Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tech Top 20 "In 2012" Lists

Now that 2011 is coming to a close, all the tech blogs and online magazines are predicting what to watch out for in the coming year. I wrote about how futurists predict tech trends in a blog I posted on 6 December 2011, so I thought it would be fun to list some of the technologies people say we can expect in the coming year.

I compiled a list of 20 "in 2012" lists, culled from Twitter, LinkedIn, and a variety of online publications. Interestingly, a number of themes are prevalent in these lists:
Curiously, HTML5, one of the biggest revolutions in the Internet world, was only mentioned once. Mobile payments was mentioned a few times, which I think is going to be the next big thing (maybe not in 2012, but in the coming years.)

Lists 11 and 13 are not strictly trend-related, but I thought they were still appropriate to include here as they do show where our tech focus should be during the coming year.

All lists include links to the original articles. If any of them interest you, I suggest you click the link and take a look. One of the lists contains links to electric cars to be released in 2012. I strongly suggest you take a look at that article for the ooh-ahh factor.

If you have more to contribute, let me know in the comments.

1) 5 Tech Trends to Watch in 2012
http://mashable.com/2011/12/27/5-tech-trends-to-watch-in-2012/
  1. Augmented reality
  2. The micro payment economy
  3. The rise of the ultrabook
  4. Social/digital exhaustion
  5. Mobile chip wars

2) Tech in 2012: Face-offs, failures and fairly big changes at the office
http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2011/technology/1112/gallery.tech-in-2012.fortune/
  1. More form factors
  2. Forget the specs (care more about the experience)
  3. More business models
  4. Google Apps and Office 365 will duke it out
  5. Better management for employee devices
  6. More enterprise acquisitions
  7. Context aware services
  8. Gamification goes mainstream
  9. Android tablets really take off
  10. Mobile commerce experiences get richer
  11. The rise of the "social business"
3) Microsoft: Five Things to Look for in 2012
  1. Windows 8 tablets
  2. Xbox moves farther into live TV
  3. Windows Phone: We're No. 3
  4. Patent litigation agressor
  5. Growing search through social
4) How Digital Business Will Evolve in 2012: 6 Big Ideas
  1. Thinking in terms of ecosystems
  2. Managing business as networks of people
  3. Shifting from static to dynamic notions of value
  4. Designing business for radical change
  5. Opening the culture of the organization
  6. Tapping into collective intelligence
5) Google: Five things to look for in 2012
  1. Anti-trust decisions in the US and EU
  2. Google steps up patent defences
  3. Making search more social
  4. Further Android fragmentation
  5. Chrome market share climbs
6) 10 Top Technology Trends for 2012
  1. TV Becomes the New Center of Gravity 
  2. 2012 Will See Tectonic Shifts in Phone Markets 
  3. Clouds Are for Consumers (and Startups) 
  4. Security Splits the Tech World in Two 
  5. SIRI Stuns the World 
  6. We Enter the Amazing World of Dave and HAL 
  7. E-Readers Prosper, but Pads Continue to Dominate the CarryAlong Market 
  8. The Consumption World Explodes 
  9. Governments and Corporations Focus on IP 
  10. Amazon Gets It All
7) 12 predictions for Africa Tech Scene in 2012
  1. Feature phone to Smartphone + a touch of Tablet
  2. Evolution & Maturity of Mobile Money
  3. Mobile Commerce & Payment Wars Intensify
  4. Mobile broadband Internet Access and the 3G Divide
  5. Mobile Health coming of Age but still not mature
  6. Media disruption takes root
  7. Rush and stumble to Invest in Africa Tech
  8. Rise of Angel & Seed investing “Sea Turtles vs Residents”
  9. Impact Investors figure out what “impact” actually means in Africa and add Tech to their portfolio
  10. New Africa Tech Hub Challengers emerge
  11. China lays down infrastructure, India and West builds services
  12. Africa Tech Talent and Skills shortage is real. Steps to strengthen continue
8) Upcoming Device (sic) In 2012 
  1. Kindle Fire 2
  2. iPhone 5
  3. Ultrabook
  4. MacBook Air of New Generation (sic)
9) What to Expect of Social Media in 2012
  1. Social-Mobile-Cloud
  2. Social media going mainstream
  3. Search
  4. Integration
  5. Facebook
10) Five predictions for the mobile industry in 2012
  1. Marketers finally accept fragmentation
  2. Tablets are recognised as a new type of media, unique from PCs and phones
  3. Coupon companies go mobile, add fulfillment, then soar
  4. Small businesses embrace mobile social media
  5. m-Commerce comes of age in emerging markets
11) 5 Ways to Boost Your Digital Media Career in 2012
  1. Get To Know Your Devices To Know the Trends
  2. Go Deep Into Content
  3. Recognize that Social Networks Transcend Facebook and Twitter
  4. Go Deep into Data and Learn How to Ask the Right Questions
  5. Behave Like a Media Entrepreneur, Innovator, Connector and Creator
12) 10 technologies to look forward to in 2012
  1. NFC… no, really 
  2. Speech recognition 
  3. 3D printing 
  4. Properly smart TV 
  5. 4k TV 
  6. Tablet gaming controls 
  7. Optical zoom camera phones 
  8. Super high-res tablets 
  9. Quad-core phones 
  10. Spotify movies
13) 20 Silicon Hills Technology Startups to Watch in 2012
  1. Appconomy
  2. BlackLocus
  3. Calxeda
  4. Famigo
  5. Fiserv
  6. Infochimps
  7. Hoot.me
  8. MapMyFitness
  9. Mass Relevance
  10. Other Inbox
  11. OwnLocal
  12. Portalarium
  13. Ricochet Labs
  14. Solspot
  15. SpareFoot
  16. Twilio
  17. 9WSearch
  18. Whale Shark Media
  19. WPEngine
  20. ZippyKid
14) What The Business Of Video Will Look Like In 2012
  1. 2012 is the year all video goes a la carte
  2. 2012 will be the year of the OverTheTop revolution
  3. YouTube and Google TV will merge (really this time)
  4. Yahoo will emerge as a big creator and distributor of video
  5. Business video will arrive as a real targetable business opportunity
15) Electric Cars in 2012, the ultimate directory
  1. Blowcar
  2. Doking XD
  3. Electric Ford Focus
  4. Honda Jazz EV (Fit EV)
  5. Kia Venga EV
  6. Lumeneo Neoma
  7. Renault Zoe
  8. Renault Twizy
  9. Smart ED
  10. Toyota iQ EV
  11. Tesla Model S
  12. Audi R8 E-tron
  13. Exagon Furtive e-GT
  14. Lightning GT
  15. ArcSpeed
  16. Varley EVR450
16) 12 Internet Predictions For 2012
  1. Google Will Release A $200 Tablet
  2. Facebook Will Grow Faster Than Anyone Thinks And Hit 1 Billion Users
  3. Twitter Will Build A Huge Business
  4. RIM Will Sell
  5. Apple Will Boringly Grow In Line With Analysts' Estimates
  6. Nokia Will Do OK
  7. Amazon Will Post Serious Losses And Outstanding Revenue Growth
  8. The New Breed Of Vertical, Entertaimnent-Focused Ecommerce Companies Will Get Huge
  9. 2012 Will Finally Be The Year Mobile Advertising Really Take Off, With At Least One AdNet Going Public
  10. Rovio Will Open At Least One Store In The US
  11. This Year, Enterprise-Focused Startups Will Blow Up
  12. You Will See A Ton Of Hype Around "The Internet Of Things"
17) 9 Social Media Trends to Keep Your Eye on in 2012
  1. Social CRM 
  2. Cross-Department Social Media 
  3. More integrated social media campaigns 
  4. Further segmentation of social platforms 
  5. Social ROI 
  6. Content, Content, Video 
  7. Game-ification 
  8. Social and mobile integration 
  9. Social online will merge into social online
18) Deloitte Predicts the Top 10 Technology Trends for 2012
  1. Geo-spatial Visualization
  2. Digital Identities 
  3. Data Goes to Work 
  4. Measured Innovation 
  5. Outside-in Architecture 
  6. Social Business 
  7. Hyper-hybrid Cloud 
  8. Enterprise Mobility Unleashed 
  9. Gamification 
  10. User Empowerment
19) Top Technology Trends for 2012
  1. Cloud Computing will be driven by low investment projects such as application development and testing 
  2. Usability now in enterprise applications from just end user applications 
  3. Content Management being monetised 
  4. M-Commerce 
  5. Social Media Applications 
  6. Zero Footprint Technology 
  7. The rise and rise of ‘Bring your own devices’ movement
20) The Top 10 tech trends for 2012
  1. Touch computing 
  2. Social gestures 
  3. NFC and mobile payments 
  4. Beyond the iPad 
  5. TV Everywhere 
  6. Voice control 
  7. Spatial gestures 
  8. Second-screen experiences 
  9. Flexible screens 
  10. HTML5
Remember, if you have more to contribute, let me know in the comments.


