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Reflections on technology, business, and life

Finally Found a great Podcast App

I finally found the iOS podcast app I’ve been looking for, for months (certainly not a life-threatening problem to complain about) — thanks to a great recommendation from Tom Cagley.  I figured I should ask him, as he’s an accomplished podcast host (focused on how technology companies can get better at everything important), and I only listen to podcasts.

I’ve used the iPhone’s default Podcast app, I’ve tried Overcast, and I read about a few others; but I wanted an app that would give me better control of my podcast list.  I have enough things to juggle these days — I don’t want to think about podcast prioritization (again, sorry for whining about something to trivial).  need my podcast app to stress me out.  I wanted to be able to manage my podcasts like a backlog of stories in JIRA (where I feel like I can actually be in control) and not like a torrent of “here’s 1,000 podcasts you haven’t listened to yet, in some order that isn’t based on your preferences.”

I have enough things to juggle these days — I don’t want to think about podcast prioritization…

Anyway, Castro 2 is awesome — it does exactly what I want:  It queues up my podcasts, and lets me prioritize whether they should go to the top of my reading queue, the bottom, or nowhere; and then it lets me move things around on the queue; so I always have something good to listen to.

Thanks Supertop for making a great app, and thanks Tom for a great recommendation.

If only I could find an app to manage queuing up all my media, across various apps (e.g. iBooks for iTunes-based audiobooks, Blinkist, Udemy, podcasts, Audible, YouTube).

Unsolicited Blinkist App Suggestions

(Blinkist is a service that summarizes books into short text and audio (15 minute) summaries — they’re great, and I thought I’d offer them some unsolicited product management feedback)

Hey Blinkist,

I’ve been loving my subscription, and I wanted to share some of my ideas/wish list for features for you to add to your iPhone app/service:

  1. I can’t find a way to go back to whatever I was listening last, when I open the app — I can go to the home screen and filter based on progress; but that doesn’t necessarily show me what I was listening to — could that be where the app loads initially, when I reopen it?  Or maybe a new icon in the top-right corner of the app’s home page?
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  2. I love that you added reading list (Blink Backlog) to the app, but it’s super-hard to find (I can only seem to get to it, while listening to a book, and then right-swiping — the metaphor here doesn’t make much sense to me.  I’d love for you to add a button at the bottom of the home page for “Reading List” (it  looks like there is room at the bottom for a 4th icon)
    • img_2725  img_2728
  3. The “Library” icon (bottom-center) of the home page isn’t a very intuitive icon — maybe that could look more like a row of shelves, and the “Reading List” icon could be more of a todo list
  4. When I’m scrolling through my Reading List, I’d love there to be a faster way to move items around — maybe instead of only being able to drag using the hamburger (3 horizontal lines), you could offer an “Up Arrow” icon that would send the book to the top of the reading list; and a “Down Arrow” to send it to the bottom of the list
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  5. I can’t find my Reading List on the web app (when I use my laptop to check out my account) — could you add the Reading List functionality to that interface?
  6. I never read the non-audio summaries, so in addition to being able to favorite a whole book summary; I’d love to be able to favorite a specific Blink (e.g. Blink 3 of 10 from a specific book) — maybe as a Star instead of  Heart; so I could go back to those
    • img_2726
  7. I’d love it if you made it easier to share that I enjoyed a book summary, when I finished it, sharing it to Twitter or Facebook at the end of the summary
  8. It’d be great if there a was a convenient place in the app to submit books I’d love to have you summarize

Thanks for all the great summaries Blinkist!

Mike

CIO 101 for Entrepreneurs

This morning I got to share IT infrastructure, business strategy, and business
architecture tips and recommendations with some local current and future entrepreneurs at The Capitol Post in Old Town Alexandria.  Capitol Post is a great organization focused on inspiring Veteran entrepreneurs to find professional clarity and scale those visions.  They offer several great things, including  a cool co-working space right in North Old Town Alexandria, classes, and a startup accelerator program.

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Here are the slides and strategy template I went through with the group this morning, helping entrepreneurs deal with IT.   We talked about:

We talked about how IT for non-technical entrepreneurs can be like personal finance for non-financial people — it’s very important, but it’s hard to motivate yourself to invest the time you need to understand it, make some solid plans, automate it, and then move on to creating value.

It’s been a year since I last taught at Capitol Post (https://mikehking.com/2015/09/11/talking-technology-bunker-labs/), and it’s great to see how much they’ve grown (the office is beautiful and their getting ready for their next cohort to go through the Bunker Labs DC accelerator.

