Skip to content

Naked Devices or Burn the Lifeboats

I’ve never bought a case for any of my personal electronic devices. One time a few years ago our IT manager required screen protectors for all of the phone we had recently purchased. I immediately took mine off (oh yes, quite the rebel here). The protectors were supposed to stop the screens from getting scratched up in our pockets, but the immediate result was a dark, scratched looking screen, the exact problem the plastic slip was trying to avoid in the first place.

I’ve had a few good sports injuries over the last few years, and sometimes the road to recovery can look similar. We avoid doing things that hurt because we are afraid it’ll set back our recovery, when sometimes we need to embrace the hurt and push through the limits to force our body to adapt to normal movement patterns instead of our injured ones. My trying to protect against injury leaves us more injured than we should be.

In a business setting, when trying to build resilience in a business model we sometimes build too much diversity in our plans. “If market A doesn’t work out, we can try B or C or D”. Havig a plan B is a good thing, unless you end up sacrificing your top priority in order to keep your backup plans alive.

This is a really common problem. Sometimes when trying to protect ourselves we actually sabotage ourselves. Seth Godin says entrepenuers sometimes succeed because “There are no life boats”.

Sometimes we need to burn the lifeboats, risk a little reinjury to prevent the long term decline, and risk scratching the shiny glass back of that brand new cell phone.

image via singlefin

Progress is rarely linear

Recently I’ve reached a plateau. Over the last month I’ve reached a certain level of competence as a snowboarder. Nothing amazing mind you, but I’ve reached a point where the blue runs tremble in fear at my approach. I would be hard pressed to say this isn’t a good thing, after all I am certainly enjoying my hat staying above my shoes for most of the day, but over the last few trips up to the mountain I haven’t really gotten any better.

Here’s the question. Should I start pushing myself to do harder things, or should I spend some time simply being content with the skills I’ve acquired so far?

I’ve heard it said that if you’re not getting better you’re getting worse. A lot of times it’s applied in the business world but there is truth to the saying in our personal lives as well. If we aren’t getting faster we’re getting slower, if we aren’t getting stronger we’re getting weaker.

The truth I think is less black and white and more gray. Plateaus are our greatest accomplishments and also our biggest barriers. Since we are infinitely adaptable (well ok, there are probably limits) we will plateau thousands of times throughout our life.

They key seems to be being able to live with a kind of cognative dissonance that both enjoys and appreciates the contentment of a plateau, while at the same time nurturing a sense of discontent with the status quo. To experience both feelings simultaneously.


We all have excuses. Sometimes they are legitimate, sometimes they aren’t. I’ve been trying a new technique to determine the difference. Rather than saying:

“I can’t <goal> because of <reason>.”

I’m saying:

“I don’t want to <goal> because of <reason>.”

I find that reframing the excuse helps to break the pattern of feeling victimized or trapped by my excuses. By turning the self talk from a exercise in victimization into a statement of intent I’m rejecting the idea that it is impossible to overcome my excuse.

Truth be told, often times those limitations are not nearly as limiting as we think they are. People are capable of great things when they set their will to something. Often we can surprise ourself with the results of our honest efforts. We all have limits, but those limits are often a matter of quantity, not quality. Anybody can write one really good essay, but it’s much more difficult to write ten really good essay’s a month. Even more difficult to write ten good essays a month if you are also working a full time job and playing in the co-ed rec soccer league.

When faced with so much quantity of life to live, it’s easy to reply on the excuses to determine what we do or do not have time for. Something important to remember when faced with so many opportunties though. We get to choose what we want to do. Nobody decides for us, and when we make excuses we’re taking the easy way out. By giving the power to the excuse we’re minimizing our choice.

For example:

“I’m never going to be a great snowboarder because I started so late in life.”


“I don’t want to be a great snowboarder because I started so late in life.”

The first has a childish, impotent sound to it. I’m making up an excuse for my substandard snowboarding prowess. The second almost invites a follow up statement…

“I do want to be a compentent snowboarder because I enjoy it.”

Instead of being a victim of my age, I’ve instead reframed my goal to make it something more attainable, and attainable goals are more fun anyway.

Ultimate Frisbee: The defensive mindset

pacman for the win!

A friend and I were talking about Ultimate a few weeks back and an interesting topic came up. My friend expressed his affinity for the offensive side of the game, and was wondering what could possibly be as much fun about the defensive side. I happen to like playing defense so this was an interesting question to me.

We got into the relative pluses and minuses on either side while watching some college football and the conversation ambled towards what could be called an answer.

On the offensive side, the fun part is pretty obvious. Everyone recognizes the handler that threads the game winning throw. Same with the receiver. It’s easier to forget the rest of the offensive, but usually we don’t mind so much. After all, our team just scored.

The life of a defensive player, especially in casual leagues can be very different. You can play your heart out, and make some significant impacts, and your teammates can royally screw you over by blowing their coverage, their assignments, or by failing to give their full effort. Keeping the other team from scoring requires everyone on the defense to be playing effectively, and unfortunately you can’t really force your teammates to play any harder or smarter than they already are.

