Monday, September 9, 2013

How "Idiot Work" Makes You Successful

Back to back championships are one of the greatest achievements any team can accomplish. Recently, Southlake, Texas’ Carroll Independent School District did just that when it took home the prestigious UIL ‘Lone Star Cup’ in back to back years.  The UIL Lone Star Cup recognizes the top school in Texas based on their overall team achievements in a variety of sanctioned athletic and academic championships.
Gold Medal Varsity A Teammates
Kyle, Eli, Eric, Coach, Connor

A tremendous part of Southlake - Carroll’s achievement goes to head coach Justin Leonard who led the both the girls and boys nationally ranked cross country teams to back to back state championships.  Talk about bringing home the bacon - that’s four state championships in two years!

Last Saturday Southlake hosted its only home cross country meet of the season.  The meet featured more than 1,750 runners from over 50 Texas school districts, some traveling from as far away as El Paso to try to beat the defending state champions.

If you are not familiar with cross country meets, they are basically 5k courses which are set-up in local parks.  Designing and constructing such a course is is a huge task requiring dozens of volunteers to create a safe and fair course for the runners.  Making a long story short, since this will be the last year my son Kyle will run on the varsity cross country team I wanted to help with the meet.  Little did I know I would be thrust into the position of “Course Captain” when Rick, the father who normally takes care of the course, had the privilege of watching his son run for team USA in an international race in Poland.

This is the first time coach Leonard didn’t have Rick’s help in setting up the course… and this was my first time EVER setting up a course, let alone being held accountable for it.  Rick did his homework prior to leaving and laid everything out for us making our jobs that much easier.

Of all of the things we needed to worry about in setting up the course for the meet, coach insisted on personally seeing to one particular item.  All day he kept focusing on this task like it was the most import aspect of the course preparation.  Finally after four hours of running to pick up the course materials, ATVs, water coolers, etc, coach set out on his task.

For several hours, with minimal interruption, coach focused his undivided attention to the task at hand.  As you would expect from a 4-time state championship coach, he painstakingly make sure no detail was overlooked.  Back and forth, over and over, he analyzed every angle.  He was on a mission - with a purpose - to dispatch his most important task of the day.

Watching coach Leonard on the riding lawn mower cutting the grass on the eve of one of the biggest meets of the season reminded me of a lesson I learned on my grandfather’s farm when I was barely a teenager.  My grandpa was a bona fide NASA rocket scientist during the Mercury and Apollo years.  His engineering designs resulted in accomplishments such as airplane de-icing, the slope of the space shuttle’s wing, and the birth of anti-lock brakes.  His leadership at NASA helped put a man on the moon and get him back safely.

Grandpa talking w/ President Nixon
regarding Apollo 13 (1970)
While staying with my grandpa one summer I noticed him sitting on a bucket on the half-mile long driveway picking out little pieces of broken glass from the gravel.  The glass had been there for years and didn’t pose any real threat to puncturing a tire, so I asked him why he was wasting his time picking up glass.  Surely he had to have better things to do with his time.

Boy was I wrong.  He told me that this was the most important thing he could be doing right now.  He was working on a new design and couldn’t get passed a particular fault in the data.  He told me he needed to turn his brain off and stop thinking in order to clear his head.  He called the task of shutting down his overactive thoughts “idiot work,” because any idiot could do it.  And at that moment, he was feeling like a big idiot because he could not solve his design problem. Grandpa finally had his eureka moment allowing him to go back to the drafting board and finish his design.

After a long, hot day of setting up the cross country course I knew we had to be back to the course before 5am for race day.  So I interrupted coach Leonard from his task and convinced him to get off the lawn mower as he have done all we could do for the day.

Coach explained how much clearer his head was after a few hours on the lawn mower.  For a brief time he didn’t have to answer emails nor did he have to deal with difficult parents or administrators.  Now he could focus on the meet… then his phone rang.  The call had to do with which bus numbers were going to be assigned the next day to transport the kids to the meet… and just like that coach was back to reality.

In case you were curious, both the girls and boys varsity teams took first place at the meet.  So the next time you are at a loss for solutions, think about coach Leonard and break out the lawn mower and go cut some grass.

So what’s your “idiot work?”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why My Love Affair with Android is Over

There is a point in your life where for some unknown reason middle-aged men become open to accept something new and exciting.  Perhaps a mid-life crisis includes a convertible, motorcycle or boat.  However, in my case, it involved a new love affair with arguably the finest smartphone that android has to offer, the HTC One.

The temptation to cheat on my comfortable iOS was overpowering.  After years on the un-innovating iOS platform, surely the grass HAD to be greener when using android. Others were singing her praises.  She was bright, quick and quite pleasing, particularly when she drops down deep into your front pants pocket.

About two weeks ago I could not stop myself and I broke down and started having an affair with the HTC One the day she became available on Verizon’s network.  I’d been watching her for months and could not wait to get my hands on her. 

Oh did she look and feel great in my hands!  I knew she was young and immature compared to my iOS, however, I figured I could get used to her quirks and find the right buttons to push with a little practice and patience.   I took great pleasure in exploring everything about her, but I soon learned she lacked the stamina to keep up.

