Saturday, January 29, 2011

Teh Awesome, Teh Distraction

A Picture of a eBook
Image via Wikipedia
Tonight I was at Barnes and Noble contemplating the purchase of a Nook Color. Our family already owns the original Nook; a very popular device in the household. My day job requires reading of reports and other items that are readily available in PDF.
While PDF is a great way to store long documents and publications, it's tough to read exclusively on a computer monitor. 

Electronic book readers are great in the sense that they give you the freedom to step away from the computer. But, why is this a good thing? One reason is that LCD screens and CRT monitors are not easy on the eyes for long periods of time. I say this as I type at the computer, mind you. Additionally, the problem with sitting at the computer is that they are great at running multiple apps while you are trying to read. Therefore, you'll have message notifications galore popping up when you are trying to absorb some really dense material.

While messing around with the Nook Color tonight, I realized that what makes the eReader awesome is also what makes it inadequate for reading books. In practice, you could read a book on the thing. However, given that it has an awesome web browser, can do video, and will later have apps available for download, it will eventually be as distracting as a desktop computer.

The Nook Color is an awesome device; I will not deny that. However, if you are really interested in focusing on reading books and documents, you are probably better off buying a basic Nook or Kindle. It kills me because I really, really like the Nook Color. I also like the iPad. However, when it comes to focusing on getting some reading done; there is something to be said for a dedicated eReader.

As a technical society, I don't think this is our first time at the rodeo. If you recall, computing used to be client-server based. Then, as desktop operating systems got more powerful, people started running apps on their own computers. I think this was partially based on how far we could push things; also, the Internet didn't really have much of a footprint. Now, it's all about cloud computing, which is basically client-server computing again.

I think we have crammed as much as we can into portable devices as we can, for proof of concept. However, in practice, it's inefficient for the human being using the technology. Our devices have no problem with multitasking. Our brains, however, are built to focus on one thing at a time. For this reason, I foresee that some awesome single-purpose devices will see a resurgence just as client-server applications have.

Research shows that we suck at multitasking. It doesn't make business sense to demand it of our employees and business partners if we aim to get the greatest benefit from their work. Therefore, we really should facilitate the use and adoption of technology that forces single-minded focus rather than multitasking.

Otherwise, we save on the purchase of technology and pay on the back end through more wages and longer project times. You spend thousands in wages to save a few hundred in equipment. Where is the sense in that?
Zemanta helped me add links & pictures to this email. It can do it for you too.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two mobile device test still underway

Image representing Google Voice as depicted in...
Image via CrunchBase
This past week I have been testing a two mobile device concept I wrote about yesterday. I've been using my Android phone just for data, and a Boost Mobile phone for my voice communications. For the second line, it doesn't really matter what service you use; I chose Boost because I don't want to have another line with a contract for this experiment. 

My public phone number is a Google Voice number, so all incoming calls, or most, get routed to the Boost phone without callers knowing any better. If I need to make calls, I use the mobile web version of Google Voice to find a contact and initiate the call. Google Voice then calls me on the Boost phone and the person with whom I want to speak is also called simultaneously.

The advantage of this setup is that I can write notes, search for information, or any number of tasks on the Android phone while I am on a call. This isn't possible when using the Android for calls unless I have a bluetooth headset or earphones. And even then, if the phone drops my 3G connection during the call, it won't reconnect until after the call has ended. Using the two device approach means that the data connection will remain while on a call.

Another annoyance of having a smartphone is that you can be working or playing with an app, then a voice call pops up. If you're lucky, there's autosave. Otherwise, you have to start over. Dammit, I should be able to play Parallel Kingdom and talk on the phone at the same time.

For those of you who bought the iPad with a 3G connection, you probably already have experienced the benefits of separating your voice calls from your smart device. This is exactly what I am attempting to duplicate before committing money to a tablet device.

I must say that I find the setup very liberating. I have no doubt that I may very well end up ditching the smartphone for a tablet device and a cheap phone. The best way to describe the experience thus far is that it just seems natural.

If I were the type to focus on problems, I'd probably focus on the need for separate chargers for each device. On the other hand, batteries last longer when they aren't powering calls and data. There's also the issue of carrying two devices; but, it's still better than carrying a phone and a laptop. 
Related articles
Zemanta helped me add links & pictures to this email. It can do it for you too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Data and Voice Rate Plan Fragmentation

I find myself considering having two mobile companies provide mobile services for me. I've been with T-Mobile for years. If you recall their Get More campaign, they typically try to provide you with more minutes, better handsets, and a better experience than other mobile companies. At least, compared to other major carriers, they tend to give you more.

Lately, however, I'm starting to see that even T-Mobile is being outdone by some national prepaid mobile carriers, specifically Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. Oddly, both services are under Sprint/Nextel, which continue to lose market share and charge an arm and a leg and force you into a contract. The prepaid services are cheaper and have no contract.

