Ironic Pipe Bomber

Someone has apparently been leaving pipe bombs in random parks around Livermore. I can’t help but be amazed when the local news interviews people in Livermore and they say things like “I can’t believe this would happen here, it’s such a quiet peaceful community!”

Uh, Livermore? As in the home of Lawrence Livermore National Labs? The cornerstone of the US nuclear weapons program since 1952? Does anyone else see this as slightly ironic?

Starbucks Words of Wisdom #105

A couple of weeks ago, I was in New Jersey and learned that the words of my brother-in-law, Rob Waldron, had been featured on a Starbucks coffee cup as #105 in their series of “words of wisdom” on coffee cups:

According to the Federal Reserve Bank, $1 spent on excellent preschool education saves $7 in special education, social service and future incarceraton costs more than a dozen years later. Are we, as citizens, willing to elect government leaders who spent our taxes on something that offers a return so far in the future? I hope so.

–Rob Waldron
President and CEO of Jumpstart, a national nonprofit early education organization.


An IM Client That Works

I’m not a huge IM user, but as good as Trillian is for managing competition on multiple fronts, there’s still a gap to be filled in the IM world. Yet for all the IM competition, could Meebo or Wablet, or one of the other IM competitors please add the one feature I need? What do I want? Simple. I want profile-based presence for my instant messaging clients.

What I am talking about? I want the ability to set my presence information independantly for different sets of users. When I’m at work, my IM client should only show me as available to my work colleagues and select close friends (such as my wife), so I’m not randomly interrupted when I’m at work. Similarly, when I’m at home, my IM client should only show me as available to my personal friends, so I’m not interrupted by co-workers who assume that I’m always available. I shouldn’t have to have separate IM accounts for work and home.

Maybe the IM services aren’t flexible enough to enable this. But as a user, I just don’t care about those details.

Born To Be…Frugal

After a week of riding and fifty or so miles, I finally had to fill up my scooter with gas (it wasn’t actually empty, but it was starting to lean on empty, which I think is actually still about a quarter of tank full).

It cost me $2.77 to fill the tank. 🙂

Born To Be Mild

For the past two and a half years, Ashley and I have been sharing a single car. In California. Yes, it’s been a bit of challenge in a state where public transit is non-functional, and walking puts you into one of four categories (courtesy of Hari Kunzru):

  • Poor
  • Foreign
  • Mentally imbalanced
  • Jogging

Yamaha Vino 125I’ve always been pretty lucky about my commutes – most of my jobs have been within 20 minutes by either foot or public transit – so actually needing to drive to work was a pretty big change. Between me wanting to leave for work earlier and staying later, it was getting to be a real pain for Ashley and me to keep carpooling.

So I chose the most economical way to address my commuting need: a 2006 Yamaha Vino 125 scooter. I dub thee “Scooty Puff Senior“.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Two-wheeled vehicles are notoriously dangerous, a fact my parents insisted on telling me over dinners in graphic terms that can only be informed by first-person experiences dealing with the occasional wishboned motorcyclist in the emergency room. I guess I’ll just have to drive really carefully. Promise.

OneNote: PM Super Tool

A couple weeks ago, I attended a product management course put on by Pragmatic Marketing and had the opportunity to hear about the standard tools product managers use to track information, feature requests, and other information as part of their job. PMs need to write down and track a lot of information to do their job effectively, and so I was somewhat surprised to learn that the majority of the PMs in attendance were still tracking meeting notes, customer visits, and other information in crude tools like Excel and Word. The tool that I use with great effectiveness, Microsoft OneNote 2003, seemed unknown to everyone in the room. With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a quick set of information on why OneNote is the essential tool that PMs should be using to track information.

