'Geek' Archive

The Future of Mobile Technology

September 20th, 2012

I was lucky enough to have spent last weekend at another instance of Alistair‘s Bitnorth conference. Core to Bitnorth is that everyone contributes. I gave a short talk with no slides. I figured I’d do my best to share it with you here.

If you’ve been following along here you’ll likely know that I began an experiment almost two years ago in ditching my smartphone. That experiment continues and likely can’t be called an experiment any longer.


What I did was get rid of my smartphone, which at the time was an android device, and moved to an old school, voice only cell phone. Previously I was a blackberry user for years. An interesting side note is that my android device was only a few months old, had cost me $99, and I had signed into a three year contract with rogers. I figured that would be my biggest challenge. I posted on kijiji that I would be willing to give my almost brand new device away as long as the person taking it took on my contract. I had dozens of responses within an hour. I had no idea it was that simple.


I bought a John’s Phone along with a 3G Kindle. The 3G Kindle gave me free 3G access, allowing me to check my webmail on the road, in a pinch. No data plan, more email away from desk, no SMS.

This Isn’t For You…This Isn’t A Crusade

Since doing this, I’ve taken on a part-time role as smartphone therapist. When I explain my odd phone situation, most people explain to me their setup and how they’ve tamed their smartphones and it isn’t an issue for them. That’s great, I’m not on a crusade here, I’m not saving the planet, I’m not asking anyone to get rid of their smartphone or change their usage patterns.

A large majority of people also express their wish to ditch their smartphone and explain to me why that’s not possible for them. Again, you can’t live without your smartphone, that’s cool, keep it.


So why do this? I had a few reasons to try this. One was to simply be less connected, less open to interruption. For me, a smartphone had opened the door to hundreds, possibly thousands of people to interrupt me 24/7.

I also wanted to be more present and place more value on the people physically around me. If you took the time to come out and meet me for a coffee then I want to be present. My lazy buddy who couldn’t get off the couch can’t text, twitter, or whatever me and take my attention away. He can get off his ass and join us.

I want to solve big problems. I believe that requires something other than direct, conscious work. Solving the big problems in my life requires lot’s of time for me to daydream and stare at the wall. A smartphone stole most of that time from me. I filled in all the gaps with junk from my smartphone.


In my case, I make myself highly available by phone. My phone number is on all my sites and in every signature. You do have to ‘train’ others. That requires responding to so-called urgent emails by letting them know you don’t have a smartphone and to please phone you if it’s urgent. I only had to send a few of these emails.


I don’t have any upgrade stress. I don’t care about the latest device, app, game etc. I have no idea what number of iphone I should be buying next. For some people, removing that from your life will free up a couple of hours a day.

I really do believe I regrown, or repaired, my ability to focus and my attention span.

Being more present has allowed me to develop stronger relationships with the people around me, including my family and kids.

I have a chance to be curious again. When around others, that requires stopping people from checking their phones for an answer. People, it’s okay not to know something, it’s okay to be curious about something and enjoy that for a bit.

I’ve likely read more books since making this change than my entire life before that.

I do not get more phone calls. My sense is that people take a moment to reflect on their *urgent* email. They consider whether a phone call is required and my guess is that most of the time they decide it can wait. I don’t believe I get more email either but I didn’t measure any of this.

The biggest reason I have no interest in a smartphone is I do believe it’s increased my ability to solve the big problems. So keep your smartphone please! I’ll keep tackling the big problems and keep that advantage to myself.

“Starving” Startup Train Tickets

July 3rd, 2012

We’re looking for six startups local to KW, Guelph, or Toronto who’d benefit from being on our train to Startup Fest in Montreal in a couple of weeks. This is massive opportunity for some early stage startups to get focused time with other funders and founders, not to mention some national press folks. You’re on a train, they can only hide in the bathroom for so long!

A big thanks to the BDC, through Startup Festival, who paid for these conference tickets. Please make sure to read the details closely as there are a few simple stipulations.

