Mail Data Charted

Some interesting albeit fairly useless graphs detailing my corporate mail behavior. Since I'm typically actually communicating most of the time via several additional channels: personal email accounts (x3) , twitter messages, SMS, phone/voice... this is really only one angle on my overall productivity, however it's fun to look at nonetheless. Clearly I started my current job in about May, and didn't really get going for a couple weeks, and from there have continued to ramp productivity. December data is a little strange too since the holidays and also we're only half through December as of this post. This data comes from Outlook plug in xobni (inbox backwards), the free version. I'm going to start tracking these statistics more often and see if I can plot any of this is more meningful ways to reveal insights about how I communicate, or productivity enhancing strategy. For example I clearly hang up the computer around 5PM, eat and or go running, then jump back on email for a bit between 7 and 10. But perhaps I can find more time in the early AM? Looks like I'm taking a while to get going in the morning... or is this simply because my earliest 6AM meetings are typically web conferences where I'm not sending mail... Time and further analysis will tell. For now? Here's some charts!

More Map Data

The owner/creator of sent me a note on Twitter, telling me he fixed some bugs and I could run my maps again for different result, which proved to be true, so I made more maps of other cities. I present Miami, Chicago and Plano for your enjoyment. It would be fun to see the whole US, or have the ability to mash up the entire Foursquare database (all users or all users opted in to anyway), or selectively layer two users onto each other. I'm real excited about all the convergence of social media and location based services, there is so much more to do here. Location aware services like Latitude, Brightkite, Loopt, Foursquare, even possibly Twitter - wherever someone can assemble the platform and mostly the community - there are so many cool, intersting and mostly profitable things to do with currently disparate data.


Playing with Foursquare Data

Possibly the coolest thing I've seen in a while, or maybe I've had too many cookies today and the sugar is overwhelming. Either way, here are maps provided by mashing up Google Maps and my Foursquare check in data. Which raises all kinds of privacy questions about public data, but fortunately I'm not checking in to Foursquare when making crimes happen, so I'm in the clear. Really though, say you've got the Patriot Act giving you rights to all kinds of non-public data, and the computing power and programming staff of Fort Meade, and the budget of the defense department...

I've hypothesized for ages about GPS cell data getting into the wrong hands. Think insurance companies deciding I'm a single man, living in the Bay Area, so my insurance premiums should be higher because statistically I'm more likely to be gay than someone living in say Kansas, so therefore higher risk for HIV statistically, so my health insurance premiums should be 9x higher. *shudder* These are heat maps, obviously showing my favoritism for San Francisco's South of Market (SoMa) neighborhoods!

Cutting Apples Out of Your Diet

Let me start by saying I'm technology agnostic, and have no special place in my heart for Microsoft or Google, but I'm just plain tired of trying to avoid Apple's stranglehold. My primary beef with Apple is their philosophy of "pretty but restricted" delivery of technology. I will give the user a simple software and player to deliver music, but I will control it with digital rights management limitations, and I will force you onto my platform.

I bought my first .mp3 player in 2003 to run with my music. iPod's were nowhere at the time, and to load files onto my player I simply dragged .mp3's onto the player drive and viola! Oh, and it had an FM radio. Then Apple comes onto the market and I can hardly find good players like the original SanDisk Sansa's out there any longer. Transferring, synching and organizing my music in the iPod universe stipulates that I use iTunes. Thanks, I don't need a software application to load music onto a (portable) hard drive. A friend just spend two days trying to figure out how to back up and migrate a music library HE PURCHASED legitimately to a new home media server.

The biggest challenge getting off Apple creates to me personally is the ecosystem they have created around their devices. If all my friends use iPhones, it's must harder for me to live in an iPhone world and simply make my own mobile device choice and co-exist with everyone around me. I loathe restrictions. Simply. Period. I don't want to be locked down to any service plan, application controls, synching/ loading software, etc. I have owned an iPhone and a 3G iPhone, but find my current Blackberry Bold better in many ways. And none of these gave me the mobile computing features that plain old Windows 5 on my Blackjack or Blackjack II gave me. And none of these gave me the simply pleasurable user experience that I had with my old Motorola Razr.

I guess my basic point is this: I'm elated to see the suite of new mobile devices emerge on the market lately: Droid and Pre and Pixie and HTC touch phones and others. I think I am starting to feel the "walled garden" approach to Apple's stranglehold lessen. The basic philosophy of, "I will limit you but make your user experience very nice" has always seemed very, "master planned community" and very, "dumb it down for the masses with cute icons" and, "mediocre is good enough for you because I'll make it simple." It's like eating at Applebee's... it's never going to completely fail, but it's also guaranteed to never be a 10 out of 10. And I personally find mediocre very boring.