I Draw on a Whiteboard for a Living

While it’s a gross oversimplification to say that I draw (I use the term “draw” loosely) on a whiteboard for a living, it’s amazing to reflect on how much of my time is spent using a whiteboard for all kinds of things (most of which are incredibly valuable to the work I’m doing).  I can tell I’m spending a majority of my time on the whiteboard while at work, because my smartphone pictures are about 25% whiteboard pictures and 75% pictures of my adorable son (and beautiful wife).

As a Chief Technology Officer, I end up using the whiteboard for all kinds of things, like:

  • Facilitating solution architecture discussions and development with subject matter experts (technical experts) and people who understand the needs of our customers, creating things like Concepts of Operation (ConOps), system architectures, and  unifying proposal roadmap figures
  • Outline and storyboarding proposals before we start digging into these (This is key — just like software engineering, you need a plan/architecture before anyone writes any code)
  • Creating product backlogs and release plans, where I sometimes throw in some painter’s tape and sticky notes so I don’t have to keep rewriting the user stories when I move them between releases/sprints
  • Creating user interface wireframes (whiteboards are great for this, because they force you to focus on the big picture — just like using a Sharpie to sketch these on paper, instead of a pen)
  • Creating process map and flowcharts with process owners, trying to define current and to-be business processes (and sometimes trying to map the value of different steps while refining)
  • Sketching out tables to validate content structure before going off to create them in a tool like Microsoft Office or Confluence

That said, I want to be clear that the pictures of my wife and son are much cuter than my whiteboard pictures.

 

Engineer Grandpas are Pretty Cool

My grandfather, a NASA engineer who worked on telecommunications systems for many of the Apollo missions was always coming up with things I never saw anyone else doing.  Some of that came from having engineering education and skills, but much of it came from a willingness to learn new things — he was never intimidated to do something new.

2010_07_04_11_29_090001He loved telling the story of his father wanting to keep squirrels off his grape vines, so he
ran electrical wire through the trellis the vines were on, and put a button by his back door.  When he pressed the button, it would give the squirrels a zap and they didn’t come back to try new grapes.  (Apparently you could tell which squirrels were new to the neighborhood, because each squirrel tried to eat his grapes exactly once.)
When my father was in college, his 1960’s VW Beetle was having significant engine 2010_07_04_11_50_000003problems.  My grandfather didn’t want my dad worrying about the car when he should be focused on school, so my grandfather bought a mechanic’s book on the VW bug and over a weekend he rebuilt the entire engine in his garage and brought it back to my dad.  I heard this story while helping my grandfather adjust the spark plug timing on an old 1970’s Plymouth in his driveway — it was a fun afternoon learning how engines run.
My grandfather came over to our house when I was a kid to help us hang a bird feeder in our backyard.  Instead of some more boring options, he came over with a bow and arrow (pretty cool way to show up at your son’s house), fired an arrow over a tall branch with a rope attached, and used the line to hang the birdfeeder with an anti-squirrel dome over it, far enough from the tree that the squirrels couldn’t jump from the ground, tree, or branch to get to the food.  We had that birdfeeder for at least 15 years, and a squirrel never managed to get on it.
My grandfather installed counterbalancing weights on strings and pulleys for all his sliding screen and glass doors, so you could open and close them with a tiny touch — it wasn’t necessary, but it was a constant touch reminder that with a little effort, creativity, and patience, you can do some cool stuff (and this was long before you could Google, YouTube, or Quora search something).

Buy a Sandwich and Support Christian Student Athletes

I’m excited that, for the first time, the eight Jersey Mike’s Subs shops in Northern Virginia have selected NOVA Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) to partner with for the month of March, as part of their annual Month of Giving.  Every year, Jersey Mike’s stores pick local charities to partner with for the month.

Every day in March, everyone who buys something from a participating Jersey Mike’s store will have the opportunity to add a dollar or more to their order, to donate to FCA.  While that’s exciting, the big day is Wednesday, March 30 — on that day, 100% of the day’s sales (every single dollar) will be donated to FCA from these 8 stores.  So if you’re a fan of FCA’s mission of ministering to student athletes and coaches, please put in some big catering orders or bring all your friends on Mar 30!

Buy some tasty sandwiches from these Jersey Mike’s stores this month to support FCA’s great mission to invest in student athletes and coaches across the NOVA region:

(And if you’re excited to find other ways to support FCA, please ask me about their Fellowship Dinner, coming up on Sunday, April 24 in Falls Church.  It’s a great every year to hear how God has blessed students and coaches connected to FCA.)

