Category tech

Tell me the most important thing

I used to drive a Mini Cooper S and the only gauge I looked at was the tach. Similar thing with my old CJ7, one important gauge.

With both user experiences they assumed drivers want one piece of information above all others and they thrust it front and center. They made it oversized and pushed every other gauge well out of the way.

Great design enables you to “feel” the most important measurements connected to a product. It achieves this by pushing everything else into the background.

My current car, much less fun on twisty roads, is a Prius. Like the examples mentioned above, one gauge trumps all others. “The” gauge on a Prius is an updated every minute fuel consumption bar chart. This single gauge has transformed the way I drive (and my string of speeding tickets).

I used to be a lead-footed Mini driver I’m now a feather foot Prius driver. Every day is a game to see how high I can average my MPG.

For all these reasons I love what Geckoboard is doing. All the vital signs of your business on one dashboard. Simple, elegant and understandable presentation.




Life, liberty and the pursuit of lightning-fast broadband

babyASDFMy daughter was born a year before Netscape IPO’d; her entire life has taken place in a post-web era.

There has always been a fast internet connection in her home. Her first phone was essentially a small computer. And instead of an erupting volcano, her sixth grade science fair project was a paper titled “Why Netflix will put Blockbuster out of business.”

This brings me to the point of this post which is the intersection between childhood, meritocracy and modern toolsets (specifically high-speed internet access).

Older generations tend to push conversations like this, conversations about broadband and smart phones, towards a rant about entitlement. I believe this not only misses the point but sets kids up for a marginalized future. We should not compare what our kids have today with what we had when we were kids any more than we should compare the fuel efficiency of a Prius with that of a mule. Cultural norms of different eras are apples and oranges.

Think about what it was like to grow up (and compete) in a few different eras. Kids of the 40s competed with other kids they could see… kids in their town. Kids of the 70s competed with other kids in the nation…who they might meet at college one day. Kids today compete with kids from every hemisphere on the globe… who they’ll never meet and probably don’t speak the same language.

An illustration of this point can be found in the following story. It’s a simple story at it’s core; a large educational institution didn’t forecast how far the world had already shifted. Stanford offered a graduate-level Artificial Intelligence class online and were expecting 1,000 people to sign up. They were a bit surprised when more than 160,000 people signed up. The demand was so strong and from so many places on the globe that YouTube servers carrying the content had to be mirrored to get past restrictions in places like Iran. It’s a post-web story of learning, competing and access.

A large shift has already taken place. Information has become something approaching tradable currency and this shift is really just starting to gain momentum. Kids coming up need to understand the new building blocks: they must embrace the new toolsets as those things are becoming commonplace extensions of their pursuits.

To be a kid in this day an age you absolutely need water, food, freedom and love… but in order to really compete you’ll need more than that. You need access. You need lightning-fast broadband.


The rise of drone-powered surf-cam videos

drone1We have seen the future of surfing video and it’s drone-enabled.

Let’s face it, drones have a bad reputation due to their association with wars but there has been a quietly rising interest in hobby drones. Chris Anderson, previous head of WIRED Mag, started the site DIY Drones a bit ago… and things are starting to move into the mainstream.

I love when a military app pivots into the mainstream. One of the largest such shifts happened when Netscape took the DARPA-created internet (pdf) and popped a consumer-oriented browser on the early, nascent web.

Something similar is happening right now with drones.

If you’re a surfer you’ve seen a plethora of surfing photography and surf films… we engage with those because we want to get closer to the wave… back to the experience of surfing a wave. The simple truth is that photos are static and films are usually anchored to a specific location… and riding a wave is much more fluid.

Enter the drones… below are two, worthy, videos of among the best waves in the world. The “drone-selfie” will not be far behind.

Pipeline, Oahu… as gorgeous as you’ve ever seen it.

Rincon, California. Mother of all right point breaks.

Many small bets are less risky than fewer large bets

betsWhen innovators talk about failure they are really talking about innovation. I.e. the road to ultimate traction with customers is the result of small iterations, constant evolution. They are talking about lots of small bets.

Larger, or more legacy-oriented organizations, sometimes hear “failure” and hear something “going out of business.” The simultaneous ironic and tragic point is that without constant, smaller risks a company is forced into a situation to make a single, company-betting decision.

Placing many small, early bets is less risky than fewer, later large bets.

A recent, pithy Jeff Bezos piece succinctly captured this point.

Bezos said “If you place enough of those (small) bets, and if you place them early enough, none of them are ever betting the company. If you invent frequently and are willing to fail, then you never get to that point where you really need to bet the whole company” (on any single initiative).

