Tag Archives: Manufacturing

Computers: Right Back Where We Started

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A lot of my time is spent writing for and talking to people for whom the computer remains a scary beast that is best kept at arm’s length, or, better, in a closet. I feel for these people because I’m not naturally a techie myself.

I failed science and math in school and almost certainly would again if I retook those exams. (I blame the science teacher, an evil vicar who tormented me, but that’s another story.) But perhaps these technophobes have a point? Perhaps computers and the Internet haven’t really done us any favors?

Firstly, the stats. Has the computer/Internet boom made us more productive? Apparently not. Well, it did the first time around: the 1990s technology surge (the steep red bit in the chart above) made us all productive, and that continued until about 2003 (the extra years beyond the bubble burst helped by the momentum of the surge, and some serious cost-cutting. But since 2004 the U.S. has been in decline in terms of the rate of productivity growth (or trend productivity, to give it its proper name), to the point where we’re pretty much back where we started in 1995. I know it doesn’t exactly follow, but given a lot of us didn’t have BlackBerries, ultraportable laptops and ubiquitous Internet connections in those days, does that mean we’re doing about the same amount of work then as we are, with all those gizmos, now?

Scary thought. And in some ways the answer is yes. According to research firm Basex, nearly a third of our day is eaten up with interruptions from e-mail, cell phones, instant messaging, text messaging, and blogs like this one. In financial terms that’s a lot of

McKinsey sees it differently: We’ve outsourced or automated all the simple stuff, so we’re left with people whose jobs can’t be done by computers.

I see it a little differently again. I believe that we have mistaken ubiquitous computing — in other words, the ability to do stuff anywhere, anytime — as making us more productive because we’re filling “dead time”. It’s this misunderstanding of time that I think is causing us problems. Take some of these quotes from a story on how BlackBerries make us more productive, from July last year:

I can now use downtime–waiting to collect daughters, train journeys–to continue to read and action e-mails, which means I don’t have a huge queue waiting for me when I’m next in the office

After a recent long weekend, I would normally have returned to around 150 e-mails …Instead, I spent an hour on my PDA the night before I was due back into work, and the next morning, I walked in to only six mails that required attention. Not only did this make me more efficient, but it totally reduced my stress levels

The technology both increases output by enabling what would otherwise be unproductive downtime to be used positively, and is liberating in that it allows flexibility and responsiveness.

The BlackBerry has definitely extended the capability of utilizing ‘dead’ time effectively–trains, taxis, 10-minute waits or answering questions like this

We are all benefiting from quicker response times to things that need actioning ‘now … Communication between department managers is much quicker.

Each statement is usually followed by a ‘I realise I need a balance/the wife hates it’ comment, as if the user is aware of the pitfalls. But the pitfall is not the ‘always on’ culture this creates, or even the lack of awareness that the ability to react quickly to something will simply prompt another reaction and require another response. The pitfall is that the “dead time” of waiting for your daughter to finish school, or the “unproductive down time” is actually an important component of our lives, and therefore of our productivity.

Sitting in your car waiting for your kid, the lazy hour on a Sunday evening after the washing-up’s cleared away and the kids are in bed, used to be time when you’d think about what needed to be done, or to reflect (on your daughter, hopefully, so you’re mentally ready for her rather than still mentally scanning emails when she’s gushing about gym class.) Dead time was there for a reason: a chance to think outside the box, reflect, think about that email you’re going to send the boss rather than jab a misspelled couple of lines on your BlackBerry so you can cross that item off your Getting Things Done list.

Productivity may be slowing because we’ve just filled every second of that dead time already and there’s nothing left to fill. If that’s even partly true, then the productivity was fake, since it was based on a false assumption: that the dead time was empty, an unused resource. Anyone who has sat in a moving vehicle and looked out of the window reflecting on stuff knows that this is actually the most important part of the day, and by removing it most of our BlackBerry-wielding friends/colleagues/bosses/spouses have turned into zombies, unable to locate themselves in the here and now.

The solution then, to this productivity crisis is to use technology less, not more. I’m not suggesting we don’t use BlackBerries — although I don’t — but I’m suggesting we stop deluding ourselves that these gadgets are saving our marriage/hearts. They’re not. They’re like ping pong paddles with the ball on a piece of elastic — we think are batting the problems out of our lives but they’re just coming back at us. Time to put the bat down and look out the window.

Love Hertz, Cos I Don’t

Booking online is, sadly, still sometimes as mindless and time-wasting as dealing with an automated phone system. I’ve just tried to book a rental car online for the UK. OK, so Christmas is a busy time, but some of these sites take so long to navigate it would be quicker to walk. Actually, Budget and Avis weren’t all that painful. They told you straight out what was available and what wasn’t (although call me old fashioned, but I still feel that online should offer deals for more expensive cars if less expensive ones aren’t available).

