A New Adventure...

by Thomas Brady in


Not quite two years ago I somehow sneaked in the back door at frog, the global product strategy and design firm that started when Steve Jobs convinced Hartmut Esslinger to create a firm in the US to create a product design language for the Macintosh.

Today was my last day.

It has been quite a ride. Oddly enough, the actual client work was, for the most part, not terribly interesting. It's not that frog doesn't do amazing work, I think, but that I was the new guy. I did get to do some cool stuff, and I definitely learned a ton doing client work, but it was, by far, the unbilled work that I did at frog that got me excited.

I've blogged about most of it, and will blog more of it soon.

I thrived at frog. It was an amazing place to work. I got to work alongside people like Jared Ficklin, Joshua Noble, Michael McDaniel and many more... It was the kind of workplace in which you can't help but hone your skills and practice your craft, surrounded all the time by people giving it their all. It's what I imagine it would be like to play professional sports.

It would take something pretty big to pry me away from such an environment. That thing was Reaction (site update coming very soon). Reaction was founded by Michael McDaniel, with whom I got to work quite a bit while we were both at frog. Reaction is a company that Michael started about 8 years ago, just days after Katrina made landfall in the U.S. Michael is from Mississippi, and he was compelled to do something to help those affected. Being a designer, with an industrial design background, he found his problem to solve in the short-term housing options available to FEMA when assisting those displaced from their homes. He designed The Exo as a better solution to the short-term housing problem. He explains it a heck of a lot better than I can (so far), so I'll step aside:

I'll be serving as technology director at Reaction, working on the hardware and software that will make these smart temporary houses that keep occupants safe and comfortable. You'll definitely be hearing more about all of this in the near future. I'm elated to be working on a product that I know is going to make a difference in the world.

That said, it is just now hitting me that I have left frog. I will miss frog, and all my colleagues, dearly. I have written frequently about the difficulty of creating and sustaining a culture of innovation and quality in a corporation, and I will probably spend a few years trying to figure out how frog did it.


"Draw a sky blue brain exploding"

by Thomas Brady in ,


I just don't even know how to put words to this one...

Natural language... programming?

Somehwere, Bret Victor is either sitting back looking proudly at something he secretly worked on, or he's weeping at its beauty. I guess both could be true.

If this is half as good as this demo video, I can't see how this won't upend the world of programming, the world of education... hell... the world.


The Electric Impspacebrewnoduino

by Thomas Brady in , ,


I've been dying, ever since a couple of the core contributors visited frog Austin a little over a year ago, to play with Spacebrew, and in yet another skunkworks bit of hacking at work recently, I finally got to.

We, the secret snooping society, want to fill the Austin studio with sensors of varying type and scope, and we wanted it to be very easy for people, once they've found us out, to play along. This is a perfect fit for Spacebrew, which aims to make interactive spaces, exposing data via a simple API. One rig can be set up to be a data "publisher," and, without permission or help of any kind, anybody that can reach that server via a network/Internet connection can write a "subscriber" that can do whatever it likes with that data (usually, visualizing it).

As I was building this out (our project used a simple proximity sensor to track motion near the elevator, as a proxy to counting elevator trips), I realized that we also wanted historical data. Spacebrew is a super convenient way to provide real-time data, but it doesn't have any affordances for persisting data. So, I built a Node.js server that both acted as the Spacebrew publisher, via the javascript API, and write data to a mongoDB.

I also finally got to play with the Electric Imp, a nifty little WiFi-enabler.

You can read all about it, and get all the source code, on github, but here's a short walkthrough of how it works (from the "What does it do?" section of the project's README):

  1. Use an Arduino to power a proximity sensor as a motion detector, and, when it sees motion, send a command over serial to an
  2. Electric Imp, which throws an event over the Internet to
  3. Electric Imp's cloud service, which we've configured to exposes an API that rolls up and reports these events upon HTTP GET, which
  4. Our Node.js server polls, and upon finding new events, acts by both
  5. Writing a record to a mongoDB and
  6. Forwarding the event to
  7. Spacebrew

Up to this point we have built a Spacebrew publisher, that happens to also persist data (something not typically included in Spacebrew).

