If Your Inbox Could Talk

Merlin’s right on the money here with commentary on the recent WSJ article covering what your inbox says about you.

I like whacky pop psychology conjecture as much as the next guy, but I’ve learned not to draw too many conclusions…

I especially enjoy the proposed connection between our inbox and parental guidance. I wonder which part of parenting had the effect:

Mom and dad:

  • were neat freaks so I am too?
  • were neat freaks so I rebelled and I’m not?
  • never paid attention to me so I wait anxiously for every arrival?
  • doted on me constantly so I ignore others (email)?

Email management is more about who’s sending you email and how it fits into your life than it will ever be about family values and upbringing.

For example, my inbox says the following:

  • Too many strangers know my email address
  • Too many spammers guess my email address
  • I enter my email address at too many websites
  • Email isn’t my primary method of communication (phone)
  • Email isn’t an urgent method of communication (regardless of what others think)

When an Urgent Message Isn’t

The pace of electronic communication has outpaced social and workplace practices in many areas. While waiting for new “norms” to develop, we should fall back to that age old practice of setting expectations often and honestly. You may be surprised to discover how many other “humans” you work with trying to accomplish the same thing.

Along this general line, Kayleen Schaefer at WSJ Online shares a reader question and response at CareerJournal.com today.

I’m feeling anxious. It is difficult to keep up with all of the text messaging, BlackBerry, emails, cellphones, etc. There is never enough time to answer everything!

The article is packed with good practical advice. In addition I’ll suggest the following:

  • Understand the Message in the Medium – No, I’m not referring to the physic friend’s network but to “how” the communication comes to you. E-mails are usually asynchronous, imply the sender doesn’t need to talk to you at that instant and may be willing to wait for a response. Phone and instant messengers are much more ‘connection oriented’ and often tell you someone needs to hear back right away.
  • Know your industry – Face facts. There are some industries and jobs where being available at unusual hours is required. Medical services, I/T operations, and countless others require an on-call readiness in case an emergency arises. Others are so crowded with eager (young?) resources you may have to be “on” all the time to keep your place on the ladder. If this is where you are and want to be, then be there and commit to it. If this isn’t where you want to be, look for alternatives.
  • >Know your own priorities – Regardless of what the world may tell us through examples of uber-achieving business celebrities and everyday colleagues, how much time you put in at the virtual office is ultimately up to you. Start with simple things. If it’s 2 a.m. in Boston, it’s 2 a.m. in Boston and that’s when people sleep. Trust that you are far more useful to your customers, colleagues, and employer when you can balance your life effectively and give focused time to work and life when it’s appropriate.

Communication and feedback to stakeholders can’t be over-emphasized in my view. The majority of people you’ll run into are far more concerned with their schedule and priorities than yours. Not that they don’t care, but the only way they’ll know there’s even a hint of a problem is if you discuss it and work out a mutually acceptable solution.

Lucky Career Breaks

The Roman philospher Seneca is often quoted as saying, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Rajesh at Life Beyond Code writes about ways to distinguish yourself and the continous spiral syndrome.

Can you remember those days when you worked hard, gave it your best shot and got tired at the end of the day with all the activity that was happening. The sad part was that except your age nothing much had changed after a few years.

He reminds me that it’s not enough to show up every day and do the job well even if you work long hours and meet with success in the eyes of your employer. Regardless of how frequently your company tells you “people are our greatest asset” and touts their development programs and career opportunities, it’s ultimately up to each of us to keep our eye on the tasks at hand (short term career survival) AND our own future (medium and long term career survival).

Juice Tiger 360

Ok, so it draws a little power even when turned off. Big deal. At least it’s efficient, right? The team at DXGaming put consoles to the power test to determine how much juice they suck out of the wall and your wallet while turned off, sitting idle and playing games.

The results – You guessed it, the Xbox 360 draws the most power of any current console devouring 17.52 kWh (annual) while turned off, 145W while sitting idle, and 165W after playing 5 minutes of Burnout Revenge.