Apply Today!

Help us spread the word on this!

How to Hire Great Developers

April 6th, 2011

Please stop asking me to find developers for you. Yes it takes work. No it isn’t easy. Yes it can be done. No it isn’t accomplished with expensive recruiters, job boards and reading mountains of resumes (or at least I can’t personally afford the cash and time those paths require).

Ben always talks about how recruiting is now about building a magnet. You need to draw people in. Love that! I’d add another simple one, you have to get out of your office!! No one cares about your company and your product so while I love the ‘build a magnet’ model, it’s rarely done well. A simpler approach is to just get out of your office and start interacting with the existing community. If you aren’t the person to do it then hire someone or encourage a developer you currently work with.

A few real examples?

I can guarantee you Leila and Corey are hiring some of the best developers we have in Canada. How? They not only get out of their office, they get out and create real things like HackDays for developers.

No, they didn’t create HackDays with the sole intent of building a hiring pipeline but that’s besides the point. They are creating meaningful ways to contribute to developers. They’re not just participating, they’re creating. Start by giving before you worry about taking. You’re owed nothing simply because you can pay someone a salary. Give, help create and support our talent and always work on giving, and creating, more talent than you take. Obviously we can’t all create something like HackDays but you can sponsor an event or ask a local organizer what you can do to help them with their event.

Another example of late? I’m amazed that we didn’t have a lineup of local employers loitering around ThreeFortyNine coworking while The Guelph Seven were here. Here you have seven local students skipping school and organizing themselves to build seven applications in seven days. The same employers who aren’t showing up to mingle with these guys are busy paying to post jobs to job boards so they can read fictional resumes. I could care less if any of the Guelph Seven ever write a decent resume, I’d jump at a chance to hire any of them.

Things have changed folks. Stop reading resumes. Start getting involved, give more than you take. As Howard Lindzon says foreplay, foreplay, foreplay!

My New iPhone!

March 28th, 2011

I figured I should update you all and let you know I lost my battle to untether and am now the proud owner of a lovely iphone 6c.

Oh you’re so gullible. No, no, rest assured I’m still living the caveman life with no data plan or SMS. It’s been over a month and so far I have no regrets and highly recommend it to anyone considering the leap. Combined with a kindle I find myself reading a lot more and wasting time much better. By wasting time better I mean I work when I work, I goof off when I goof off and I’m more focused at each.

Not allowing myself to be so easily distracted from important work, like staring at the wall or playing mini sticks with my boy, is dreamy. So much so that I want more. I’m considering moving to a more strict email diet. While I’ve dabbled with this in the past, you’d be surprised how difficult this really is.

Some interesting myths related to this experiment…

Receiving more phone calls will make me less productive

I share my phone number everywhere I can, my intent is to be highly available by phone. It’s in all my email signatures, on websites etc. As well, I intended to reply to emails demanding urgent replies with a polite “I don’t have a data plan, please phone me if it’s anything that demands an immediate response”.

When I explain this approach, people’s initial response is “oh, that wouldn’t work, all those phone calls would be distracting”. The reality is there is no increase in phone calls. All that’s really happening is that I’m able to better manage expectations. People expect frequent responses over email from me, but not immediate, and they always know they can reach me with a phone call.

Your phone will not ring off the hook. You will not be bombarded with calls. Trust me.

Phone calls in general are more work, take longer

How many times has this happened to you in the past month over email, IM, skype, SMS, etc? You go back and forth until you realize you’re both having your own damn conversation and getting nowhere. You give up, pick up the phone and within a minute realize they were being sarcastic when they said “you’re mean” and you explain that you really meant it when you said “let’s sell them”.

Now, when was the last time you were on a phone call and said “let’s just switch to texting and sort this out as we’re past the point where voice based…..”. The answer is never.

