Reminders

The fast-pace of modern life puts pressure on us to remember more and more.  The more of our brain we devote to remembering short-term lists such as appointments, grocery lists, etc, the less time we have to be creative and do critical thinking.  Make use of short-term lists and reminders.  Most phones have built-in reminders that work on a time or location based.  You can be reminded to pick up milk when you drive near the grocery store, or simply to take the laundry out of the dryer 1 hour from now.

Save yourself by making good use of reminders.

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Oculus Rift

You may have heard of the Oculus Rift recently.  Most likely because it was acquired by Facebook for $2B.  But what exactly is Oculus Rift and why does facebook want it?

Oculus Rift is a wearable set of virtual reality goggles.  Not only do they display a 3d image for the user (two unique images, or for each eye, in a way to feel 3d), but they also track movement, so when you turn your head left, the view moves to the left.  So, unlike 3d glasses that let you watch a movie in 3d, these also let you directly interact with this 3d world.

If you want to see a 90 year old using them and being amazed, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAC5SeNH8jw

Ultimately Oculus Rift was built for gaming, and it’s focus has been gaming.  The reality is, such immersion and quality virtual reality extends way beyond video games.

While I cannot comment on why Facebook bought Oculus Rift (because I am not facebook and cannot speak for their intentions) I can tell you some of the things that I see virtual reality enabling.

1) Freedom from the screen – All our devices are limited in size.  Sure, we can have big-screen monitors, but they have edges and limitations.  With VR, it will be possible to allow the screen to engulf the entire world around you.

2) Deeper social connections – ever since science fiction brought us the holodec (a holographic projector) we have been waiting for scientists to create one.  Virtual Reality could actually provide something that is one-step ahead.  A camera could digitize a likeness of yourself and allow you to interact in a 3d world with the digital likeness of other people.  No longer is a conference call limited to the blurry image from someone’s webcam.  Many people can now sit in a virtual room, share a virtual whiteboard, and interact.

3) Immersion – The connections we make with the software we’re using has become very superficial.  Software has gotten easier to use, and the number of distractions and cat videos has increased.  Virtual Reality offers the ability to create a higher level of engagement that happens with your whole body, and not just your fingers and your eyes.  A more engaged user is a more valuable user.

Have a great weekend.

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Stand Up

Stand up for yourself and others.  Never be ashamed of your feelings – if you feel them they are real.

While this isn’t particularly tech related, I mention it because cyber-bullying is rampant and the internet can be a dismal place if you look in the wrong corners (or in the comments thread in youtube).

The good news is that there is hope.  Just stand up for yourself and others.  Be confident in who you are and what you want to do, and don’t let others put anyone down for being who they are.

“But don’t feed the trolls” they say.  You can respond without feeding the trolls – it is a simple: “That’s inappropriate and not appreciated.”  A simple statement that states facts and ends the conversation.  It is also gentle enough that you can say it to a friend at a party who speaks out of turn, or a random stranger on the net who is spewing hate speech.  It also isn’t an attack.  When you fight fire with fire all you breed is destruction.

It also applies to ageism, sexism, racism, or even uncomfortable workplace teasing.  You can even shorten it, “That wasn’t appreciated.”  Get comfortable saying it.  Say it often.  Say it for your friends when they aren’t comfortable to speak for themselves.  Say it for anonymous people on the net who are too scared to comment back.

Finally – don’t be your own worst enemy.  If you find yourself saying or thinking negative about yourself – tell yourself “That’s inappropriate and not appreciated.”  A positive attitude will help you learn, will help you adapt, will help you smile, and will help you enjoy life.  You must be your own advocate.

Have a wonderful day.

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Science!

There are some basic laws of science that, with their understanding, open up a wide range of possibilities.  F=ma (force = mass * acceleration) for example.  The bigger the object, or faster it is moving, means that more force is applied.  Also: W = Fd (Work = force * distance).  Basically, it says that climbing a 10 foot ladder uses the same total work as walking up a 10 foot staircase, or slowly ascending a ramp that is 10 feet tall at it’s end.  Clearly the ladder is the quickest way, but it requires more effort with each step.

Knowing the basics will not qualify you to be a rocket scientist, or professor but it will allow you to have a better understanding of the world around you.  You can solve problems quicker, easier, and more efficiently by doing the same amount of work while minimizing your effort.

The same goes for technology.  Understanding the basics of how your wifi works, or how your computer processor seems to do 1,000,000 things at once, yet in actuality is only doing 1-4 things at once (and why it seems that sometimes it’s not doing anything at all!) can help you to be more patient and to avoid situations that might crash your computer.

Learning just a little can go a long way.

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Play

Science, as well as technology, is built upon many different types of learning.  One being a slow, calculated attempt to push a known concept to it’s limits.  This requires an intricate knowledge of how things work.  The second is a playful curiosity.  It often happens when you have knowledge gaps, and is how children learn.  “I don’t know much about X or Y, but lets see what happens when I push them both off the table.”

For many reasons, we fear the unknown – what if things explode?  Thankfully with programming and technology, the chance of things exploding (or breaking beyond repair) is extremely small, and you can always re-install if it’s purely software.  So, if you’re just learning, or looking to expand deeper into a concept, just play.  Try something crazy, do something simply for the sake of seeing what will happen.  Remember that failures are just excellent learning moments.

