10 10 / 2014

The more I work in a company the more I think that the way we communicate is broken. We have huge discussions in email threads, off discussions over IM, and then some meetings because it is all overwhelming. Here are some examples:

  • When people who should know are left out of a thread, we reply CC-ing them. Then somebody replies to a previous email, and the new person is lost again. Dropping synchronicity bite us in the ass.
  • In other occasions the discussion derails from the original subject, so you can never find the email. Then you discuss part of it over IM with a colleague, forgetting to update everyone, and somebody will reply-all to the original thread creating even more confusion.
  • Finally, when a thread is getting too long, somebody will call a meeting, invite all the 17 people on the thread (some of which will be late and need to be caught up), forget to invite others, and we will spend the first 10 minutes of the meeting recapping the situation and saying “who just joined, here we have…”.

This is broken.

We need a better tool. Something with threads that can be forked and where people can be added later. Where chats are part of the discussion and meetings called directly from a thread get registered and transcribed. Something encrypted, that leaves a track but can’t be broken/hacked.

Email is so engrained in the way we do things today, but it is so inefficient and creates so many problems.

Perhaps we need a comprehensive communication tool. It needs to integrate with email, but only in one direction, without allowing internal employees to access that email account with any other client. And it needs to have a beautiful phone app. Perhaps even a desktop app.

This may also help reduce stress. We will not fear to have missed anything. Email will be back to be truly asynchronous as it was meant to be.

It is complex, but it is a problem worth exploring.

10 10 / 2014

Last week I bought a Garmin Vivosmart. It is a great device, better than the Jawbone Up, FitBit and all the competitors. Not only it tracks your steps and sleep, but it also works as watch and shows notifications from your phone and allows to control your music. It is slick, waterproof, easy to clean and durable. This is, in my opinion, the device of the future. And with a $160 price tag, it is way better to wear everywhere than a $550 Apple iWatch.

The device has really the potential to be perfect, and I wish Garmin was a startup so I could just tell them how make it so. I am going to email them this list, but I will write it also here so others can chime in. They are all software upgrades so really easy to make:

  • The alarm needs to be smart and wake you up at the best moment in your sleep cycle like Jawbone and Fitbit do. I am not sure if it helps or not, but it would not be hard to do.
  • It needs to support multiple alarms, one is just not enough. And they should be more complex (e.g., only on Monday). Then, please, allow me to store some text with the alarm that will show on the display.
  • Allow to disable the alarm from the watch. I do not want to open the app and synchronize it at 2am. I just want to sleep.
  • Cleanup the notification text, at least for the top 25 apps for Android/iOS. For example, for Google Maps, do not use one line to tell me that it is Google Maps. Skip that, and just show “Turn left” on the first line and “on Arrellaga Street” on the second line. Same thing for texts over Google Voice, do not use the first line for “Google Voice” and the second for the name of the person. Geek bonus: allow regular expressions that match app name and text to decide what to display (e.g., I just want emails from work peers).
  • Show a more useful first screen while doing an activity. If I am doing an activity, and I told the watch, please show how long I have been running, the distance, and the current time on the first screen. It just make sense. And if I am measuring my heart rate, please show that too. All in the first screen.
  • Calibration needs to be automatic! You have an app, the phone has GPS, you should not ask me to run a known distance and count my steps. You figure it out. Like Jawbone does. It is easy: start calibration, you take note of my steps, track my path with GPS, and when I stop (or you tell me to) figure out the ratio between steps and distance.
  • Use the GPS in the phone to track my path when I run! If I run with the heart monitor strap, and I have my phone with me, why don’t you give me the option of tracking my path using the GPS of the phone? I would really like that. Just like any other fitness app.
  • Show how many days are left in the battery of the watch in the app, and send me notifications perhaps. Recharging this thing requires a cradle and I may not have it with me at all times. Right now the only way to know where the battery is at is to enter the setup in the watch (which requires a few steps and just gives you a super small icon) or wait for the watch to complain (which gives you ~1 day to recharge). Learn from Jawbone’s app.

09 12 / 2013

My little sister (14) would like a camera this Christmas. She was interested in one of the fancy/big reflex ones but I strongly discouraged her from purchasing one.

She walks around with her iPhone 5 always in hand. That will be her main camera. I am sure that in 95% of the moments worth remembering in her life she will not have her “fancy” camera with her.

But if she really wants to buy something (<$500), I strongly recommend one of the rugged point-and-shoot cameras, like the Olympus TG-820. I always had a lot of fun with mine. You can bring it to the beach, to the swimming pool, you can do underwater shoots (so cool!) and it’s rugged, its not going to break, so you can just throw it at the bottom of your backpack and you’ll be fine.

If she really doesn’t like that one, to other point-and-shoots that I like are from the Canon Powershot series, the SX260 HS and the ELPH 110 HS.

I am posting it all here because since I’ve done some research on this already, I hope it will save time to whoever needs to do it next.

25 10 / 2013

Like many people I travel a lot lately. I’m barely home. Most of my communication is already electronic but some is still paper based. And since I am never home, I get it with weeks of delay.

Some companies like Outbox already offer to pickup the mail for you, scan it, and deliver it electronically. But that works only in San Francisco right now and requires overhead.

Why doesn’t the cash-strapped almost-bankrupt USPS offer that service?

Instead of delivering the mail, they can have me pay a monthly fee ($5?) to have it digitalized by them and put on my online account. If I pay more, they will avoid to put in there also flyer/ads.

Not delivering my mail will save them money, gas, vehicle maintenance and time. So not only they will make more money directly, but they will also save some.

