Measuring every aspect of our lives with wearables

Being an avid runner (to be honest travel has stalled my training of late) I thought the recent infographic from Freescale, the official sponsor of the Austin marathon, was pretty interesting. I know a number of people that wear Garmin or Soleus GPS watches on their runs, others that have adopted Fitbit or the many other activity tracking devices. Preferring to run with an old school stop watch I’m still very impressed with the positive changes in behavior these devices result in for many people. It’s the combination of the device, the easy access to information via phones and of course the web that make them so effective. The infographic below highlights most of the devices in this area (from GPS watches, to activity trackers, to weight scales) so I won’t try and describe each of them.

Over dinner at a recent work event I was talking to a collegue who uses a Fitbit. With daily steps targets, and ability to easily know what his activity level is at any give time he described how he would decide to add a 30 minute walk over lunch if he didn’t get in what he needed to in the morning, or extend his run after dinner at night. This combined with an improved diet allowed him to reduce his weight in a controlled and steady manner. That individual story, and the impact convenient information that fits in with peoples daily routines makes me a believer in the future of these connected activity and health monitoring devices.

Garmin Vivofit Application Screenshots

Garmin Vivofit Application Screenshots

For me, training with Rogue Running in Austin I know I’m getting enough activity with a group that runs 50 to 90 miles a week (I’m on the lower end these days) so I haven’t had the need to track my activity. But I am getting curious about these devices will continue to evolve and work into helping people improve their performances in addition to the positive impact they are having on general health already.

Applying some agile principles to managing marketing programs, when adding one meeting kills others

For about a year my current marketing team has instituted a practice of a “Daily Sync”, similar but not identical to the concept of a daily stand-up meeting in Agile development. Coming from an engineering management background it was more of an experiment for me to see if the benefits of stand-up meetings for development would transfer to a marketing team. I’m always willing to try something, learn from it and if necessary drop the idea if it doesn’t work. In our case our Daily meetings have gone well and resulted in fewer meetings overall. I do ask the team if the meetings are useful, and they do say they are … but since I’m the “boss” I do worry sometimes if people are just saying it because it’s me asking. Since the meetings tend to be pretty dynamic and everybody participates I’m assuming they are serving their purpose for now.

Our team is split across 4 cities in the US so we make use of video conferencing for our meetings (Skype, Google Hangouts, WebEx would all do the trick) and they’re scheduled for 30 minutes. Some days we go over what each person is doing, other days we tend to focus on one area and people bring up issues and ideas by exception.

This daily sync has ultimately sped up our decision making time, resulted in eliminating per project weekly meetings and just connected our distributed team better. By using a video conference the body language and visual queues are obvious and ability to quickly collaborate on documents to knock out any edits or ideas is great. I’m on plenty of audio conferences on a daily basis too and they just aren’t the same (of course a video conference isn’t always practical, but tools like Google Hangouts do allow you to call in a participant by phone while others are on video).

If you’re a marketing team working on multiple programs (remote or at the same office) try it out, a quick 30 minute daily sync and see if you can also get rid of all the detailed project review meetings and eliminate those never ending e-mail threads:)

Strategy to execution, lessons learned and mistakes along the way

On the recommendation of a colleague I recently read the The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (Mark Mitchell wrote a review on this book if you’re interested). It got me to thinking about many projects I’ve worked on including launching online communities at National Instruments, to a new FPGA based software defined radio (SDR) tool, to a cloud based development environments and cloud based services for IoT devices. The online communities, with many follow-on iterations and improvements have proved extremely successful while the others have some more proving to do.

Even though these projects all went I think the projects could have been more effective, and executed more efficiently with less time and resource waste. In hindsight I and my teams would have better off by being more systematic and combining some of the points made in The Lean Startup while using a framework like the Diamond Strategy by Donald C. Hambrick and James W. Fredrickson to define our vision and fundamental assumptions.