The one I have a problem with is Hertz. They don’t tell you what’s available, they only tell you what’s not available. And even then, you have to ask for it first. It’s the online equivalent of a Monty Python sketch (or an Indonesian shop manned by undertrained staff) where you only find out by trial and error what is actually for sale. Click on a kind of car and then submit your request for a quote. Some time later, you’re told

Hertz

So then you try selecting another vehicle, and then another, and then another…. until eventually you get to the bottom of the list — seven or eight car categories later — without a single vehicle available for the timeslot you’re looking for, and you begin to wonder whether they actually have any cars at all. What do they keep there in their lot? Santa’s sleigh fleet? Herds of reindeer? I must confess I didn’t try the extra categories that were a little out of my league, from the “Landrover Discovery 2.5 or similar” to the “Ford Transit 17 Seater – Corporate rentals only or similar”. Next time I will bring the extended family along, just so I can rent a car.

But, Hertz, come on. This is 2005, nearly 2006. Surely you guys have figured out that websites like this don’t cut it anymore? Web site navigation has got to be intuitive, imaginative and should anticipate what the customer needs, not just a bolt-on interface for your lousy car database. A simple “This category of car is not availalble, can we recommend a category F car instead? The following models are available at this station” would be enough in this instance to have kept my interest as a customer. Now you’ve lost one more customer who’s off to catch a bus.

The Moleskine Without The Skine (Or The Mole, For That Matter)

From Jason Kottke, a simpler version of the Moleskine: My analog Palm Pilot, a piece of 8.5×11 paper, folded twice.

That way, when I need to look up a phone number or jot down an address, I don’t have to get out a notebook, my computer, or hunt around for a piece of scrap paper. And it won’t ever get stolen like a cell phone or handheld might.

The Moleskine Report, Part II

Continuing to add material that I could not include, or could not include much of, in my WSJ.com, piece (which comes out today), here’s the second emailed reply that I thought might interest readers. It’s from Mike Rohde, a graphic and web designer, working for the international engineering and web services firm MakaluMedia, and I include his reply in its entirety because it’s very interesting:

I work remotely from home with colleagues in Germany, Spain, France and Ireland, helping design and building web applications, web sites for small & medium-sized firms and corporate identity work.

I manage projects with my colleagues and clients via email, IM chat, voice over IP, phone and web, from my home office. So as you can see I work pretty digitally during the day.

Personally I am quite digitally oriented as well, writing a weblog, reading many weblogs, using email, chat and VOIP with international friends. Specifically, I have text and VOIP chats with one friend living in the UK on a weekly basis via Apple iChat.

I was introduced to PCs and technology as a teen, when my dad explored his interest in computers. I now see this was critical to the way I work now, as my experimentation and use of computers then, reduced the fear of technology very early, and gave me the sense that I could bend technology to my needs.

My higher education was focused on graphic design. Following graduation, I spent 9 years as a print designer and system manager for a design studio, moving into web design in the late 90s. In 1998 I began working with MakaluMedia, remotely from my home office.

As you know I have an interest in sketching with Moleskines; I also use a Miquelrius sketchbook for generating ideas and layouts for my business activities, like design ideas, logo concepts and so on.

However, after some thought, I chose to use a digital approach for recording my business diary, which I have found works quite well. Further, I enjoy using paper diaries to record personal thoughts and observations, mainly because I enjoy the tactile feel of paper and pen.

So, I enjoy both digital and analog means of recording thoughts, depending upon the use and context. Hopefully that provides you with a good starting point about me and my approach. 🙂

Here are my answers to the questions you have posed:

What do you use, exactly, in digital and paper terms?
How do you use them?

Digital:
———–
1. Business Diary: I keep a business journal as a plain text document on my Mac Powerbook. There I record MakaluMedia related thoughts, web links and comments of clients and colleagues. I separate entries by date and archive each month’s diary to dated plain text files (Makalu-Diary-2004-12.txt). The current month’s diary is synchronized to my palmOne Tungsten E PDA via DataViz DocumentsToGo.

2. Project Specific Notes: These kept in DayLite, a networked Mac OS X business application very much like ACT! for PC (http://www.marketcircle.com/). Notes relative to projects recorded in my business diary and emails are copied into DayLite as notes for access by myself and my MakaluMedia colleagues.

3. Business & Personal Links: I store interesting business and personal web bookmarks at my del.icio.us account (http://del.icio.us/rohdesign) and also in the Safari browser on my Mac.

