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Book Review: The Checklist Manifesto

Not infrequently teased for my prolific use of lists (plus grids and whiteboards — and lists within grids on whiteboards), I was destined to read The Checklist Manifest by Atul Gawande, which I’d read Jack Dorsey of Square gives to all new employees.

I agree with the basic message and recommend the book, which is a short read (and could have been shorter). The main points are straightforward:

    In complex environments, human memory and attention are faulty, and people skip even remembered steps to accomplish tasks.

    Use of checklists is a discipline that can protect against skipping important steps by reminding us of them and making them explicit.

    Good checklists are precise, concise, easy to use, and focus only on the critical few most important steps.

    Checklists can take the form of to-do lists or confirm-done lists.

    Checklists can be used for a wide variety of purposes, from performing surgery to constructing a building to flying an airplane to investing in a business — and they’ve been demonstrated to work well.

The concepts are basic, but Atul Gawande presents a logical argument and fills the book with interesting anecdotes, including a brief section on types of venture capitalists and their investment evaluation processes.

I do suspect that those inclined to make lists will find the content obvious and predictable, while those allergic to the notion of lists might not be persuaded. As for me, I enjoyed the quick read and recommend it.

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Product Reviews: The Best Travel Beds for Large Dogs

I happened to do a bunch of obsessive research on travel beds this past weekend and thought I’d share what I learned.

In looking at travel beds, I considered the following:

  1. Size — Large enough for a Greyhound.
  2. Transportability — Compact enough to carry easily, preferably with a bag or straps or zipper enclosure.
  3. Material — Comfortable.   Thick enough.  Ideally, cool when hot and warm when cool.  Washable.
  4. Cost — Not too expensive.

I didn’t care about color or attractiveness all that much.

Here’s what I found (and I’m not affiliated with any of these companies):

WINNERS

Overall, I like (and have ordered both to try, because I’m a nut):

  • ABO Pet PetSac  (also available on Amazon.com ), which I think is what Mary Collins has.  36″ x 48″ x 2″ unrolled, comes with a stuff sack with shoulder strap (like for a sleeping bag), has a warm fleece material on one side and a cooler micro suede material on the other (it’s reversible), machine washable, $37.30 + shipping on Amazon.com.  My potential concern with this bed is that it may compress in thickness over time, but I imagine that’s an issue with all of these.
  • The Kurgo.com Wander Bed (also available on Amazon.com), which Julie from the new Saratoga meet & greet recommended.  36″ x 48″ x 1.5″ unrolled, 17.5″ x 8″ rolled, comes with attached straps and a carry handle, fleece on top and a water resistant, non-slip bottom, as low as $42.95 + shipping from various sellers on Amazon.com.

FINALISTS

I also considered the following:

  • Ruffwear Mt. Bachelor Pad.  36″ x 48″ x 1″ unrolled, 7″ x 19″ rolled with straps and carry handle, fleece top, 1″-thick thermal padding, waterproof base, $69.96 from Ruffwear.  I read through the reviews and didn’t buy this because some folks complain that the waterproof edge limits the surface area on which the dog lies and makes it difficult to clean.  Also, the price was higher than just about anything else I saw.  Didn’t seem like a good value.
  • Dog About Deluxe Travel Mat (on Amazon.com — also available from Brookstone and other retailers).  48″ x 36″, rolls up with straps and a carry handle, micro-suede top, water resistant base, cover unzips for washing.  $34 + shipping on Amazon.com.  Cesar Millan of the Dog Whisperer makes a branded version of this.  I read the reviews and saw some complaints that this is hard to clear too and isn’t made well.  Seems like a theme with these mats with borders.

DIDN’T PLACE

Last, I liked some of these beds but they didn’t make the finals.

Hope this helps anyone shopping!

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How to Manage 101: Share the Credit, Take the Blame

A true story to illustrate the people management maxim, “Share the credit, take the blame:”

In my prior life as a lawyer, I was fortunate to do less than my share of “document production” — culling through documents a litigation opponent has requested to remove or redact attorney-client privileged materials.  This can be a minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months-long exercise; and it’s usually performed by junior attorneys.  Around 1994, I was a year out of law school and in Atlanta for just a few days, wading through boxes and file cabinets full of paper and finding precious little if anything to be protected.  When done that week, my vision was blurred, hands marked by occasional paper cuts, and I’d found literally nothing to protect.

Later that year, in a deposition, opposing counsel was questioning our client and kept referring to a particular document as he asked pointed question after pointed question.  How could he know so much about where the proverbial skeletons were buried?  He was reading directly from a draft attorney-client letter … that I had missed.  After a bit of investigation, we confirmed that this was the situation and started the process of filing a motion with the court to recover the document.

I’ll never forget the very day that my partner confirmed my mistake.  I was sitting across his desk in his office.  He was distraught that a confidential memo had been leaked.  He was exasperated.  He was upset.  I was preparing for a beating or firing I thought.  He didn’t even make eye contact with me.  He just paused, and exclaimed, “Gosh, I wish we had caught that.”

