Boards of Canada – Reach for the Dead


Boards of Canada – Reach for the Dead (from Tomorrow’s Harvest) – YouTube.

I can’t express how excited I am for Boards of Canada’s new album, Tomorrow’s Harvest to come out. Ever since Graham introduced me to Boards, their music has been an anchor for me. I listen to them if I ever need to tune out of the world and focus (often), or just for late night relaxing.

Boards of Canada basically got me through university as well. I played Boards religiously on the many nights I spent in front of my computer with a cup of tea studying, writing, or programming. The two albums Music Has the Right to Children and The Campfire Headphase both have a special place in my heart.

Facebook Home

It may be difficult to notice at the moment, but Facebook Home could lead the next big evolution of mobile phones. The last big evolution came when Apple opened up iOS to third party developers and that decision ended up accelerating the adoption of the smartphone market, filling it with app stores worth about $15 billion dollars.

Every year since, analysts have come out with their predictions of the trends for the next 12 months. Those trends have always been farsighted, repetitive, and inaccurate. They often include: NFC, Location, mobile payment, context aware services, smart objects, bigger phones, cheaper phones, smaller phones, wireless charging, etc…

The real change never comes from the analysts’ trends, but always from what they never see coming.

That’s not to say that Facebook Home is going to bring in $15 billion, but there’s a very good chance it will not only change the way millions of people use their phones, but the way people think about phones.

It will definitely inspire a few imitators in the process.

What You Think When You Think Smartphone

Not everyone is going to be thrilled about seeing stuff from Facebook every time they open up their phones, but it’s still a new, and a great idea. Up until now every mobile platform has approached the phone lock screen in the same way.

The only real differentiation in platforms has been the home screen that appears after you unlock your phone. iOS’s home screen has its apps icons arranged in an iconic grid that emphasizes its simplicity, Android’s home screen is associated with widgets and its Google integration, and Windows Phone has it’s Metro tiles which can represent whatever information or controls the user chooses.

The idea of Home doesn’t just change the data you see when you see your lock screen, but changes your understanding of what a phone is.

Right now my phone is a powerful, small computer that’s connected to the network and filled with many useful and entertaining applications. Facebook Home might make my phone a bigger token of me, my social life, and my place in the world.

The First Big Change In Mobile In Years

From the time the iPhone was first announced, the smart phone industry has been uninteresting until the announcement of Facebook Home.

  • New phones come out year after year that look just like the iPhone; Big screens and simple hardware dominates.
  • Platforms fight to acquire the same popular apps.
  • BlackBerry and Windows Phone (Microsoft and Nokia) keep releasing their “comeback” phones.
  • In the most over the top fashion Samsung releases phones with the most peculiar features.

It’s rare to see something come out that’s both innovative, useful, and practical. The fact that it came from Facebook helps justify my feeling that smartphone manufacturers have been competing with a narrow view of the market.

Where Facebook Leads, Others Will Follow

Facebook Home is a good app, but it’s an even better idea. I hope to see more companies re-examine their lock screens, and expect Google and Samsung to be the first ones to implement their own versions of Home.

I’m sure that Google will respond with something that pushes Google+ to users. Users installing Facebook Home on Android phones, and some Android phones being shipped with Facebook Home highlights the competition between Facebook and Google in the battle for users’ time and data more than it does the competition between the smartphone platforms of Android, iOS, and BlackBerry.

The nice thing about Android is that any company that creates their own launcher can easily distribute it to users over the Play Store. Even if iOS updates its lock screen, it will be the only implementation available to users because of the limitations on the kind of software that’s allowed into the App Store.

Thinking about a Google+ implementation conjures up visions of a lock screen that integrates the many services Google offers, as well as the many opportunities they have to integrate that data. Putting Google’s AI to work right on the lock screen of a phone could more easily connect users with their contact information, reminders, recommendations, routes, and just about anything that can be construed from the data.

Ulysses 3

This past week I’ve been using Ulysses 3 (U3) as my writing studio after a long stretch of only using iA Writer and nvALT. U3 comes to the table with a system I can use for almost all of my writing needs. That’s mostly because the value proposition of U3 isn’t in just being another minimal text editor, but like its predecessor, by being a complete writing system that reduces the friction of working with text… With some added twists.

The most fitting illustration of what its like to use U3 and one that does a good job of explains how to decide between using U3 instead of iA Writer is from The Brooks Review and his notion of U3 as a notebook, and IA Writer as a piece of paper. You can have the most beautiful paper that’s a delight to use, but as the sheets start to pile up on one another, organizing them becomes daunting and you start yearning for a better system.

