The Oaks Ignore Their Pleas

Google’s Smartwatch

Posted in Google by Jeff Graves on March 19, 2014

Google’s Smartwatch

Google has fired the first shot vs. Apple in the smartwatch wars, with a pretty interesting application of the card-based paradigm of Google Now.  As Fast Company points out, it’s a very compelling approach, but out of the gate, my first reaction was “Damn, that watch is way too big”.  On my skinny wrists, it’s going to look a little silly, but it will be interesting to see how many people ignore that and take the plunge.  It’s less obtrusive than Google Glass, but it’s hardly a fashion statement.  If Apple does indeed launch a watch, my prediction is that they’ll produce a more fashionable design…at probably twice the price.

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Simplicity is t…

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on March 17, 2014

Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.
George Sand

When there’s a lot going on, it’s really easy to find yourself reacting to nearly everything, and not acting particularly thoughtfully or consciously.  The to-do list is too long, there are too many appointments on the calendar, too many people to talk to…so you tend to bounce from one thing to the next, relying on your memory and your ability to think on the fly to get yourself through each event of the day.

But for me, and I suspect for most people, that’s not the way to get really good work done.  My best work comes when I can spend some time thinking and preparing for what’s to come, and the only way to make sure that preparation happens is to make time for it.  That, in turn, means setting aside less important stuff, and saying no more often, which is usually where I struggle.  It’s a cliche, but it’s true: simple is hard – hard to do, hard to make time for and hard to reconcile with our crazy, lightning-paced world.

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Making Decisions When Choices Are Hard

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on March 11, 2014

Sometimes, we’re faced with tough decisions where there seems like there are no good options, and we just have to choose the “best option” and hope that we did enough homework and that things work out in our favor.  And then there are times when we face a decision between two or more really GOOD options, but we can only choose one.  Those are always the ones I have the hardest time making, because I hate to miss out on things.   It’s funny, because if you’re faced with 2 really good options, you probably can’t lose – no matter what you choose, you benefit.  But, the whole concept of Opportunity Cost rears it’s head – if I don’t do option A, what will I miss out on?  I probably shouldn’t look at it that way, and I try not to, but there’s always that little voice in my head pointing out the benefits to each option, telling me what I’ll regret if I don’t do this, or don’t do that.  At the end of the day, we’ve only got so much time and energy to spend, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to waste energy fretting over the road not taken.  

And sometimes, we have a week that seems full of these kinds of decisions.  The best thing to do, I think, is to work on one decision at a time, and when the decision is made, put it aside and move on to the next one.  Easier said than done, but that’s the plan for this week.

Product Placement at the Oscars

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on March 4, 2014

Product Placement at the Oscars

I didn’t watch much of the Oscar’s telecast, but did see some of host Ellen DeGeneres’ schtick using a Samsung smartphone to take selfies of the audience and then publish them on Twitter.  At the time, I figured it was a deliberate effort by the show producers to leverage social media to extend the reach of the telecast, and I’m sure it was.  But I was bemused to see this article in the WSJ indicating that while Ellen’s actions looked spontaneous, they were actually part of a product placement strategy engineering by Samsung itself.  I shouldn’t be surprised; after all, firms of every shape and size are looking to get their products in front of consumers in new and different ways that can’t be avoided by the “fast forward” button on the DVR.  Much like Ford and Coca-Cola have long embedded their products into shows like American Idol, I’m sure we’ll see more of this kind of subtle advertising during big-ticket live events going forward.

Speaking of Coca-Cola, I love the mention at the end of this article about the Coca-Cola logo that appeared on the boxes of pizza that Ellen ordered in for Oscar’s guests.  Coca-Cola did not actually buy advertising time on the telecast, although Pepsi did, but one might argue that Coke got a bigger boost for their impromptu, free product placement.

“The number of …

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on February 26, 2014

“The number of requests we get for an on-premise solution is down 90%. It used to be one of the most common requests. Now it’s almost completely disappeared.” – Phil Libin


I was going through my Pocket reading list yesterday to archive some of the content, when I came across this 2013 article from Stowe Boyd via GigaOm on the “consumerization of work”.  It’s fascinating to see the traditional view of software and IT infrastructure erode so rapidly, both in terms of cloud adoption as well as employee expectations about the technology they use to get their jobs done.  Stowe writes a lot about the need for a change in the very structure of work itself, and these technical changes are the underpinnings of that change, I think.  Large or small, the companies that are most successful in the coming years will be the firms that take these shifts seriously.