That’s why defense is really a mind game more than anything. Defensive players will have a lot more fun, and be more successful if they adopt a “not my guy, not this point” mindset. The defensive player’s goal is their designated space, or their designated mark. Keeping them from making that game winning play is the most important thing. Defensive players like to go up against the taller, or faster opponent. It gives them greater satisfaction when that guy doesn’t touch the disc for a whole point, even if the other team scores.

For a defensive player you have to accept that sometimes you may lose the war, but that’s no excuse for losing the battles.

Peeling the Onion of Responsibility

delicious responsibility

When you are working on solving a problem, you become emotionally invested in the solution. It’s natural, it’s your baby, you love it, you brought it to life.

Unfortunately, sometimes we fall in love with the wrong solution. It’s no great failing, it’s just the inevitable consequences of being passionate about our work. Any time we create, we face the risk of falling in love with our creation, and sometimes that creation missed the mark.

The deeper we go into a discipline, the more likely this is to happen, especially in software. In order to trully solve a problem we need to understand it inside and out, and in the process of coming to greater understanding, we often forget how the world looks outside of that specific problem.

  • The engineer working on a small feature becomes enamored with their UI widget.
  • The team lead focused so much on the coding standards used to implement the widget they didn’t realize it really happened in the wrong layer of the application.
  • The architect was so focused on the layout of the application, they neglected to recall that the user experience designer really wanted that feature in a completely different area of the application.
  • The user experience designer was so concerned with the location of the feature, they neglected to note that the feature is much less important than another feature that is further behind schedule.
  • The CTO was so concerned with the feature that was behind schedule that they neglected to notice that the feature is needed only for market that the CEO isn’t prepared to enter for 3 more quarters.
  • In the meantime the CEO has been too busy play golf to notice any of this is going on…

Every individual is making the right decision for their area of responsibility (especially the CEO), but by focusing on the details, they’re missing the rest of the picture.

In a functioning organization, information flows the other way.

  • CEO decides the strategic direction
  • CTO figures out which team/organizational structure and development method will achieve the goals.
  • Architects figure out the best technology to use to achieve the goals.
  • Team managers figure out the best people to work on discrete pieces of the big picture.
  • Team members figure out the best approach for their individual tasks.

Too much meddling across these boundaries and the team cohesion falls apart. If you don’t trust someone enough to let them work on their areas of responsibility you have a staffing problem, not a control problem.

Even if you don’t have enough employees to separate these out into discrete functions, each role needs to be played. Better entrepenuers will be able to fill multiple roles within their company.

The best team members are the ones that know other concerns need to influence their actions, and seek out input when they reach crossroads that could impact the responsibilties of others.

image via fcuardi

Product Reivew: Portable Pens – Ohto, Zebra, Space Pen

As covered here before, I think it’s important to get in the habit of carrying a notebook. I tackled the topic of which notebook to use in an earlier post. I’ve been pretty happy with my field notes subscription and imagine myself using their notebooks exclusively for a little while. I’ve also been searching for the perfect pen. I’m about 2 years into the search and so far I’m pretty happy with the result. I started with the following criteria:

1. Firstly, the pen must be unobtrustive in both size and weight
2. There is no risk of it leaking
3. .7mm (or smaller) point size. (I tend to write small and larger point sizes make my writing run together)
4. Doesn’t look obnoxious
5. Isn’t so expensive I will be heartbroken if I lose it

So far I’ve evaluated the following Pens:

1. Zebra F-301 Compact
2. The Space Pen
3. Ohto Tasche
4. Ohto Petit-B

Bic - Zebra - Ohto Tasche - Ohto Petit-B Collapsed


The Zebra F-301 Compact:
My first pocket carry was this pen. I found a pair for about 6 bucks at the local sundries boutique. I lucked out on my first buy. This pen worked great for me for over a year. It has a fairly compact Design. I’ve never had it leak, and its .7mm writing size was perfect.

After 9 months or so of usage, I broke the clip off my first pen, and switched to the backup, which I promptly lost. Since I only had one pocket sized pen that was likely low in ink, I thought it was time to start looking for a replacement. I did have trouble finding the F-301 compact at online retailers (until came along). In the meantime I purchased a box of their full size F-301 and use that pen at my desk.

The Fisher Bullet Space Pen:
I received the space pen as a gift. My initial impression was that the space pen looked solidly built. I like how tight the tolerances appeared when unscrewing the barrel. I didn’t like the medium point size (1.2mm?) but figured I could order a refill in the apppropriate size (turns out you can). I used the space pen for a few days but started to notice an annoying feature of the pen. Because it has no clip and is spherical, it will easily roll off all surfaces that are not perfectly level. This seems like a minor complaint, but in everyday use became quite an issue. Every time I would return to my desk I was forced to hunt for the wayward pen. After a few weeks of this continual searching (and after almost losing in a hotel room after it fell off the nightstand) I decided to push on in my search for the perfect pen. In fairness I wasn’t often writing under water, upside down, or you know, in space, so the spaciness of the pen was somewhat lost on me.