What really attracts me to Boost are two things. First, they announced that their plans have shrinkage, meaning that their unlimited everything plan starts at $50 per month; but it goes down $5 every six months if you pay on time. So, the least you will pay on your unlimited account is $35 per month. The other attraction for me is the walkie-talkie feature. It's just cool to have. The downsides are that Boost only has the one badass deal, or pay-as-you-go; and, their iDEN network has lousy data throughput (or you can opt for slightly less sucky CDMA with no walkie-talkie).

Virgin Mobile, offers a little more variety in their plans with their regular rates and the Paylo service. They have more rate plan tiers for voice than Boost. The downside is that Virgin is on Sprint's CDMA network. So, if you're looking for breakneck data speeds, you won't find them.
There are other carriers that are also competitive in voice rate plans, like Cricket and other regional companies.

It seems to me that the major carriers are investing heavily in their data infrastructure to provide better download speeds. Obviously, they want to attract geeks like me who love that stuff. I can't wait for LTE to hit my market.

The thing is, data plans are a flat rate. Voice rate plans aren't. We're still being hosed when it comes to paying for minutes. Granted, things have improved over the years. Companies now offer unlimited talk minutes, which was unheard of a few years back. But, you'll see between a $30-$40 difference between the major carrier unlimited calling plans and those of the prepaid services.

I think the idea is that if you want to have great data speeds, you'll stick around and pay extra for voice minutes. They are also probably thinking that nobody wants to walk around with two phones.
They are right on that last count. However, nobody wants to be gouged either.

Running the numbers, it seems like I would be better off using my current carrier as a data-only provider. You may see a tablet in my future. Coupled with a low rate voice provider, I could save hundreds per year. Yes, you can get into debates about coverage and all that; but, it's not really an issue for most people.

Most low cost mobile providers have footprints in highly populated areas. Once you leave civilization, you lose service. This is a problem if you go out into the boonies often, which I don't. On those rare occasions that I do, I could simply buy a prepaid phone that does have service in those areas where I'm going.

My main phone number is a Google Voice number, so switching phones all willy-nilly has little impact on my ability to communicate.

To sum up, I can see the day when I'll walk around with a T-Mobile tablet and a plain Boost Mobile phone.
By extension, you may see fragmentation in the market between mobile data providers and voice service providers. They seem to either market towards talkers or geeks; but not both. 

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Dealing With Difficulty Concentrating

If you've kept up with my blog posts, you know that not too long ago I went to the doctor for help with my difficulty concentrating. This is when I found out that I had high cholesterol. The cholesterol is unrelated to the concentration problem, mind you.

However, it got me to start thinking about my health. So, I started making changes in my lifestyle. I've started eating better and exercising. I have started taking vitamins from USANA, even becoming an independent rep for them. Even started not staying up until all hours every night like I used to do.

This actually has helped. I find myself less obsessive about tweeting and checking my phone. I am more task oriented, like I was in my youth. Although I changed my lifestyle for a different purpose, it helped with my original concern. Who knew?

Even with all that, I find that there are some adjustments that have also helped me with boring tasks, like reading books.

Loic Le Meur just posted Read this if you can't concentrate or read a book on his blog. I thought I was the only one with this problem. But, it appears that I am not alone.

The lifestyle adjustments helped me, without a doubt. However, it's not enough to overcome my ADD tendencies. There are other mechanisms that I have developed to help me deal.

There is no way around it. Making lists and doing what is on them is a tremendous help. It also helps to have routines if you're not into lists; however, if anybody screws up your routine, you risk losing your entire day.

Single Purpose Devices
I know it's fashionable to buy multi-purpose devices. Theoretically, you get a lot of value from a device that can do several things. The only problem with the concentration challenged is that it's distracting. This includes mobile phones, tablets, and computers.

For example, many people love to praise the iPad because it allows them to read books and do x, y, and z. This wouldn't work for me. If I want to read a book, I either need a book to read, which is tough enough; or, I need a dedicated eReader. The problem with reader apps on a phone or computer is that you'll get notifications from other apps that are running, which is distracting. Good luck finishing your chapter. 
As much as tablets have revolutionized productivity; they just don't cut it for focusing. Nor do mobile phones. Nor do computers.

I mentioned list making earlier. Evernote is the tool of choice for my list-making. It follows me everywhere I go. Loic is also a big fan of Evernote. In order to understand why we like Evernote so much, you have to understand that part of what clouds our minds is consciously trying to remember stuff. Evernote relieves that mental burden. You can simply dump information into Evernote and retrieve it as needed.

The beauty of Evernote is that you can simply dump text, photos, documents, and audio notes into the service with the knowledge that you'll be able to retrieve it later. This, in turn, allows you to focus on the task at hand rather than half focus on remembering crap while you are working on your current task.
I also happen to make my lists in Evernote.

In The End
In the end, there are many techniques you can use to improve your concentration. But, I'm willing to bet that the majority of them include some variation of optimizing your brain's chemical balance (could be as simple as diet and exercise), multi-task avoidance, and writing stuff down. Be sure to latch on to whatever works for you. In today's environment, having focus can be a competitive advantage.