Amazon Echo: 7 missing features

We have an Amazon Echo. It’s been a lot of fun and a bit frustrating and a bit creepy.

  • My youngest loves walking into the room and saying “Alexa, play Alvin and the Chipmunks”.
  • I like saying “Alexa, set a 10 minute timer.”
  • And we use it for news updates and music playing.

7 features it’s missing:

  1. “Alexa, answer my phone.” The Echo can hear me across the room. When my phone rings, I’d love to be able to answer it and just talk from where ever I am.
  2. “Alexa, tell me about the State of the Union Address last night.” I asked a dozen different ways and finally gave up and said “Alexa, play iHeartRadio Eric Church.” (I also tried to use it to cheat at Trivia Crack. It didn’t get any of the five questions I asked it right.)
  3. Integration with more services. We use Pandora, not iHeartRadio. We can switch. Or not. But ultimately the more services that Echo can integrate with, the better for its usefulness. It should search my email, Evernote, recipes, …
  4. Search. Not just the State of the Union, but pretty much any search I’ve tried has failed. “Alexa, when is the post office open today?” It just added the post office to my to do list. Or questions that any 2 year old can answer, “Alexa, what sound does a dog make?” It does do math for my eight year old. “Alexa, what’s 10,000 times 1 billion.” and she spits it out to his delight. He’s going to be a billionaire.
  5. More lists. Right now you can add items to your shopping list, your todo list and your music play lists. That doesn’t work well for a multi-person household. Each of us want multiple lists.
  6. Do stuff. I’d love to say “Alexa, reply to that email from Frank and say …” Or “Alexa, buy the top rated kitchen glove on Amazon.” or “Alexa, when will my package arrive?”
  7. Actually cook dinner. Or maybe just order it. 🙂

What do you want your Amazon Echo to do?

Top 7 articles I read this week

  1. How do we bring the next billion people online? Ben Davis suggests three points: (1) alternative funding models like a $35 Android tablet funded by advertising, content and networks, (2) apps that can switch between web and SMS depending on if they are online or not, (3) devices that make it easier for developing world’s computer programmers like Raspberry Pi.
  2. Evernote CEO on how company was saved at eleventh hour. Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s key moment was deciding to build a product they loved. And then there would be others that also loved it. That’s a message I’m sure will resonate with many open source software fans. Note that I think you can make a product you love that you realize you are not the main user. (For example, I may love kids books or certain type of toys and realize they are for an audience that is not 100% like me.) Another point to me in the article was that this wasn’t the founders’ first company. It took them a couple of companies before they founded one with a product they loved!
  3. Schools Aren’t Teaching Kids To Code; Here’s Who Is Filling The Gap. This article is about how US high school students are not learning how to code and how a nonprofit is helping to fill that gap.
  4. Startup Lab workshop: How Google sets goals: OKRs. This hour and a half video is an insightful look at how Google manages their quarterly and annual goals and how startup companies might use that same process.
  5. Firefox Developer Tools Highlighter. Are you a developer and want to weigh in on how developer tools work? Now’s the time to talk about the highlighter. (Mozilla introduced the Firefox OS App Manager this week too.)
  6. Regular Bedtimes Tied to Better Behavior. This makes me feel better about my super strict bedtimes! I do it because I think you sleep better if you go to bed at the same time everyday and I think sleep greatly affects how well you think and therefore how well you learn.
  7. Google’s five questions every business should address on mobile strategy. Google publishes a mobile playbook – this is Econsultancy’s summary of what’s important in it. One interesting tidbit is that “68% of mobile searches actually occur at home where there are other larger screen devices available.”


Other interesting links:

Not an article but a top site:

  • The Old Reader – it’s just like the old Google Reader complete with sharing, navigation, look and feel. Thanks to Justin Crawford for telling me about it!

10 skills to master to get things done online

I’ve recently watched a few people struggle to get things done in online projects. I’ve written and spoken on 12 tips for getting things done in the open source community but now I see that people also need to learn how to work with mailing lists and virtual teams.

Skills you should master if you plan on working in a virtual environment. I’m interested in any other skills you’d add to the list.