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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Two Software Developers Walk Into a Bar...

I love technology. I find it fascinating, engaging, and exciting. But while there is so much interesting stuff to read and learn about the latest hardware, software, and tech trends, much of it is not the slightest bit funny...or is it? If you look carefully enough, you will find plenty of humor in technology.

Silicon Art
Chip designers will often sign their names or include a drawing or message in a microscopic area on the chip.   The following is from inside a Samsung Galaxy Tab as reported in Wired magazine in March 2011. The image is magnified by about 200x:


See this other Wired magazine article for more. Who says chip designers don't have a sense of humor?

Easter Eggs
In the world of software, Easter Eggs are interesting or funny "additional extras" hidden inside the program by software developers, not necessarily sanctioned by the software house. Only if you know the correct command or sequence of clicks or keystrokes can you reveal the Easter Egg.

Easter Eggs appeared in many of the Microsoft Office products and included games, like flight simulators and car racing games. Citing security concerns, Microsoft banned Easter Eggs from their newer products, except for the extremely lame "so-called" Easter Egg in Outlook: The default picture for a contact is the silhouette of Bill Gates. In my book, that's not really an Easter Egg.

Examples of (real) software Easter Eggs:

Google:
  1. In your web browser (I believe this works in almost any browser, but definitely in Chrome), navigate to www.google.com.
  2. Enter the search term "tilt" and see what happens
    or
    Enter the search term "let it snow"
Skype:

A Few Hidden Emoticons in Skype: Enter a chat session and type words like “drunk” and “ninja” with the brackets to view amusing emoticons.


Funny Gadgets
Sure, you can go through life perfectly well with a boring, mundane, terrifically unexciting USB hub, or you could use one of these:

Of course, there's the thumb drive:
USBThumbDrive2_640

And the Barbie Doll USB drive:


Blog Comments
You've got to love comments on blogs (I wrote about this topic some time ago), especially the ones that make you laugh. Often, the best ones are comments to comments.

For example:
Commenter 1: You are so stupid! IDOITS!!!!!!!!
Commenter 2: haha misspelled idiots bro...oh, the irony
And this comment about comments on YouTube from Barry841:
It's sad to see people think this is all so funny. You do realise YouTube comments are leading to a worldwide shortage of exclamation marks. There are whole generations growing up in Africa who will never get to use an exclamation mark in their lives because they have all been squandered by teenagers telling each other what they think of a dancing parakeet.
Humorous Videos
There can often be a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon between what one person thinks is funny and what another thinks is funny. So let me take a chance and share with you one of my all-time favorite funny tech clips. I think I saw it first way back in 2007 and it had me rolling on the floor. I still think it's pretty funny, even though it's as old as Heck (click to find out how old Heck actually is). Unfortunately, I could only locate a low-res copy of the video, but it is still worth a squiz.


Now check out My Tech Boss to learn the rules of technology - not the most hilarious clip ever, but very amusing. Here's an example, apropos the previous video: The Rule of Reboot.