Roger Angell’s Must Read

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on February 21, 2014

Roger Angell’s Must Read

Roger Angell, baseball writer and long-time contributor to The New Yorker has written a fabulous piece on life, death, love and growing old, and if you haven’t already read it, you need to click on the link here right now and go read it.  It’s compelling, wise, thought-provoking, and quite honestly and literally took my breath away.  This one goes up there with Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture”, and Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech as powerful guides to the really important things in life and how to make the most of them.

Fitbit and My (and Your) Health

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on February 19, 2014

I was talking to a colleague yesterday about the Fitbit, as she was considering buying one, and she had seen my Force on my wrist.  It’s been a little over a month since I got my Fitbit Force, a birthday present from my wife and children.  In that time, I’ve discovered that on an average day I take about 14,000 steps, climb 26 floors a day, and burn about 2800 calories a day.  The device scratches my itch for knowing more about my activity each day, and I like checking my dashboard every morning to see what my day was like before.

But has the Fitbit actually changed my behavior?  Has it made me more fit, more active?  Probably not significantly, although you might argue that simply being aware of my activity (or on a few days, my LACK of activity) has shaped my behavior.  I haven’t started a new fitness routine, but I do make sure I get up and walk around during the workday now and then, so that I don’t see large gaps of movement in my daily timeline.  I also tend to get out and climb 15 or 20 flights of stairs at least once a day at work now, since I’ve set a target for myself in my Fitbit Dashboard to climb 40 flights a day.

I’ve seen a number of blog posts from people lately talking about how they’ve abandoned their Fitbit / Fuelband / etc, because they didn’t feel it actually did anything for them.  I’m sure there are an awful lot of people who have abandoned their diets and New Year’s workout resolutions as well, and the real reason behind that is likely more due to simple human behavior and the difficulty of making new habits than anything else.  So far, I’m still committed to the Fitbit, but that’s likely because I like looking at the digital trails of my life and analyzing them to see how I can change them.

But in my mind, we’re in the very early stages of what personal fitness trackers will do, akin to the days of the original Palm Pilot or the Motorola Razr flip-phone.  I still rely on my iOS app Strava to track my cycling training, because the Fitbit doesn’t accurately track cycling activity.  I’m still shopping around for a heartrate monitor, because the Fitbit doesn’t track pulse (or other biological metrics).  In short, to capture all of the information I’d want to capture, I still have purchase and carry multiple devices, and in many cases, I still have to rely on manual entry of data (I don’t track my weight or calories consumed because that seems like more effort than it’s worth for me right now).

Someday soon, devices should be able to automate a lot of those things that they don’t today, and offer a much more complete picture of one’s health and fitness.  And while athletes of all shapes and sizes might benefit from this evolution, everyday individuals could also benefit, particularly individuals who suffer from chronic disease.  Google’s “smart contact lens” is just one example of the ways that we’ll be able to monitor and track key health metrics and upload them to the cloud, to be combined with other metrics and help us form a better picture of ourselves.

Of course, as my colleague noted yesterday, that comes with some interesting challenges as well.  Who will “own” that data, and who will access it, and for what purposes?  Will insurance companies insist on having access to your activity logs in order to qualify you for a “fitness discount”?  And will we be ok with that? (I think I would, provided there’s adequate protections on my data).  And then there’s the question of whether we’ll all be better off with a lot of data about our health.  Will we tend to self-diagnose ourselves, and will we do it correctly?  Will our relationship with our doctors become better, or more distant?  How can we use all of this data in an intelligent fashion to improve our health, not jeopardize it?  As with most elements of technology, the implications of what’s coming go far beyond the capabilities themselves, and we’ll be challenged to make smart decisions in order for the technology to work best for us. 

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Presentation Design

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on February 12, 2014

I hate to admit this, but there’s a phrase that I cringe hearing, but it’s one that I’ve uttered myself on far too many occasions. Most people who have sat through a business presentation based on PowerPoint have heard it, probably many times:

“This slide is kind of hard to read, but I put it in because…”

Yeah, you just lost me. The limitations of PowerPoint are pretty numerous, and all you have to do is listen to a talk by Edward Tufte if you disagree with me. While Tufte might argue that the use of PowerPoint can be downright dangerous, I won’t go so far here. The reality is that PowerPoint has become a default tool for most companies, but it’s important to recognize the limitations inherent in the platform, and work to overcome them. Anyone who’s giving a presentation needs to consider the audience when designing material to support a talk, and there’s just no excuse for putting up a slide that requires that disclaimer before you make your point.