I figured there had be a way to get her to last as long as I needed.  I tried and tried to find the right combination of pushes and pulls to keep her going, but it was wasted effort as she would collapse way too early to satisfy me.

Last night I came to grips with what I had done and wiped my new fling before apologizing to my ole iOS while reactivating her.  My ole standard was, and will continue to be the best thing in my life.  And to show how much she cares about me, she is getting some new upgrades later this month, which she promises I’ll enjoy.  I can’t wait!

What I learned

The HTC One on android is a stunningly amazing piece of hardware.  The 1080 HD screen is awe-inspiring.  The processor is fast as is the 4g network connection. The battery charges very quickly, which is good because if I kept it I would be topping it off constantly.

Finding your way around the OS was easy and intuitive.  There are plenty of options for customizing your notifications and adjusting basic settings easily.  All my required apps performed well, although they lacked some serious features.

Where I started to have trouble was realizing the HTC One truly does not run stock android.  It actually runs a version of their own software called “Sense” on top of, or in lieu the stock android apps.  The Galaxy S4, also has an overlay called “TouchWiz”.

I believe I would have been much happier with android had I been able to “unlock” the boot loader on the phone and load a stock version of android on it.  In other words, had I been an AT&T customer, I would have opted for the “Google edition” of the device, and not the manufacturers version.  I have the Google Edition of the Nexus 10 tablet and find it to be just fine for my needs.

I am convinced that had I been able to uninstall or disable the bloat-ware loaded by HTC and Verizon I would have been far more satisfied with the device.  However, within 24 hours of making the device available, Verizon made it impossible to “root” the device.  I am appalled that Verizon took the direction it did, especially considering how android has always been known as being “open.” Shame on you Verizon!

Some of the things that make the “Sense” version of the apps inferior include:

Contacts- Adding a contact from the phone or messaging app only adds contacts to the device, not your default contacts location (i.e. Google).  Furthermore, there is no way to simply re-assign a contact from the phone to Google contacts.  Searching online the best workaround was to remember to “manually” add these people to your contacts after copying the phone number from the app.  Totally unacceptable.

Mail- The “sense” mail app is horrible.  There is no way to swipe to delete a message and no way to turn on viewing pictures in emails for a particular sender, let alone for all emails.  You cannot change the “reply to” address when sending messages.  What also drove me crazy is the new message indicator is only for messages I have not seen, it does not reflect the total number of unread messages.  In other words, once I open the mail app, the counter resets…   I tried several 3rd party mail apps, but none were able to open all my accounts (exchange 2012, gmail, yahoo & Hotmail)

Calendar- The calendar app was perhaps the best of the “sense” apps, but still lacking.  For example, there is no was to change the account on an appointment.  So if I want to move an entry from one account to the other it cannot be done.  Also, in exchange, when I accepted a meeting request, the app did not clear the originating email…

Camera- The camera is supposed to be great in low light, however I found it to be lacking.  For example, it would not take a decent picture of a fireworks display.  It was either overexposed or out of focus.  Also, when the camera is enabled the battery drain is intense.  Disabling the GPS helps, but that’s not really a good way to manage a device.  The Zoe feature from “Sense” where it take a 3 second video is a joke. (as it the “Sense” blink feed.

Keyboard- I really liked the “Swiftkey” keyboard app for the device.  It predicted well and allowed for swiping words.  I really liked it, until I found it would not run if I disabled the Amazon app store (Which is a huge battery hog!)  What should the app store have to be enabled in order to use an app?  Can anyone say DUH!

Battery- I could not believe how quickly the battery drained on the device considering it is twice the capacity of the iPhone's battery on paper.  I monitored it very closely via a spreadsheet so I could see which activities had the biggest draw on the battery.  I never thought about my battery drain on the now 2-year-old iPhone.  Very occasionally, perhaps once a month, I’d get a warning I was down to 20% left.   However, on the HTC I was constantly running low.  After about a week I began monitoring the average burn rate per hour on a spreadsheet and found it to be 5.6% per hour, or an average of running less than 18 hours between charges.  That may appear adequate, but on 4 of the days I had the phone it completely drained and shut off.  (I cannot remember the last time my iPhone died)  On the other days I turned off as much of the features as I could getting it down to as low as 3.8% burn one day… but after a day or two I have to re-enable those battery hog features…  The problem is that the last 20% of the battery goes unexpectedly quick, which skews the numbers.  For example, the last 20% of drain took less than 2 hours on more than one occasion…  I am convinced I’m over analyzing the battery life.  I know I was hammering on the device for the time I had it, but its life was unimpressive compared to my old iPhone.  But let’s say the battery was equal to that of my 2-year-old iPhone, what’s going to happen to its capacity 2 years from now when a full charge is 85% of the original life?

In conclusion, as gorgeous as the physical hardware is, it is not enough to overcome the combination of the less than stellar battery life and inferior core apps.  Had Verizon not blocked the ability to root the device I may have come to a different conclusion…

I really wanted to switch to the HTC One on android.  But now I’m even more dedicated to Apple and Mac.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed they don’t make me regret my renewed loyalty by messing up too much with iOS 7 in a few weeks!