So what are your favorite funny tech bits?

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

This is How It's Done

In my last post I mentioned that learning-games can have a positive impact on the educational experience.

Unfortunately, my son's English teacher doesn't believe in making learning fun. He gave the students a list of thirteen spelling words to learn over the coming week. No wonder my son doesn't like English - it's as boring as watching a banana take a nap.

Knowing that my son has no choice but to learn the words, I found a way to spice it up a bit - example sentences:
Put I put the dog in the washing machine.
Putting Dad said, “Why are you putting the dog in the washing machine?”
Big I put a big dog in the washing machine.
Bigger Racheli* put a bigger dog in the washing machine.
Biggest Tova^ put the biggest dog in the washing machine.
There There was a dog in the washing machine.
Their The kids put their dog in the washing machine.
It's The dog said, “It’s dark and wet in the washing machine.”
Its The dog did not wag its tail.
Dangerous The dog thought that being in the washing machine was dangerous.
Famous The dog became famous.
Because The dog became famous because he was in a washing machine.
Receive The dog’s prize was to receive a lifetime supply of washing powder!

* Racheli is our 11 year-old daughter
^ Tova is our 4-month-old baby daughter
Bonus: My son now knows how to spell "washing" and "machine", as well.

See, Teacher, that's how it's done.


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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Play Your Way to Wealth and Wisdom

Video Games are Good for Kids

I love a good video game. There is a certain satisfaction when you blast the aliens out of the sky, build a profitable transportation system from scratch, or clear three snooker tables in under two minutes. But all these games are just time-wasters - or are they?

Back in seventh grade, when we started using Apple II computers at school, we learned how to make the Logo turtle move around the screen by entering certain commands. What was the point of teaching us Logo? Was it simply a distraction from regular classwork? The answer lies within an article entitled, "LOGO, the Cry of the Turtle is Heard in the Land" by Ian Gronowski, reprinted from a 1984 edition of the Australian Apple Review, here. The reason, Gronowski says, for teaching Logo to kids is that:
"Logo provides the learning environment, the context with which the child learns how to reason."
In other words, devising the most efficient command to instruct the Logo turtle to move around the screen is an activity that teaches children valuable life-skills.

In a compelling TedxKids talk in June 2011, Gabe Zicherman, an expert in the field, discusses the effect of video games on children. His main point is that society today is very fast-paced and that the multitasking skills acquired in playing modern video games (both individual and multiplayer games) help children to acquire the skills they need to succeed in day-to-day life. Zicherman says that we should embrace gaming as a platform for education (with certain caveats, of course).

I must admit that the most fun I had at learning math was when playing Math Invaders. The purpose of the game was to solve the math problem and shoot the correct alien as it descended towards you. (Incidentally, a more updated version of the game is freely available on-line, here. In fact, Google the term "Math Invaders" and you will find a number of websites that provide math problems in game format.)

I'm not going to argue whether or not video games are good for our kids or not, but certain things are clear: Games make learning fun and kids like fun. This is not to say that games should completely replace traditional learning, nor does this mean that all video games are good influences on our children. But it does mean that there is, at the very least, a place for games in education. I encourage you to watch Gabe Zicherman's talk and make up your own mind.

Gamification

As of writing this article, Merriam-Webster does not recognize "Gamification" as a real word, although Wikipedia defines this relatively new buzzword as:
"The integration of game mechanics or game dynamics into a website, service, community, campaign, or application in order to drive participation and engagement."
Image from gamification company:
www.bigdoor.com

Gamification boils down to one main point: People are motivated by rewards, whether the rewards are virtual, tangible, or just a good feeling. So to get people to join in, turn participating into a fun and rewarding experience.

We have all taken part in a form of gamification, be it playing educational computer games, engaging in an online activity for a reward, or simply completing your LinkedIn profile for the good feeling you get when the progress bar reaches 100%.

Gamification in the workplace

Gamification does not only exist in the realm of education or participation in online activities. Believe it or not, there is a rising trend in the gamification in the workplace, too.

Rachel Silverman wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, published in the online edition on 10 October 2011, where she talks about companies that use games to encourage productivity. The article is entitled "Latest Game Theory: Mixing Work and Play". Silverman describes how some companies (including IBM, Delloite Touche and SAP) are using virtual rewards, such as badges on the employee's company profile, to encourage things like employee training.

The Gamification Blog at www.gamification.co cites an interesting example of gamification, called Idea Street, successfully deployed in a workplace:
"Idea Street is an internal project of the United Kingdom’s Department of Work and Pensions, where employees interact and share ideas. The project includes a few basic game mechanics like badges and leaderboards, but the intrinsic driver of sharing ideas and collaborating on projects is the primary motivation behind the project. Idea Street facilitates the process. There is a case study available on Idea Street from Gartner, and the findings show that within the first 18 months, the project had around four thousand users, generated 1,400 ideas, 63 of which have been implemented within the Department."
Gamification also works to increase productivity. The following is from a May 11, 2011 blog post on www.gamification.co:
"Meanwhile at Target stores, cashiers are hard at work, getting reinforcement from their homegrown check out game. The custom-built app has proven to be a great way to relieve monotony and increase checkout speed by upwards of 10%. The basic premise was to provide feedback, progress mechanics and fun to improve user performance. This appears to be spectacularly true even in fairly unskilled jobs."
http://enterprise-gamification.com/index.php/examples lists a number of ways that different types of companies have introduced gamification into their processes.

How widespread is gamification in the workplace?

According to this marketwire.com article from May 2011:
  • The market for gamification will grow to $1.6 billion in 2015, from $100 million in 2011
  • The average growth rate for gamification for the next two years is 150%
  • More than a quarter of the online population now plays at least one game per month on a social network and the industry is expected to hit the $1B mark this year
  • A gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon and more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application, by 2014
  • By 2015, more than 50% of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes
In relation to the last point, a May 2011 Wall Street Journal article by Nicholas Lovell quotes Rick Gibson of Games Investor Consulting as saying:
“Some analysts estimate that 50% of companies will have ‘gamified’ by 2015. That’s 13.5 million businesses in the U.S. alone. That seems pretty ambitious to me.”
But even if it's not 50% but only 25% or 20%, it still signals a major shift away from traditional methods of motivating and incentivizing employees, to increase productivity, idea generation and innovation.