Pat Dennis, now at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in LA, had just demonstrated the maxim, “Share the credit, take the blame.”  I don’t know if it was deliberate or if he was quietly irate at me.  But in that instance, I felt that I was a valuable part of his team, that we were in it together, and he had my back.  I pretty much would have walked off a cliff for Pat that day.

The happy redemption ending of sorts is that I had the chance to do the research and file the motions to get the document back so that our client was protected, but it cost my firm around $35K that year.

The lesson Pat taught me though I’ll remember and pass on for a lifetime.

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How to Run an Effective Meeting

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.

– Benjamim Franklin

Meeting management is important.  A bad meeting wastes time.  A bad meeting fails to accomplish its objectives.  Running a bad meeting is disrespectful to the people invited.  A bad meeting can make you look silly or even incompetent.  A good meeting is efficient and effective.  A good meeting provides clarity of purpose to attendees and can even leave attendees inspired.  A good meeting makes you look good.

How to run a good one?  The best practices are common sense yet not followed in the vast preponderance of meetings:

Before the meeting

  • Have a reason to meet. Good reasons include: make a plan, review progress on a plan, make decisions, spot issues, get approvals, get resources, review designs, etc.  Bad reasons include:  not having a reason.
  • Communicate an agenda. The agenda should state objectives/outcomes desired from the meeting and specific topics to be addressed.
  • Be prepared. If you are leading the meeting, arrive early. Have handouts ready or be prepared to project as necessary. Start screen sharing. Call into any dial-in number for callers.

During the meeting

  • Set the stage.  Review the objectives and agenda at the outset. Allow for discussion/modification.
  • Follow the plan.  Follow the agenda or depart from it only deliberately.
  • Control the discussion.
  • Allow time at the end to summarize and discuss next steps.
  • End on time.

After the meeting

  • Send notes. No need for a blow-by-blow. Capture: (1) key decisions made, (2) open issues and then plan to resolve them, and (3) action items — which should have assignees and deadlines.
  • Follow up on action items.

Really not rocket science.  But a bit of preparation, awareness, and follow-up is the difference between a waste of time and an effectively-driven effort.

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How to Get the Clear App “Socialite” Theme

Love the Clear to-do app by Realmac Software and want to collect all of the hidden themes?  A Google search of “Clear hidden themes” will result in numerous posts on how to get all of the hidden themes, but the directions for the “Socialite” theme (white lettering on a light blue gradient) are incomplete.

The conventional directions found online are (1) complete 100 tasks and (2) the app will prompt you in app to share Clear by Tweeting a link.

These directions omit a necessary intermediate step: After completing 100 tasks, while in a list, you’ll need to swipe up and hold to clear competed tasks; only then will the prompt to Tweet appear within the app.  This is my favorite theme so far (with Night Owl #2), so it’s worth creating and completing 100 tasks to get.

Enjoy.

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How to Get iPhone Upgrade Pricing Before Eligible

I recently lost my iPhone 4. I was eligible for upgrade pricing for the iPhone 4S but had been intent on waiting for the iPhone 5 to be released.

I thought my options (assuming I wanted to continue using iPhones) were:

  • Buy a replacement iPhone 4 at full price and wait to buy the iPhone 5 at the upgrade price.
  • Buy an iPhone 4S at full price and preserve my upgrade pricing eligibility for the iPhone 5.
  • Buy an iPhone 4S at the upgrade price and forfeit my upgrade pricing eligibility for the iPhone 5

Thanks to a clever AT&T representative, I learned of a fourth option: Convert my existing voice and data plan to a family plan, add a second line, buy an iPhone 4S at the new plan price, and preserve the upgrade eligibility on my original line. This was a great option for me because my voice plan included more minutes than I needed, so even with the change to the family plan and addition of a new line, I was paying the same montly fee.

The in-store AT&T activated the SIM chip on my new line iPhone 4S, removed it, removed the data plan from that number, activated a new SIM chip to replace the one I’d lost, and inserted into the new iPhone 4S. Voila! Now, when the iPhone 5 comes out, I’ll still to be able to get it at the upgrade price if I want.

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Looking Forward to The Hunger Games

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Belated Goodbye to Print Newspapers

San Jose Mercury News Weather Section 2011-12-18

San Jose Mercury News Weather Section 2011-12-18

Picked up the Sunday paper (San Jose Mercury News) this morning for the first time in eons — wanting to check out the coupon inserts for my latest gig at Coupons.com — and it’s amusing to see how the content is both obsolete by the time it hits the newsstand and inferiorly static compared to the Internet.

A few obvious examples:

  • Front page and other actual news content:  Just about all of this is online and supplemented by more current and extensive information from blogs, RSS feeds, Tweets, etc.
  • Weather section:  Print has a visually-appealing half-page summary of local/national/international weather (above), but Web sites and the Weather and The Weather Channels apps on my iPhone and iPad provide up-to-the-minute snapshots and forecasts from across the planet.
  • Ads:  Print ad units, with larger formats (half page, full page) and more variety to unit sizes, catch one’s eye better than online ads — at least for me — but can’t be clicked on.
  • Real estate section:  Hello Zillow, Trulia, et al.
  • Free-standing inserts:  There surely are a lot ‘em, but unless I’m a deal hunter or in the market for a particular item or planning a trip to a specific retail store, these go straight into the recycling bin.  Also, I bought today’s paper to look for clip-able grocery coupons — and I can’t find them!
  • Sunday Comics:  I read comic strips a lot less since I stopped getting a print newspaper.  I get my Daily Dilbert in my email inbox but otherwise don’t flip through my favorite comic strips as I once did.  Score one for print.
  • Tactile feel:  I’ll always hate the feeling of newsprint on my hands.

