Rights to be forgotten

Our status updates and pictures live on servers. Where do they go to die?

Early this year, an EU court asked Google and other search engines to institute a facility to request to be forgotten and Google complied without dispute. That decision may conflict with our right to know but I save that topic for another day. Today I am not talking about that but about something related.

This year, two of my friends on Facebook passed away. Their Facebook profiles are still alive. I fear that someday a strange Facebook algorithm would pull out an old memory from their profiles and present it on my timeline. I am not sure if they had a will written on how they wanted to settle their belongings and real estate but I am sure they didn’t have means to prepare a cyber will.

This is something Facebook, Google and other service providers who trade in cloud/social networking services in exchange for our privacy, could do. As consumers who are willing to barter details of our private lives, we have a right to be forgotten after we are gone from this world. We should be able to decide how long a post, a picture or a profile should live.

What we blather often dissipate in thin air. Our books, letters and paper documents get faded, eaten by termites or get recycled. The status updates on the other hand, are God-like. Invincible, pervasive and deathless. They live limitless lives through server farms, get cloned for backups, mined for profits and surveillance and sold out for unknown ransoms without our knowledge. Your words and pictures are not yours anymore, once they bid farewell from your keyboard.

Unfortunately, true privacy is not a viable option anymore. Internet has changed the way we live our lives. Completely.

So, as customers, citizens, and most of all, as humans, who desire to live honorable and precious lives, we demand the right to be forgotten for the content we post on the web.

Our status updates too, need a time and place to die.

Gifted and Talented

The school district in my town runs a prorgam called G&T for  elementary school students. Every year, a handful of kids get selected using some secret assessment criteria, with very limited parent insight.

For starters, G&T stands for Gifted and Talented program. I believe it does more harm than good for students and hence should be redesigned.

  1. Not so obvious, but the Gifted and Talented program is not very enriching for the children who get selected. Attaching a “Gifted” label is giving a false feedback to the children, who are attending those programs. When you start attaching labels such as innate (genetic) giftedness, kids could possibly grow a blind eye towards the importance of hard work. Studies after studies have found that educators and parents should be promoting hard work (“Well done Meena, you must have worked hard on that!”) instead of innate giftedness (“Wow! you did this! You are really smart, Johny!”). For example, Dweck and Mueller’s study found out that praising for hardwork encouraged fifth graders to persist longer and achieve better test results than the kids, who were praised for innate qualities such as smartness. (Those who are interested, here is an article for you – The Trouble with Bright Kids.)
  2. Obviously, G&T program is not so helpful for the students, who are not admitted to the program. At best, Gifted and Talented is a misnomer with some destructive qualities. Antonym for Gifted and Talented is Ungifted and Untalented, to figure which out, kids don’t have to be truly Gifted and Talented. For potentially benefiting a handful of children, we are jeopardizing the self esteem of the vast majority of others. The easiest but significant change the schools can make is to rename this program something else along the lines of, “Competitive Education Program”. But not Gifted and Talented – please.
  3. Moreover, Gifted and Talented is a statistically inaccurate description. In any given society, the number of “gifted” individuals is far and few. In a normally distributed dataset, you can’t expect to have 10-15% of the population displaying true giftedness. (What is true giftedness, anyway.)

Schools, teachers and educators should not be in the business of labeling and classifying their students. Instead, they should get busy building passion and perseverance in students right from their early stages of development.

It is October and the weather turns colder. It is also the time of the year, we have school board elections. This is something that the new board can consider changing as a first step.

Elementary School America is in a competition frenzy. Unfortunately for now, in a wrong headed fashion.

What should Windows do

Well, the title of the post should have been “What should Microsoft do”, but right now I am not interested in talking about Microsoft Office or XBox or Bing. For our discussion, I prefer to treat “Windows” as a stand-alone organization.

In all those places I have worked, I was required to use Windows desktops. At home, we own a couple of devices running different flavors of Windows. I am not planning to decommission Windows anytime soon from my life. As a long time Windows customer – albeit a reluctant one at times – I am worried about its future.

The announcement of new Windows (Windows 10) created a reasonable amount of social media buzz and somewhat lukewarm expectations from (once) software giant. The twitter crowd started joke-streaming the popular elementary school humor of “7 ate 9″.

The release schedule is going to be late 2015 – TBD. To Be Decided is the problem that Microsoft lately has. Looking around we can see that the industry has shifted to rolling out major versions of software at least once every year. Customers became more savvy of nuances of the feature set that their favorite OS vendor brings in. Millions of people started watching Apple / Google / Samsung launch events.

