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halloween costume: field notes

Observing the Pileated Woodpecker

Fall is my favorite season, and halloween my favorite day of the season. There is so much creativity on display. Sure there is the occasional 4th down punt on creative design (*cough* sexy animals *cough*), but for the most part people will pull out all the stops to put together an impressive costume. This year the A for effort goes to the giant, functional Rubik’s Cube.

In years past I’ve always gone for something relatively large and cumbersome (read: like the giant functional Rubik’s cube). I enjoy the challenge of navigating around a halloween party where you can barely fit through a doorway, not to mention the construction challenges of making something that will survive the evening even though it’s only made of tape and cardboard. This year I went in a different direction.

Interactivity

I recently signed up for a subscription to the colors limited edition Field Notes and have been so excited about them over the last week I thought it would be fun to incorporate them into my costume, and by incorporate I mean, dress as a giant field notes notebook. I brought along a few pens and encouraged people to make observations of their surroundings. I got a lot of fun drawings and observations (including one about the strong red feathers of the pileated woodpecker pictured above).

Not only did I have a great time watching the creative things people would come up with for their costumes, but also how they responded when presented with a large piece of blank paper and a marker.

I’ve been flipping through the pages since saturday night and it’s been awesome. Maybe next year I’ll go as a moleskine to see which one performs better

Happiness is: potential

20111028-121346.jpg

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make me happy. A new, blank field notes notebook, and a new pen. So much potential, so much opportunity. I’m almost sad it’s Friday…

How to organize anything: Trello

via Flickr User alborzshawn

I’ve been organizing projects for a number of years now. Originally I was simply organizing my own efforts as a software developer, putting together a todo list so I wouldn’t miss anything or skip a step. When things at the company got bigger I started dabbling with Microsoft Project, and started making gannt charts left and right. While they were useful during the initial planning stages of a product and helped get a general feel for how much time we had to devote to certain features, once the project started, the meticulously laid out project plan quickly got out of date. Without employing a full time project manager to track status and deadlines we were never able to keep up with the project plan. And since we would rather have added productive developers than management overhead, we reduced our planning to a simple excel spreadsheet that was straight-forward to update.

That worked fine for a year or so until we added more developers. At this point we needed something that was flexible, easy to use, and highly visible. That’s when we started using the agile development method of 4×6 cards pinned to a cork board. Don’t laugh. That a software company would use such a decided low-tech approach is certainly amusing, but honestly it just seemed to work best. It was easy to write new cards, it was easy to organize them, everyone could see what was being worked on, and the spacial limitations naturally limited how many cards could be up and in flight at any given time.

We ran with that system for years, augmented with our internal fogbugz installation for bug tracking (bug tracking and fixing doesn’t work well on cards).

Enter Trello.com

Since their launch back in early september our company has been using Trello to manage our development workflow for one simple reason: It’s easier than 4×6 cards. Yup, finally, after 6 years of working with 4×6 cards, I might actually have found a good replacement. Trello does a great job of modeling that simple workflow even though they are adding additional power.

The difficult part of a designing a piece of software like this is not so much how many features you add, but which ones you leave out. The magic is in keeping the product simple and flexible enough that people can devise their own workflows using the basics in the product. The fact that there are only three real concepts in Trello is what makes it so amazingly powerful. You have Boards, on Boards you have Lists, and on Lists you have cards. Boards can be anything, lists can be anything, and cards can be anything. You can assign someone to a card, and you can make notes on a  card, the same way we used to do with 4×6 cards with post-it notes. You can label cards with color coded labels, the same way we did with colored post-it notes. And you can move cards from list to list, the same way we did on the cork board for all those years.

We put together five boards for our group, Backlog, Up Next, Doing, Testing, Done, but these could easily be split a number of different ways.

If you add the concept of priority by making the order of the cards significant (you don’t need to order them in a significant manner, but the cards retain their order) and you’ve got pretty much everything you need for a fully functional project management system.

Our migration to Trello happened very organically. I recently had a planning session with our Team Lead and took a bunch of notes on my white board. It was on my todo list to transcribe those notes to our cork board. I had procrastinated for a good day or two when I got word about Trello. Rather than transcribing and updating the cork board (which was in the other room) I made cards in Trello and invited the development team. One of our testers jumped on it and started using it immediately (within minutes) and by the end of the next day everyone was on board.

To hear a bit about Trello from the creators:

If you’d like to learn a little more about the creator check out this interview. It should be required watching for any software entrepreneur.

The Ever Expanding Free-time Myth

I was cruising through some old notes about blog post ideas and I hit on this one… this article is so much more poignant now that I’ve procrastinated it into October.

Researchers have found that humans are very bad at predicting “resource slack.” When asked to guess how much money and time they’ll have in the future, they accurately predict that their financial situation will remain relatively the same, but they think that their free time will expand.

via The Art of Manliness

I think this should serve as a call to action. Let’s not squander the free time we have today. We think that by pushing something off until tomorrow we are only delaying it, not fully realizing that the decision to put something off until tomorrow may be putting it off forever. You’ll never take that big road trip if you don’t start planning your stops and e-mailing your buddies to line up your schedules, you won’t have any more time to do it next month.

