Call Me. I’ll Be Around

I love learning about new technologies, even when I don’t really know what they’ll be useful for.  Here’s a great example: if you know what the image below is, then you can call me.

Call me

Huh?  The image above is a Microsoft Tag – a four colour bar code.  It’s similar to the QR codes you may occasionally see around (most notably on mandarin orange boxes).  However, it’s got two advantages:

1) It works in both low light and if you’ve got a poor camera on your phone (those QR codes can be really tough to read with the crappy camera on your iPhone)

2) They can be set to trigger actions: go to a url, download contact info, send a text or place a call

I’ve set the one above to call me.  But, you won’t actually get ‘my’ phone number.  Instead, it’s going to place a call to Google Voice.  It’ll call my Voice number, which will then ring both my work phone and my cell phone.  However, it will only call my work number during business hours and it won’t call my cell phone late at night when I should be sleeping.  And, if you start spam calling me, I’ll add you to my list of blocked callers, so you’ll just get voicemail instead.

Kind of cool, eh?  Add the tag reader app to your phone and give me a call if you want to talk about it more.

Healthy Things

I’m always amazed by what correlates with education.  The latest statistic I’ve learned about is regular exercise.  It appears that the less education you have, the more likely you are just to laze around:

Regular Leisure-Time Physical Activity

This data comes from the CDC and is technically the percentage of adults aged >25 years who reported regular leisure-time physical activity.  Two things immediately stand out here:

  1. If you’re poorly educated, you’re not exercising (and therefore, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest more likely to be obsese)
  2. The trend is incredibly disturbing: only the well educated are engaging in more physical activity now vs. 10 years ago

I can’t help but wonder if this is going to become a self-reinforcing process.  Let’s speculate: if you’re poorly educate, you’re probably poorer.  Therefore you might have to work two jobs/more hours and have less time for leisure time and be more tired.  You probably also have less disposable income and therefore eat more fast food.  You’re getting squeezed by the current economy (and the long term trend that Chinese/Indian/Mexican workers are always going to be cheaper than you…).

If you’re highly educated, you can afford to eat better and have more job opportunities to keep your salary up while you are enough of a commodity to maintain a work-life balance.  What’s more, is that there are a whole host of services for you to keep you fit: gyms are an obvious one, but more interesting are the emerging class of high-end devices like the the LifeScan diabetes iPhone application and tracking tools like the FitBit.

This will be one long-term trend to monitor; hopefully the CDC will get us data more than once every 10 years.

State of the (Design) Union

On Wednesday night I attended a meeting by the IxDA‘s New York chapter talking about the current state of interaction design.  It was an enlightening conversation.  If you know nothing about the topic, here’s a laundry list of things they talked about:

  • There was an emphasis on “bringing design back”: the need to find a balance of the art and science of design.  If you’ve no idea of what this means, Frank Gehry is the poster child for design as art; Jacob Nielsen for design as science.  Each evokes fiery passion amongst their supporters.  The iPhone is currently considered the best bridge of the two: cutting edge materials science combined with an artistic, empathetic experience.
  • As interaction designers seek to find this balance, they’re exploring the “craft” aspect of their profession.  One popular tool for this is sketching experiences: think Bill Verplank (pdf) and Bill Buxton.
  • Similar to this, interaction designers are struggling to reconcile that their profession is a combination of design and engineering – which brings a set of challenges.  Engineers tend to focus on one issue and keep iterating to a solution; each iteration gets closer.  Designers are much more nonlinear; they iterate on mulitple rounds of designs but are constantly bringing old designs back into the process.
  • An interesting concept that was bandied about talked about “great design being the embodiment of a story”.  A few examples are a Nokia nano-tech phone video and the Google Chrome comic.  The iPhone come up again here; the idea being that a user’s interaction with it is a narrative and it tells you what to expect.
  • This led to a nice discussion about product ecosystems.  From a designer’s perspective, the ecosystem enables a new set of experiences when you connect people using the products inside the ecosystem.  Examples are the Nike Plus social network for runners and a Ford concept that takes performance and geolocation data from hybrid cars and shares it with other hybrid owners.
  • Here are three more random thoughts from the session:
    • Designers don’t create ideas, they create things that embody the idea
    • Dopplr is fascinating as they created a web service that was designed to require no website; in theory, you never need to go to it – you can just use APIs instead
    • Wireframes are not a good enough tool.  They do not have enough fidelity as they lack the dimension of time

A small bonus: the session was held at Bloomberg’s amazing headquarters.  I snapped this photo before a security guard ran me down and told me “no more photos”.