What is OneNote? At it’s core, it’s a virtual notepad that allows you to organize electronic notes into folders and sections. Using OneNote, you can:

  • Get organized: Using OneNote, you can keep all your notes in a single application, rather than strewn across multiple Word documents. The editor is a simplified version of Word, but provides far more editing flexibility to allow you to shift around blobs of text, images, and even audio clips. OneNote also allows you to define templates for pages, allowing you to create simple forms that define information you need to capture in a standard format.
  • Track important information: For all of you “Getting Things Done” fans out there, OneNote allows you to tag text in a page as a task you need to perform, and define tags of your own for common types of information you might want to track. For example, you can create tags to track items such as competitor information you learn from a customer, feature requests you need to add to your request tracking system, and questions you need to revisit and answer later.
  • Find information quickly: OneNote enables you to perform a full text search of all your notes, allowing you to actually use the information you’ve collected. In addition, you can create summary views of the items tagged as tasks, allowing you to track open actions you need to close out. Finally, you can create summary views of the tags you’ve defined, allowing you to get a comprehensive view of all the important competitor information, feature requests, and questions you’ve tagged in your notes.
  • Share your information easily: Each section in OneNote is stored as a single file (and OneNote saves constantly, so you never need to remember to save). This not only makes it easier to keep a comprehensive set of documents available at your fingertips, it also makes it easier to hand a complete set of documents to someone else. In my work, I keep a section in OneNote for each one of the customers I’ve interacted with – OneNote stores one file per customer, meaning that I can give someone else in my company the complete history of interactions with a customer by just sending them one file. If your organization has a decent wiki tool with a WYSIWYG editor, you may even be able to share sections of your notes by simply cutting and pasting them directly into the editor; if your organization has SharePoint, you can even share these notes even more efficiently, but I haven’t tried that, so I can’t speak to how this works.

In practice, the tool is very effective once you get into the habit of using it religiously for information capture. Once you do, you start to realize that there’s very little information that actually requires a formal document, such as one created using Word. If you’re a product manager (or frankly anyone that has to track a lot of information efficiently), you should check it out – at a retail price of under $80, it’s probably the most useful piece of software I’ve ever owned.

Singularity Summit Coverage Online

I just got word from the organizers of the Singularity Summit at Stanford that their coverage of the event is now live:


Krunch? Try “Thud”

Anyone taken a look at Krunch (featured on LifeHacker today). The service allows you to upload files, “krunch” them (compress them in a number of common formats) or “unkrunch” them (uncompress them), and download the results. It’s a cute way to solve the problem of not having a utility on your system to perform compression or decompression for a specific compression type.

Or so it claims.

Does anyone think that this is a clever way to gather vast amounts of potentially sensitive data from unwitting Web 2.0 buzzword-addled users? I mean, it doesn’t even use so much as HTTPS to handle file transfers. There’s no privacy policy (not that it would really get you anything – but, come on, they’re not even trying). You have no idea what’s being done with your data! While I’m all for solving problems with web-based tools, I’m not sure any problem is worth throwing my precious data up to any random service to be probulated.

Then again, maybe that’s the way things are going – nobody seems to mind that all their online webmail service provider is reading their email, or their desktop search provider is reading their hard drives. Why would files be any different?

Pragmatic Marketing Course

I attended the Pragmatic Marketing‘s Practical Product Management and Requirements That Work seminars as part of my continuing skills development at PGP. As my work with PGP has been my first product management gig it’s been tough to know if I’m really focusing on the right things, especially in the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants world of startups. If nothing else, the seminars both served to re-focus my thinking, and provide some assurance that, yes Virginia, being a PM is always a work-in-progress, no matter where you’re working.

The course pointed to a number of resources that I thought I would share, including a large number of business strategy textbooks for specific topics:

In addition to pointing to two different articles (On Reqs and Specs, Writing the Marketing Requirements Document) on the Pragmatic Marketing web site, the instructor also pointed to Joel’s excellent article on Painless Functional Specifications.

I’ll be wading through some of this material over the coming weeks. Overall, I was pleased with the course – highly recommended.