The other way to view this is as a call to enjoy and appreciate the free time that we have now. Things aren’t going to get simpler, up until that grand retirement. If we want more time to pursue our true interests we are going to need to find ways to make use of the time we have now.

  1. Disconnect the Cable to get back the night hours
  2. Find ways to carpool or take mass transit so you can get some thinking done on the way in to work.
  3. Skip the stationary bike, start biking to work.

I forget where I heard the following advise, but it rang true when I did and it’s stuck with me since. There was a very prolific artist who said the best way she was able to launch new projects was by using the gap time she had available in any given day. Instead of reading an RSS feed, or playing a game on her iPhone, she would use that gap time to work on a project she was trying to get off the ground. By making that effort over a few months she was able to make steady progress until eventually the gap time became the full time, and new projects would need to back fill into that new gap time.

Couch to Cavemen

Most that know me know that I’ve been eating a somewhat unconventional diet for the last few years. I was introduced to this diet by the good folks at Crossfit Seattle as part of their “Leaning” challenges. Twice a year (once in the fall and once in the spring) they encourage their members to participate in a 2 month long diet challenge where members all take before and after picture, pay 30 dollars into a community pot, and for 2 month submit their food logs for review by the trainers at the gym. At the end of the 2 months, the trainers pick the top 5 men and women they think have improved their body and eating habits. The contest ends with a potluck where the participants in the challenge vote for the top man and women and the winners split the pot.

I figured that I get asked often enough about my diet that giving a little synopsis and linking to a few resources would be a handy reference to have around.

When I first went to a nutrition lecture at Crossfit Seattle, most of the material seemed to come from Robb Wolf, one of the original promoters of the Paleo/Primal diet. He used to work out with Dave Wenger when Crossfit Seattle was the first Crossfit affiliate (Crossfit North). He’s since had a falling out with the crossfit community, but I still follow his podcast and blog and he recently posted a good outline of what it means to eat a paleo diet.

Mark Sisson blogs at marksdailyapple.com and is an advocate for a primal lifestyle. Mark takes a slightly different but very compatible approach to the Paleo diet. Mark also supplements his blog with great posts about how to best express our uniquely human genes. From encouraging barefoot running, to tricks to improve sleep, to encouraging a playful approach to life. Mark takes the Paleo diet one step further and explore how our ancestors often lived their life and how we can learn from their examples to live more fulfilled and enjoyable lives. His posts are always well researched and thorough.

Both of these sites have been very instrumental in helping me to modify my lifestyle from a primarily sedentary one to a life that is more balanced and ultimately fulfilling to me.

Another resource that I’ve recently started following is Nerd Fitness. Steve has done a good job of approaching fitness from a “nerd” perspective, speaking to those of us that grew up playing video games and reading science fiction (sheepishly raises own hand). Steve also takes things outside of the purely fitness domain and looks to explore how we can live more fulfilled lives by approaching them like a the video games that many of us grew up playing. Trying to look at life like a series of “Achievements” and “Levels” can help tap into the same motivation that encourages an adult to spend 40 hours over a weekend playing World of Warcraft.

These are just a few of the resources I’ve been using to keep motivated in the health and fitness world. Between those sites for informational purposes and to get ideas about new things to try and watching the super fit folks competing at the crossfit games, and ultimate highlight videos on vimeo, I’ve got some enough resources and inspirational material to keep myself in shape and moving well into my forties.

soapbox: the golden rule

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

via wikipedia categorical imperative

“Too many people were using the program just to get frequent-flier miles.”

via NPR’s planet money

This article about “clever” travelers taking advantage of a loophole setup by the US Mint has really stuck with me over the last few months. It’s one thing to take advantage of an airlines misguided attempts to lock people into their promotional program. It’s another one entirely to take advantage of the US Mint (and by proxy, US taxpayers) to rack up points on your credit card. I think my problem with this kind of behavior is fairly fundamental.

I (probably) harbor no illusions about my own moral superiority. I’m guilty as much as anyone else at cutting a few corners here and there. But what bothered me so much about this behavior is that it violates the notion of a categorical imperative quoted above. To paraphrase, I find this behavior distressing because if everyone were to engage in it, we would have a serious problem.

To illustrate metaphorically, they took a beautiful shortcut through the woods. A shortcut that had we all followed, would have eroded and eventually destroyed the forrest. An individualist might say “but the creator of the shortcut is the one responsible, not me for taking it”. I disagree with that position. I think we are all responsible for our actions, and if we choose to take the path less traveled, we ought also accept responsibility for the impact our traversal has on that path.

To draw another parallel, writing a few mortgages with a high risk of default is not so big of a deal, unless of course everyone else is doing it…

Steve Jobs: lessons learned

Photo by Diana Walker in 1982

  • There is beauty in simplicity, in products and in life
  • Have some taste
  • Don’t move on until you get the small stuff right
  • Don’t chase the focus groups, choose your own path
  • Study deeply and study widely
  • The key is knowing when to say “no”, not “yes”
  • don’t speak until you have something to say
  • removing things can free a product to go new places
  • technology is about humanity
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