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digital life

17 Dec

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Interview: Apotheken Umschau / Volle Kontrolle über mich

December 17, 2012 | By |

Apotheken Umschau

File under “unexpected media appearance”: A few weeks ago I was interviewed about personal analytics and the Quantified Self by a good old institution in the German media sphere, Apotheken Umschau. It’s one of those magazines that fly very much under the radar, yet have an incredible circulation of about 10 million printed copies (and 20 million reach): You can pick them up for free at any pharmacy, so they’re pretty much everywhere even if you’ll never see anyone reading it. Mysterious, eh?

Anyway, long story short, along with other familiar faces like Florian Schumacher of the QS Munich meetups I got to give my two cents on personal analytics. As the magazine is aimed squarely at a mainstream, non-technical audience, it’s all pretty much on the surface of things (which also explains how I turned into what looks like a stock photo), but it’s these opportunities to spread the word outside our bubble and immediate networks that I always enjoy – this is where stuff gets applied to real lives, after all.

So if you live in Germany, for two weeks you can pick up a copy for free at the pharmacy near you.

05 May

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Nike+ First Impressions

May 5, 2012 | By |

So I got around to testing out the Nike+ Fuelband for a few days. Instead of a full on review, some quick, off the cuff impressions, thoughts & notes as long as they’re fresh:

The Fuelband is smooth, feels nicely heavy and well made. The rubbery surface is comfortable to wear, if maybe a bit too clunky, especially if you work on a computer a lot.

The display lights up only if you press a button, so usually you just walk around with a black wristband. The display is a set of LEDs and can show time, steps, calories as well as Nike’s own “currency”, the so-called “Fuel”. Below the display you see a status bar that starts with a single red dot and grows with your activity, going from yellow to green until you reach your daily goal. It’s fairly subtle and works intuitively. Having a watch on the wrist was a pleasant change as I usually don’t wear watches much.

Taking this for a spin. #fuelband Starting out, the Fuelband shows just a red marker: Go get a move on!

The battery lasts for a few days before you have to recharge via USB. Data upload works through USB, too, so it’s simple but not terribly elegant.

To set your goals, you enter your desired activity levels through an app on your desktop or iPhone (I use Android, so no mobile app for me). The default “normal” active day is set so low that I reached it even though only starting my test at 4pm the first day. Ramping it up to “active” days helps a bit, so you actually have to at least walk a bit during the day to meet the goals. I assume if you commute by car and work at a desk all day, it might be a challenge. If you’re somewhat active anyway it feels like you have to set the goals somewhat inflationary. Or maybe I just happened to have a particularly active week.

Over time, you can gather a number of stats, accessible through the Fuel app. Examples for the kind of stats you get, besides some graphs to indicate the overall development, would be Best Month, Best Wednesday, Average Activity etc. It’s intuitive, but doesn’t go very deep it seems.

I expect this will change if the API ever really opens up and more developers can play around with it. If you could use alternative interfaces like the Pebble for example that might become more interesting. As it stands, it feels a bit… how do I phrase it… American? I know this doesn’t quite capture it, but it’s this very Nike-ish tonality that I always personally find a bit off-turning. Then again, it’s their product and it’s a fitness product, so I guess that’s alright.

Right now it’s still in the novelty phase, and several people actually approached me at a restaurant to ask about it.

So in short: It’s a smooth, well produced gadget. Having tested it for about a week, it feels like the novelty and effect are wearing off already. I caught myself not even putting it on anymore after 4-5 days. The API might change that once it’s there, if it’s ever going to really open up.

09 Apr

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Galapagos Tech

April 9, 2012 | By |

The other day I talked to my friend Ryo who lives in Japan and uses an iPhone. In this he’s not alone – iPhones are, in Japan as much as anywhere else, a cool gadget to have. Yet, here using this particular product has some different implications than elsewhere: In Tokyo, Japanese smartphones have many features and functions that their equivalents abroad don’t have. They serve as metro pass, to buy things at vending machines (which you also can do with the metro pass), replace credit cards. In other words, they’re the key to pretty much every transaction you have in any given day. In order to use an iPhone, my friend had to start carrying a wallet again, which he hadn’t done for a long time before.

Japan is full of these technologies: By themselves, or rather in their particular environment, they’re quite advanced. They’re a bit like a glimpse into the near future, but on some odd tangent, or parallel track. Yet, take them out of this ecosystem and they stop to work, as they’re not compatible with the hardware and software stack anywhere else.

The term used for this phenomenon in Japan: Galapagos Tech. It only exists in this particular, singular context and nowhere else.

I love the expression; hadn’t heard about it before. It’s quite a powerful notion. And as my Japanese friend put it: We (Japan) are good at invention cool stuff, but we’re bad at marketing and exporting it abroad. There’s something here, but more importantly this may serve as a reminder of the importance of interoperability and standards in technology. You don’t want to be the subject of study, but little use. You don’t want to force your users to carry a wallet again, or anything they had rather discard.

14 Mar

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Assume less, ask more!

March 14, 2012 | By |

Three notes to myself, based on experiences and conversations about the things others do well.

One, to avoid misunderstandings, or disappointments based on misunderstandings, try to express your expectations explicitly. Less hints, more statements. Bonus points for social grace while doing so.

Two, after important interactions (meetings, finished projects, or anything really), ask how you could do better in the future. Some smart people I know have been doing this for awhile, and it makes a lot of sense. Takes the edge off things by pre-emptively inviting constructive criticism and helps, well, be a better person all ’round.

Three, ask more questions. If in doubt, and maybe even when not in doubt, ask. Is this what you meant? Why do you say that? How do you mean that? What is it that you’re trying to achieve with this? Asking open questions leads to knowledge, better understanding, and an overall better communication style. It also helps getting stuff done by avoiding doing unnecessary stuff. (Note: rhetoric questions and statements with a question mark in the end don’t count.) Assume less, ask more!

All these rules particularly hold true in digital communications, of course, where our messages are stripped of most social clues and misunderstandings are easily amplified.

Now, invoking rule #2 and #3: Are blogposts like this helpful or interesting for you? How could I have communicated these points more clearly?