Adapted from Hambrick, D. C., & Fredrickson, J. W. (2001). Are you sure you have a strategy? Academy of Management Executive, 19 (4), 51–62. (Source: http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/management-principles-v1.0/s09-06-formulating-organizational-and.html)

In the case of the LabVIEW DSP Design Module, targeted at FPGA synthesis for SDR applications we were able to successfully achieve real time LTE up-link and down-links with a high level graphical development and design capture tool. There were many lessons learned but early on one of the turning points was when we put the tool in front of real communications engineers. Their feedback resulted in significant changes to the graphical model for design capture and also helped us define what a minimum viable product needs to really be (quality of results, number of MIMO channels, wireless standards to support) before we could exposed to the tool to more people. You can see a demo in this video.

In other projects, ironically in some of my cloud based research projects which lend themselves to broader exposure and experimentation, we did more internal thinking and definition without validating key needs with prospects as we could have. This is more than likely because the “cloud” was so different from standard products we were used to, which if I think about it should have had us talking to real world prospects even sooner!

Taking an idea from a concept and vision, to implementing it and iterating on it is a real challenge whatever the market and application. In today’s fast paced and dynamic nature, most of us would be better off articulating that vision, our assumptions and doing what we can to validate them with a real customer and prospect. It’s always a challenge to resist the temptation to wait and deliver what “we” think is the ideal solution, but that delay and lack of input increases the risk we’ll miss the mark on functionality and time to market.

Lessons in how to lose customer trust from Netflix and Instagram

The recent hoopla resulting from the decision by Instagram use any user content for ads reminded me of some of the lessons cited in the book by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph. D – Extreme Trust.

Extreme Trust

The book cites the example of Netflix when it split it’s service into two separate businesses as an example of what not to do. Netflix saw a business trend and for it’s operational efficiency thought it’s in it’s best interest to have two separate businesses. In the end Netflix did back track on some of the negative impact to customers of the decision (two different websites for example) but still made it two different services instead of one for people to deal with. Whatever your opinion of the decision, the market has not been kind to Netflix since the original decision. It was a series of decisions that set the mood and eroded trust in the intent Netflix had. There was the price increase in July 2001 and then the split of DVD and streaming services with Qwikster. None of this has helped NFLX, just look at the cliff in the stock price below from after July 2011.

NFLX Stock Price Trend

Of late Instagram has been the subject of much criticism with it’s decision (since somewhat reversed) to sell it’s customers photographs. The change to the terms that created the uproar have been quoted by many media outlets, included here for your reference:

“You hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and  royalty-free, transferable, sub-licenseable, worldwide license to use the content that you post on or through the service … You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos, and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”

Instagram has since changed it’s mind and Kevin Systrom (co-founder, Instagram) has posted a blog titled “Thank you, and we’re listening” that outlines the intent of the change and an update to the terms to clarify advertising, ownership and privacy concerns people have raised. So things are better but what do you think and how do you feel? That is the real question.

In the end we have many iterations with companies and services and the series of interactions with their actions and their employees are what we use to judge them. It’s as simple as that. On one hand I like the response from Kevin Systrom in his blog post, on the other hand I’ve seen the series of changes Facebook has made with it’s privacy policy, default settings etc and I can’t help associate this latest action by Instagram with that history. For me I say let’s wait and see, but it’s two strikes for Instagram at this point … this round cost two strikes. Of course that’s just my opinion. What really matters is what the majority of customers perceive is the intent of Instragram, that’s that they’ll use to make up their own minds. For Instagram’s sake they don’t suffer from the one two punch Netflix is still recovering from.

How to Taper for a Marathon

The answer is … I don’t know. There seem to be as many different schools of thought on how to taper as there are flavors of frozen yogurt (yes I’m craving some right now, who isn’t in the last week before their marathon!).

So Many Flavors, Such Few Days to Try Them All

It’s too late to really change my tapering plans, but as with any taper the mind does get a little warped so I decided to go back and look at my previous tapers and also do some reading. There’s calls for 3 week tapers, 10 day tapers, 2 weeks tapers, very little up tempo work, quite a bet of up tempo work. The only thing that seems consistent is reduce your overall effort … when to do it, how much to do it by, what type of workouts to do result in different opinions. And no one opinion is right or wrong when you look at the results from these groups and athletes.

So what has worked for me. I went back and looked at my running log for the last few years. Since the first season with Team Rogue my taper has been around two weeks and hasn’t been a huge drop in mileage. Below are my last two taper weeks from two different races (both at CIM), the first from 2008 (sub 3:00 race) and the second form 2010 (sub 2:50 race).

