Roadmap vs. Roadtrip

A recent episode of Under the Radar with Marco Arment and David Smith got me thinking some more about planning for the 2020 year as a Product Manager and how to approach that when you have different challenges.

We’re really short on resources at the moment for various reasons, and that has a significant impact on my ability to plan out the year. We also depend a lot on teams across other areas in the bigger company which means I have little or no control over when (and even if) related blocker work gets done that allows us to do our work.

Sounds awesome, right? It’s not.

A lot of PMs and companies have a roadmap for the next few months and probably as long as a year or more. I can’t think that way as there’s no real solid ??? that we can get on a journey and get there thanks to the various challenges outlined above.

So instead of a roadmap, I’ve come to think in terms of a road trip. The difference is that a road trip is more of a general idea of where we’d like to head, than a real defined plan of where we are going.

When you embark on a road trip, you might have a theme or themes that guide you to what the whole point of it might be. Perhaps you plan to camp in various State Parks in NY and PA, visiting gorges and glens and other natural wonders.

The theme of that road trip is one of seeing nature’s wonders, specifically those around rivers. You might have a side theme of “small town America” and perhaps even something like a plan to hit tourist traps like scenic caves or other tacky “wonders” as you see them.

With a road map, you tend to stick to highways an have a path from A to B. With a road trip, the plan is less defined, but over the course of the next few months or a year, you know generally where you’d like to go and what you’d like to see.

As a PM, that means we might have themes like “better serve our large customers” or “add tools to make managing DNS easier” or “reduce support costs with better inline help”.

Throughout the year you can be opportunistic and tackle some things that relate to each theme as they come up. Just like in a road trip, you might be “freestyling” a bit here and there. Perhaps you get the resources to do a specific task for a week or three and you can jump on it and get it (or part of it) done.

Maybe a series of small bits of work can be bundled over time to equal one big piece.

The key is to have a big picture in mind, to be flexible and agile, and to always know how each bit of work that you get done can fit into the bigger set of goals to keep things moving forward.

Living Without My MacBook Pro

Yep. The keyboard was failing (again) and the webcam stopped working about a year ago too. The Apple Care on this computer was expiring at the end of March so I figured it was a good time to head to the Apple Store and get all this stuff fixed.

Here’s what’s happening to my Mac over the course of the next couple of days:

  1. A new top case. This is the entire top of the computer including the battery, keyboard, trackpad, Touch Bar and the outer aluminum case. All because the “d” key double types sometimes.
  2. A new screen assembly. The entire screen, including the aluminium frame all because the camera doesn’t work.
  3. A new flex cable. The single cable that joins the logic board to the screen. Suspicion is that this might be the cause of the camera issues so they are doing that as well (and why not?).

It’s also possible that the camera issue is related to the logic board and not something else. If that is the case, then the entire logic board will be replaced.

If that happens then the following parts will remain from my original computer: the metal bottom cover. That’s it.

The cost for all this (not including the logic board) is $1,140.00 but as I mentioned, I have Apple Care on it so the cost to me is $0. Note that this is the third keyboard replacement that’s been done on this computer.

I am without it for a few days now which does cause a few difficulties. I mostly use it for work, so not having a laptop kind of gets in the way of my job. I can get a loaner from work and boot from a clone of my hard drive, or I might try to use my iPad Pro instead for a couple of days.

I’m using the iPad Pro right now to type this up. The Brydge keyboard works really well for this and effectively turns the iPad into a 10.5” Macbook that runs iOS.

At work I have a Lightning to HDMI cable as well so I can mirror the monitor of the iPad onto my 24” monitor and then use my Apple Magic Keyboard. I will have to get a bluetooth mouse to use or deal with the touch screen instead.

On Outrage Culture

It’s really, really out of control. Social media and smartphones plus a 24 hour news cycle that needs to manufacture breaking news to hold viewer attention (to keep the ad dollars rolling in) is the cause. Opt out. Seriously.

“This is the current pitch of outrage culture, where voicing an opinion someone says she sees as a threat qualifies you for instant annihilation, no questions asked. Why ask questions, when it’s more expedient, maybe more kickass, to turn anything you might disagree with into an emergency?”

Nancy Rommelmann

The Sad State of Journalism

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Caroline) had a nice series of Tweets on today’s quite sickening White House press conference which I’ve embedded below.

In my opinion, Senator Graham nails it. Mainstream media journalists in the US have deluded themselves into thinking that they should be, and are part of the Resistance.

What I saw today was so-called journalists trying to make themselves the story rather than doing their jobs. They have the distinct privilege of being able to ask questions of President Trump and instead of asking questions that everyone might want to hear the answers to, they’ve decided to turn this into their own soap box where they ask loaded, partisan questions that serve only to elevate their own agendas.