We have also included an example Spacebrew subscriber, in the form of a web app that uses the Spacebrew javascript API in order to increment a count of movements observed. Our web app first polls our Node app to get a historical count for the day, and the timestamp of that last movement. The real-time Spacebrew updates then increment this historical count, and reset the last-movement-seen clock.

IMG_2473.jpg
Source: https://github.com/thomasqbrady/TheElectri...

Wool and Copper

by Thomas Brady


I was working from a coffee shop yesterday, watching the clientele molt the day crowd—startup teams, stay-at-home parents getting out with the kids for a bit, local consultants meeting with clients, interest groups—to replace it with the early evening crowd—first-dates, book clubs and various social groups from more to less formal. A group of ladies was gathering at a table right behind me as I finished my work, discussing their senior citizens group's agenda for the meeting. As they settled in with their drinks, they broke into chit-chat, discussing their phones. They nearly all had the same phone, though they admitted having had their heads turned by other models with bigger screens. Their reasons for sticking with their chosen phones mirror those I read regularly on the blogs and Twitter feeds I follow.

They shared recent app discoveries; teased each other about their choice of mapping apps. They argued about whether their voice-dictation apps worked reliably, exactly as I have with co-workers. Of course, they made Siri jokes.

They were all 7 of them carrying iPhones. This, on the 7th anniversary of its announcement.


Øredev 2013 or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Talk

by Thomas Brady in ,


I am an unduly blessed person. My talk, "Shakespeare in Dev" from Øredev this year was, in part, about just that: how fortunate I've been. I mentioned, for instance, that I got my really-real start in "computers" due to a mix-up in paperwork. I was intended to be working in a warehouse, at Compaq, unboxing returned computers and putting them on a conveyor belt, from 11 PM to 7 AM. I didn't escape the night-shift, but the paperwork mix-up did put me on the other end of that conveyor belt, in charge of refurbishing the returned computers. I had not seen the inside of a computer, but for a brief experiment in swapping the 5.25" floppy drive in my 486SX for a 3.5" floppy drive, about ten years earlier.

A similar opportunity came about six months ago. Co-worker Jesse Cravens asked me if I'd be interested in co-writing a book with him about Ember JS, a book we're hoping to have finished before year's end. That, and Jesse's extensive conference speaking experience (he's done 12 this year, and he's not done), led Øredev to invite him to speak at their conference this year. Jesse was kind enough to ask if they'd be interested in having the two of us co-present on our book, and the Øredev organizers were beyond kind in extending the invitation to include me.

They like to ask their speakers, many of whom they're flying into Sweden from all over the world, to do two talks, so as to get their money's worth. The theme of the conference this year was "The Arts," the corollaries between the programmer's craft and the artist's, as well as the pure inspiration that could be drawn from the arts.

I submitted a few ideas for talks that I could do, trying to stick to that theme, and the one they chose was "Shakespeare in Dev." It was pitched as a survey, a crash-course in the user of story-telling in user experience/interaction design.

The trouble was, right off the bat, I felt like a fraud. I have some experience. I have some knowledge. But I didn't feel like I would be able to talk for 50 minutes to a crowd of people who could easily be ten times as knowledgable and experienced in user experience design. I decided I would study up. I'd pick up all the books, and become an expert over the summer.

To start, this was a bad plan. This was a really bad plan. I have two children and a full-time job for Pete's sake. I barely had time to write a talk—I didn't, really, let alone read 15 books first and then write a talk. Not to mention that part-way into this time period, I decided to take on some freelance work. Goodbye free time.

This worked out for the best, though. If I had found or made the time to read all 15 books and synthesized them into a succinct overview of the topic of story-telling as a design tool, I would have succeeded in creating a painfully boring talk. It might have been insightful. It might have been well-informed. It would have been boring. I wouldn't have provided much, if anything, that the audience couldn't have had by reading the same books.

Thankfully, at the last minute (I finally finished up my freelance work just a couple weeks before the conference), inspiration struck. I realized that the aspect of story-telling that was most interesting to me was the fact that it's a discipline-agnostic tool. It's not a super-specialized tool that you have to spend years honing in order to be good at it. It's not like oil-painting, or using Photoshop, or mastering object-oriented programming. I believe it's a nearly universal skill to all humans. Some of us are better at it than others, and you certainly can hone it to become a skill like oil-painting. But at basic proficiency, the average person can tell a story that can have a profound impact on the world around them.