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What you see…

Since the rise of desktop computing, there has been a great deal of software labeled WYSIWYG (Wizzy-wig – What You See Is What You Get).  For example, Microsoft Word.  When you typed was exactly what you saw on a printed page.  This is great when dealing with a static medium (a printed page, a video that will be put on a DVD) but when you’re dealing with software (and yes, ebooks are software) WYSIWYG can actually be a terrible misnomer and create headaches.

With technology, there is always a trade off between control and ease.  If something is to be made very easy (such as creating a 1-page document in Word) you’re sacrificing control over what you can do with that document, as well as how portable it is.  This is where learning how to program, such as HTML & CSS can be very useful.

As with anything, it is important to know what your desired outcome is and to use the tool that is best for the job.  Hand-coding a simple document in LaTeX that you only intend to print out is unnecessary, but writing a science textbook in Word that you plan to distribute an ebook is a terrible idea.

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Take your time

There are certainly situations that call for work to be done quickly – life-or-death medical emergencies, fighting an actual fire, running away from a bear, but the rest of life can only create pseudo-emergencies.

Pressures are put on us from all directions, internal and external.  Often times, taking a little bit of extra time to do a job well, or even to just do it slowly so you can catch mistakes while you’re doing it, will pay off in the long run.  Short term gains often come with long term risks.

The next time you feel stressed over a deadline – ask yourself how real that deadline is, and what the expectations are.  Remember that doing it right the first time is the best thing you can do.

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Net Neutrality

With the latest merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, as well as some moves taken by cell phone providers, there has been a great deal of discussion around Net Neutrality.  While I have my opinions, I’ll try to be as factual and concise as possible and explain a bit of what Net Neutrality is and what businesses are attempting to do.

For the sake of explanation, lets think of the physical wiring of the internet as roads – it is ultimately infrastructure.  Large internet providers own cables that send data from our computers and devices to and from servers.  So, like a family vacation, if we want to get from our home to some destination, we have to take roads.  The internet is the same.

A few years back, the largest internet companies – Google, Verizon, etc, got together and agreed that they were not going to restrict traffic flow.  In short, they agreed that if you have a car, you can drive on the roads.  If there is heavy traffic, things will slow, and if you have an open road, you can drive fast.  It is a bit more complicated than that, but I on a general scale, that covers it.

Just recently the US Government warranted that these large companies did not have the power to create/enforce such an agreement – mainly because the action was considered collusion.  Despite the agreement being beneficial for consumers, the logic is sound.  The US Government resolved that only the FCC could make such rules/restrictions about internet traffic/use.  Since that ruling, no laws have been put in place to enforce any sort of neutrality.

Since then, a few telecom companies have taken steps that have had the Net Neutrality community upset.  The proposal was that the cell phone company would allow a business to pay for an individual’s wireless usage.  Going back to the real-world car example, that is like saying if you drive a Honda, you can gas up for free, but not Fords.  The telecom companies are the ones who control who gets free gas, so you can see that this would make Honda a more favorable car.  Many argue that it gives an unfair advantage to large companies, who can afford to do such large-scale deals.

And – since I mentioned it above, the merger between TWC and Comcast is of concern to people because it merges two very large providers into one.  Incentive for that newer company to increase speeds, reduce price, and provide better service is reduced.  Reality is, there is no immediate threat to Net Neutrality by this merger, just many people concerned of poor service.

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Create Your Future

You have the power to shape the world around you.  Even with a basic knowledge of modern technology, you can shape the world around you.  You can mix ingredients to create wonderful tasting food, you can craft a message and share it with the entire world, you can reduce your dependency on fossil fuels, you can even save lives.  But, we can make change beyond simply creating.  With every dollar we spend, we are helping to shape the future.  When we buy sustainable foods, we promote sustainable foods.  If you buy cigarettes, you promote the cigarette companies, when you buy local, you support local, etc.  Every dollar you spend is a vote for the future that comes with its production and creation.  Remember – you have the power to shape the future, use it wisely.

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Define Failure & Success

The latest business craze is to adopt the methodology of “fail often, fail quick” which is about trying a bunch of different things, taking many small, mitigated risks, and when one starts to succeed, run with it.  There are a few more rules, mainly around learning from your failures, but that is the main gist of the methodology.

For it to work, you need to clearly define failure and success.  Without those definitions, you are most certainly going to fail in the end, or miss out on significant opportunities.

A definition of failure should have a clear when, and how.  If you sell products, a failure definition like “Sells less than 100 units in 3 months” is great.  Additionally, it is important to define a success.  A success is not always a non-failure.  In the product example, selling 101 units doesn’t make a product a success, it may take 300 units in 3 months to be profitable.  So what do you do in the grey area of 100-300 sales?  You have to ask yourself – can I do something to make this product sell more?  Can I raise the price to make more money yet not drop sales?

The same goes for technology.  If you’re building something new, you have to be clear with your goals, what is your start and end, what is your success, and what is your fail point.  The worst thing is admitting defeat when your first snag is hit because you haven’t properly defined a fail point.

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