You are journalists. Do your job.

Midterms

It’s finally election day in the US. Sadly, in spite of the fact that the campaigns for _this_ election are now over, the campaigning for 2020 is just beginning. The US election campaign is never-ending and a permanent fixture.

Will the Republicans hold onto the Senate and the House? Will Democrats make gains and start the push back against the Trump Presidency? We’ll find out tonight…

No matter what happens, it will be more of the same political games for at least two more years.

Housekeeping

I decided that since I rarely update my running blog anymore, that it would make sense to roll all that content into this blog. Thanks to the WordPress import/export feature, I was able to easily combine the two sites into one.

Posts that aren’t running related (like pics and short posts) will be in the Notes category. All the former runnerjames.com posts are now in the Runner James parent category with the old subcategories underneath.

I’m using Cloudflare’s super cool Page Rules to serve up 301 Permanent Redirects from old runnerjames.com URLs to the new jameskoole.blog URLs.  For example, this post on the old blog – https://runnerjames.com/2016/01/03/getting-the-most-out-of-strava/ automatically redirects to it’s new home here and the redirect alerts the search engines that the URL is moved so they will update those links over time to point to the new URL.

I’ve also updated the theme to handle full posts a bit better. And I added an Instagram widget to the sidebar since I’m using that service a little bit more these days despite the Facebook connection. Request a follow there if you want.

Opting Out Update

It’s a long process, but pulling away from so-called “social media” platforms and moving to posting content on domains and sites I own has been going well. Part of this move has included moving away from ad-supported, privacy-hostile services entirely (where possible).

I started by deleting much of the content I had put on these services over the years. 50,000 tweets, thousands and thousands of Facebook posts, pics and updates, and many hundreds and hundreds of Instagram photos.

GDPR-related emails about privacy (sic) policy updates provided a nice reminder of some other services I had signed up for over the years and I deleted dozens of accounts over the past few weeks.

Instagram’s new content exporter combined with Micro.blog’s importer was a nice surprise that allowed me to bring over the last couple of years of Instagram photos to my own blog.

For Facebook, I used various scripts and some tedious manual work to delete everything I’d ever posted to that service. I also untagged myself from photos and posts that “friends” had tagged me on. Did I get everything? Probably not…so eventually I’ll need to fully delete my account. So far I’ve just deactivated it.

Since deactivating Facebook a few weeks ago, I’ve noticed the following:

  1. I’m using iMessage or SMS to talk to friends far more often. And they reply. It’s lovely.
  2. I don’t miss anything about Facebook except seeing pics posted by friends at events we were both at. I solved this by asking them to iMessage or SMS me any pics instead.

I plan to keep my Twitter account around, along with Tweetbot (as long as it still works). The same goes for Instagram and the Instagram app on my iPhone.

Both Twitter and Instagram are handy for tracking things like breaking news, transit disruptions or to get information on events I am attending (like the Vancouver Marathon). It’s unfortunate that Twitter became the de facto way to do one-to-many communications over the years. A decentralized, open standard like RSS would have been so much better.

I mostly wish that our local transit service (Toronto Transit Commission) provided service distruptions and updates via RSS. They have RSS updates for planned disruptions and changes, but not the more useful “live” updates. On my iPhone, the Transit app does a nice job of passing these along through notifications.

For following news or blogs, I’ve returned to RSS and I’m using Feedwrangler and Unread on iSO and Reeder on macOS. News is tough because it’s not well curated – I get literally all the stories from my local newspaper instead of having top stories, or some sort of categorization. Perhaps there’s a solution for that out there.

More to come…

 

Reclaiming Your Social Life Online

There’s been a lot of talk over the years about creating a “Facebook killer” to replace Facebook with something that isn’t a horrid privacy disaster.

Remember Diaspora? How about Ello? Or Path? Yeah…pretty much nobody else does either.

The one thing almost all of these services or ideas miss is that we already have a replacement for Facebook. It’s just that over the years we all forgot how to connect the dots on this wonderful thing we call the Internet.

Here’s the solution (aka how it used to work):

  1. A domain name and a website forms the core for each person who wants to share. Maybe that’s a WordPress blog, or a Micro.blog site. It could be a Squarespace site, a Ghost blog, hand-coded and hosted on GitHub or even served up locally from your own computer if you’ve got the know how to do that.
  2. RSS ties everything together. If you want to publish to your own website and then syndicate it to other places, then Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is the answer. It’s existed for a long, long time and works well. There are lots of clients and pretty much every content management system (CMS) can generate RSS feeds. Remember Google Reader? It’s how we used to get news, information and updates from our friends blogs.
  3. Comments and Trackbacks interconnect everything. Remember comments? That’s what we used to do before Twitter and Facebook came along. We’d read a blog post, and leave a response in the form of a comment. If we had a lot to say (or if we wanted to re-blog or amplify a post to our audience) we’d write a post on our own website and a trackback would link the original post to ours.