I was interested in how this could affect the dynamic among a team working on a software project. It's difficult for everyone on the project to have an impact, or to even participate in the same discussion, much of the time. Story, I thought, might be just the thing, just the tool—one that everyone on the team can implement with roughly equivalent skill—to be shared by the whole team, giving everyone equal impact on the work to be done.

While I was thinking about all of this, I reflected on my own career, on the saga of developer versus designer versus QA reviewer versus project manager. I remembered the day it all clicked, the day it all began to make sense to me, because of something a designer named Michael Chang said to me, a story he'd told me.

That was it!

I started over, after spending four or five nights on the talk, about half the time I had left. But I felt hopeful, now, finally, that I had something to say. If I'm telling my own story, there's no right or wrong. There's nobody with more expertise in the room on the topic. And, best of all, I was now telling a story, not just talking about telling stories.

This was my first time speaking at a conference. I was terrified. I've spoken publicly plenty of times, at company functions, at church. I've acted in plays and skits in front of large groups. I've played guitar and sung in front of relatively large crowds a couple times at least. Nonetheless, I was terrified. I barely slept the night before, and my stomach was upset the whole day of my talk. I barely ate.

And to put a little bow on it, my two talks—my personal talk and my joint presentation with Jesse—were back-to-back. Well, at least I'd be done afterward!

Oh, and they put me in the big conference hall—the same one they were using for the keynote presentations.

I'm told it went well. Watching the video, I'm pretty happy with what came out. It's not perfect, by any means, but I do think it's about the best I can do right now.

If you're reading this and considering talking at a conference, here's what I wish I'd known, or thought about:

  1. Have something to say. Figure out what someone attending your talk needs to know, or what you most want them to know, and figure out whether it really matters. If not, start over. While you're at it, have something unique to say. If the conference attendee could get your content somewhere else, why would they have paid likely thousands of dollars in conference admission and travel expenses to hear it? If your content isn't unique in some way, start over.
  2. Learn how to use a microphone, and be aware of it. Don't be shy. Make it easy for your audience to hear you. Don't blow your nose, scratch your beard, etc. into the mic. If you know you have a cold, work out with your sound guy how you're going to mute the mic when you need to blow your nose, use your hankerchief, etc.
  3. Don't compare yourself to other speakers. This should be an idea meritocracy, if there ever was one.
  4. Do entertain. Don't be boring. You don't have to tap-dance, but it doesn't hurt to relax a bit, share something personal, crack a joke (but don't force it) or generally demonstrate that you don't take yourself too seriously.
  5. Your slides matter. You may not be a designer. You may fancy yourself a designer. Either way, get some help. Ugly, confusing slides are going to distract your audience. NO CLIP ART. NO CHEESY STOCK PHOTOGRAPHY.
  6. Don't look at your own slides. Definitely don't read them. Look at your audience. Presenter's notes are okay, but don't read them. Practice your talk enough that you pretty much have the outline memorized. Put the outline in your presenter's notes. Use them to help you remember where you are, maybe even specific data points (any actual hard numbers you need to get exactly right, quotations, etc.), but do not read them out loud.
  7. Keep your slides simple. You don't need transitions, builds, and all that stuff. Once you're good at using slides without that stuff, you'll have a better idea of when to use them. Don't use sound or video unless you absolutely need them. The audience wants to hear you, not something canned that they could have heard without spending all that money to get here.
  8. Bring some water. If you're nervous, it can save your life.
  9. Consider the possibility that people are going to ask questions afterward, either while you're still on-stage or otherwise. If you can't answer a few questions well, you can squander whatever credibility you built up during your talk. You can end up discrediting yourself and your talk.
  10. Give yourself a break. It's harder these days. With Twitter and such, you can't fail in private anymore, but neither can anyone else. Your first talk might suck. That might be enough for you to figure out this isn't your deal. It might be motivation to practice. Either way, it won't end your life or career. And, you might not suck! You definitely might not suck as much as you think you did!

For reference, you can watch my talk, "Shakespeare in Dev," here.