  • Cheapest to run for a year – the venerable Playstation 1 at $0.90
  • Most expensive to run for a year – Xbox 360 at $19.88

The good news is that while it’s the hungriest electron attractor in the bunch, it’s also the most efficient in terms of CPU cycles/Watt. No measurements exist for the upcoming PS3 and Wii, but DXGaming estimates they’ll book-end the 360. Until then all I can say is, “Put me on the budget plan with the power company. While you’re at it, turn the ‘fridge down a notch. That last Jolt was too warm.”

Microsoft: I want my TWO DOLLARS….

In the never-ending saga of Xbox 360 hardware maintenance agreements, I recently received three refund checks for the one extra maintenance agreement they accidentally charged to my credit card. The backstory can be found here, but I’ll just say “wanted ONE, got TWO due to their double entry” and it’s been almost half a year since I spotted the problem.

I called the team at Xbox support to inform them:

  • I have received three checks
  • I will cash one and shred the other two
  • I still want the first contract I purchased

..and I was told:

  • Hey, you might get full coverage until 2010, we don’t really know. [shh] don’t say anything
  • That department’s kind of weird to work with (you think!?)
  • Call back in a month to find out if you still have a service contract (great, this will never end!)

I have such high hopes for Microsoft’s in this business, but occasionally you see a sign they still have work to do handling hardware. Sometimes that sign haunts you like the paperboy in Better off Dead. Wait, I think in this case I’m the paperboy and Microsoft is John Cusack. At least in this case, “I got my two dollars.”

Wi-Fi Hotspots in Cyrodil

To paraphrase the late Douglas Adams

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Blogosphere lies a small unregarded blog named Inks End.”

For those following my initial foray into the world of blogging, you might have wondered where I’ve been for two months. I’ve dropped the ‘vacation’ excuse already but that was April and doesn’t explain the paltry handful of posts since then.

I must now admit the truth. I’ve been hanging out in Cyrodil. Around the end of March, Bethesda Softworks released The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, arguably one of the best role playing games launched in years. The rest is history. To be exact, the rest is about 220 hours of my life (and game time) spanning four (or was it five) major quest lines, countless hack-n-slash, spell casting, sneaking and sniping, and generally ‘other world’ experiences.

I’ll leave the game reviews in the capable hands of those at GameSpot and other sites that specialize in reviewing, ranking, and ranting about games in general, but will just leave it at this – 220 hours (so far). Throughout my travels, I’ve run across many Inns and Taverns but none with reliable wi-fi access or power outlets for my laptop so my blog has suffered. I’m seeking counseling from someone I met in Bruma and have recently found a way to drop back into the ‘real world’ for extended periods of time.

So thanks for coming back and checking in.

Smart Technology

Since this blog is presumably about a digital lifestyle, it’s probably worth a few paragraphs to describe what I’ll call my ‘flight kit.’ I’m not a true road warrior, just an average Joe that flies for business and pleasure a few times a year. I drafted this post on my Windows Mobile phone on a flight back from Los Angeles last week, transferred it to my laptop and fleshed it out a bit. Today I found a nice article at CareerJournal.com talking about the adoption of this type of technology.