    Maybe Not The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread?

    Pretty much ever since I’ve entered the workforce, the company to beat has been Google.  They routinely turn up as the most respected/feared/innovative company out there.  They grow by leaps and bounds and suck the best talent up across the world.  They inspire fear, loathing, envy, jealousy and just about every other emotion possible under the sun.

    So how’d they do this?  Well, a combination of great ideas, timing and luck.  PageRank was genius.  Yahoo didn’t agree to buy them.  Twice.  MapReduce gave them scale.  And now they mint money.

    And that has meant that they’ve been the greatest place to work.  Ever.  An engineering-driven company where each person gets free food.  The chance to work with the smartest people on earth.  And, if you’re an engineer, 20% of your time to pursue whatever you want.

    Until now.  Now they’re cutting back on the 20% time.  According to the WSJ

    So with the U.S. economy in a recession, Google is ratcheting back spending and cutting new projects. “We have to behave as though we don’t know” what’s going to happen, says Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt. The company will curtail the “dark matter,” he says, projects that “haven’t really caught on” and “aren’t really that exciting.” He says the company is “not going to give” an engineer 20 people to work with on certain experimental projects anymore. “When the cycle comes back,” he says, “we will be able to fund his brilliant vision.”

    Also, maybe the work-life balance at Google isn’t that great.  Schmidt told the McKinsey Quarterly:

    For senior executives, it’s probably the case that balance is no longer possible. I would love to have balance in my life except that the world is a global stage and, when I’m sleeping, there’s a crisis in some country, and I still haven’t figured out how not to sleep.

    This is a real shame.  I’m a huge Google bull and would hate to think that they’re going to become “just another company”.  Part of the allure and inspiration of the company is that they’ve done stuff completely differently from the rest of the world and made it work.  Let’s hope they don’t become a company full of drone engineers and needlessly hard-charging executives.  Sounds like a dull old bank…

    Don’t Expect To See Me Out Too Much

    So the other weekend I cashed in all my loose change.  I had three coffee containers full – which ended up working out to be a little over $300!  I used a coin sorting machine that gave me an Amazon gift certificate, and that’s now led to the following:

    That’s 17 books so I think I’m good from now to the end of the year (if only because I’ll be trying to figure out how any publisher can make money when I can get this many books delivered to me via UPS for so little).

    In case you’re looking for a book to read, here’s what’s on the list (from top to bottom):

    The Soul of a New MachineTracy Kidder

    Divided KingdomRupert Thomson

    No Longer HumanOsamu Dazai

    Life and FateVassily Grossman

    Perdido Street StationChina Mieville

    Demonic MalesWrangham & Peterson

    All God’s ChildrenFox Butterfield

    Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases – Kahneman, Slovic & Tversky

    The Machine that Changed the WorldWomack, Jones & Roos

    Empires of LightJill Jonnes

    The Rings of SaturnW.G. Sebald

    RESTful Web Services  –  Richardson & Ruby

    The Forever WarDexter Filkins

    Right Hand Left HandChris McManus

    The BoxMarc Levinson

    Empire CityJackson & Dunbar

    On a related note, this shopping experience completely confirmed why Amazon is the platform for buying things.  Every single one of these books was part of my wishlist (some for a few years).  Amazon never asked me to update my wishlist, rather just kept it there for the day when I was finally ready.

    Also, now that I’ve bought the books they don’t appear in my wishlist and if I go to the page for any of the books there’s a gentle reminder that I’ve already bought it:

    If that’s not the ultimate retail experience, then I don’t know what is.