Øredev 2013

by Thomas Brady in , , ,


Update

I am mortified. My speaker notes included credits for Gloria Wu for visual design in the first application show in the video below (the TouchTunes SxSW visualization), and Michael McDaniel for visual design on the subsequent data visualization. I only realized after watching this video that I didn't actually mention those notes. Profuse apologies to you both.


A much longer post is due, and will come soon, but, hopefully suffice it to say for now that it's been an incredible honor and pleasure to have been invited to participate in Øredev 2013. I did two talks, one technical talk on Ember JS, which I think may be a little too technical to share here but was a sneak peek at the book Jesse Cravens and I are releasing soon with O'Reilly, and one personal talk on the power of story to unite designers and developers, which you can watch below. Thank you (Tack!) Øredev. Thank you Linda, my wife, for making this possible, for picking up all my slack all those nights while I worked on these talks, for being a single parent for a week so I could be in Sweden. For being excited for me, so selflessly, when it meant so much cost to you .

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


I've been busy...

by Thomas Brady in , , , ,


There's been a lot going on at home, at work and in my third place. I'm excited to finally get a chance, and in some cases the clearance, to talk about some of what I've been up to.

Wearables

A couple months ago I got really hot and bothered about wearable tech. I saw projects like the Pebble Watch and even got a Jawbone UP, but I didn't see the total package in any of these options. I wanted a watch that would vibrate to alert me that I was getting call or text message, and maybe show me caller ID information about the call. At the time, there wasn't a device for sale that I could find that did all—or in some cases just—those things.

So I decided to build my own.

I got an Arduino Fio, a replacement iPod battery (they didn't carry iPod mini replacement batteries at the time, but that looks like a better option), a BlueGiga WT32-based bluetooth module from an off-brand, much more affordable source and a real time clock module, which I had no idea I'd need at the start of the project. That last bit required different voltage than I was using everywhere else (needed 5V, but all I had was 3.3V), so my rigged setup required a AA battery, too, for a good-enough boost to 4.8-ishV (couldn't seem to find a voltage booster that would be small enough/cheap enough). I intended to fashion a bezel with this hand-moldable plastic from Inventables.

The best-laid plans...

Have nothing to do with this story. I spent hours. Hours. HOURS on this project. I don't regret it in the least. Every step was new information. I'd tinkered with Arduinos a bit, but I hadn't encountered one, yet, that required special hardware just to be able to connect to a computer to be programmed (it's called an FTDI adapter—something that can connect to your computer via USB and speak computer languages on one end, and connect via serial connection on the other end, and speak in micro-controller languages. They're built into the flagship Arduinos (Uno, Leonardo, etc.).

Oh, and a .96" OLED screen. It felt unreal the first time I got that thing going. Hours of soldering, writing code, watching video tutorials (available at that link for the screen itself) and testing, and it was just strange to see something I'd made rendered on that tiny little OLED screen. I've been writing software for most of my life, and every new platform is a bit of a thrill. This, for some strange reason, was one of the bigger thrills. I think it's because it felt like a realm in to which I shouldn't be able to reach—like I was manufacturing my own consumer electronics. This less-than-$100 pile of Radio Shack-available parts didn't exist in this form 10 years ago. This was a new frontier.

In the end I learned that it's not as easy as pulling a bunch of Radio Shack parts off the shelf and beating them up with your soldering iron. The package never got small enough that I would actually be willing to wear it. But it did work, which was a pretty satisfying end to what could have been a downer of a project. Here's the working code at Github. With compatible hardware, that'll get you a 5-minute-increments clock (if memory serves), and, when paired with a bluetooth phone, a vibrating alert when an incoming call is received, as well as caller ID info.

Sadly, I fried the Fio when trying to clean up my late-night soldering job, and I only just realized I never got photos or video of the working rig. : (

Research on Rails

After a few weeks of not having a side project, I got the bug to a) learn Ruby on Rails and b) build a research tool I'd been kicking around for a while. When you design products for clients, they get pretty picky about where you keep your notes. It's become a tradition at frog to build internal-use-only clones of services like Dropbox, Evernote and the like, because, well, we're jealous. We can't store our client's data outside our firewall, so we have to build our own toys.