Technology follows trend, and we saw a similar approach to Internet access with AOL in the early days of dial up. "let me control your experience but make things simple for you" eventually gave way to, "hey, I don't need you to get on the Internet and I rather an unrestricted experience, thank you very much." I'm watching from the sidelines and silently praying for a flight to quality, and this either driving draconian technology philosophies away, or giving birth to a new era of diminished controls. I'll be watching, eating my popcorn, cheering the release of each new Android phone release, hoping for a comeback of Windows Mobile, and periodically dusting off my pile of discarded iPods I refuse to sell on eBay because it's my duty to keep them out of circulation in the spirit of liberating the music and general freedom from oppression.


Quitting Your Mailbox

Much to the amusement of my creditors, I maintain a virtual Post Office Box in another state that has no physical mailbox attached to it. This is a service I pay for (about $5/month...) that receives my hard copy mail for me, scans it into an account I can view online, and I can click to make payments. Where e-payment can't be set up, they will print a physical check and mail it out to creditors. Besides the security advantages of using a different billing zip code from my physical address that is semi-secret, and the security advantages of not having to shred all the sensitive mail that comes to my USPS mailbox, there is a significant time and headache saving to not having mail show up at my house any longer! I've used this service for maybe ten years after getting turned on to it by a friend, and it's still the best $5 I spend every month. Also, having just moved... there were surprisingly few monthly statements I had to migrate addresses for (and most of those I was able to perform a quick five minute online address update for).


Oh, Silly Technology

Recently moving 15 miles North, in effort to get closer to SFO and the city San Francisco itself, I'm also starting to migrate my phone number to a Google Voice interface. Basically how it work is I get a call to this virtual number, it then calls all the other numbers I have registered with it (cell, home, office, home office, etc.) at the same time. Then I answer the call wherever I am. This is all configurable from a web-based user interface. I also get a transcript of the voice messages left either via email or text message - whatever I configure on the web interface. All in all pretty cool, Google likes this (free) service because they can now add voice dialog to their advertising platform, and intelligently serve me links and advertisements based on content I exchange via voice.

Voice to text transcription technology came first onto the market in the 90's. Hollywood gave us dreams of simply talking to our computers (think Star Trek) in full duplex and having intellectual intercourse. Then the PC became quite ubiquitous and we all learned to type probably as fast or faster than we talk, or at least harness our thoughts with (fewer) characters than syllables, and enter the era of text communication, IM, SMS, social media and other latin character visual letters trading. However this technology never really evolved to the point of reliability. We have all spent time talking to customer support queues through the phone yelling, "AGENT!" to try and get a live human on the phone, as the computer fails to properly recognize our words when spoken.

Now the security and privacy implications of this, particularly in a corporate setting, are an entirely different topic for another day. I would however like to share (a) one amusing exchange, and (b) one useful exchange I've had in the last 24 hours:

Amusing: My friends voice messages always sound like a two-year-old talking jibberish. Last night a caller said, "I called you back on your Google Voice but don't trust it so calling here. I'm home now. Bye." Now the text message I got was, "Can you give me back in your google voice but thanking courses. It's a good tax. Misfigure started now I'm home. Bye." The irony of this error is not lost on me.

Score: hilarity - ONE; usefulness - ZERO.

Useful: While on a conference call this morning I dodged a call to my cell phone. One minute later I got a text message, with a transcription of the voice message I had just been left:

"Hi Good Morning Quinton, This is [landlord's assistant] calling from [landlord's company] in South San Francisco. I am just calling because [landlord] was leaving. How many notice that your car was parked on the right side of. I guess Dayton avenue today and it's street. We need to face will give you a ticket if you don't move your car before they get there. Anyway, I hope you get this message before then. If you have any questions give me a call back (yyy) zzz-xxx and my extension is 101. Thanks. Quinton bye bye."

As you might guess, this is not quite exactly what the message said verbatim, but was enough for me to get the point, "move your car ASAP or you're getting a ticket." I raced out and moved my car, and avoided getting a parking ticket for street cleaning.

Score: Google Voice, transcription technology, SMS technology, [landlord & assistant] and Quinton - ONE; parking ticket police - ZERO.