Traditionally Windows adopted a refresh frequency of 2-3 years. It made sense in the past because Microsoft enjoyed a universal monopoly on PC operating systems and the smallest denomination of personal computing available to customers were desktops and laptops.  That beautiful candyland doesn’t exist anymore. Mobile has become ubiquitous. Apple and Google now dominate the lion’s share of that market while Microsoft was marginalized to be a bystander. Microsoft has tried to change its strategy – quickly dumped the well designed XP/Windows 7 products and embraced the metro-style tablo-desktop-sundae-OS called Windows 8. I can’t think of a product that was hated by more number of its fanbase than Windows 8. And it took 3 years for Microsoft to release it.

With the new leadership at its helm, Microsoft announced its next version of OS last month. The new version of Windows, which is expected to clean up after Windows 8, would come out shortly – well, in 2015, TBD to be precise!

What Windows should do is to commit for shorter cycles of OS iterations, that rejuvenate the market every once in a while. If a version fails to capture the imagination of its customer base, let it fail quickly and recover from that failure faster. Windows 8 came out in October 2012. It should not take 3 years for a software behemoth to recover from a failure as staggering as that of Windows 8. (Did you say, Windows 8.1? That doesn’t count..).

The first and foremost action Windows should do is to reduce their refresh frequency. Now more than ever, we need Windows in the market place.

Essentialism in Communication

When I first started talking to my children in their babyhood, my struggle was to talk in plainspeak. They would ask me questions and my response wouldn’t make much sense to them at all. I had to learn to remove all the conversational fluff that I was used to and get to the essential content. I had to communicate in elemental terms.

In hindsight, I can see that it was a great lesson for me. When we are presented with new ideas or difficult concepts, many of us act like 3 year olds. We freak out, stonewall, ignore, get distracted or get confused. The person who is communicating could use the same techniques to peel out the non-essential layers and present the meat of the conversation in plain simple terms. I am not advocating watering down of the content. It is about retaining the essence while removing the fluff and decor. Using building blocks of simple geometric shapes, we could start building complex structures one piece at a time. This strategy could be equally valuable, whether we are engaging in design discussions with a group of programmers or teaching kindergarteners.

Universal Back Button for Fluid Navigation

I usually take a long train ride every day to reach work. Most days, I have to switch trains in between. Following the morning crowd, I get off the train, go down the stairs and go up an escalator to board another train. This is the most annoying part of my daily commute. Very rarely, though, the first train stops right on the a platform adjacent to my next train. How I rejoice those moments!

What if the train allowed me to sit in the same car and it switches without me getting off at all? That would be a dream commute, isn’t it? You could stay in the same car and get off at your final destination, without even realizing that you were travelling multiple trains.

What is the single most differentiator in user experience between iOS and Android? I would argue that it is the universal back button. It stitches different applications and enables the users to navigate back and forth across applications. On the otherhand, iOS makes you go down the stairs and then catch an escalator to board the next app. I am surprised that all these years, they never implemented this super useful back button. May be they have a design deadlock that prevents them to implement it.

While the back button is very handy for Android users, it still feels like swiching the platforms and taking another train. Wouldn’t it make sense to have the ability to navigate across apps without even realizing that we are operating on many of them? What if the view animations were designed such that the app switches are transparent to the users? What if Android could give a fluid navigation across apps? That is in my wishlist from Android.

I wonder if the Lollipop is going to be sweet enough.

Apple Yosemite: First Thoughts

I just upgraded my early 2011 MacBook Pro to OSX Yosamite. That too without taking a back up. It took less than 2 hours to do the complete upgrade – downloading 5+ GB OS and completing the installation. The UI looks a lot flat – like Apple did with iOS 7.0. I can’t say if I fell in love the new look and feel. It feels a little bit faster than the previous Maverick version.

YosemiteIf I owned an iPhone, as the story goes, Yosemite would’ve been more useful for me. I can’t see what went beneath the hood, the look and feel update looks marginal. As I play around more with the features, I might discover some usability improvements. Or maybe not.

Highlighting for Evernote is here!

I don’t know about you, but if there was a single feature that I always wanted in Evernote, it was text highlighting. I use Evernote for quite a lot of offline reading blogs and other articles. I wished if I could grab a virtual highlighter to mark what is important and worth remembering. This was the single most feature request, users were fighting for, if you happened to be around Evernote blog. Finally it is here. At least I have it in my Mac version.


Click on the pen icon and start marking your stuff.

Thanks Evernote! You guys rock!