For everything but client work, you can pry Evernote from my cold, dead hands, so I set out to build something similar for client work. I've long been interested in collaborative workspaces, so I also took more than a couple cues from Pinterest. I call it Catcher. It's my first Ruby on Rails app, and it's currently in use by a couple dozen frogs. I couldn't be happier. Here's a demo:

One feature not shown there is the ability to email items to an internal-only email address, which get scraped and added to your list, including attached or embedded images, URLS and keword tags that were in the subject line. I was trying to make sure that this was a tool that could serve alongside the ways that we frogs currently solve this problem, one of which is by sending emails. Of course, this is better than those emails, because in six months when you go looking for that thing you know you got from somebody on some project about something kinda like… Well, good luck searching your inbox. The email you're looking for probably has a ssubject line that reads something like, "Exactly like this:" and the body of the email is just an image or a URL. If you added it to Catcher, which you could do just by forwarding the email, you might have taken a moment to add some keyword tags. Even if you didn't do that—shame on you—you stand a better chance picking out the image or a big block quote on the infinitely scrolling "Home Plate."

At least that's the idea.

You might recognize a bit of Pinterest in there, too. At frog, and other agencies where I've worked, it's another common practice to have big pegboards up around team areas, where you can print and pin project-related artifacts. These are anything from wireframes to Gantt charts, but most of the time they're inspiration bits—mood-boards, funny pictures, mockups and just plain pretty pictures. I wanted that kind of content to have a home in Catcher, too. A forthcoming feature will add a filter that will let you see just "inspiration" items, or just "bookmarks," etc.

I spent hours on this project, too, enjoying every minute. The vast majority of them were outside work hours. Note to employers: I ended up building something very similar to this for a client in record time because I had just done it for this side project. And screen captures of the tool have ended up in some pitch decks, too. Free time, in the hands of the right people, can be a very powerful thing.

I'll spend a lot more, hours on this, too. Looks like someone in China just started using it, even though I've tried to keep it under wraps while it's in "beta."

SxSW 2013

frog Austin has been an integral part of SxSW for over a decade now, in that we have thrown the kickoff party for all but a couple years of the existence of the conference. Each year got a little crazier. Apparently the party was broken up by the fire department one year.

It's a chance for a bunch of frogs to get together in a warehouse with power tools, buckets of electronics parts, loud music and the goal of making crazy-cool attractions for a party full of thousands of geeks.

Sadly, I got tricked (I kid) into doing something for the party that didn't involve any of that. I ended up working a good number of hours alone at coffee shops and at my dining room table, at all hours of the night. It sure paid off, though. The attraction I got to work on was an experiment in crowdsourced DJing. We teamed up(again) with TouchTunes(again—we partnered with them to design their latest hardware and software), makers of touch-powered digital jukeboxes found in thousands of bars and restaurants. They brought 20 of their jukeboxes (an intimidating sight by daylight, and the closest thing I've experienced to being a moth near a fluorescent light at night) and added the event space as a venue in their smartphone app. This made it possible for any or all 6,000-ish party-goers we had that night to cast a vote for what would be played by walking up to the Tron-tastic jukeboxes or whipping out their smartphones. And they did. We had nearly 10,000 votes, playing over forty songs chosen by the crowd all night.

I got to build a very-large-screen experience that visualized all this activity real-time. A projected screen near the jukeboxes showed, on rotation, something akin to a slide presentation wherein the slide were alive with data. I got to do a lot of the design of the experience, as well, at the information architecture/wireframe stage. Thankfully I got to work with a visual designer to bring those to vivid, neon life—thanks, Gloria! I'm no data-viz-whiz, but I think it turned out all right. I tried to make sure to balance the exposure the votes got. If we only showed you which songs were in the top 5, for instance, those songs would be assured their top 5 spot. If you're standing there and you look up at that big screen and see a song title, you're likely to say, "Oh, I love that song!" and vote for it. So I tried to expose the underdogs. There was a screen that only showed songs that had recently (within the last 30 seconds) received their first vote. Another show every song that had received any votes at all as various sized squares—the more votes the bigger. At regular intervals a random song from that collection was chosen and spotlighted, showing you the artist's name and the song's title.