In his blog on the Fujitsu website, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer,  David Smith, says that gamification of the workplace is nothing new, it's just that now it has a name. One example he brings is that of Flexitime: An employee must work a minimum number of hours. Once that number of hours is exceeded, the employee can then cash-in the extra hours for time off. This, in a way, is a type of game.

In a blog post that contends that gamification is not a new concept, Richard Bingham breaks down the advantages of gamification to five points:
  • Better visibility into relative performance
  • More opportunities to compete
  • An engaging process and toolset for competing
  • Opportunity to make things a bit more fun
  • Opportunity to use more technology! 
Downsides and challenges of gamification

Gamification has its negative side. Here are a few:

A flawed game: Gamers will often find loopholes (cheats) in the rules that can be exploited. This is a real problem because if the game is designed by an inexperienced team, there are likely to be flaws that can be manipulated by users for personal benefit.

Game gone awry: In this video, Charlie Kim describes a workplace game designed to encourage employees to drink more water and less soda. Sounds like a healthy goal. However, in this real-world example, the competition became so fierce that people ended up drinking too much water.

Unfriendly competition: While competition in the workplace is often a good motivator, if not kept in check, the gamification of certain activities can lead to unfriendly rivalries. This reduces the standard of the work environment and is ultimately more destructive than helpful.

Coercive: In a strongly worded article on www.abc.net.au entitled, "Why Gamification is as Stupid as it Sounds", Sam Doust contends that the whole idea of gamification is to coerce users into participation. He says that:
"Cooperation is always better - and it leads to better economic models. Conversely, coercive approaches set limits on growth, innovation, experience and creativity - both in thought and practice."
In the interest of balance, it is important to read Doust's full article. Also see Dakota Reece Brown's article "Badges? Do we need stinking badges?"

Gamification gone too far?

CNN has taken gamification to a new level. In November 2011, CNN fired 50 employees, editors and photo-journalists because technological advancements made them redundant (see email to staff by CNN Senior VP, Jack Womack.) What are the technological advancements? There are millions of people walking around with good-enough-quality cameras built into their phones. All they have to do is take a picture and send it in to CNN. Their reward: an online badge.

Watch Stephen Colbert's wry take on this issue, here:

My opinion

I don't see gamification in the workplace as a long-term solution for increasing productivity or innovation. The rewards offered by companies to their employees may be fun for a while, but I think that adults are likely to view such things as a fun, passing fad, but not worth the effort in the long-term. In other words, I identify with Colbert's sardonic tone when he describes the reward system:
"iReporters don't get paid, they get something even better - badges, which I assume are redeemable for food and rent! Plus, you get...nothing else!"
On the other hand, I think that gamification in the education industry should definitely be taken far more seriously, even more so than in the workplace. Children are more predisposed to playing games and will play the same game repeatedly just because it's fun - for the reward of winning, achieving a higher score or unlocking new challenges. If it is possible to harness the enthusiasm and use it to create competitive, modern, exciting, multiplayer games to enhance the educational experience, I think we are on to a real winner.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Y. Karp? Why Not! Gets Smart

This blog is now available on your Android or iPhone smart-phone in a mobile-friendly format. Just go to www.ykarp.com and the blog will automatically render to the size of your smart-phone display.

Couldn't be simpler.

Enjoy!


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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Planet

Just two days ago NASA announced the discovery of a planet that could possibly host life. It's called Kepler 22-b. The planet is about 2.4 times the size of Earth and is just far enough away from its sun to possibly be habitable.


Kepler 22-b is situated 600 light years from Earth. This means that, with current technology, it will only take you about 7 million years to get there.

Assuming that there is sentient life on Kepler 22-b, and assuming that they have the same level of technology as us, we only have about 7 million years until the invasion force arrives.

Disclaimer: If there is a sudden run on supermarkets and if there is widespread looting and general mayhem in the streets, I had nothing to do with it...

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to Predict the Future

In my previous post I said that I love it when life imitates art. Science fiction gadgets, as we see them on the screen, often turn up in real life in one form or another. I think that the reason for this is that sci-fi writers are futurists at heart. They see the technology as it is now and extrapolate its development to the future.

Take a look at the following video, released by Sony in the last week of November 2011. Are we getting closer to inventing a real holodeck?



And, just for the fun of it, here is a satire on the whole Start Trek/futurist thing:




According to Bryan Alexander's article "Apprehending the Future: Emerging Technologies, from Science Fiction to Campus Reality", there are a number of different ways to predict future technologies:
  • The Environmental Scan: Repeatedly survey the technological horizon, looking for the leading edges of new projects and trends. One website that does just this is http://www.openthefuture.com/
  • The Delphi Method: Experts in a field are assembled, either physically or virtually, and consulted on emergent developments in that domain. 
  • Prediction Markets: Games structured like commodity futures markets but using pretend currencies and trading on ideas or events rather than goods. Based on the parameters of the game, the results can show what might be popular, what might fail and what people want. 
  • Scenarios: Individuals or teams represent actors in a situation. Scenario organizers portray events through various media and then facilitate as players react in accordance with the actors they are simulating. As defined pithily in The Forecasting Dictionary, a scenario is "a story about what happened in the future." 
  • Crowdsourcing: Packaging a problem in such a way as to invite non-expert contributions and then distributing that request for help to the world at large. This can easily be achieved today by posting a question on Twitter such as, "What are the most important emerging technologies for..." and then analyzing the responses.
Unfortunately, though, for all their studies, methods and philosophizing about the nature of the human beast, futurists often get it wrong.

