Feedly – Because If You Are Still Starting Your Morning With a Zigzag…

“… through a standard set of Web sites (sic), you’re wasting time and energy. Feedly is what you Needly.” That corny quote is courtesy of a New York Times article from May 2013 and in terms of reading blogs, not much has changed since then.

And it’s not just blogs. Many people still visit a list of websites every day such as news, fitness, sports, celebrities, etc., quickly resulting in a deluge of information peppered with tons of intrusive ads. What they don’t know is that many websites offer one or more “RSS feeds” containing direct links to articles posted each day. For example, The Verge is an excellent source of technology news. They even break down their feeds into useful categories such as posts about “Microsoft, Apple, Google, Apps, Mobile, Science, Features, etc.”  Many companies large and small also have their own blogs with RSS feeds. National Instruments (NI) has a webpage with links to not only their own blog (with over 1,500 posts!), but the technology blogs of their partners as well.

The confusing part is that everybody from the New York Times to The Verge to NI use something called “RSS” to publish their feeds even though they are completely different sources of information published on completely different schedules. The Verge might publish more than 20 articles on a busy day while NI only publishes one article every couple weeks. So why visit multiple sites everyday, some of which might only publish occasionally? That’s where an “RSS reader” comes in. After setup and subscribing to various websites’ RSS feeds, it only displays a list of new articles. Articles in this list are marked as “read” either by being read (duh) or by skimming through headlines. Once marked as read, they do not show up again.

The easiest part is finding a good RSS reader. No need to do a Google search, just use Feedly.com. It’s free, simple to setup, and synchronizes content across its website, smartphone app, and tablet app. It is also fast, straightforward, and provides direct access to a wide variety of high quality news sites organized by topic such as Technology, Business, Design, Photography, Science, and Travel. Other websites and blogs can easily be added via the search box. Once the basic setup is complete, each time Feedly is accessed, it only displays a list of headlines from unread material.

So if you have some free time during these last few weeks of summer, setup Feedly and enjoy distraction free reading of your favorite websites and blogs. By the way, the Elephant Tech blog can be subscribed to by searching for “elephanttech.com” using the search box in the upper right corner…

Mansplaining Women in Tech

My manager at my first engineering job after college was a woman. In my second engineering job, my coworker was a female engineer. Years later I worked for a company where one of the two owners was a woman and she provided my first real training as a sales engineer. The other owner of the company, a man, handed me a stack of technical manuals and just said “read these.” However the woman trained me by example, setting a high bar for ethicality, professionalism, and technical expertise. Based on these experiences (and at the risk of “mansplaining”), here are a few of my thoughts on the situation.

It is 2017 and it is still pathetic how male-dominated the tech world is. My third job was working for a “progressive” engineering company. That environment demonstrated gender issues more typical of the high tech world where the few women employees were in “Marketing / Order Entry / Human Resources” roles while Product Development, Management, and Sales (everything else) were male. There were a few women though in technical roles, but they never had it easy as the only females in rooms full of dozens of men. Situations like these were a rude shock after working in environments for years where gender issues weren’t issues at all.

Most men would find it hard to imagine getting dressed in the morning and having to consider whether the clothes they were planning to wear were going to “send the right message” to the group of women they would be working with that day. “Is this suit too form fitting?” “Should I button one more button of my dress shirt?” The challenges would continue throughout the workday where they would have to monitor every comment to make sure they were coming across professionally and not “as a man.”

In my opinion, the solutions to deep seated gender prejudices start with both men and women not allowing thinly veiled sexism to gain acceptance in any way. Sexist jokes can be met with silent disapproval and “mansplainers” can gently be coaxed into more reciprocal verbal exchanges. The Taylor Swift trial is another example of how powerful women can use their influence to confront serious gender based abuse. However, despite her win, prominent news sources still published negative headlines such as Reuters’ “Despite losing trial to Taylor Swift, DJ insists he never groped her.”