And yes, I’ve said it before, and I don’t feel good about that. I know that sometimes you run out of time to “get it right”, or you’re working with someone else’s slides, or you just don’t think it’s worth the time to refine a hard-to-read slide into something more palatable.

Here’s my solution to this challenge: I’m making a resolution here and now, that when I find myself with a slide that will require a disclaimer, I’ll do one of two things – Fix The Slide or Delete It.

In Summary: Consider your audience when creating presentation material, and don’t disrespect them by being lazy.

Focus and Habits in the New Year

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on February 10, 2014

When I started the year, I decided to take a more formal approach to managing my life, with an eye towards improving my ability to get the important things done, and reduce the amount of time I spend on “timewasting” activities.  I hesitate to call it a New Year’s Resolution, because I think those tend to become devalued, but the entire process is part of an ongoing shift I started a couple of years ago to create more positive habits.

One of the interesting things I’ve discovered, is that habit-building, for me anyhow, is a skill that’s strengthened with use.  I’ve historically been challenged to build new habits – I get rolling for a few weeks, then start to slide, and then before I know it, I’ve abandoned whatever habit I was trying to create in the first place.  Maybe I just chose the wrong habits and I’m better at selecting useful, relevant ones.  But maybe, the act of creating and sticking to one habit, gives you a little bit more strength and willpower to create another.  I started by getting up earlier each day, so I’d have at least an hour or so to focus on some of the things I tend to let slide in the evenings, like reading, managing finances, working out (or folding laundry!).  Once I had successfully managed my wakeup clock, I found myself taking advantage of the extra time, and I was able to make a lot of progress on things I had been letting languish for a very long time.

As I approached 2014, I decided to take a new approach, and set some broad personal objectives for the year, break them down into monthly and then weekly tasks, and measure myself against them.  So far, about 5 weeks into the year, I’m pretty happy with the results.  I haven’t accomplished everything on my task list, but I’m moving through things with more progress that I’ve been able to manage in the past.  As a bonus, I find that I’m better at doing some simple things that I often neglected, like flossing every day, moving around more during the workday, and watching my sugar intake.  I’ve got a long ways to go, as I’ve set some pretty aggressive goals for the year, but I’m liking how this is going so far.

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Super Bowl Observations

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on February 3, 2014

The game itself wasn’t much of a contest – literally from the very first (mis) snap, the Broncos seemed to be cursed, and the Seahawks did very little wrong.  But as always, it was entertaining, from the commercials to the hyped half-time show to running commentary on Twitter (sorry, Facebook, I never even checked you.)  A few thoughts…

Hours before the game started, I headed to the grocery store for my weekly run.  Yes, it was busy, but I was a bit surprised to find just about everything I went for.  That is, until I got to the “sauce” aisle after deciding to make chicken wings for the game.  There were plenty of bottles of sauce on the shelf, except for one – Frank’s Red Hot.  Apparently, a lot of people decided to put that S%^t on everything, because there was a huge hole where the Frank’s Red Hot used to be.  It was the only sauce even close to being sold out, and in it’s place was a solitary bottle of Louisiana brand hot sauce.  Tip: Louisiana brand actually is pretty damn good.

The always over-hyped commercials were just eh, I thought.  I did like the Radio Shack “Back to the 80’s” ad, although I’m not sure it will do much for Radio Shack’s reputation.  (I wonder if they still ask you for all that information when you go to check out).  There were the requisite tear-jerkers from Budweiser, and the salute to Lt. Chuck Nadd was well done.  Most of the others sort of blend into one another, although I thought the Bob Dylan Chrysler commercial was just plain sad.  Apparently money can buy anything, even 60’s icons.

The strange pairing of Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers actually worked for me.  Mars got the pace rocking with his opening numbers, and the Chili Peppers took it a notch higher, while Mars played right along.  It was loud, bright, over the top, and just right for halftime.  As someone pointed out on Twitter though, I wonder when Mars and any of the Chili Peppers will actually speak again, though.

Oh, and the game…well, the game was, as too many Super Bowls seem to become, a bit of a snooze fest.  Even the Fox commentators gave up towards the end of the 3rd quarter and deemed the game “over”, after trying to concoct scenarios at halftime for Manning to engineer a comeback.  It’s hard to reconcile the Denver Broncos team we saw 2 weeks ago dismantle the New England Patriots with the team that couldn’t even run their first play from scrimmage without the other team scoring.  It was nice to see the underdogs take home the trophy, even though I didn’t actually stay up to see any of the post-game festivities.  All in all, it was less of a sporting event than an entertainment one, and it managed to capture my attention for 4 hours, and I guess that’s what it’s all about.