That The Devil Drives

First, let me begin by saying it is by no means easy finding a Shakespeare quote about cars.  Second, let me add that I am not a big ‘car-jock’, or anything like that.  I suppose it could be argued that this post doesn’t even belong on this blog at all, but indulge me for a minute.  You see, the last car I bought was back in 2004 – a Nissan Pathfinder Chinook, and I drove the hell out of it.  I still love that truck.  Main problem: three kids and my lovely wife don’t all fit in the truck, so I needed something with the third row, and I couldn’t stomach the thought of a mini-van.

Bill Gates once said “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 mpg.”… Clever, and not just limited to GM.  Automobile makers have been piss-poor at leveraging technology to make driving easier and more enjoyable.  Up until recently… Enter the 2013 Ford Explorer Limited – my new car.

Courtesy of Ford.com

I’m not going to prattle off all the features.  Besides being an abysmal read, I’d also suck at it, ’cause I don’t know them all yet.  All I will say, and really the whole point of this post, is that it finally seems as though they’re learning.  For years, cars have really only boasted about what’s under the hood… I think now more people (including myself) are becoming more interested in what’s on the dash.

For those of us who commute in our cars, it’s probably fair to say a good portion of our day is spent in them.  For those of us who love using technology, we’ve been deprived of a decent experience in our vehicles for a really long time.  It’s pretty cool to see what’s out there now.  Touchscreen displays, voice controls, wifi capability, vehicle reports and information, etc… It’s all about making time spent in the car more like, well, time spent just about everywhere else.  It’s about time.

In closing, GM did respnd to Gates’ comment.  Firing back, they stated “Yes, but would you want your car to crash twice a day?”  Oh GM.  Hopefully your engineering teams become as skilled at their craft as your PR people clearly seem to be.

Nature Does Require Her Times Of Preservation

I’m never off-grid.  I like it that way, and won’t change for a long time.  The internet is full of laments of how constant connection is wearing thin.  Strange, really, considering that without the internet one would never have that forum for their lamentations.  Look around you for a minute.  The internet’s not the problem (it is the answer, but I’ll get to that in a minute).  The problem is those stacks of paper on your desk; the drawers full of software; boxes in the basement stuffed with old books, pictures and music CD’s; magazines piled on a shelf; and DVD’s and Blu-rays cluttering your family room.  Every Christmas and every birthday, it just gets worse.

No, the problem isn’t about being connected.  The problem lies in the piles of shit we surround ourselves with, so it’s not really any wonder we feel shitty a lot of the time.  I wanted to write a post to get you thinking about your environment (both at a micro and macro level), and how employing technology can actually help it… And your mood.

  • Go Digital – For everything… Period.  Buy (or steal) all your music and movies online.  Pretty obvious, I know, but here’s a few others you need to consider.  First is digitized magazines.  There’s the popular Apple Newsstand, but you can always subscribe via coverleaf as well.  You get access to the pdf the moment it’s off the press, and can download a copy and store them right on your computer.  Secondly, don’t develop any more pictures.  Ever.  Keep them digital.  Digital albums are easier to search; take a fraction of the storage space and cost, and with digital frames, portable to anywhere in the house.
  • Mobility & Tablets –  When I first got my iPad, I actually had trouble incorporating it into my daily routine, but now I find it’s with me all the time (that I’m not in front of my PC).  If you don’t have a tablet, just go get one.  Blogging about iPad’s and Android’s has been done to death.  There’s a reason we’re moving into the post-PC era…  If you’re going to really go digital, you need a tablet.
  • Cloud Storage – You can get to your content anytime and anywhere you’re connected.  You either need to subscribe to a cloud service, like iCloud; or buy a NAS device that allows you to setup your own cloud service.  I’ve done both, so I’m pretty much set, although I use my own NAS much more heavily than iCloud.  Bottom-line: digitally storing your media is cheaper; easier to index and search; and doesn’t even take up any physical space.

Digitizing media is far greener than manfacturing, shipping/distributing and storing physical copies.  I used to think that to own something, it needed to be physical.  Over time, I’ve opened my eyes, and actually enjoy the freedom that comes with digitial content much more than stacks of CD’s, etc.  It’s the new year.  Think about a simple change or two to help your environment.  Maybe switch all your bills to e-post, or buy an e-reader, or rip all your CD’s and move them to the cloud (then sell them).  For me, all those stacks of paper are gone from my desk now, and the boxes and shelves slowly getting emptier.  It feels amazing.

More Matter With Less Art

I suppose the easiest posts are those when you slam something.  Criticism comes pretty naturally to many of us (myself included), but I think this time I’ll buck the trend.  My past few posts have hit on some pretty deep topics.  Video game violence, Google’s data-monopoly, Web 3.0, etc.  I wanted to kick it old school, for a change, with a simple product review.  Over the past few years, my router has arguably become the most important piece of hardware in my home.  Someone, or something, is always connected.  Unfortunately, for the past few years my router has also been one of the crappiest pieces of hardware in my home.

A couple of months ago, that all changed.  After years of my better-half complaining about the shoddy wireless range, strength and stability, I decided it was time to invest.  The debate was between the Apple Airport Extreme and the Linksys E4200 Maximum Performance Dual-Band router.  After checking out gdgt and cnet, I decided to give the E4200 a shot.  Turns out, I had chosen wisely.

Linksys E4200 Maximum PerformanceI suppose when you live with a shoddy router for a long enough period, perhaps one’s standards begin to erode.  Frankly, this is not the case with this router.

Ultimate speed & range: This router connects and can stream 720p video at well over 100 feet, with walls, mirrors, a microwave, and all sorts of other bullshit in the way.  The range is unparalleled, and if you own a larger house, and range is an issue, this is definitely the router for you.