CIM 2008

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total
Miles
Miles
of Base
Rest 9 M
(5 Steady)
10 M 7 M
(4 Tempo)
Rest 13 M 7 M 46 84%
Rest 7 M
(6 @ MGP)
7 M 7 M Rest 7 M Race 54.2 99%

CIM 2010

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Total
Miles
Miles
of Base
4 M 10 M 12 M 13 M
(5 Tempo)
Rest 13 M 11 M 63 90%
Rest 8M
(4 Tempo)
11 M 7 M
(4 Steady)
Rest 5 M Race 57.2 82%

So it’s really about a 10 to 15% drop. If you exclude the actual marathon the week leading up to the race is around 50% of the base so the day of the marathon I tended to feel relatively fresh. I’ve found the shorter tempo or steady work 5 to 12 days before the race is really valuable too, keeps the legs primed. I remember going into a race once without much MGP or Tempo work in the two weeks before the race and my legs felt really loose, almost too loose and unresponsive. This approach has worked for me in the past so I’m sticking to something similar for CIM this year.

CIM 2012 Taper Plan

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total
Miles
Miles
of Base
Rest 8 M
(10k Ladder)
8 M 9 M
(4 Tempo)
4 M 14 M 9 M 52 90%
Rest 8 M
(5 MGP)
8 M 8 M Rest 5 M Race 55.2 95%

The 2012 plan is somewhere between 2008 and 2010 so should be good for me. My training from a volume and pace standpoint also happens to be between the 2008 and 2010 seasons. All there is left to do is just run the race … and keep the taper mental daemons and phantom leg pains at bay.

California International Marathon (CIM) take 3

Well it’s just over two weeks till the CIM marathon. This will be my third time running this marathon, both the previous two times were PRs. In 2008 I ran under 3 hours for the first time and in 2010 under 2:50 for the first time. When you hear about CIM you can be decived into believing the course is downhill, it is net downhill for sure and a fast course but it is rolling. Keeping under control early in the race seems like a good way to approach this race, after mile 18 the course is flat to downhill and if you have anything left in your legs you really can open it up.

What does 2012 hold at CIM for me? Well you never know until the day of the race. I’m positive this isn’t a PR year for me, but I do hope to run somewhere between 2:50 and 3:00, ideally sub 2:55. When this year started I was coming off an inconsitent year of running and I told myself being back in the shape I was in for CIM 2008 would be the goal for this year. My training indicates I’m there so goal accomplished. Now I just have to go run the race with the rest of the Team Rogue crew training with El Jefe.

This has been the first season with Jeff as the Team Rogue coach and I’ve enjoyed working with him. It’s been interesting having him get “comfortable” and “get to know” all of us in the group, I can see him tuning things to us individually now as he’s gotten to know us, what we need and what we respond to.  After CIM we’ll roll into Boston marathon training. It’ll be the second season with Jeff and I’m excited about how he adjusts our training now that we’ve had a full training season together. If you’re looking for a group of committed people to train and run with come join us.

The significance of a first mortgage payment

Not a running post, been a while. Driving back from the San Antonio half marathon today I was reminded by many mentions on the radio that it’s veterans day today. It reminded me of a really moving experience that was recounted to me, and also of a recent disappointment. First the good.

The story is short and sweet and about a veteran. The story ends with a first mortgage payment. One of the realizations of the American dream many would say. The road to that first mortgage payment wasn’t easy though. This veteran used to be one of the many homeless veterans (17% of the homeless are veterans) in Austin. The veteran got off the streets, was part of a transitional housing program that Green Doors provides. The veteran then moved into an affordable housing program (again with Green Doors), managed to find employment, moved into his own apartment and eventually his own home … and made his first mortgage payment. When I heard this story I really was lost for words, the good that comes from enabling somebody to transform their own lives is immeasurable.

So now the bad. The affordable housing I mentioned would not have been possible without the 2006 housing bounds approved by the citizens of Austin. Proposition 15 which failed to pass last week was going to enable organizations in Austin like Green Doors to expand their affordable housing programs, something that is desperately needed. What’s done is done.

Anyway, I also wanted to thank all of you that supported Prop 15 and continue to support organizations like Green Doors with your time and money.