IA Writer has been one of my favourite apps, but just a few minutes into using U3 and it was clear to me the problem I had with IA Writer. I was using it the same way that I’ve used every other writing application in the past 10 years.

Ulysses is a wonderful system that offers different perspectives to organize my writing, a full assortment of formatting options rooted in plain text, and it has eliminated the staples of text editing like saving, loading, naming documents, and needing to navigate the file browser.

Getting Started

Once you start using U3 the two things that you need to orient yourself with are how groups and sheets (folders & documents) work, and the way the application hides extra information (through HUDs, or pop-ups). Getting started is likely to be the only place people have trouble with U3, so let me briefly go over those two topics. Everything I don’t mention you can assume to be flawless (such as editing, syncing, exporting, and formatting).

Groups & Sheets

If you try and pick up U3 without reading through the introduction documents you may do alright, but it’s such a different way of working with text that the barrier is enough to limit your appreciation of the app. Reading the introduction will help you with all aspects of U3. You’ll especially want to get a good understanding of how U3 uses groups and sheets. U3 isn’t a minima text editor that stripped down its features so you can jump in and just write, but it is an application where the small investment you make to learn how it works, will be paid back quickly and with interest.

Pop-ups

Once you know how to navigate around U3 and work with your sheets, the next step is figuring out all the different things you can do with them. For that, U3 uses a series of pop-ups that reveal export options, favourite documents, and document statistics. The pop-ups look inspired from iOS, but with a style and the sort of functionality that you would expect on OS X.

The last hidden panel is the Markup pane, controlled by cmd-9. It shows all the markdown options available (depending on what format your sheet is in), the markup for that format, and any short-cut keys available.

Criticisms

I have only a handful of problems with U3, though many of them are personal as opposed to issues in the software.

Another feature of U3 is that is supports syncing with Daedalus for iOS over iCloud. The sync works well, but my problem has to do with Daedalus. Daedalus makes a fine editor on its own, but I don’t like how the two differ so much in terms of style and in terms of features. The experience of any app is already going to differ so much between iOS and OS X, that using two different apps results in a change that’s too big for me to bear each time I switch. Ulysses on iOS is what I really want.

Another feature of U3 that I haven’t been able to wrap my head around is how support for external folder support works in U3, such as editing text files from Dropbox. So I’ve just stayed away from using that feature.

Finally, while I like the way U3 organizes your sheets into Groups, it seems unproductive for the app to support so many distinct group sources which by default include: iCloud, files synced across different Macs with Ulysses installed; On My Mac, a local file storage; and Daedalus, an iCloud powered sync between all Ulysses and Daedalus installs. On top of that, U3 also has a Library section that gives you a different hierarchy to access the documents from the different sources.

Final Word

If Daedalus for the iPhone functioned better as a quick note entry app I could see working that into my workflow and would enjoy really taking advantage of the Inbox folder U3 has set up by default.

In the end, U3 works fantastically and in general people won’t have have any problems with the issues I’ve identified. Updates to both applications are sure to make the pair an even better combination in the near future.

Real-time Brands

Real-time content, real-time analytics, and real-time marketing all sound increasingly interesting and cool, but they’re also increasingly expensive and require real-time permission, real-time resources, and real-time creative insights. At the end of it all who’s to say what the results of all that real-time marketing will be, or when they’ll deliver? Is the reward, real-time brand, real-time trust, and real-time results?

I have a feeling that whatever the return on real-time marketing are, companies may be forced to embrace it because of how well tuned consumers are to real-time and have developed a hyper focus on the present. Real-time might be the ultimate connection one can make with consumers. In fact, real-time might be the only way people are able to operate anymore.

Present Shock

Those are some of the things I started thinking about after reading an interview with Douglas Rushkoff in the Nieman Journalism Lab about his new book, Present Shock. What immediately got my attention was when Rushkoff laid out five of the principals of the phenomenon he calls Present Shock, and how people and media are changing their behaviour and perception of the world, only a few years after of the introduction of real-time and mobile media.

While the interview covers a couple of interesting topics and talks about the impact these behaviours have on journalism, attention, social media, and technology, the behaviours outlined most likely manifest in every aspect of our lives without us realizing it.

When peoples perception of the world around them is characterized by an inability to escape the here and now, how do brands demonstrate their relevance to consumers? More broadly, what’s the impact that Present Shock has on the notion of a brand?

The idea of a brand as a feeling or as a word in consumer’s mind that builds trust over time through a series of positive experiences doesn’t appear congruous with the symptoms of Present Shock.