4. Personal Blog: This is my public forum for thoughts, ideas, reflections, designs, sketches and whatever else seems pertinent to my personal and business life. I try to be encouraging, inspiring, humorous, serious here, but the entries are definitely for public consumption. I do share personal details but have an internal gut feel for where the line ought to be.

Because I built a reputation writing the Palm Tipsheet for many years (it was sold in ’03), many of my longstanding blog readers are Palm users who came from that newsletter. I do like to discuss mobile tech, but intentionally explore other topics, because I think life is broader than technology.

5. Personal Notes & Sketches: I also occasionally write notes (Memo Pad) or make digital sketches (Note Pad) with my palmOne Tungsten E, which are then synchronized to my Mac Powerbook.

Paper (Analog):
———————-
1. Business Concepts & Sketches: Stored in my Miquelrius gridded notebook. This is the place were I start ideas going, work out concepts (visual or textual) and sketch layouts for websites or logos. Often my sketches will be scanned and presented to clients and colleagues to show concepts or direction before I flesh out ideas on the computer.

2. Personal Sketches: Small Moleskine sketchbook for sketching (e.g. proj: exhibition sketchtoons), and a small Moleskine gridded notebook for ideas and concepts I come up with (e.g. ideas for home or personal projects, dream tech concepts, etc.).

3. Personal Diary: Small Italian-made notebook for recording thoughts of the day, reflections and goals. Usually I enter thoughts at night in bed, or at the café over coffee in this diary. Entries are not regular (daily) but rather entered when I have the need or urge to get something down.

(Note: I can provide scans from my paper sources if they are helpful)

Why still use paper?

Refuge & Escape from the Digital World. Paper is a refuge from my very digital lifestyle. I spend quite a bit of time on my Mac (at work and personally), so time with a nice pen, rich black ink or smooth pencil lead on crisp paper, are very much an escape from bits and pixels.

Immediacy. The immediacy of paper is very gratifying. I can knock out several concept sketches in the time it might take to fiddle around with Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop on just one tight drawing. Further, immediacy and looseness of ink or pencil on paper lets me explore with more latitude. I find that once I move to the computer, my ideas naturally tighten up and loose their loose qualities.

No batteries required. I love that my sketchbooks require no battery or wall connection. If the power goes dead, I can still work with my sketchbook and pen. The simplicity of a book and pen keeps me from getting hung up on technical issues as often pop up carrying a laptop and peripherals to support it, or choosing which café has WiFi so I can remain connected.

Portability. When I need to be creative, I just grab my sketchbook and head for a local café or library — the ideas just seem to flow. I also like that a sketchbook can be kept in a pocket at all times, without regard to cold or heat, or location. Sketchbooks can also take a beating better than techy gadgets. 🙂

Any particular Eureka moment on using paper?

Probably about a year ago I started realizing that I was using sketches less that I had in the past for my business design work at MakaluMedia. I decided to focus on making sketching an integrated part of my work. Since integrating sketching I’ve noticed my creativity has improved greatly.

Are you alone, or does everyone you know follow the same practice?

As I work alone from my home office, I can only comment on my own methods directly, though the posts I have made related to use of paper sketchbooks and diaries have brought interesting comments from other digital folks who also integrate paper into their lives. Mane are Moleskine fans like me, others feel that paper offers them options not easily available digitally.

Do you get odd looks for using paper?

Quite to the contrary — people who see my business or personal sketchbooks are always interested in having a look at them, and comment how they wish they could draw. I encourage them to give it a try, because a paper sketchbook or journal are just tools to get your mind working creatively.

Do you think paper and digital might merge, a laLogitech’s io Pen, or is that the wrong way of looking at things?

I think there is an overlap. I have not used a Wacom tablet for some time, but am actually considering one now, to see what options it might offer me on the digital side of things. I do think there is a wide open market for digital tools which work in conjunction with analog sketching and notes, such as the IO pen. I would love to try the IO pen as well.

Thanks, Mike, for such a long and interesting answer.

Kryptonite’s Task And The Real Cluetrain Lesson

For those of you following the Kryptonite – Bic Pen story (where customers found their supposedly impregnable bike lock could be opened with a cheap plastic pen, and quickly told the world about it via their blogs, while the company pretended it wasn’t happening) — it seems the company’s return program is getting into swing.

A message on its website on Friday says “thousands of replacement locks have been sent out to customers in the last few weeks. Kryptonite continues to manufacture and ship new products to consumers on a weekly basis. The whole process of the Lock Exchange Program is a complex one with manufacturing and transportation all coming into play. We are building and air shipping the new locks to get them out to our customers as fast as possible.” You can’t help feeling sorry for them, although, as plenty of folk have pointed out, their slow response only made it worse.