Donald Rumsfeld famously said:
...there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns; the ones we don't know we don't know."
The media made fun of Rumsfeld for this last sentence, but the truth is that when it comes to predicting the future, there will be societal and technological developments that we never would have been able to predict would happen. For instance, in 1960, a futurist might have been able to predict that traveling across the Atlantic would be reduced to a few hours (it did, for a while, with the five-hour Concorde flight between London and New York). However, a 1960s futurist could not have predicted social media or online retail. Such concepts did not exist. So despite all of our efforts, the unknown unknowns can come along and change everything. And they do.

Another reason why futurists fail is something that Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined "the black swan theory". The "black swan" is an unpredictable event (unexpected in even the most detailed and carefully calculated of probability models), which is of high impact and that is rationalized away when viewed in hindsight. According to this article on davemanuel.com , the following are examples of black swan events:

  • The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001
  • The collapse of Soviet Russia
  • The invention of the Internet
So if there are unknown uknowns and black swan events, what is the point of trying to predict future technologies? In a 2008 article entitled "What Science Fiction Writers have Learned About Predicting the Future of Technology", Frederick Pohl, whose work includes the classic The Space Merchants (written with Cyril M. Kornbluth), and most recently The Last Theorem, co-authored with the late Arthur C. Clarke, is quoted as saying:
No sensible science-fiction writer tries to predict anything...Neither do the smartest futurologists. What those people do is try to imagine every important thing that may happen (so as to do in the present things which may encourage the good ones and forestall the bad) and that's what SF writers do in their daily toil.
I undertook a quick (but non-definitive) experiment to find out if science fiction shapes our opinions of technological advancement. I found that there is a certain truth to Pohl's statement.

The plot of the series of "Terminator" movies is based around a future where the Skynet military system becomes self-aware, sees people as a threat to its existence and sets out to destroy the human race.

I did a Google search for the term "one step closer to Skynet" and found many examples of where bloggers, forum commenters and news articles ask whether the latest tech development is bringing them closer to a world dominated by evil robots. Examples of my findings include:
In a February 2011 ARS Technica article entitled "A Step Closer to Skynet? Pentagon Wants Fighting Robots to Talk to Eachother", the journalist, Matthew Lasar, describes new developments in autonomous fighting robots that can collaborate with each other in real-time. Then Lasar makes a salient point:
All very interesting, but like most civilians our main reference point for these developments is the movies, some of which have been anticipating "interchangeable payload" scenarios for years."
I think that science fiction movies and novels are simply entertaining alternatives to the "Scenarios" method of predicting the future (see above). The stories told are possible futures, which we can either strive for or seek to avoid.

In the end, que sera sera, but I love the idea of trying to predict how technology will shape our future, even if we do sometimes get it wrong. Let's just hope that the Terminator scenario remains in the world of fiction.



Comments are most welcome!
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

iDevice RC: Supersize Me!


According to this ZDNet article, Dexim sells a nifty little truck called the AppSpeed that, with a little help from the included RF transmitter, can be remotely controlled by your iDevice.



Two words: Way cool!

The first thing I thought of when I read this was that it would be incredibly awesome to have a life-size version of the AppSpeed truck that you could drive just by gliding your hand across the screen.

Wait a minute...James Bond "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997), anybody?

 

I love it when life imitates art, especially when it's remote controlled. Pity, though, that the AppSpeed doesn't come with rockets and that handy cable cutter thing.


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Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain


The Art of Racing in the Rain
"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." - Groucho Marx

The first few pages of  Garth Stein's "The Art of Racing in the Rain" didn't really grab me. This is a book about a family told through the eyes of a dog. The dog's philosophizing was a bit too much, although Stein eases up on the "meaning of life" speech and gets stuck into the guts of the story within a few pages.

The bulk of the story, and Enzo the dog's take on things, was well written, occasionally funny, and quite engaging. The reader really gets to know the characters and empathize with them. I particularly enjoyed the car-racing analogies, which were welcome interludes, but not overdone. Despite it's beginning, the author did a good job of balancing Enzo's philosophical thoughts on life with events and action, resulting in a story that moves along and doesn't get bogged down.

Here's a video trailer of the "The Art of Racing in the Rain":


Spoiler Alert!
I felt that the story's conclusion was somewhat predictable. It tries to leave the reader with a warm and fuzzy feeling, which is disappointing because it let down a very intelligent plot. I think that mature readers could deal with a less fairy-tale ending.
End Spoiler Alert!

Cleverly, Garth Stein produced a version of the book called "Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog", the same story, but adapted for younger readers. Scenes in the regular version of the book can be a bit adult at times (though not explicit), but the basic story-line would appeal to teens as well. I could see the youth version of this book being used as a reading text for high-school English classes. Although not a work of literary genius, there is a lot in it to analyze.

In summary, "The Art of Racing in the Rain" is certainly a book worthy of your time.

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Slow Release


Some have criticized HP and Blackberry for dragging their feet on updates to the Touchpad and Playbook, respectively. Although frustrating sluggish in their release schedules, they are not the slowest to issue the latest version of their product.

For all of you who thought that chess was an anti-social game (although not as anti-social as solitaire), it's time for you to rethink your stereotypes because after about 800 years, chess version 2.0 has been released.

This report on Slashgear showcases a three-person, circular chess game.










 Chess clubs of the world, rejoice!


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Am So 1995

The digital world has switched to the cloud, yet I still have my feet firmly on the ground.

At home, I use a local email client on a big black desktop computer. I use software that was installed from a CD. I have a puny mobile data plan on my Symbian-based work-phone, and I haven't used a touch screen since I ran over my Palm PDA with my great big silver station-wagon sometime in 2002.

My friends all have G-mail accounts, and I'm still mulling whether or not to use DropBox.

There was a time when I wanted to ditch local computing and entrench myself in the Google-sphere: G-mail, Chrome, Android, Google+. The theory behind Chromebook, despite it's very shaky and unpopular start, sounds brilliant: Doesn't matter if you drop your Chromebook in the loo, simply log in from any Chromebook machine and all your settings and preferences instantly appear before you. (I would have used the word "magically", but I think it is trademarked by Apple...)