Idiot-proof software: On July 19, 2011, DRYNET launched…  The new “Cisco Connect” software that’s bundled with the E4200 is leagues apart from that old “LELA” offal they employed with their previous generation of routers.  The interface is simple and intuitive.  It allows you setup your wifi network, plus a guest network in a matter of clicks.  If you want to go with more advanced stuff like QoS and setting wifi channels, etc, you won’t do it from Cisco Connect.  Most people, myself included, don’t need to.

Design & Function: Is pretty elegant.  No, it’s not designed by those hipsters at Apple, but I’ll take function over fashion anyday, when it comes to a router.  The E4200 no longer employs the array of flashing blue and green lights, but opted for a softer white Cisco logo that glows when the router is on, and functioning normally.  In terms of stability, many people need to boot their router every week or so.  Not this one.  I’ve had it running non-stop with over 9 devices connected and it has never quit once.

I’ve noticed only two issues.  One, it didn’t come with a wall mounting bracket, and two, it’s expensive.  Perhaps the most expensive home-grade router available right now.  Your call on whether you’d be prepared to pony-up nearly $200 for a router, but if you’re anything like me, and you have numerous computers, a tablet, a couple of phones, your tv’s and gaming consoles hooked up to the internet, all of a sudden a decent N-router becomes a priority.  Any questions, feel free to post!

I Will Buy With You, Sell With You, Talk With You

Imagine walking into a mall.  Awful, I know, but imagine something different for a moment.  A mall made by you and for you.  A mall with all your favourite stores; all your friends and family are usually there; your favourite movies are at the cinemas and playing on-demand; and any personal business you need to conduct is right there in front of you.  Now, that might be a pretty decent place to have around… But it would be even better if you could take that mall with you wherever you went, and entered it whenever you wanted.  Of course, this sort of a mall could only exist virtually.

The world is still mired in our Web 2.0 framework, and it’s a safe bet we’ll be here for a good long while.  That’s not a bad thing.  Web 2.0 brought online consumerism to the forefront with sites and services like Amazon, eBay and even iTunes.  We all have the sites we like to buy from.  Social media changed the way we connect with each other.  LinkedIn for professionals, Facebook for friends, and Twitter for realtime messaging.  TV, music, movies and most other forms of entertainment that can be digitized are available for purchase or theft, and only a few clicks away.  For most of us now, our work is online; our games are online; and for bloggers, our thoughts are online.

But what comes next.  I’m no soothsayer, but I believe we have a glimpse of what’s to come already.  Look at the technology as it exists today.  You have all your frequented sites tagged as favourites; sites like Amazon already remember your buying habits and showcase the items that may interest you; your internet is now on TV with your Apple TV or your PS3, allowing you to watch or rent on demand; and UI’s are getting sleeker and more interative daily – just look at iPad and Android tablets.  Put it all together.  What do you get?  The mall I wrote about above.  The way you’ll navigate (surf) may be like you’re controlling an avatar.  The stores that will appear will be all based on where you’ve shopped before, and they’ll know exactly what you want to see in the windows.  The people there will be your friends.  It’s hard to explain, but imagine (if you’re familiar with it) the entire internet in the mall in Playstation Home, but tailored for you.  Like I said, this is nothing that I can really predict with any degree of accuracy, but I’m writing it down now.  Who knows what will come to pass?

Sweet Are The Uses Of Adversity

Like most, if not all gamers, I’m extremely competitive.  Not necessarily at the expense of others, unless that’s the inherent nature of the competition, but rather focused on achieving a desired goal or objective, and thereby earning the associated reward.  For example, and the proof is proudly on display below, I finished Assassin’s Creed II (AC2) in late April, and actually managed to earn every PS3 Trophy in the game.  I gained the highly coveted platinum trophy and the lofty title of Master Assassin.  Basically, this involved doing a number of things over-and-above what’s required to just get through the storyline.  It meant mastering certain moves; finding hidden artifacts (in AC2, feathers and glyphs); and completing other challenges and goals.  Bottom line, a lot of time and effort went into earning that title.

You’re probably wondering, quite rightly at this point, why the hell you care.  Well, it occurred to me kind of recently that everyone in business, especially leaders, need to care. Ignore it, and you risk a serious problem motivating your teams.  Most graduates now have likely logged thousands of hours gaming, and they do it for the exact reasons, and within the exact same framework, I outlined above.  Work hard, master the skill, complete the challenge and earn the prestigious reward…. rinse, repeat.  The highly complex algorithm is far too often ignored in business and IT.  Even where I work, there’s no significant correlation between high performance and additional rewards.  I say this not to be disparaging of my company, but because I know performance-based compensation or even recognition is a rarity in IT.  Kind of odd given it’s a natural domain for gamers to gravitate towards.

I was talking about this with a couple of gamers / developers on my team the other day. Wouldn’t it be cool if we aggregated all the metrics from all of our different tracking systems and databases, and actually put together a trophy or achievement system of our own?  Sure, it’s a direct clone of the Playstation trophy model or Xbox achievements, but if it can motivate me to spend hours looking for hidden feathers in Renaissance Italy, I’ll bet it could charge up the staff to focus on their objectives, and gain that same sense of recognition. One of the guys replied that successful organizations take the best aspects of frameworks others have developed and leverage them to create efficiencies and improvements of their own.  He added that a trophy recognition system is the sort of project that if it were done properly, would probably wind up in a business or tech journal.

The business of gaming is one where companies compete to create the most immersive and engaging experience for its consumers, and an industry that has typically showcased the finest developments in software first.  Any company undertaking software development should spend time understanding what’s happening in games, and see what it can do to create such an experience for its customers, and even its employees.  Oh yeah, and if you have any questions about AC2, don’t hesitate to ask!