Lots of people, myself included, gamed the system. You could, if you so chose, stand at the jukebox and choose the same song again and again, if you didn't mind looking a little, obsessed. Early in the evening, this was fairly easy to do. Into the third hour, you'd have to vote hundreds of times this way to break the top 10. I single-handedly chose the second song of the night. I was determined to hear some Tom Waits, and we did. I was kind and played "Jockey Full of Bourbon" and not "Earth Died Screaming" or "Pony."

There was also a slide that showed a real-time 10-band EQ graph of the sound of the event. A mic was connected to the server running the event, which captured not only the music, but crowd noise.

Here's a video from our marketing department covering the event, with a section—starting at 2:06 on the crowdsourced DJ attraction, and some shots of the part I worked on starting at 2:22:

The Aftermath... math

I spent a lot of time building and testing and testing and rebuilding and testing and... You get the idea. The app was pulling voting data from Heroku, synchronizing that data with a local SQLite database, and then going through the same hoops to get song metadata. We had a test server and a production server. For some reason, every time we tested with the production server everything crapped out. Up to just a couple hours before the event. I was sitting in the rain at the outdoor venue re-writing whole chunks of the application. In the end, it worked. Perfectly. I started the app, and only watched—never had to touch—the admin console I'd built for it, except to call up the "Bar's closing/Last call" slide.

I was as tired as I've been in a long time that day after the event, having been up very late for a couple weeks working on this code, up early the day of the event rebuilding signage girders and setting up PA equipment, and up late again that night tearing things down. But I was sitting there the next afternoon with a database full of 10,000 votes cast by thousands of people, and 250,000 pixels worth of graphed waveforms recorded at the party. I had to see what was in there. I wanted everyone to see what was in there. So I set out to learn some more HTML5 and some d3, and the next thing I knew I had another side project. A couple weeks later, with some much-needed design help from fellow frogs Michael "Gondola" McDaniel and Mike Herdzina, this popped out:

A screenshot of the SxSW Opening Party Data Visualization

A screenshot of the SxSW Opening Party Data Visualization

The coolest/craziest/scariest part is that this thing has been published. First by Core 77, in part three of their coverage of the crowdsourced DJ thing from SxSW itself (crazy just doubled, Inception-style), and soon, as I understand it, on Design Mind.

Until very recently, it had been about five or six years since the last time I had actually shipped an HTML application, one where cross-browser use actually had to be supported. The web has change so much, and so little in that time. There are myriad little pains in developing for the web, but the ubiquity of software that can make use of your work is intoxicating. And making use of a good web browser to lay out text or deliver content to a screen-reader is like riding downhill on a bicycle. Hardware-agnosticism in the form of Java and similar technologies is, to me, a myth. They try to tell you, "We can make it easy to write your software once, and run it anywhere." Web development sounds, on first blush, like it's making the same promise. The difference, though, is that no one ever said it would be easy. You'll be able to run your software in lots of places, but you're still on the line to support all the thousands of little differences between hardware, software and user needs your software will find itself surrounded by. To me that's a lot more realistic. Honest.

Thanks

I'm coming up on my first anniversary at frog. I had a great start in my technology career at a little eLearning house called Enspire Learning. I was hired as a technical writer, but they trusted me when I said I could learn to be a developer, and, what's more, they equipped me. They surrounded me with smart people who cared about their craft. They gave me time to learn on the job. They cultivated an environment where people shared their knowledge (with lunch-and-learns and even after-hours classes offered by colleagues). After lots of false-starts, Enspire was where I really became a developer. I outgrew the work in a few years, but for the next several years I felt like I would never find that environment again. I feel I've finally found it in frog. I'm very happy to be here.

Special thanks to Jared Ficklin, who owns the frog SxSW engagement, for involving me, and giving me such a fun bit of the work to tackle.


Bruce Tognazzini nails Apple's approach to a smart watch

by Thomas Brady in ,


Strumming my pain with his fingers...

Tognazzini (known better as "Tog", as in the "Tog on" series of books he wrote about interaction design before most people knew that was a thing), former interaction designer at Apple, takes a very educated guess at what Apple would do with a smart watch. He puts an eloquent voice to all the things I find frustrating about every current design on the market, and outlines how Apple could/would/might/will? dierupt this market. Don't miss.


