside passion projects. We had a team that was formed only five weeks prior at a hackathon. We even had the perennial bombed demo due to technical difficulties that still gets shown the warmth of the community.

Minnedemo 25 Panorama

Update (Feb 22): Tech.MN posted videos of all the demos.

Talkative Chef

A group of 8 women that met at Hack the Gap built this product in just the last few weeks. They started working on this concept and showed a pretty well put together alpha of that work. The product helps you cook and bake hands-free by using voice commands with your computer. It worked well, and it was impressive to me that it was all done in the browser. As soon as they showed it, I thought this should be an Alexa skill package, but they highlighted that they were doing it in the browser to make it accessible to a wider audience. It’s not clear to me that this is a company or if it’s just a hobby project, but the concept of hands-free guides makes a lot of sense and in more than just the kitchen. The same concept could apply to repair projects in the house and having a screen to show diagrams or pictures while you talk could be helpful as well. Cool idea, well executed, great demo and great to see an all-female team building this, and it coming from a hackathon.

VennPT

Interesting take on preparing physical therapy programs. They showed a platform that allowed a PT specialist to design a program and then assign it to their patients. Very similar in concept to what you would have a personal trainer do by building workouts and assigning them. Two unique features that hit me in the demo:

  1. The ability to record on your mobile a brand new video and create a unique exercise just for this one person. This is probably a big deal with physical therapy where you might create a specific activity for someone and to be able just to record and produce it right away seems compelling.
  2. Capability to export the assigned PT program using a text template into an EMR system makes sense for the therapist. I would imagine that is a significant time saving for them.

Inkit

This demo reminded me a bit of Twilio. Twilio took something old, plain old telephone service, and make it accessible via API’s and the cloud. Inkit feels similar in taking something old, direct mail, and making it accessible in the way that modern digital marketers think of the world. Makes sense to me but strikes me as a market with a lot of competition. Well done product and demo.

EnduraData

I was looking forward to this demo because it was the most technical of the bunch. EnduraData has software that moves large volumes of sensitive data between multiple locations and does it better, faster. You can buy expensive devices to do this, but their software delivers the same benefit. Unfortunately, to do the demo, they had a virtual machine in another country set up and were going to shuffle data around, and the WiFi in the room failed them. They were going to try showing a video as a backup, but that couldn’t work either. I was excited that this was the only demo of the night that was running Ubuntu, but bummed we didn’t get to see it.

Newt One

Newt One is a non-violent game concept where the characters only have a positive impact on the game environment. The concept was cool, the art and music were very nice, and it looked fun to play. We don’t get a lot of game demos at Minnedemo, so this was fun to see.

Trout Spotr

Trout Spotr stole the show and is one of those passion projects that I love to see at Minnedemo. The presenter started by saying “I built a website for my Dad.” and then went on to show how he used open data, various software packages and created a stunning website that allows you to find trout streams that are on public land. The visuals were well done using D3 and mashing up a lot of other web technology. The presenter also had a ton of energy and excitement. Great demo!

Player’s Health

Players Health has an interesting product that allows youth sports programs to deal with injury information in a much more sophisticated way. This demo opened the door to a problem that seems significant but underserved and showed a service that provides a lot of value to parents, coaches and even creates a data set that can be used to improve the youth sports world. I was impressed by the quality of the demo and that it appears to be serving a real need around injury management.


Sending Email to OmniFocus Using Flow in Office 365

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-15 06:00

This workflow is mainly for people that use Office 365 and are looking for an easy way to selectively put emails into OmniFocus or another task management system that can receive tasks via email.

I’m always looking for easier ways to move an email from my Inbox into OmniFocus. I only put a small number of emails into OmniFocus, but I’d like it to be nearly automatic. Some emails I always want to send to OmniFocus, and for those I use a mail rule to automatically route. I also use Sanebox’s SaneFwd feature to do something similar. But those are only good when it is a sender that you always want to go to OmniFocus. What about when you selectively want to grab a couple emails?

I started wondering if I could do something with Microsoft Flow. For those that don’t know, Flow is very similar to Zapier and is in the same category as IFTTT. I would put it closer to Zapier since it handles much more complex workflows with loops, conditionals and also connects to more complicated systems than IFTTT. Flow was launched less than a year ago.

Mail rules can only fire on a mail activity, such as an email being received. Once it’s received and in your mailbox mail rules don’t have a trigger event. Flow, since it is directly integrated into Office 365, can see a bit more and has a trigger for “When an email is flagged”. That caught my eye right away and within a couple of minutes I had this workflow for sending things to OmniFocus by flagging them in my Inbox. The “To” address should be your OmniFocus Mail Drop address.

Flow - Flagged Email to OmniFocus

Look at the 2nd step in the workflow to “Get user profile”. I’d like these items to be associated with who the email came from, and my pattern for that is to prepend the persons name to the task seperated by a colon. Since Flow is part of Office 365, it can talk to Active Directory and get things like the “Display name” of the sender. I could also include their phone number or any other data that was in Active Directory as well.

I did also set two advanced options to avoid getting raw HTML in the OmniFocus task.

Flow - Advanced Options

This workflow works really well. It triggers quickly and is as frictionless as I think I can get. I also really like that Flow gives some extensibility if I wanted to pull in other data related to the person or message. Most of my limitations there are related to what Mail Drop can interpret.

Couple things about Flow:

  1. While Flow allows you to author workflows on the iOS app I found it really clumsy. I’d do the authoring on a web browser and computer.
  2. There are some really interesting options that can tie Office 365 with Azure Functions using Flow. You can see there is some brilliance here on how this is implemented.
  3. If you like IFTTT and are in an Office 365 environment at work, you definitely should look at Flow. It has some powerful automation options.