  • Notebook Computer – I’m currently running a middle of the road Thinkpad that serves as a good general computing platform and also does a nice job with DVDs.
  • Microsoft Wireless USB mouse – While I’m comfortable with the Trackpoint on the Thinkpad, for any prolonged work, I need a free standing mouse. I like the wireless kind if for no other reason than it eliminates another cable from my bag.
  • Kensington Universal Car/Air Power Adapter – I don’t often have the need to use this in an auto, but you’ll be kicking yourself if your batteries low and you’re making final changes to a presentation while your colleague drives to the customer presentation. On some international flights, this also gives me half a chance at productivity on those long flights. Without it, I’d have to carry more batteries or just stare at the in-flight movie.
  • 512MB flash drive – I know, it’s kind of small for these days, but it handles most business related file swaps.
  • Laptop security cable like this one here!! – I can’t say enough about this item and I recommend anyone that travels with a laptop get one. They aren’t fool-proof as a determined thief can break your case and make off with your laptop, but it will stop a less determined ‘thief of opportunity’ from walking off with your notebook out of your hotel room when the maid’s not looking. For $10-15, it’s cheap insurance and makes me feel better.
  • Ethernet cable – This is becoming less necessary these days depending on where you travel, but I still run into customer/vendor conference rooms with no wireless access or just a few Ethernet ports. I sometimes throw a 6 or 8 port hub in my bag as well if I know the facility and expect multiple laptop users to be working at the same time.
  • Aiwa HP-CN6 Noise canceling headphones (for laptop and mp3 player) – I picked these up a few years ago before a trip to London and never regretted the purchase. While other manufacturers make sets that sell for 3-4 times as much, this Aiwa set went for $30 at the local big box retailer and while canceling cabin noise (and gate noise while waiting to board), they also allow you listen to mp3, laptops, in-flight music without having to blast the volume.
  • Zen Nano Plus MP3 player w/ Sony sports headset (yes that’s #2)
  • 1-2 AA and 1-2 AAA rechargeable batteries
  • Sprint PPC6700 – Windows Mobile 5.0 phone with capability of serving as wireless modem (car charger and room charger)
  • Motorola Bluetooth headset (#3 for the headset counters / wired headset for phone (yes! #4)
  • Various power, charging, and USB cables for connecting items – most bound together with little velco ties I buy HERE (link) – recently discovered my cell phone will recharge using the USB port on my laptop – great!!!!!

The rest of my kit isn’t particularly digital or unexpected (magazines, paper, pens, snacks), but the list above allows me to work just about anywhere I can get power and wireless access.

Brain Rain

James reminds me of a great point often forgotten in his post Warm, Partly Cloudy, 100% Chance of Brain Rain. Sure, I set aside time every day to plan my days activities, but I haven’t been setting aside time to brainstorm.

  • set aside 10 minutes, each and every day
  • have pen and paper handy
  • allow yourself the freedom to think crazy thoughts
  • don’t worry if nothing really productive springs to mind right away
  • periodically scan over your notes from these sessions as things may pop into your mind after they have “marinated� for a while
  • if no ideas pop into your head pick a fun topic and doodle a bit
  • use word association to get things rolling if you feel stuck e.g. thinking -> thoughts -> mind -> brainstorm -> brain rain

With the ability to voice record on phones, mp3 players today you won’t even need to bother with that pen and paper part at all!

How Bill Gates Works

I recently read an article describing ten leaders of business and non-profit organizations and how they use technology (look for link on same page as this article). I was amazed at the number of leaders still not using even email or relying purely on a team of admins (read as “very smart human based filtering systems”) to organize their time and information. A few were using technology on a daily basis, but like many of us they understood the 20% of a tools functionality that allowed them to accomplish 80% of what they wanted to get done. I recall one company executive that never quite figured out how to initiate an email from her Blackberry, but could respond to ones that came in.

CNNMoney recently published a good article on Bill Gates and how he deals with these issues.

Things Bill does:

  • Minimizes paper
  • Uses a multi-monitor rig on the desktop to spread work out (see photo)
  • Uses filtering and only receives email from parties he already knows or communicates with (has administrative support to filter others)
  • Mostly ignores “the toaster”, i.e. the Outlook notification that messages have just arrived
  • Uses desktop search to find data on his local machines
  • Uses project focused collaboration sites/tools like SharePoint
  • Synchronizes mobile devices with his office PC

Staying focused is one issue; that’s the problem of information overload. The other problem is information underload. Being flooded with information doesn’t mean we have the right information or that we’re in touch with the right people.

While I do have a multi-display approach, I haven’t managed to get the adminstrative staff to filter my requests. Regardless, it’s great to see how a modern executive of a technology company manages the same issues we all face.