It is also possible to not support companies that clearly violate gender equality standards. We now use Lyft instead of Uber. Uber is well known to have an openly hostile environment toward women. If you would like to take a deeper dive, the Accidental Tech Podcast discussed “women in tech” in a recent episode (at 45:34). Unfortunately, it was a couple of guys discussing it so if you would like to hear a discussion from female executives in high tech, then look no further than Kara Swisher, Executive Editor of ReCode, and Lauren Goode, Senior Technology Editor at The Verge, interviewing Niniane Wang and Joelle Emerson. It is over an hour of in-depth discussion on topics ranging from harassment in “hyper-masculine environments” to “Broflakes.” A Broflake is a man who has no trouble criticizing women, but then says he’s afraid to participate in an honest conversation about gender issues.

Ok, enough for now and we didn’t even get to the infamous “Google Manifesto.” However, so you don’t feel unsatisfied, here’s a link to the Vox article, “I’m a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you” written by a woman who “is a lecturer in computer science at Stanford,” “taught at least four different programming languages, including assembly,” and has “had a single-digit employee number in a startup.” Fascinating!

Gloria Steinem speaking with supporters at the Women Together Arizona Summit at Carpenters Local Union in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.

The Rise of the Incompetent Experts

Recently, the backlash against Apple has become relentless. Even the more mature, balanced sources for news from experts have begun to take potshots.

donglesOne reason for this is related to the growing number of “Incompetent Experts” online, also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. As Wikipedia explains, the D-K effect is “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.” It has become so prevalent recently that ArsTechnica published an excellent post on it called, “Revisiting Why Incompetents Think They’re Awesome” based on the original APA paper “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (PDF).

Of course, when it comes to technology, Reddit has the largest number of incompetent experts. The Verge article mentioned above was only five hours old when I wrote this and it already had almost 500 comments on Reddit. It’s hard to understand the haters. Apple transformed the personal computer first with the Apple II, then with the Graphical User Interface in the original Mac, the music industry with the iPod / iTunes, the mobile phone with the iPhone, the laptop with the MacBook Air, and tablets with the iPad. You would think by now people would give Apple the benefit of the doubt, but these so-called experts have proclaimed (again) that their newest products are flawed in a huge wide variety of ways.

One corollary of the effect is that it is hard to tell who is really an expert without a basic level of expertise. Also a true expert opinion might be “context sensitive,” i.e. an expert with an opinion that helps one person might be completely inappropriate for a slightly different person or situation. The article explains this in detail in sections entitled, “Context is everything,” “Culture complicates things,” and “Education and work.”

Of course, this effect not only applies to Apple: In the first paragraph of the ArsTechnica article, the author points out tongue-in-cheek, “Another election day in the US is rapidly approaching (Tuesday, Nov. 8—mark your calendars!). So for no reason in particular, we’re resurfacing our close examination of the Dunning-Kruger effect from May 25, 2012.”

Monthly Recap: Insanely Great Products

The title of this post comes from a 1985 Steve Jobs quote in Playboy magazine, “Making an insanely great product has a lot to do with the process of making the product, how you learn things and adopt new ideas and throw out old ideas.” He said this only a year after the release of the first Macintosh. Fast forward 21 years and you can find a similar quote in the recent Washington Post interview of Tim Cook, “Tim Cook, the interview: Running Apple ‘is sort of a lonely job’.” Cook commented, “The North Star has always been the same, which for us, is about making insanely great products that really change the world in some way – enrich people’s lives.” The similarity is exciting because it highlights a concept that has withstood the test of time and has resulted in products that have truly changed the world.

August’s posts explored the idea of insanely great products from a variety of perspectives.