And people will not lose jobs, because for each postman that we remove from out there, there will be the need for people who open and scan these letters, people who run/maintain these services and customer support.

I want that. Please build it.

12 8 / 2013

People hate advertising and hate the idea that somebody is spying on them. I would be totally ok with that if it was used to push to me things I will really like.

The world still works backward, in a PULL fashion. Here are a few examples:

  1. Your lease is up, so you start looking for a new apartment, maybe at the worst possible time in the market. Maybe the perfect house for you was available just one week ago, but you weren’t looking then and now you are scrambling to find a place.
  2. You want a book for your next trip and you start looking for one. Read a few reviews, what came out in the last week or two. You are probably going to be missing that great gem that came out two months ago but hasn’t made the top 100 list on Amazon yet.
  3. You want to see a movie with your partner tonight. You open Netflix or AppleTV and pick one in the “featured” section. What about that movie that came out a couple of months ago and that you wanted to see in the theater but forgot?
  4. You want to take a beach vacation. You got to Expedia and look for a few places, pick the flight, and go. What about that great deal in two weeks where you could fly to Hawaii roundtrip for $69?

I want a world that works the other way: PUSH. Please, do send me notifications on new books what come out, new movies I should rent, new music I should listen to. Tell me that there is a perfect house on the beach at a price I can afford, or that now the price of a ticket+hotel for Hawaii on September 23rd is 25% of its normal price, or that tonight there is Salsa at that cute place downtown. I want all this.

And if you need my FourSquare checkins, my email, my Facebook posts, my tweets, my credit card history, my cookies, whatever… Please do take them. I authorize you.

If you do this correctly, I actually want ads. A lot of them. I want a page full of ads. And I will look at it every day. Promised. I will click on every single one.

30 7 / 2013

Two weeks ago a train details in Spain because it was going too fast on a curve, and just a few days ago two commuters trains collided in Switzerland because one driver did not way for the other train to pass before starting again.

This is insane. This is another of the dangers that society should not be worrying about in 2013.

Why are conductors still in control?

We know where the trains are and how fast they are going thanks to GPS. We can do probably even better with rail roads proprietary technology.

So why don’t we have computers decide the right speed to maintain on a curve or when the train should be moving from a stop instead of relying on people?

People should be there to take care of unpredictable things, emergencies and to coordinate in case of failures, but in normal conditions, why are they still in charge?

22 7 / 2013

It’s funny to me how people are surprised by all this business of the government collecting all the Internet data.

It’s known in the computer community that the NSA had their brightest people working cryptography for years, and most of the security algorithms (e.g., used in HTTPs) are based on their findings. It’s known that the army had iPhone like devices already during the Gulf war. It’s known that there are companies that build fiber-optic splitters that can be used miles underwater.

Facebook really started a revolution. We went from being super concerned about our own privacy (e.g., opening the mail is a fellony!) to volunteering our location, thoughts, health status and pictures online. We trust companies/people that we do not know to keep our pictures, documents, and most private things on servers that they don’t even own. We like to use our Facebook account to login everywhere, and tie all the services together.

When AOL released that “anonymized” search query sets, it took people a few days to deanonymize many of the search sessions. At Ask.com, we could create pretty accurate profiles of people based on their searches. And it’s funny to see how people like to upload a picture of theirselves on a profile, even if it’s not used anywhere else.

People do all this voluntarily, but then are shocked to hear that insurance companies use it to determine their health risk, thieves use it to determine when they are not home or to answer the security questions of the bank, and the government uses it to try to predict crime.

There are many studies that show how Facebook posts can be used to guess your psychological state, or even predict crime. And that’s done with public data. With all the data, you can do even more. I’ve to say, it’s all fascinating.

Having “all the data”, orders of magnitude more than the “big data” everybody claims to have, presents challenges by itself. Sifting through them is way harder, finding connections, patterns, etc. So while I have no doubt that somebody, somewhere, is storing them all, I am very confident that only a few streams are actually monitored.

21 7 / 2013

We all know how to use the Internet so nowadays call centers should assume that if I call I want to talk with a person.

The process should be optimized. You welcome me and tell me that an operator will call me back in X minutes. No holding. That’s pointless.

Then you say that many questions on reservations, status and options can be handled immediately through an automatic system and I should stay on the line if I want to try to solve it right away. Should I hang up before finishing, the operator will still call me.

Seems simple and I know people will love it. You can even do a ton of optimization if you look up the callerID and use it to pull up existing reservations, fidelity status, age, patience, …

17 7 / 2013

Every time I move or change my phone number I have to update a hundred companies, magazines and friends about what just happened. It sucks.

Why can’t we have an OAUTH for real life information? Instead of typing my address in the form of each bank, phone company, or service, I get sent to the service where I authorize the company to see my updated address/phone/etc for some period of time.

If I move, I just need to go change it in one place and everybody will pick it up. My magazines will arrive to my address, I will not miss any bill, and my friends will be able to call me as if nothing happened.

It does not seem that surreal. It can be done. Why nobody did it yet?

16 7 / 2013

I hate driving. I want self-driving cars. I want to be able to read the news, watch my favorite show, finish up some emails or chat/smooch with my lover while riding towards my destination.

If all the cars were self-driving, there would also be no traffic, so we would get places faster and less stressed.

And since it’s all automatic, I actually do not want to own a car. I want to be able to pull up my phone, type where I want to go, and I want a car which comes to pick me up and brings me there, for a reasonable fare. Maybe I can book it even in advance, or reserve the return, so I know I can get back from the grocery store.

The streets will be nicer, the air cleaner, and we would all be happier.