We all got lazy

Facebook and Twitter made us all lazy and now we’re paying the price. It used to be important to own our content and ensure it was portable. Then these services like Facebook and Twitter came along and promised to make it all so easy. The only downside was we no longer controlled our own content, and we used their domains and drove traffic to their sites. Never mind we also had to trade every single bit of data about ourselves that these services could take from us. And ads. So. Many. Ads.

My efforts to take back the web

Here’s what I’m doing to make this a reality. Many others are also either making the switch to an independent Internet, or never stopped doing it this way.

I publish everything on my own site and domain name first (you’re reading it right now). I use WordPress for this but there are a ton of good content management systems that would work fine. As long as there is an RSS feed, you are good to go.

Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to stop using other services. In my case, I’ve stopped posting to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram because I don’t think the privacy trade off is in line with the limited value they provide. But if you have audiences or friends there, the tools exist to continue to post out to those services. The key is to include links back to your site, and not drive traffic to a domain you don’t own or control.

This is referred to as Publish (on) Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere (POSSE) and there are a number of great ways to accomplish this. A neat little service called Micro.blog does a great job syndicating your posts out to a good list of services. IFTTT can also take an RSS feed and push out posts to other services.

The IndieWeb is alive and well

The IndieWeb organization is dedicated to maintaining independent Internet publishers and creators. They have a ton of information and even tools that help creators take advantage of what the Internet can offer without selling out and giving up control of their content to companies and services that are far more interested in monetizing your personal data than helping you share ideas.

If you want to get started down the road to owning your own content and identity online, then the first place to start is with a domain name. I recommend Hover because I happen to work there and we are focused on usability and privacy, but any leading domain registrar will do. You can get a domain name for about $15/year.

The reason I like Hover is because we don’t tie you to a specific service or tool. Instead, we built smart tools into Hover that help you connect your domain to whatever service you want. And if you change your mind, it’s easier to switch and keep your content at your own domain forever.

Once you have a domain name, you need a way to get a site online. That could be a simple WordPress site using WordPress.com (like this site) or self-hosted using inexpensive shared hosting. Or you can use Micro.blog which is a nice, easy to understand way to publish short posts (just like Tweets or Facebook status updates) that you control.

It takes some time and effort, but in the end, it’s more than worth it to own your content and be in control of what you publish.

How I Am Keeping My Content in My Control

I’m mostly documenting this for myself, but if it helps someone else, that’s great! This is also a work in progress.

The centre of my online world is a WordPress install using the domain jameskoole.com. That site is hosted by Siteground at the moment, but because it’s WordPress, I can move it around as needed.

I’m using the theme Independent Publisher 2 which looks nice for short posts and is free. I’ve done some limited customization via CSS.

WordPress has a few plugins installed to make my life easier.
* Jetpack: mostly for Markdown support and also to make it easy to post from the WordPress app on iOS.
* JSON Feed: creates a JSON feed that micro.blog consumes in addition to the usual RSS feed.
* Really Simple SSL: the best way to get SSL support in WordPress (along with a cert from Let’s Encrypt that is all handled by Siteground in cPanel).
* Markdown Editor: a nice replacement for the post editor in WordPress that has Markdown syntax highlighting and support.
* Insert Headers and Footers: an easy way to add “rel” links to the header to identify other sites you control.

I write most of my posts in WordPress, although I can also post from the micro.blog iOS app, or the WordPress iOS app. Once posted, they spread out via the JSON feed to micro.blog which posts them to my timeline there.

Posts get tweeted via micro.blog which has an API integration that works very nicely. You have to pay for the $2/month plan, but I’m, happy to support the service. Another option is to use IFTTT.com and the RSS to Twitter recipe.

Instagram is complicated because they suck and don’t have an API that allows posting. Currently I post to Instagram natively, and then I use the Sunlit iOS app to manually report that picture to Sunlit which really just posts it to my WordPress blog (and micro.blog via the JSON feed). That also posts to Twitter, although I can exclude those if I wanted to.

I tried OwnYourGram for a short time to automate all this and it worked okay. The biggest downside is that the cross-posting from Instagram to everything else can be delayed by hours and hours depending on polling times. I’d rather just manually repost to Sunlit so I’m in control.