Oreo Briefly Shimmers

Let’s take an example of a real-time success with Oreo’s Superbowl Twitter ad. During the Super Bowl XLVII blackout, Oreo most effectively reacted to the event and pushed an ad over Twitter that captured the attention of the Super Bowl spectators while they waited for the game to resume. What made it such a successful tactic was that they were able to generate a huge amount of attention towards their brand for millions less than a Super Bowl ad would have cost. As an ad it was decent also because it aligned with their brand and reminded people to “dunk”.

Even though Oreo had a very successful real-time ad and had all the resources in place to support such an activity, what were the benefits? Did the bottom line of the Oreo brand change between the start and end of the Super Bowl? Or was the Oreo ad successful only as a useful distraction from the blackout? It’s no mystery that people have a difficult time staying offline during a show or while watching television, it was only natural that everyone’s attention turned to Twitter once the blackout occurred.

The Oreo ad was popular thanks to the behaviour of people and their perception of being part of a big event (the blackout) within a big event (Super Bowl). It was Oreo who did it, but it could have been another brand, or maybe there could have been no brand at all.

Brands are increasingly trying to find ways to engage users with relevant marketing by taking advantage of real-time events, or by hijacking memes and news stories. But to what affect?

To answer that question I think we need to look higher than just whether having a real-time brand is gainful or unrewarding. It’s more useful to understand that people’s attention may now be more on the real-time, and less on the brand.

2013 CrossFit Open Recap

It’s about time I sat down and forced myself to write something. I’ve constantly been doing stuff, focusing on reading and learning since the last time I blogged in October, and longer still since I worked on the series of sketches that first appeared here in September. The problem was that I haven’t really dived deep enough into any particular topic to come up with interesting ideas or had many engaging conversations with friends that typically inspire new ideas in me. I’ve been getting by with sharing whatever I do come up with on Twitter and App.net.

What had my attention in the last month was the 2013 CrossFit Open (which is a part of the CrossFit Games). This was my second year participating and besides seeing how much stronger I’ve gotten in a year, there were a couple things I took away.

My Weaknesses

Last year when I did the open I was pretty weak and there were a lot of movements I simply couldn’t do. It explains why I was 35 positions from the bottom in my region. Twelve more months of training, dozens of hours on the CrossFit Journal, and many extra weekend sessions working on technique put me into a better position to compete. My 2013 Open ranking for Canada East of 1742/2001 was a respectable improvement, but it also shined a light on what weaknesses I still have to work on.

Each workout pointed out what I have to work on in the next year:

  • 13.1 showed me I’m strong enough to perform snatches at 135lbs or heavier, but I need to maintain regular practice and focus on that movement.
  • 13.2 showed me I need to work on my technique and to maximize efficiency of doing 24” box jumps, especially at high rep counts of 50+ and when combined with medium weight barbell movements.
  • 13.3 showed me that my wall balls had gotten better with an improvement of 67% since last year, but that I still couldn’t even finish the first part of the workout and only performed 140 of 150 wall balls in 12 minutes. More high rep wall ball work and including them in more high intensity workouts is in the books for next year.
  • 13.4 showed me that I could do 135lbs clean and jerks really efficiently after some practice, but that I need to get stronger in order to handle that workload for longer durations
  • 13.5 reminded me that I can’t neglect pull-ups for too long or else they get really bad.

The Open Routine

The group of people who participated in the Open from our gym increased from only two people last year to seven. That made everything about it a lot more fun, and relevant to our day to day experience at the gym. People were more interested in following the Open, in tracking the workout announcements, and in learning how to maximizing their movement efficiency.

Watching the MobilityWOD Open workout prep videos was some the most useful material I’ve seen all year. Instead of getting general tips on movements as usual, I got to watch and relay onto my team specific tips that took into account the set of movements in the workout, the rep scheme, and the length of the workout. They also included valuable information on warm-up and mobilizing that I can use again in the future.

It also helped that everyone participating was really open to getting feedback and tips on how to do the open workouts more efficiently. Just like my experience through the five Open workouts revealed my weaknesses, everyone else going through the Open had their own experience of discovering their own strengths and weaknesses, but in a way that made them more committed to overcoming them than I would have seen in normal day to day training.

Being able to judge more than just one other person this year was also rewarding because just like everything else in CrossFit, my confidence wasn’t really there at the beginning and I only became comfortable judging after practice.

Preparing for Next Year

Coming off the open it feels like everyone is committed to tackling their weak points, and training hard in preparation for next year.

I know when January comes around there are a few things I’ll want to focus on in my day to day training in order to achieve better results:

  • More olympic lifting practice
  • More rest days
  • More high intensity workouts (heavy weight met-cons)
  • More training of the “Open Movements” (the standard set of movements that typically find their way into the Open WODs)