But I resisted all that for one reason: control. Living in the cloud seems to push users one step away from controlling their data. Google isn't going to disappear so fast, but what happens if they decide to change the conditions of use and suddenly you are left without an email address? Or what happens if they suddenly decide to drop storage limits to an unworkable number? What if Google decides that they will stop providing Google Docs, upon which you and your family now rely? After all, they blocked Google Video to new uploads shortly after they bought YouTube.

I own my data. My email is mine, my photos are mine, the software is mine. I have two internal hard-drives (one partitioned for the OS and data, the other is a backup drive) and I have an external hard drive that I keep off-site and bring home periodially to backup my data). I might still have a 1995 attitude about data storage, but it's mine, all mine .

Amazon is the latest one calling me to the cloud. The Kindle Fire is a rediculouly priced $199 7" tablet, unabashedly designed to suck users in to the Amazon.com ecosystem by offering 20GB of free cloud storage and limited-time Prime membership on-the-house - as enticing an offer as you are going to get.

I can barely shake the urge to throw myself at Jeff Bezos' mercy. But I will evade the temptation of the fiery Amazonian cloud, just like I continue to resist the beckoning calls emanating from the hallowed Googleplex. For there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you are in complete control of your data...until the disk drives crash and your precious family photos go up in an plume of digital smoke.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Can Possibly Be More Interesting Than This Article?

Australia's Channel 2, the government funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), used to host a show called "Backchat". Viewers were invited to submit their opinions about ABC broadcasts beamed into their televisions and radios. If what the viewer or listener had to say was current enough, witty, or clever, part of their submissions would be quoted on-air.

Backchat, aired twice a week, was a ten-minute segment that filled the gap between 9.20pm and 9.30pm; the concept was brilliant. Viewers got a thrill when the best parts of their letters were read out for all the nation to hear. The interesting thing about it was that there were often multiple comments on the same topic, giving a theme to that day's Backchat. The ABC had found a way to seem accountable to the public and, at the same time, attract viewers to their television station.

Aside from the novelty of having your words read out and your name displayed on television, the idea was not that much different from one newspapers have used since time immemorial - letters to the editor. The intrinsic problem with these letters and with Backchat is that it is difficult to hold a conversation. For starters, there is an obvious issue of time-delay. Furthermore, published submissions are often heavily edited. Also, editors filter out those submissions that tried to carry on the conversation for too long, especially if the issue has passed some arbitrary used-by-date.

The Internet has given an (almost unedited) voice to the public. Talkbacks and comments on news articles and blogs enable almost anyone to instantly share their opinion with the world. The commenting system on countless websites stimulate conversation and debate among people with similar interests. These modern-day Backchats have given rise to a freedom of expression that was, until now, heavily moderated by those with vested interests in what is published and what is not.

Clever authors provide just enough controversial material to provoke discussion. The best authors are those that include themselves in the ensuing debate, throwing themselves into the fray and engaging in intelligent conversation. This shows the readers that authors care about them and it is also a thrill for commenters when they can actually join the author (the "expert") in near-real-time conversation about the topic in the article.

The side-effect is that weaker authors fail to give their own opinions, or heavily qualify their opinions, so as to protect themselves from those who disagree. Some authors disengage completely from the article once it has been published, leaving the unwashed hordes to fight it out amongst themselves. Occasionally, authors goad readers into commenting, baiting them with statements that are bound to get their dander up. This only serves to increase their hit count and the perceived popularity of their blog, but does not necessarily add to the greater wisdom of the world. For example, it is easy to score cheap points by writing anything that slightly suggests that Apple is better than Windows or vice-versa.

I am often disappointed if an article has few comments because, trolls and flamers aside; sometimes the comments to an article are more entertaining than the article itself.


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Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Want a Tablet

Despite an almost overwhelming desire to buy one of these shiny new geeky toys, I don't think I am going to get one. The following is a conversation I had with myself today.
  1. I want a tablet computer.
  2. But they are too expensive.
  3. But you can read books on them.
  4. Buy a novel.
  5. But tablets are the future of computing.
  6. If they are the future of computing, wait until the future!
  7. But why wait? They are always coming out with new models, so that means I'll never get one.
  8. Although, in terms of bang-for-buck, you don't really get very much.
  9. But then, what do I use the home computer for, anyway - email, internet, Facebook, Twitter, internet banking and a few games - so why not?
  10. I'll tell you why not: For the same price or less you can get a netbook or low-powered notebook that will last longer, possibly even play optical media, has a better selection of ports, and supports your EWI USB electronic saxophone.
  11. Yeah, but I don't like using email, Facebook and Twitter on a shared computer.
  12. So be a man, log-out when you're done!
  13. But it would be so great to be able to sit at the table, have a coffee and read the news from a tablet, instead of sitting in front of a computer to do the same thing.
  14. So get a newspaper subscription.
  15. That's so 1880s. In any case, the tablet form-factor is so appealing - they start up almost instantly and can be taken anywhere.
  16. Yeah, but which one would you get? There are so many options - iPad, Android, WebOS, Blackberry Tablet OS - and what about screen size, resolution, battery life, weight, apps, 3G, 4G, W-Fi and all that jazz - you are bound to make the wrong choice.
  17. What, so just because there's a choice I can't bring myself to make an informed decision? Of course I can - and I'll live with whatever choice I make.
  18. But it will be outdated within a few months.
  19. So iPad 1.0 owners should just toss their devices because iPad 2.0 came out? Seriously?
  20. You'll become an Internet junkie - you wouldn't be able to put the thing down.
  21. Yeah I know, but it's a small price to pay...
Oh, heck. I hate it when I'm right.