No real news here in any of these observations but fun for me to note.  Looking forward to seeing the inevitable day when print newspapers are entirely a format of the past.

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Apple Fanboy, Hear Me Roar

In honor and memory of Steve Jobs:

2004:  I’d never owned any Apple product.

2005:  I bought my first Apple product, an iPod Classic.

2007:  I bought my first Apple computer, an iMac, through a friend of a friend’s Apple employee discount.

As of today, I’ve already owned and retired:

  • That original iMac
  • 2 iPod Classics
  • An iPod Shuffle
  • iPhone 3
  • iPhone 3GS
  • iPad
And in 2011, I currently use:
  • MacBook Pro 13″
  • Apple Cinema Display
  • Apple Airport Extreme
  • Apple Airport Express
  • iPhone 4
  • iPad 2
  • Apple TV
  • MacBook Air 13″ for personal use
  • MacBook Air 11″ for work
  • Apple Thunderbolt Display for work
Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?
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iPad 2 First Impressions


(Me and the Woz just after I bought the first iPad 2 at the Apple Store in Los Gatos)

Having carelessly left my iPad in a Southwest Airlines seat-back pocket in December, I’ve been waiting impatiently for this day to come for months!

I used TaskRabbit to arrange for a runner to wait in line on my behalf. If you haven’t used TaskRabbit yet, try it. Define just about any task — such as buy groceries, drop off donations at Goodwill, pick up dry-cleaning — or even wait in line at an Apple Store for 12 hours on iPad 2 launch day. Then, set a maximum price, and “rabbits” (runners) make offers for how much they’ll perform the task. If they bid under your maximum, you pay less. Pick a runner, and off you go.

Thanks to TaskRabbit, rabbit Katherine D. and her husband Brian lined up as first in line for me at the Apple Store in Los Gatos at 3:00 a.m. PT on the 11th. Which meant that I was first in line when I sauntered up to the store around 4:00 p.m. to join in the opening day spectacle. At the time I took pole position, the line stretched down and around several blocks and easily was 500 people long.

Apple’s launch day retail experience — especially for those first in line — was wonderfully warm, welcoming and whimsical. Just inside the window front, a black velvet curtain veiled the entire store. Waiting outside for that final hour, we heard repeated cheers from within as the retail staff psyched up for the opening. Minutes before the doors opened at 5:00 p.m., Apple folks spilled out the doors, asked those first in line which models they wanted and distributed small white reservation cards with specific SKUs written on them for inventory control. At 5:00 p.m., the curtain dropped, and Brian and I were greeted with a double line of 40 employees inside the store wildly clapping and cheering and high five-ing the first dozen customers permitted to enter the store. With classic Apple retail efficiency, a retail associate greeted me, hooked me up with a white 64GB wi-fi + 3G AT&T iPad 2 (plus another I bought for friend) and a navy Smart Cover, and I walked out the door 10 minutes later to the cheers and envy of the waiting crowd. Felt like Marky Mark in “Rock Star.”

The out-of-box was what we’ve come to expect from Apple: easy to open packaging, minimal contents (iPad, charger) and intuitive set up (plug in, connect to iTunes and follow the onscreen instructions). I haven’t activated the 3G service yet, but that looks to be very easy too.

So first impressions?
- As reported, it feels great. Thinner, lighter (although it’s only marginally so) and the tapered back is more comfortable to hold than the original’s.
- The white looks even better than I expected. From the images I’d seen online, the white looked too bright, and possibly cheap. On the contrary, the color is almost ivory and reminds me of Steinway piano keys. Gorgeous.
- So far, it does seem faster and the graphics look better thanks to the new dual-core processor. I’ve been playing Infinity Blade and Angry Birds on my iPhone 4 for months and didn’t realize what I’d been missing until yesterday. Fast switching is also faster than before and faster than my iPhone 4.
- Mixed feelings on the Smart Cover. Slick design and works great — but I don’t like that the back of the iPad is unprotected, and when using it to type on an uneven surface (my lap), the magnets and cover occasionally detach. I’m eyeing the bamboo and leather cover by Grove.
- The camera quality is noticeably poor as reported. It’ll serve for video calls, and I expect to continue to use my iPhone 4 for snapshots and short video clips.
- One note on FaceTime: Not sure about this, but it appears that if you’re already using FaceTime on one device, say a MacBook Pro, with one Apple ID, then you may need a separate, new Apple ID unique to your iPad. So far, I’ve been unable to verify my existing Apple ID to use FaceTime on this new iPad 2.

Overall, this is the day for which I’ve been waiting like a kid on Christmas morning, and I’m completely delighted with Apple’s latest offering. Fanboy I am.

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