  • Exploring the Digital Ocean of Cloud Computing” featured a company called Digital Ocean that provides virtual servers for software developers which run in the cloud. While their core value, “Love is what makes us great” is my favorite, “striving for simple and elegant solutions” has certainly resulted in amazing products.
  • What Cameron Learned From 10 Years of Doing PR for Apple” was a reminder that despite recent criticism, Apple still adds value to a massive number of customers and, just as importantly, consistently communicates that value effectively.
  • Finally, “Is Google Heading Down the Same Path as Yahoo?” explored the challenges that Google is facing in light of Yahoo’s recent demise. There are definitely some “insanely great products” at Google (Search, AdWords, Gmail, Maps, etc.), but the concept is far from a corporate philosophy.

Obviously not every company needs to be an Apple to change the world. Even imitators fulfill an important role in technological advancement. For example, many people prefer Android over IOS for good reasons. It is often considered more customizable with many hardware options available at a much lower cost. However, there would be no Android without the breakthroughs that the iPhone pioneered such as the multi-touch touchscreen, IOS, and the App Store. Today Apple continues to be a pioneer in new areas that have expanded beyond pure technology such as the environment, social responsibility, shifting investor focus to longer term thinking, and protecting individual privacy.

What is critical is the positive intent and focus on improvement and advancement. It sounds cliche, but it is the one thing that separates humans from the other species where survival is the primary focus. If you have one more minute, watch this moving Apple ad called, “The Human Family.” The final line is beautiful and appropriate: “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” (From a poem by Maya Angelou.)

1024px-Apple_Newton_and_iPhone
The Original Apple Newton and the iPhone 1
Photo courtesy of Blake Patterson from Alexandria, VA, USA (CC BY 2.0)

Is Google Heading Down the Same Path as Yahoo?

This post is a continuation of last week’s post, “What Cameron Learned From 10 Years of Doing PR for Apple” which ended by asking if Google could eventually end up like Yahoo. It was a sad ending for the company that was the Google of its day. Verizon paid only around $5B for it (it was worth $125B in 2000). One of the reasons commonly cited for Yahoo’s prolonged decline was simply “a lack of focus.” A recent New York Times article, “Yahoo’s Sale to Verizon Ends an Era for a Web Pioneer” has the details and there are some eerie similarities to Google.

googlebillboard small

On the one hand, Google is doing well at the moment. Android is extremely popular, their stock price has tripled in the past three years, and their advertising business continues to generate massive revenue ($50B in 2015). However, the trap of losing focus is a seductive one. Are they beginning to head down the same path as Yahoo? There are some worrisome signs.

GSearchFirst, the “2016 Doodle Fruit Games” is certainly strange and complex. It even begins to break their strong philosophy of keeping their search homepage pristine. Also, if you have four hours to spare, you can compare Google’s “Code I/O” conference keynote to Apple “WWDC 2016” keynote. If you don’t, the TL:DW (too long, didn’t watch) version is that almost everything Google announced is still “coming soon.”

Even Google’s most recent major product releases have been met by yawns (and head scratching) by the Android community. Their new video calling app Duo seems to work well, but adds additional fragmentation to an already crowded product area. Are new Duo users really going to convince all their friends to switch from Skype, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, WhatsApp, etc.? This is especially problematic when users have been burned by Google discontinuing products that don’t immediately succeed such as Hangouts, Reader, Wave, and others. Even if the Duo does generate interest, only 14% of Android users have upgraded to Marshmallow (the version released in October 2015) compared to 85% of IOS users.

GMailOn the positive side, Gmail is still the king of email solutions with excellent spam filtering and a clean interface  while Google Maps is still the best option for navigation with accurate routing and traffic information. So is Google doomed? Not in the near future at least. There is still no better option for searching the internet and that alone will insure that their advertising business remains insanely profitable. Is there reason for concern? Definitely. With the incredible pace of technological change, it wouldn’t take much for Microsoft Bing or a scrappy search engine like DuckDuckGo to make a dent in Google’s critical search business. Hmmm. Sounds like a good topic for the next post in this series. Have a great weekend!