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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: The Professor and the Madman

When attempting to describe the plot of The Professor and the Madman, I find myself undecided as to where to begin. The cover of the book describes it as a novel about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. That is true, in a way. Simon Winchester, the author, spends much time on detailing the history of dictionaries and the difficulties in collating them - a far more interesting topic than one would imagine. However, the making of the OED, while an intrinsic aspect of the book, is not its focus.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English DictionaryMost prominent in the novel is the story of the the Madman, an American Civil-War doctor who went mad, supposedly as a result of the horrors he witnessed during the war. Despite his incarceration in an assylum, the Madman becomes one of the most important contributors to the creation of the OED. The Professor, a less featured character, but by no means a lesser character, is the editor of the OED who initially doesn't realize that his most important contributor is a long-standing resident of a mental institution.

If I was to draw the timeline of the story in the order it is told, my pen would find itself going back and forth across the page. But this constant switching between past and present is cleverly done and barely perceptible. It makes for an interesting read.

The style of the book is very British and correct, which perfectly suits the storyline and adds an air of authenticity to it. I found myself having to look up a word or two, which gave me an even greater appreciation for the dictionary. But the truth is that I started to read the book three times before I actually read the whole thing. I'm not sure if that was due to the style of the book or the subject matter, but once I got past the first chapter, I began to really enjoy it (although it wasn't so compelling that I couldn't put it down.) I was even somewhat disappointed that the story ended at the epilogue. Uncharacteristically, I found myself reading the acknowledgements at the end - which turned out to contain some enlightening information on the extent the author went to in his research for the book.

The Professor and the Madman is not just a book for logophiles, lexicomanes or philologists. Its appeal lies in the fact that it is heavily based on a true story, that it is well researched, and that it is written in a style true to its subject.

I give it 8/10.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Should I Use Shall? May I Use Should? Shall I Use May?

I learned in my Technical Writing course that the words “may”, “should”, “can” and “will” are to be avoided at all costs in a requirements document, unless they are in a note or a special section called “Recommendations” or something similar.

However, I had a customer who insisted that this is wrong because he has been using these [forbidden] words in documentation for eternity “and it is all over the Internet”. I asked him how the reader is supposed to know whether it is a requirement, a recommendation, or an option. His answer: At the beginning of the doc he has a table defining “shall”, “should”, and “may” (he doesn’t use “will” or “can”.)

So I did a bit of Internet research and found this quote from the IEEE style manual (quoted here: http://www.ieee802.org/20/email_req/msg00102.html)
The word shall is used to indicate mandatory requirements strictly to be followed in order to conform to the standard and from which no deviation is permitted (shall equals is required to). The use of the word must is deprecated and shall not be used when stating mandatory requirements; must is used only to describe unavoidable situations. The use of the word will is deprecated and shall not be used when stating mandatory requirements; will is only used in statements of fact.
The word should is used to indicate that among several possibilities one is recommended as particularly suitable, without mentioning or excluding others; or that a certain course of action is preferred but not necessarily required; or that (in the negative form) a certain course of action is deprecated but not prohibited (should equals is recommended that

The word may is used to indicate a course of action permissible within the limits of the standard (may equals is permitted).

The word can is used for statements of possibility and capability, whether material, physical, or causal (can equals is able to)."
Furthermore, RFC 2119 “Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels” Harvard University, 1997 states the proper use of these imperatives. RFC 2119 also states that these words should also be defined at the beginning of the document, just like my customer did.

In his 2009 blog entitled, “You Must Not Write the System  Shall…”, Scott Sehlhorst (a product manager, business architect and business analyst) states:
In English, shall and must mean the same thing – something is mandatory. Should means, roughly “it would be a good idea.” In fact, should is such an ambiguous term, you should never use it in requirements.
NASA’s “Writing Effective Requirements Specifications has a similar list (“may” and “can” are noticeably absent):

This list presents imperatives in descending order of their strength as a forceful statement of a requirement. The NASA SRS documents that were judged to be the most explicit had the majority of their imperative counts associated with items near the top of this list.
  • Shall is usually used to dictate the provision of a functional capability.
  • Must or must not is most often used to establish performance requirements or constraints.
  • Is required to is often used as an imperative in specifications statements written in the passive voice.
  • Are applicable" is normally used to include, by reference, standards or other documentation as an addition to the requirements being specified.
  • Responsible for is frequently used as an imperative in requirements documents that are written for systems whose architectures are already defined. As an example, "The XYS function of the ABC subsystem is responsible for responding to PDQ inputs."
  • Will is generally used to cite things that the operational or development environment are to provide to the capability being specified. For example, "The building's electrical system will power the XYZ system."
  • Should is not frequently used as an imperative in requirement specification statements. However, when it is used, the specifications statement is always found to be very weak. For example, "Within reason, data files should have the same time span to facilitate ease of use and data comparison."
An article printed in TechWR-L in January 2009 (PDF) by Donn Le Vie, Jr. states the following:
Options: A category of words that provide latitude in satisfying the SRS [Software Requirements Specification] statements that contain them. This category of words loosens the SRS, reduces the client's control over the final product, and allows for possible cost and schedule risks. You should avoid using them in your SRS. The options below are listed in the order they are found most often in NASA SRSs

1. Can
2. May
3. Optionally
The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications 3rd Edition says to use the word “should” to describe a recommendation, but to avoid the phrase “it is recommended”.

So it seems that there might be some debate regarding “can” and “may”, but “should” and “will” seem to be acceptable in requirements documents. What is certain is that the standards (I think) I learned in my Technical Writing course are not universally accepted.

What is your take on this?