The reality is that as you move down the list below, you’re dealing with less and less information. Face to face communication includes voice, smell, touch, subtle twitches, cringing, etc. Remote video has less but you can see some facial expressions. Audio includes all the audible subtleties but you lose everything else. By the time you’re down to text only, you’re at the bare bones.

  1. Face to face
  2. Remote video and audio (skype video)
  3. Audio only (phone calls)
  4. Text based

While I realize everyone else is headed in the other direction from me, texting all the time, and the carriers are quite pleased about it, you will have a hard time convincing me that’s it’s actually better for us. Let me know what you think below. As always, phone me if you need an immediate response.

Slightly Less Tethered

February 11th, 2011

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I didn’t own a cell phone at all. When I moved to being an independent contractor, almost a decade ago, I “needed” a blackberry. The logic was sound as I was the person emailed or phoned when certain client servers stopped breathing.

I haven’t looked back since diving head first into digital tether land. Sure I’ve dabbled with cutting the cord on occasion but beyond the odd sabbatical I’ve been fully connected to web, email, phone, twitter, etc all my waking hours. While I’d love to report on my unwavering self control with respect to this connectivity, the reality is quite the opposite. When there’s the slightest pause in the real world I inevitably reach for the digital tether and dive into a virtual world. Almost immediately my mind is back in the office instead of watching my son play hockey. Or I’m reading something useless on twitter instead of saying hi to someone who walks by, right in front of me.

I’m not going to pretend for a second that mobile devices and the associated connectivity are going to do anything except continue to proliferate. We do, however, have a choice that is often hidden and that’s to be in control of how available and connected we are. This isn’t about keeping us from a promised land, this is about protecting what we already have, that being the space to think, grow, learn.

I love Windows Mobile’s new ad campaign in which they save us from our smart phones, however, I’m not sure the solution to being disconnected from the real world is a better smart phone.

What I loved, and miss, about not owning a cell phone was the ability to be unavailable. More importantly, to be more available to the real humans, and world, around me. I enjoyed being difficult to interrupt. I enjoyed being highly available to the people sitting in front of me. So I’m experimenting with a new setup and have no idea how long it will last. I withhold the right to come screaming back tomorrow with every iThing I can buy.

The experiment? I’ve ditched my smart phone entirely and moved to a voice only cell contract. I intend to combine that with a 3G enabled tablet soon, to allow me access to email, web etc. I am, however, waiting for the next round of android tablets before committing to a device. That will allow me to leave the tablet at home and venture into the world with nothing but a cell. I know it sounds scary but I’ve heard some people have lived through this.

To get me through my tablet-less days, I’m using a 3G Kindle and it’s free global 3G access. No it isn’t a tablet but yes you can browse, use email and web based calendars in a reasonable fashion. I have to admit, the kindle has impressed the hell out of me and the end result is I’m reading a lot more than pre-kindle but it’s early days still.

I’m a week into this and I’m really enjoying it so far. What’s painfully obvious is how much of my life was filled with reaching for a “smart” phone for no reason other than idle time. It’s surprising what you can do when you have that idle time back. I stare at walls, I see people, I think about stuff. It’s also surprising how I still reach for my ‘dumb’ phone only to realize there’s nothing to check on it. It demands little of me. What the hell will I do with myself?? Call me, we’ll talk.

Ignite Waterloo Talk…Beer!

December 1st, 2010

I was lucky enough to speak at Ignite Waterloo about a week ago. If you haven’t been to one, make sure to attend one of these events soon. They’re highly approachable and entertaining events that move along quickly. If you don’t like the topic, wait less than 5 minutes and they’ll be a new one.

I spoke about my recent journey to change the world. They shot video of the event which I’ve included here. Enjoy and let me know what you think?!

Speaking at IgniteTO tonight

September 2nd, 2010

I’m lucky to be speaking tonight at IgniteTO so please stay the hell away from The Drake tonight. Failure to heed this will force you to endure my sweaty babbly nonesense about how you need to run your company more like an unconference.

If you choose to ignore me then come say hi after I’m done torturing you.