  1. Master your email. You will get a lot of email. There are few in person meetings and there’s a large group to coordinate, so email is the most popular method of communication. Email will become a knowledge base. You need to be able to handle hundreds of emails a day without complaining that they are too many. (You don’t want to be cut off from the knowledge base do you?)
    There are lots of ways to master managing your email. Here are a few of the most common:

    • Touch each email once. If you read it, think about what you need to do with it and do it right then. If it’s something that requires action outside of email, add an action item to your todo list and then tag the email or file it in a special folder. Get it out of your inbox.
    • Use a threaded email client. It’s much easier to catch up on conversations if you can read the whole thread easily at once.
    • Use filters. Many people filter mail from different lists or about different topics to folders. (I personally do not do this. I find I never look at them if I do this.)
    • Dedicate certain time periods to checking email. I spend the first couple hours of every day responding to email. I don’t look at it as “doing email” but rather as communicating and following up with people.
    • Research and try. There are lots of methods and tips for dealing with incoming email. Try a few of them and figure out what works for you.
  2. Learn online tools. You should know how to use mailing lists, IRC, Skype, Twitter, IM, wikis, etc. Each team will use a different set of tools, but you should know the basics of most of them. That way if someone says, let’s have an IRC meeting in a hour, you won’t be googling “IRC” to figure out how to join at the last minute. Or looking for a headset in order to join a Skype call.
  3. Know where to find things. People that work online usually deal with a lot of information. Learn how to search your email archives effectively, how to search the mailing list archives, where the project stores documents or information online and how to search. If you need to ask for information, also ask how the person found it. Often they are simply searching for it. Do not ask for information that you can find easily yourself. Above all, do not ask for the same information twice! If you asked for it and got it, you should be able to find it again. Feel free to ask someone how they found the answer to your question. I learn a lot that way.
  4. Observe how things get done. Every virtual or online team is different. Watch how things get done. Do people present ideas before they are done? Wait for consensus? Present final products for review? If nobody ever responds to your email, it’s likely you are not following the project’s culture.
  5. Be prompt. With people working in different timezones and with different priorities, it’s important to respond to emails and to finish action items promptly. Each delay seems to multiply across the project.
  6. Keep the group informed. If you have a discussion off list, be sure to let the rest of the list know. Don’t be afraid to have the discussion on the list. If you make decisions or agree to something on the group’s behalf, be sure to let the rest of the group know.
  7. Know when to take it off list. Sometimes it’s best to have a discussion offlist first and then tell the group the outcome. For example, if you think your idea is controversial or too vague, you might want to run it by a few trusted people first. But remember, to get buyin and build consensus, some of the discussion has to happen on the list – it can’t be all polished decisions!
  8. Rethink conference calls. If you have conference calls, make sure everyone has access to good technology and make sure everyone is on the phone, not just some people. I think Nat’s Everyone Dials In policy is an excellent one. Also be aware that conference calls are particularly difficult for people that have to dial an international number to join and for people who’s first language isn’t English. While you may think conference calls are the most effective way to get things done, if half the team can’t hear or communicate well, IRC may be a much better choice.
  9. Learn how to read silence. Sometimes you’ll post a great idea or a question to the mailing list and nobody responds. Does that mean nobody liked your idea? Or that they couldn’t understand it? Or that they are all busy on the release that’s going out the day after tomorrow? In the absence of body language, you will have to be more aware of everything else that is going on.
  10. Know what’s been done. When you join a project you should spend some time observing, asking questions and reading the archives. If you suggest a multitude of projects that already exist or have already been proposed, people are going to think you aren’t willing to learn the project.
  11. What else would you add?

For suggestions on how to get things done in virtual teams, see 12 tips for getting things done in the open source community.

Who owns an email message?

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and I did not consult an attorney about this blog post, so this is not legal advice. I may even be wrong, in which case you should leave a comment with your opinion.

I read an interesting article about whether or not you can publish the interview questions yourself if you are interviewed via email and I started wondering. If you have a conversation via email, can you publish that conversation in a public place? Turns out, you probably can't publish it without the other person's permission. The other person holds the copyright to the pieces they wrote and you need their permission to publish it. Or forward it on.

(Note that you can quote small pieces of their email. How much is up for debate.)

You can't even publish emails you found on public forums without permission. From NetM@nners:

e-mail that is posted to a group of people, on a mailing list
or Newsgroup does not make the e-mail available for reposting, copying,
or any other use – not without the express and written consent of the

So be careful how you use someone's email and words. It's about more than just attributing it correctly.

Also be careful what you write in email. Even though they aren't supposed to publish your mail, it's obviously really easy to publish and forward emails!

