My way or the high way.


Alexandra Samuel wrote a piece on notetaking. It was quite breathtaking. It opened as follows:

I knew right away, when you walked in here with a paper notebook — a paper notebook! — I realized that this meeting was not going to be a good use of our time.

It caused what might best be described as a shitstorm, and seems to have topped out at 304 comments, the overwhelming majority of which were not in favour of the piece. She then wrote a piece about the reaction here where again, the majority of comments gently pointed out that a look in the mirror to remove the plank from her eye might be in order before criticising much of what was said to her.

I have a lot of problems with the piece, the key one being, anyone who meets other people with that sort of attitude; the attitude that her way with her digital gadgets and toys was better than anyone else’s way of organising aide memoires. The simple truth is, it probably isn’t. Certainly, it’s not straight forward that all the digital productive tools in the world make you more productive. What – in my experience – tends to make you more productive is not feeling you have to justify every single little way of doing things.

I own a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone. The laptop runs Windows, the rest is iOS. I also have a lot of notebooks not because they make me less productive but because they cause me to be more productive. Basic day to day list? It’s faster to write it down and tick it off. Mindmapping? Quicker to pull out software. Reflecting on life in general? I’ve kept a journal since I was 19 years old. There’s something inherently more valuable about it than files which go missing and get corrupt.

There is a common view that previous generations before us will have left more of a footprint via their books and their monuments than we will. We may generally produce a huge amount more information than the generations before us, but we do not do very much to retain it. Already, data saved in the 1950s and 1960s is getting harder and impossible to retrieve because we just don’t have the technology. Our technology cycles are changing and information is dying, in some respects, faster than it did 100 years ago.

Important things to me, my life, and my feelings, go in notebooks.

What worried me most about the whole piece was not so much the massively condescending piece as it was published originally although I really do have to say that it came across as childish and condescending, but the overwhelming lack of understanding why she might not be right. This came across in her replies to comments across the piece. For example, she really doesn’t get that a lot of companies for legal and regulatory reasons just are not allowed to use services like Evernote. It’s not a question of a manager being an old fogey that she can write to and point out the errors of their ways so that a bunch of people wind up with laptops and iPads.

As it happens, I don’t think that laptops and iPads enhance listening. My experience is that people who are typing are not processing information at all. I’m a very fast typist – I typically averaged 120wpm in English in my admin days. Alone of all my colleagues, I could type from live dictation. This means that as fast as you spoke, I typed. And as a special trick, I could type in English what you said to me in French.

For a good typist, the iPad keyboard is basically unworkable. Typing things puts a constraint on how you describe unstructured data. Most meetings consist of unstructured data; they consist of brainstorming, problem solving.

Being honest, were I to walk into a meeting with someone like Alexandra, weighed down by her laptop and her iPad, I’d wonder if she really had any interest in the meeting at all. Oh it’s not because I think she’ll be checking her email or her twitter or her Facebook while I’m describing whatever problem we are here to resolve. It’s because I know that people who are typing are not absorbing. This is why, perhaps, Alexandra needs the crutch of search and retrieval of her digital tools. People who remember more get more done.

I think Alexandra, in stating that you don’t have to remember things because it’s all in Evernote, has missed that minor detail.

I should note she has a book on Evernote as a tool available at the moment.


Your objective to inform, and not look pretty but useless.

Via Stats Chat in the last week or two.

If you’re not willing to click through, Stats Chat have posted a donut graphic which some New Zealand paper have printed to display some data. Really, you should have a look and then decide whether the graphic actually accurately depicts the data that the Australian paper’s figures appear to be giving.

One of the worst features – in my humble experience – of enhanced graphics capabilities of different software packages (I’m looking at you, Excel, you know I love you but…) is that people will insist on using them. Inappropriately, confusingly and just plain badly. It’s quite worrying in some respects.

So what would be an elite technology company then?

About a week ago, I had a discussion on twitter about this article.

Facebook is not an elite company

(from the San Francisco Chronicle)

The list is a short one. Usually, it includes Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and (debatably) Microsoft.

This is the interesting quote.

Different things are essential to different people. So I’d argue that in the grand scheme of things, I’d be severely discommoded without Microsoft and Google but life without Amazon, Apple, and Facebook, provided at least one bookshop was still open, would probably be   well more than survivable.

For me, when we have conversations like this, I don’t like to see sentences like this, however:

For the sake of this scenario, we’re not talking about behind-the-scene all-stars like Nvidia, IBM and Intel, but the companies that people interact with every day.

The simple truth is people interact with IBM, Nvidia and Intel every day of their lives, but the crucial difference is they often don’t know it. In my view, if you took IBM away, you really wouldn’t have much left. You’d potentially have a banking system and aviation system in serious crisis. Pretending they are excluded just because people don’t load stuff up in a browser is missing the point if we’re trying to identify the elite companies; the ones we cannot do without. To some extent, there are replacements for every single product and producer on the list the article was willing to look at, but it’s not anywhere near so straightforward for the second list, the list we don’t want to talk about. The justification for including Amazon has nothing to do with its retail arm and everything to do with the fact that a lot of other sites are hosted on their AWS, for example, something which an awful lot of people don’t know. This puts them in the same box as the IBM systems underpinning the banks and many of the airlines. It’s what you don’t deal with on a day to day basis which is most critical. And that’s what makes the elite companies elite.

An open letter to Twitter


Thanks for the promoted tweet from eToro. I seem to see them regularly.

I understand that you have a business. From my point of view, promoted tweets are little more than ads, or marketing junk. I’d like to be able to switch off promoted tweets from eToro. I’m just not interested.

I get the need to monetise your product. Google manages to ship me reasonably relevant advertising in my Gmail. YOu get a lot more information out me so….why do I get ads for Apple Stock?

I read a piece Hilary Mason wrote the other day about interview questions for data science questions. She said she’d ask what, based on your knowledge of’s data, you would do that they are not doing.

Well I don’t know for to be honest. I don’t use the service quite enough to comment. However, where Twitter is concerned, I’d do a better job on contextualising the inline advertising. Take me. It’s clear from the accounts I follow, the links I follow, the posts I make, even my description that I have certain specialised interests….photography. Surf. Kitesurf. Computer related stuff. Travel.

Nowhere in my account is any evidence that I am interested in eToro’s services. But I wouldn’t object to more relevant tasting promoted tweets, so how about it? Are you working in that area at all?







Why do you develop…

Sometime ago, I had a conversation with a developer on the subject of rectifying a re-occurring issue. There was a straightforward fix a developer could do to fix each occurrence of that issue but the developer, who had also explained several times how to avoid the issue to one or two of the several users wanted to punish the users and stop fixing the problems for them to compel them to make efforts to avoid the problem by following procedure. This might work if you’ve one or two users but more than that, I think it’s unrealistic. Much better to allow for the software to protect against errors particularly if it’s a known and re-occurring issue.

I’ve often replayed that conversation in my mind and realised that I don’t really like it as an idea. While no part of the world is perfect, and there are often underlying considerations, rather than telling users how to avoid problems procedurally, we should enable them not to cause the problem in the first place by either a) preventing it from happening at a coding level or b) automatically fixing it in some way. Failing that, providing them with a tool to fix the issue themselves.

I don’t think we should ever be in a zone whereby it’s considered acceptable to punish users via the software we’ve designed for them. We should be in a zone whereby we develop to protect them against themselves to some extent. Ultimately, a developer’s role is to help a user to accomplish some task. That includes making it easy for them to accomplish that task while making it hard for them to break accomplishing that task. Punishing them because your software design fails on the second part of that role is perhaps a little unfair.