Karma - the "just works" pay-as-you-go mobile hotspot

by Thomas Brady in ,


My mom has one of those Clear hotspots. You know the one. It comes with any of a number of logos on it. Looks like a tiny Apple TV with three green lights on the front—if you're very lucky. It's usually on a table in front of someone who's doing the Jerry Seinfeld posture—the one that says "Who's the genius who…"—and cursing profusely.

Enter Karma. I heard about them when someone—sadly, I don't remember who—tweeted about having received there's around Christmas. I did a bunch of reading, and, despite being incredibly wary of the hardware, more on that in a second, I placed an order.

The Karma is the very same hardware, by the looks of it, as that nefarious Clear Spot, though in Storm Trooper white to the Clear/Sprint/et al's Darth Vader black. The big—no huge—difference is the software. You don't do any configuring with the Karma. With the spot, or similar, there are lots of hoops to jump through, typically, to secure the modem—setting your own encryptiong method, password, etc. With the Karma, you simply login with your Facebook credentials. As much as I dislike Facebook, this makes for a superbly easy, works-right-out-of-the-box experience. They're so sure of it, and so proud, that this is the instruction card that comes in the box:

Karma instruction card

Karma instruction card

That's pretty much it. There's more on the back, but with just that, you'll suddenly see a WiFi hotspot in range called, "Thomas's Karma," if your Facebook account is for a person whose first name is Thomas. It's already secured. Much like a coffee shop WiFi setup, you are greeted by a web page when you attempt to connect to the Karma, where you are asked to log in via Facebook.

This is all just icing, though. Even if the zero-configuration experience weren't a part of this offering, I would have likely ordered the Karma anyway because of the business model/pricing structure. Your Karma serves up pay-as-you-go data. Fifteen dollars gets you a gigabyte of data. No expiration dates. Dead simple, and fairly priced.

If you're paying attention, you may be asking yourself, "Wait a minute… what happend if some freeloader with a Facebook account logs in to the modem?" That's another interesting thing about their pricing/model. If this happens, that person is invited to use or create their own account with Karma, and purchase their own data at $15/GB. They're using your infrastructure to get there, but they're not using your data plan. And for the effort of lugging around and charging the modem you're both connected by, you get 100 MB added to your account when they connect.

So far the Karma has performed beautifully. I get great speeds (usually around 8 Mb/second), the battery lasts longer than I've ever needed so far, and I'm quite happy with the pricing.


My 3-yr-old

by Thomas Brady in


If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a theme that could be stated, "So, my 3-hr-old…" 

Some favorites:

On election day:

My 3-yr-old: I didn't vote for piggy-bank. I voted for cheese. 

Just a couple weeks ago:

It's fun how my 3-yr-old is really grasping holidays this year. He just asked, "Can I be Dr. Doom for Christmas?"

Who-is-the-boss-of-me:

My 3-yr-old: YES THEY ARE!! NINJA TURTLES AND ANGRY BIRDS ARRRRRE MY AUTHORITIES!

He's a delight, and several hands full at the same time. For the past couple months, he's been getting up some time between 4 and 6 AM, usually toward the early end of that spectrum, and roaming the house. We find all sorts of things in a different place than they've ever been when we wake up. I try to get up with him, when I can, but our schedules have been a mess, and after three or four days of going to bed around midnight and getting up with him at 4 or 5 result in me sleeping right through his tyrannies. 

This past Saturday was just such an example. He woke us up waving around a gardening wand. Thing is, we don't own a gardening wand. When asked where he got it, he replied, "I was chasing the cat!" We also don't have a cat.

A couple heart-attacks later, we realized he'd opened the front door and roamed our neighborhood while we slept. The garden wand belongs to a neighbor two doors down and across the street.

I can't begin to think about what might have happened to him. I tried to warn him of the dangers of the outside world for an unattended 3-yr-old, while I pressed him to my chest like I was trying to make wine. All the while, in the back of my head, I couldn't stop thinking, "Are you making some kind of promise that he's safe when he's inside?"

The news from Newtown is devastating. As a parent of two young ones, I just don't know how to process it. I can't bear to think of it too long. And yet I want to be there for and with those families who were terrorized. I don't want to turn my back on them because I'm so concerned for myself, when my children are still alive.