What do you think? Do you think email and copyright law will be an issue? Will people continue to ignore copyright law when it comes to email? Will copyright law change? Or will a few public cases of misappropriate email usages make everyone aware of copyright law?

12 tips to getting things done in open source

Most people used to the proprietary software world, with no experience in open source software, are amazed that anything gets done. (And lots gets done in the open source, way more than in most proprietary software companies!) And people new to open source are usually at a loss as to where to start. Often they come with a great idea, tell a couple of people who confirm it’s a great idea, and then … well, and then they don’t know what to do and the great idea fades.

So here are some of my ideas on how to get things done in the open source world. And I am by no means the expert – I’m in awe of some of the people I work with on a daily basis.

To get things done in open source:

  1. Be prepared to do a lot. Somebody has to do it. And while you can convince others it’s fun and needed and great, if you aren’t willing to put time into it, why are they going to believe you?
  2. Believe you are empowered to do it. If you propose a new idea and everyone tells you it’s great, believe them. And just do it. Nobody is going to say “ok, now you can do it.” If people give you positive feedback, take that as an ok to go ahead.
  3. Recruit others early. The earlier you talk to others about your idea, the more likely they’ll be able to contribute to the idea and feel like it’s theirs. The more they feel like it’s theirs, the more likely they’ll contribute. Most people hate to share an idea until they are sure it’s a good idea that’s completely thought out. By that time, it’s your idea to be done your way and it’s too late for them.
  4. Don’t worry about getting credit. It’s all done publicly, on a mailing list that’s recorded for prosperity or on IRC in front of everyone. You’ll get your credit. Float your idea, encourage others, accept their feedback and ideas. Give more credit than you take. (And ask yourself if you want your idea to happen or if you want credit. Either answer is ok but only one can be your highest priority.)
  5. Join the conversation. Many people float an idea via email or maybe even on the mailing list. Where probably depends on the project but there are conversations happening some where. I think the one most missed by those new to open source software is IRC. I once heard a manager joke that nobody hangs out around the water cooler any more. Instantly someone mentioned (on IRC) that IRC is the new water cooler and he just didn’t know it.
  6. Get effective at monitoring lots of information. In my experience, people in the corporate world spend a lot of time talking about how they get too much email (I did) where as people in the open source world (at least GNOME) spend their time talking about methods for dealing with lots of email. It’s way cooler to be seen as someone who copes with tons of email than someone who gripes about tons of email.
  7. Reply to all. I worked on an open source like project with some people that weren’t familiar with open source. I got so frustrated with people that didn’t hit “reply to all”. I spent a lot of time recommunicating decisions and we didn’t have a lot of conversations that we should have had.The project had a lot less “team” because people didn’t reply to all. By “team” I mean people didn’t feel part of a team and they didn’t have all the information they needed. Also, one of the strengths of open source is that all of the history is in the mailing lists. If you don’t reply to all, your project will lose that advantage.
  8. Think the best of people. Things get lost in email. It’s much easier to misread an email or take offense at something in an email than it is in person. Remember this whenever you get upset at an someone because of an email.
  9. Meet people. Along the same lines as communicating well in email, meet as many of your fellow open source people in person. This is somewhat controversial as the open source model works really well in a virtual world. But I think that conferences like OSCON, GUADEC, SCALE and OpenSource World that get lots of open source people together, create stronger relationships and better projects. Personally I find that when I can read an email in someone’s voice, it makes a lot more sense. It’s often funnier and more relevant.
  10. Be yourself. Be yourself, add some personal notes, make sure your motivations are transparent. Anyone who is obviously acting with “ulterior” motives – like pushing their company’s policy without thinking about what it means to them and the project – is less trust worthy. Not because what they are doing is bad but because it’s hard to know what type of decisions they are going to make and carry through on.
  11. Ask for help. There are a lot of people in the open source community willing to help. Just make sure you share the whole plan and ask for specific help. If you don’t share the plan, they won’t know why they should help. If you don’t ask for specific help, they won’t know how to help.
  12. Show your passion. Excitement is contagious. Share why you are doing what you are doing and why it’s important or fun. (Be sure to temper the “because the alternative sucks” viewpoint.) Be positive and passionate!

What else would you add? What’s your best tip for getting things done in the open source world?

For more detailed ideas for how to actually get the work done, see 10 skills to master to get things done online.