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Monday, April 11, 2011

Embrace Electronic Bling

According to this eHow article entitled "How to Wear Gaudy Jewelry":
Bright green baubles, earrings that look like rocket ships and a bracelet bigger and louder than Texas all qualify as gaudy jewelry. Gaudy jewelry is flamboyant, obnoxious and a heck of a lot of fun. Just because the jewelry is gaudy doesn’t mean you can’t wear it with flair. Some stylish tips will help you wear gaudy jewelry better than those chicks on the fashion pages.
Are you kidding me? There is nothing you can do to wear rocket ship earrings stylishly. Nothing. Well, the article disagrees with me and goes on to mention five ways to wear gaudy jewelry and look good:
  1. Be selective: That's right. The first rule of wearing over-the-top fashion accessories (like big green baubles) is to be "selective".
  2. Stay minimal: Um...how much flamboyant and obnoxious jewelry is too much?
  3. Keep the rest of the outfit simple: Like anyone is going to notice that, in addition to yellow banana earrings, you are also wearing a hat made of fruit.
  4. Keep the rest of the outfit matching: Good thing that the bananas on your hat match those dangling from your ears.
  5. Stay in the same era and style: In what era was it fashionable to wear necklaces made of semi-transparent giant marbles?
    If over-made-up ladies wearing fake, tacky rubies the size of Canada isn't enough, the menfolk have gotten in on the act. They don't call it "gaudy jewelry", they call it "bling", so it's cool. According to the Urban Dictionary, bling is:
    1. Any shiny thing which distracts morons such as rappers.

    2. Often takes the form of jewelry, may be expensive but is commonly cheap, used to give the impression of wealth.

    3. Gaudy over the top hideous and wholly unnecessary.

    Amazingdata.com says that "Rappers Look Like Idiots with Bling" I suggest that you to check out the site, just for the colorful pictures.

    But badly dressed women and rappers with bling are not the end of it. In the information age, bling has merged with tech.

    In February 2007 Wired reported that the Rubiks Cube, the intelligent person's game, now comes with flashing lights and sound effects. Glitzy, but not too bad. However, this November 2006 Businessweek article highlights some of that year's super-expensive electronic bling: diamond-encrusted laptops, gold-plated TVs, and earphones that cost more than the sound equipment they connect to.

    However, my idea of "electronic bling" is a little different. Using the first and third definitions of "bling", above, I define electronic bling as being electronic gadgets worn or displayed for the sole purpose of showing off.

    You indulge in electronic bling if:
    • You have two or more mobile devices hanging from your belt
    • You use your smart phone in public places to surf the web
    • You use any type of video chat on a mobile device
    • You sit in cafes with your laptop open, sipping lates and typing loudly
    • You use your GPS to guide you to places you know perfectly well how to get to
    • You wear a cyborg-like Bluetooth ear-piece, even if you have left your phone at home
    • You own a tablet computer of any description
    Electronic bling equals gadgets for gadgets' sake. If you are a tech nerd, if wearable technology is an improvement on your current fashion "look", if you aspire to be singled out among your peers as an uber-geek, come towards the bright, shining LED array and embrace electronic bling.

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    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Going Where No Mogul Has Gone Before

    Let me just say this: I don't know much about this man as a person. I haven't done research into either his private or public lives. I don't know what his politics are and I don't know if he really is a nice guy, or if he just presents well, but I am in awe of Sir Richard Branson who seems to look at the current state of technology and ask, "How can I take this to the next level?" He thinks big.

    Virgin Galactic is a perfect example. It is true that SpaceshipOne was not Branson's idea, and the original technology was not developed by Virgin (it was Burt Rutan's design). However, it took a person as flamboyant and visionary as Richard Branson to recognize the potential. He became one of the driving forces behind making regular, safe space flight into a reality with Virgin Galactic. True, it costs $200,000 for a space ticket and the spacecraft are still being tested, but the price will come down (although possibly not in my lifetime!) and Virgin Galactic will make regular space travel commonplace.



    What's next for Sir Richard? Well, he's doing "up", now he's going to tackle "down". Enter VirginOceanic - your ticket to the bottom of the ocean. Sir Richard Branson's next venture will take tourists to the last unexplored frontier of Planet Earth - deeper than any submarine has ever gone before.



    If Sir Richard can pull this one off, not only will he own the first commercial space venture, but he will also be the first to offer deeper-than-deep-sea tourism (yes, even deeper than the Titanic!)

    You've got to hand it to the guy. He isn't content to sit back, relax on his Caribbean Island and count his £2.6b. It's true that he makes a few bucks on the way, but he is willing to take the risks and go where no transportation/music/media/tourism mogul has gone before.

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    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    Squeezing the Most Out of Your Day

    It has been quite some time since my last blog post, mostly due to other extra-curricular projects I have going at the moment. It is difficult to find time to write blog posts when family commitments, work, writing a novel for pre-teens, practicing my Akai EWI and resuming an exercise routine I had laid fallow for about half a year, all seem to get in the way.

    Here's an interesting link to a website that describes how 25 famous people, such as Stephen King, Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill scheduled their day. The thing that strikes me about most of the daily routines described is that these people behaved as if the world revolved around them. Most of them even had a scheduled socializing hour - those friends who could not abide by it be damned!

    I find that one of the most important skills in my job as a Technical Writer is to manage my time properly. On any given day I could find myself working on anything from proofing 300 page hardware specifications through to creating PowerPoint slides, drawing figures in Visio, teaching English grammar, coding VBA for my Access database, attending meetings and writing or editing any number of a wide range of documents. Fitting all of that into a work day is not easy. Short of stopping time so I can get more done (to stop time, do this), here are some ways I manage the ocean of work and its unpredictable nature:
    • I rely extensively on my self-made document and task tracking database to tell me what I need to do and by when it needs to be done
    • I schedule appointments with myself to work on specific tasks (and stick to it)
    • I speak to the document owners to find out what the real urgency of the work is, especially when the email arrives stamped with that obnoxious red exclamation point
    • I skim each document as it arrives in my inbox so that I can provide a realistic delivery date
    • I do everything in my power to stick to the delivery date
    • I have learned that it is acceptable to say "no" to certain requests (if they are unreasonable)
    • When I sit with customers to review their documents, I make sure to end the meeting at the scheduled time, even if the doc isn't finished (assuming no real urgency), and even if I don't have another appointment scheduled afterward
    • I am prepared to alter my schedule if the need arises
    • I often ignore my own advice and do more than one task at a time
    • I make sure to never miss lunch, which is scheduled in my calendar for 12:00 every day
    What are some of your time and task management tricks?

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