I’m Not Technically Here

May 21st, 2010

I’m not 100% sure what real life application this has so I’ll leave that to your imagination. I will say that for some reason I’m asked about this a lot. This technique allows you to tunnel all TCP requests through a remote server using a secure connection. This means all requests, not just HTTP.

So what does this do for you? Well you could buy an SSH account on a server located, say in France. Using that SSH connection you could then browse the web while sitting at home in Canada. As far as everyone knows, you’re in France because all your requests are being tunneled through, ie coming from, your SSH server located in France. Again, why would you do this? I have no idea and the answer doesn’t rhyme with sulu or fandora for those in Canada. As well, I’m sure there are much simpler ways of doing this, this is just how I do it.

What you need for this is some SSH skills and a program called tsocks. Everything I’ll show here works on a debian based OS such as ubuntu, using a bash shell.

First login to your ssh account using the -D option, see “man ssh” for more explanation. This option allows you to specify a port. All connections on your machine to that port will then be forwarded over the SSH connection to the remote machine.

ssh -D 8989 username@ssh_server.com

Next you need to install and configure tsocks, it’s in synaptic for ubuntu people. Once installed, edit /etc/tsocks.conf and remove or comment out all lines except:

server =
server_port = 8989

Now close all instances of any application that you wish to use for this. Then open them using the tsocks command which forces the program to tunnel all the applications connections through your SSH connection:

tsocks firefox
tsocks ping yahoo.com

Done. Now any site you browse to with firefox thinks you’re sitting at a cafe in France and yahoo thinks you’re pinging it from Toulouse.

A far more thorough explanation.

Email Productivity

May 20th, 2009

A quick update on my attempts to keep email at bay. I can’t say I’m doing an excellent job of only checking email twice per day but I’m making a worthy effort. The main issues I keep running into is drafting emails effectively.

I still need to write emails, however, I don’t want to send them. The reason I want to wait to send is that if I’m sending emails throughout the day, it sets the expectation that I’m checking email and therefore ignoring responses. It’s difficult with most email clients to compose drafts without catching a glimpse of your inbox and having it’s unread total scream out at you for your valuable attention. If someone knows a simple way to write drafts, for sending later, without having to interact directly with your email client, let me know. I’m using plain old text files and cut and paste today, which is a pain.

Even if you’re not attempting to reduce how often you check email, here’s one tip I have for you. It’s not my tip, I’m sure I heard it from somewhere else. Never check email to start your day. We all do this. We start every freakin day by catching up on email. Subsequently we get lost in email hell until our stomachs remind us we’ve missed lunch and over 1/2 a day of actual work. Just try this, close your email client at the end of the day, then start everyday by tackling a real task BEFORE you even open your email client. Just try it, you’ll like it.

Just a note, I include twitter, facebook, laconica and other forms of messaging, networking, etc under this “email” category. The interesting thing that happens when you ball all these apps up and only check them twice a day is you quickly realize how much time they take to nurture and feed. You need to decide if they’re worth it to you personally.

If this topic sounds new and you’re looking for background, try this.

Unit Test Your Dev Environment

February 13th, 2009

This is likely one of those parties I just happen to be late showing up for, move along if this sounds like old news. I had an issue this weekend related to having the wrong version of a framework running in one of my development environments. It eventually became clear that was the issue as the bug only existed on one machine, worked fine on others.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been bitten by this pattern of bug and it won’t be the last. My guess is you’d be hard pressed to find a developer who hasn’t ran into this. In an attempt to put this headache to bed once and for all, I added a test to the unit test suite that scrapes the version of all the required frameworks and validates they’re the ones expected. Hopefully I’ll spot this issue quicker next time it hits.

(trying syntaxhighlighter for the first time)

        # check elixir
        import elixir
        version = elixir.__version__
        self.assertEqual(self._elixir_ver, version,
                "Incorrect Elixir version, expected '%s', local is '%s'" %
                (self._elixir_ver, version))