The Ohto Petit-B:
I really like this pen, but unfortunately only in certain applications. As you can see from the photos this is a very small pen. For daily use I would say this pen is too small. The .5mm point size is amazing and I thoroughly enjoy the results of writing with this pen. Unfortunately the result doesn’t compensate for the difficulty of holding this pen in your hand for any length of time. This will be my goto pen for anytime I need to minimize what I’m carrying in my pocket. The pen has dual o-rings locking in the pen when it’s in it’s collapsed configuration. This will help prevent leaks from the pen from ending up on your jeans.

One other little oddity I noticed is that if you leave the pen uncapped for a while the roller bar will dry out causing the ink to not flow when you first start writing. I’m presuming this is because of the .5mm point size. It’s easily solved by capping the pen, but for my everyday pen I want to be able to leave it out between scribblings.

This is a great backup pen.

The Ohto Tasche:
This is my new daily carry. It’s a little pricey ($20) for a pocket pen and almost pushes it into the “I’d be sad if I lost it” category, but I’ve found the risk to be worth it. I went with the black and like the stark contrast betwen the black of the pen and my notebook (be it the Red Fall Field Notes, or the plain brown moleskine). It also matches the black iPhone.  The .7mm point size is perfect for my writing style. The pen seems reasonably well built to contain leaks. The barrel fits into the cover with a reassuring snap when it is in it’s compact configuration, and slides snugly into the o-ring when it’s open for writing. I have noticed that in the first few weeks the stenciling on the cover is starting to rub off. This isn’t a negative for me as it adds to the rugged charm of the pen itself.

One thing I’ve noticed is the sheer number of threads that hole the barrel together. There are some pretty tight tolerances associated with the manufacturing of this pen. Then pen doesn’t unscrew as easily as other compact pens. This is a little frustrating when it comes time to swap out the ink cartridge, but for most of the pen’s life this will be a positive.

What’s in your front pocket? The 21st Century Pocket Protector

Working in tech for over a decade, I’ve noticed certain trends in problem solving among my technical bretherin. When approaching problem solving, often times convenience and praticality are the priority, style not so much. This often leads to great technical achievement. It also lead to the pocket protector.


No one that has ruined a nice shirt can argue against the practicality of a pocket protector. And no one with any modicum of style could argue that a pocket protector should ever find itself as anything other than an ironic or oblivious fashion accessory.

In the early days of tech geeks, pocket protectors were at their pinnacle. With a trusty pen and a slide rule, a technician could rule the world, literally. But how can you make sure you have enough pens handy, and without risking another trip to the dreaded clothing store? The Pocket Protector of course!

Along with the ascendancy of mobile tech devices and the fall of the old reliable pen, the pocket protector is in decline. In it’s place we see a new fashion faux pas. And as with the pocket protectors that came before them, it’s ubuiqity is surpased only by the obliviousness with which it is displayed.

Behold the new pocket protector, the cell phone in the shirt pocket! Two such examples of this wonderfully practical thinking on display:

“The 4S is ready to shoot just a second or three after I whip it out of my shirt pocket, and in a rapid-fire test, the 4S shot 19 frames in ten seconds.”

via Andy Ihnatko

“Whenever I wear or buy a shirt, it must have a shirt pocket. It must have a pocket on the shirt. Why? Because that is the preferred location for my cell phone. It makes my wife nuts. She wants me to wear some shirts, but I refuse, because there is no shirt pocket. I need that pocket. I refuse to place my phone on my belt.”

via Cartoon Barry

May not actually be a cell phone...

During my extensive research for this article, it has become clear to me that the heart of the issue isn’t really the pens or phones. The issue is really the pocket itself. The fashion industry has dictated that shirts shall primarily retain their pockets but they’ve be delegated to serve only stylistic and traditional purposes.

Geeks abhor waste. For something to be valuable it needs to be useful, and what’s the point of an easily accessible pocket if you can’t put something in it. Nevermind that the notification LED shines through your pocket in the middle of lunch. Nevermind that your shirt bulges in odd ways while you turn to look out the window. Nevermind that you smack your phone on the table when you lean forward to slurp your soup.

Yes, Equire magazine probably has a lot to say about the appropriateness of this particular geeky quirk. But geeks are just doing what they have always done, taking something unnecessarily ornamental, and either throwing it away or making it functional.

I personally don’t use the front pockets of my dress shirts, and this has got me thinking… I probably should avoid buying dress shirts with front pockets. It’s just a waste of fabric anyway…



Originally uploaded by garyowen

Objectively I’m sure it won’t be as good as other ESBs that I’ve had. But sometimes things just taste better when you make them yourself.

Write it down

You wouldn’t want to forget it, would you?


2 Dollars and a Library Card

pictured: inspiration

This is all it really takes to change the world. 2 bucks for a cup of coffee and a freshly borrowed book from the library. Both full of potential, one caffeine derived, the other full of ideas and inspiration.

The intersection of energy and ideas is where the magic happens. Some find it via caffeine, but it can just as easily come from a blast of fresh air, perhaps on the walk over to the library. They key is to kick start the mind and then stimulate it with great thoughts.