 

Don’t get Stuck in the Past, Present, or Future

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how each person has different tendencies.  Some of us are introverted.  Some are analytical.  In addition to personality axes like introverted vs. extroverted, thinking vs. feeling (see Myers-Briggs); people often have a tendency to either live in one of these times instead of balancing their time among them:

  • Past – Looking back at what has happened in your life, learning from mistakes and reflecting on what happened and what they learned about themselves through those experiences
  • Present – Engaging in the present, connecting with people and experiences as they happen
  • Future – Looking down the road and making plans, setting a vision and goals for your life

Each of these perspectives is important in moderation, but people sometimes get into trouble by being too focused one view — they can get stuck reliving the past (they miss life entirely, always looking behind them), living only in the moment (reacting to the present without looking down the road and making any plans) so life happens to them instead of creating the life they want, or only focusing in the future, so life passes them by while they make and refine plan after plan.  Don’t get stuck in only one of these — make time to look at all 3.

To quote the cinematic classic Spaceballs, which is almost partially relevant to this discussion:

Colonel Sandurz: Try here. Stop.

Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?

Colonel Sandurz: Now. You’re looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now.

Dark Helmet: What happened to then?

Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.

Dark Helmet: When?

Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We’re at now now.

Dark Helmet: Go back to then.

Colonel Sandurz: When?

Dark Helmet: Now.

Colonel Sandurz: Now?

Dark Helmet: Now.

Colonel Sandurz: I can’t.

Dark Helmet: Why?

Colonel Sandurz: We missed it.

Dark Helmet: When?

Colonel Sandurz: Just now.

Dark Helmet: When will then be now?

Colonel Sandurz: Soon.

Dark Helmet: How soon?

Breaking the Rules at the Local Airport

You don’t always have to play by the rules

My father often used boldness (be confident), candor (you’ll be surprised what people will agree to when you ask plainly), and creativity to find ways to get some amazing deals and create fun adventures for my sister and me.

He would go into car dealerships who were offering something like a free picnic set if you would test drive a car, and explain “Look, I’m not going to buy this car.  We can go on a test drive if you’d like, but it’s only going to prevent you from selling to someone else who comes here.”

Long before the tragedy of 9/11, when I was probably 8 or 9 years old, my father took me to the small, local airport in Manassas because I was a big fan of airplanes.  Normal fathers would have hung out, watching the planes take off and land with their child, and have a great afternoon.  Not my dad — he walked right up to the air traffic control tower with me, knocked on the door, and asked if we could come up and watch the planes and the controllers while they directed traffic.  The man who answered the door was surprised (I’m guessing normal people didn’t randomly knock on the door and ask), but he welcomed us up — it was an awesome experience as a child.  My father later brought me back to the airport and persuaded a local pilot to let me sit in his plane while he gave me a tour of every control and dial.

These were powerful experiences as a child, realizing that there’s a whole world of adventures that are available to you if you ask.  Adventures that aren’t listed on the official brochure.

Organizational Operating System Upgrade?

I’ve started reading Brian Roberton’s book Holacracy, which talks about an organizational
management approach focused around self-organization and protected autonomy.  It’s an interesting attack on the base assumption that we should build companies in the traditional, top-down approach where a CEO directs leaders who direct other leaders, through layers and layers of business leaders.  Holacracy is the first non-traditional approach I’ve seen to business architecture (designing a company) that is cohesive and specific.  Managing teams with a methodology like Agile Scrum is powerful, but Scrum doesn’t scale to an entire organization, without armies of Scrum of Scrum Masters.  Early in the book, Brian lays out this metaphor of a business having its own operating system (including the org chart, business processes, etc.):

…the operating system underpinning an organization is easy to ignore, yet it’s the foundation on which we build our business processes (the “apps” of organization), and it shapes the human culture as well.  Perhaps because of its invisibility, we haven’t seen many robust alternatives or significant improvements to our modern top-down, predict-and-control “CEO is in charge” OS.  When we unconsciously accept that as our only choice, the best we can do is counteract some of its fundamental weaknesses by bolting on new processes or trying to improve organization-wide culture.  But just as many of our current software applications wouldn’t run well on MS_DOS, the new processes, techniques, or cultural changes we might try to adopt simply won’t run well on an operating system built around an older paradigm.

Brian describes an entire methodology, like some of the prescriptive ceremonies and roles you see in Agile Scrum; which I’m still wrapping my head around.  The core tenets of independent, autonomous roles seems incredibly powerful, because it seems to make companies much more scalable.  And it reminds me of the core factors that Daniel Pink identified in Drive as what employees wants in their job:

  1. Autonomy: People want to have control over their work
  2. Mastery: People want to get better at what they do
  3. Purpose: People want to be part of something that is bigger than they are

Holacracy’s concepts explained in 107 seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUHfVoQUj54

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