One thing that deserves a closer look are reports that the Bic pen information was not new — it was just better disseminated. The problem, some websites have said, was first highlighted by British freelance journalist and cartoonist John Stuart Clark in 1992. His methods — collaborating with a ‘professional villain’ undermined his story and the vulnerability was largely forgotten (except by the professional villain community, presumably). The original article is worth a read (PDF only).

In fact, although he mentions Bic pens, nowhere in the article can I find specific mention of its usage in opening locks (I’ve read mention of other British media picking up the Bic Pen issue at the time, but haven’t found any exact evidence of this yet). What does come across, however, is that there is really no such thing as a secure lock. If you know your Bruce Schneier, this is not surprising. A lock is simply a deterrent which the user hopes would keep the bad guy busy long enough for it not to be worth his while. Most locks, the article points out, can be broken within a minute or two, so the calculation for the owner should be: Is my bike in a place where a thief could not afford to take that long to break the lock?

If this Kryptonite case is a Cluetrain ‘markets are conversations’ moment, maybe that is the lesson we should all be taking away, not just that some locks are hopeless? After all, other manufacturers and vendors are being quick to claim their products are Bic-pen safe…

Wine By Wi-Fi

The Wine Spectator Online (via Boingo Wi-Fi Insider) reports that a Sonoma, CA, vineyard is using Wi-Fi to monitor growing conditions at their site:

The system uses 40 wireless units on existing trellising posts around the 30-acre vineyard fitted with sensors that measure microclimate data such as soil and air temperature and moisture content, rainfall and leaf wetness. The data is bounced from sensor to sensor sans wires, forming what is known as a Mobile Ad-hoc Network (MANET), which requires less power and equipment than networks using wires or radio transmitters.

Real-time conditions in the vineyard can then be monitored on a secured Web site. Data can also be poured into a spreadsheet for long-term analysis. The information can help vineyard managers make decisions about when, where and how much to water vines or spray to control mildew.

The system sends alarms via instant messaging software or cellphone. The article quotes Bill Westerman, who works for Calif.-based Accenture Technology Labs which set up the project, as saying that the system could be used in manufacturing, retail and security. “The advantage to wireless is that it allows companies to go places where it was previously too difficult or expensive to run wires,” he said. “It can also be implanted in new products so they can automatically communicate with their manufacturer when there’s a problem.”

The Death Of A Devil Duckie Drive

In a box accompanying a Loose Wire column two weeks ago I mentioned TikiMac’s Devil Duckie Flash Drive, a “red, horn-toting 4 1/2″ rubber duck with hypnotic blinking eyes” that houses a high-speed USB 2.0 (1.1 compatible) personal data storage launched in March. Sadly, since writing the piece the Devil Duckie has died.

A press release on the company’s website says: “It’s a strange day when a rubber duck affects a technology company, but that’s just what happened. TikiMac, LLC. announced today that it is halting production of its Devil Duck Flash Drives, due to unexpected issues relating to the quality of the rubber duck’s ‘shell’ used in the drive’s manufacturing.”

Sadly it appears the ducks were either unusable or needed repainting. Instead, TikiMac is offering an its own “Upgrade-A-Duck” service where end-users can obtain their own rubber duckie shells and have them transformed into a “Bionic Duckie” flash drive.

My apologies to readers.

Television By Air

Is this the future of browsing? A gadget that will capture whatever you want to capture — whether it’s TV, websites, movies or other stuff — and then pump it to you, wherever you are, via its removable display?

AkibaLive say Sony Japan will release the Air Board (LF-X1) on March 12. The Air Board (sometimes called AirBoard) is a 800×600 TFT LCD color display, that comes with a Wi-Fi integrated base station. The television display panel can be used anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi connection to view whatever you’ve saved on the base station.

That does sound kinda neat. The trick seems to be in the speed: AkibaLive say the Sony Air Board utilizes a special version of Wi-Fi called Hi-Bit Wireless that uses up to seven channels simultaneously.

Sony appear to be about to launch the gadget in the U.S. too. But it raises some questions: This is definitely NOT a PC, so where, exactly, does it compete with the TabletPC and other portables? If it’s on price, that’ll be a first for Sony. Secondly, I’ve never been happy buying Sony because of the way they lock you in to proprietary stuff, such as the MemoryStick, software and cables.

Here’s some more on it from Sony and here.

News: Iomega Gets Small

Iomega Corporation say they’ve created a 1.5 GB digital capture technology (DCT) drive about the size of a 50 cent piece and weighs about 9 grams, designed for a new generation of digital entertainment products, including camcorders and portable video players, as well as portable PCs and smart handheld devices.

Expect to see the drive in products made by Fuji Photo Film Co. (Fujifilm), Ltd., Citizen Watch Co., Ltd. (Citizen), and Texas Instruments (TI) next year. No press release available yet.