He’s building on one of my favorite thinkers, Peter Drucker is another. Peter also summarized this point with the following…

“The innovators I know are successful to the extent to which they define risks and confine them. Successful innovators are conservative. They have to be. They are not ‘risk-focused’; they are ‘opportunity-focused.’”

Of course there is nothing new here, this is a summary of how the venture capital industry lives every day. Still, there is wisdom here for all of us.


Artificial intelligence bringing video games into the real world

I wrote about AI (artificial intelligence) becoming mainstream two years ago. We may have noticed Siri but AI has been around for a long time doing (mostly) pretty boring grunt work: getting our luggage on the right plane, routes our snail mail and email, helping us tune a Pandora station or pick equities and suggesting books for us to read.

But truthfully… it hasn’t been that fun.

One does not think of general tomfoolery when they think of machine learning or artificial intelligence. It feels like that’s about to change.

Check out this new robotics/AI company (Anki) who is taking the video game into the real world. They are being held up for breaking some new ground; positioning (knowing where you are and what’s around you), reasoning (using that knowledge to make intelligent decisions), and execution (making those things happen in the real world). More on them here.

The value of telling stories

I think one of the most misunderstood points related to technology is that it (tech) somehow exists for itself.

Tech (and innovation of any kind) should exist to connect with you and make your life a bit richer… better.

This video does a beautiful job of telling these kinds of stories. You shouldn’t buy a product or service, whether it’s tech-related or not, if it doesn’t change your life for the better… even if its a small, incremental change.

Tiny moving pictures

I love the idea of people pushing the boundaries within tightly constrained mediums.

If you think about it entrepreneurs and artists, people who push new ideas out, they tend to operate within some tightly defined parameters.

How many singers push out songs more than three and a half minutes? How many film makers create films longer than three hours? How many startups take on two or three ideas at once?

This brings me to GIFs.

A tiny file size, mini animation, mostly for not apparent reason or value other than to entertain. Tiny moving pictures, cinemagraphs, made by… anyone.

Math, architecture and the death of the straight line

gangSomewhere between working out of Frank Gehry’s LA office a few years ago and a recent meeting at the Studio Gang office in Chicago it hit me… straight lines are over-rated.

Shackles forcing us to think in retilinear patterns no longer exist.

The seed of this point was planted in my brain a decade or so ago when I started paying attention to structures like the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Sure the outside looks like a flowing wave or ice-cream cone but what caught my eye was the internal structure. I remember getting a tour by the structural engineering team. They spent an ample amount of time pointing to the flowing structural elements; the CNC-modeled steel and wood beams were unlike any I’d seen.

And this brings me to math.

The simple truth is that we used straight lines because we had do.

Today we have access to math-driven 3D modeling software.

This subject, modern flowing architectural lines, is now part of the mainstream. The Beijing Olympics thrust the Herzog & de Meuron Birdsnest into pop culture. It’s an amazing architectural and engineering feat… somewhat taken for granted since it was part of a pop-culture event like the Olympics. It’s stunning on multiple levels, brought to you by applied mathematics.

In the grander scheme this is simply just another disruptive advancement. Like Eli Whitney shifting markets by introducing assembly-line mass production or like Netscape’s consumer web app enabling billions to shift their entire life experience into a new paradigm… 3D modeling software (and related advancements in structural engineering tools) are seriously challenging the age-old limitation of a straight line.

Intuitive, minimal… brilliant to-do app

I love the idea of pre-packaged software templates to address and automate of a narrow set of tasks… I like apps.

At the same time I’m not overly smitten by hardly any of the 800,000+ available iphone apps. A notable percentage of them, even some of well designed ones, aren’t worth our time or hard drive space.

The best app is the one you can’t see… it’s transparent… you look past it and see the task at hand.

In my opinion the best app associated with computers was launched in 1995, Netscape’s consumer-oriented web browser. It changed everything and then swiftly slipped into the background. Today we don’t even notice the browser… which is just as it should be.

With that setup I’ll point to a current favorite, Clear.

I love it on so many levels. Visually it’s minimal, stark, focused, intuitive and absolutely gorgeous. From a utility perspective it’s super-tight; it’s a to-do list and nothing else.

I’ve used half a dozen to-do apps and this one is head-and-shoulders above everything else.

If you have things to-do… use this.

Firewall play thing

Sometimes an art installation goes further. Sometimes it brings you in and captivates your attention… even for just a few minutes.

This is one of those installations.

Ingredients are Processing, Max/MSP, Arduino, spandex and a Kinect.

An algorithm created with the Max controls music cadence and loudness.