My heart breaks for these families. I pray for you all. And I struggle to teach my children not to fear, but to have a healthy respect for the lives they've been given.

Here, below, is my 3-yr-old, Liam, as Joseph in a Christmas pageant from a couple weekends ago, doing it his way.

Liam as Joseph. You don't see him?

Liam as Joseph. You don't see him?

P.S. I assumed, wrongly, that it went without saying. We have added chains to our doors that are out of his reach (for now, at least), and I'm ever-more-fervently attempting to adjust my sleep schedule to match his. We're doing our best.


Orchestrating the sounds of your interface

by Thomas Brady in ,


I'm a sucker for big-picture pieces like this, solutions to the problem of creating consistent, yet distinct experiences across a platform. Here we have GE creating a "sound palette" from which to pluck bleeps, blorps and chimes for distinct interactions with microwaves, refrigerators, stovetops, etc. Via Small Surfaces.


A novel, if not new, solution to urban mass transit

by Thomas Brady in


This is a co-worker, and I might get to help in little bits here in there on this campaign, but even if I had just stumbled across this in Architizer, either of the Austin American Statesman articles (1 2), on Wired or when I saw this video from PSFK, I'm pretty sure I would find this idea to be a brilliant solution to green, small-physical-footprint, hyper-efficient mass transit:


The Biggest Apple News Since Jobs's Passing

by Thomas Brady in , , , ,


Pro tip: If…

  1. You're in, say, the top third of the S&P 500
  2. Your last report card wasn't so good, or you think your next one might not be
  3. Wall Street shuts down for a day or two due to a storm

Let's just say maybe it's a good time to start buttering up your LinkedIn "friends."

Just ask Scott Forstall and John Browett, who, at least by the end of the year in Forstall's case, no longer work for Apple.

This is big.

Big enough to pull me out of an uplanned hiatus from the blog. Family emergency. My mother-in-law is recovering quite well, if slowly, from cardiac arrest while competing in a—not her first—triathlon.

Big enough that it brings a pretty obvious final answer to a series I'd been working on that could have been titled, "Who the hell is in charge of User Experience at Apple?" (Part 1: "What's missing from Apple's Org Chart?" & Part 2: "Apple and The CXO")

It's clearer now than it has ever been who it was that answered for user experience design across Apple. Just look at the lanugage of that press release, on what activities are being transfered from Forstall to Ive:

Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his role as the leader of Industrial Design. His incredible design aesthetic has been the driving force behind the look and feel of Apple’s products for more than a decade.

Who's the CXO at Apple? Well, now we know. It's Jony Ive. The oh-so-obvious, but oh-so-wrong answer that so many people would have offered for so many years now has become the right answer.

And I think this might be the biggest news since October 5th, 2011.

I don't think that for all his time as VP (or senior VP) of iOS Forstall called all the UX shots. I believe that when Steve Jobs was alive, this—along with whatever else he cared about that day—was Jobs's purview. But when you phrase it in the business organization classic definition of "a throat to choke," that throat was Forstall's, I think, for some time now.

But the most dramatic subplot of this whole story is Sir Jony Ive's. Ive doesn't have any UI/UX design under his belt, at least not any that anyone knows of. He has seen great success designing hardware for Apple for over two decades, but from what we can see from the outside he hasn't touched a pixel.

This could go two ways. In the first scenario, Ive could turn out to be an incredible UI/UX designer as well as an industrial designer, or, perhaps more likely, he could prove to be able to lead a team of UI/UX designers effectively. In the second, he could terrible, or even only mediocre at the job, either of which would have the same outcome.

Apple is more vulnerable than it has been in some time. If it turns out that Ive is no good at this, Apple's reputation will be shaken like it hasn't been since the Newton. People already have high expectations of the man that was knighted for being such a design badass. People are looking for someone on whom to pin the Steve Jobs legacy. If Ive fails, "beleaguered," will be the nice thing the press says about Apple, which will certainly catch the attention of both the customers and Wall Street.

There is a hell of a lot (around $604 per share at the moment, not to put too fine a point on it, but, of course, Wall Street is closed for a few days) riding on that young man right now. For once I don't envy him.