Jan 07

Failure From The Jaws Of Success

Parenting forces me into a series of constant dilemmas. Not necessarily terrible dilemmas, but ones that are both non-dilemmas but also at their core a serious dilemma.  One of those dilemmas is laundry. Basically, it has to get done. My daughter is four, and doing laundry isn’t her idea of a great way to spend the day. She is an only child and she prefers to spend her days with mom and dad actually interacting with mom and dad. She craves a lot of input and as a parent it’s my job to provide it and to make choices about what that input will be.  Of course, some of that input is terrible (watching videos), some of is good (reading comic books with her), some of it’s great (visiting the science museum with her, drawing of painting with her, going to a movie with her). But me spending the day doing laundry is her idea of a 40 ton boulder being placed on her. And on me as well. Because all she wants out of life is incredibly simple: she wants me or her mom to play with her. That’s it. And doing chores, either her doing them or us doing them, takes away from that. Honestly, that makes me as sad as her about it. Every moment she is a kid when we aren’t playing is really time taken away from both of us to have fun together. Some of that is obviously what you have to do in order to raise your kid not to be a spoiled beast, but when you are doing chores instead of playing with your kid, even when it’s being done because you’ve mostly already spend so much time playing with your kid instead of doing those chores, you still kind of have a pang of regret about it. Even though each of these things is necessary, and frankly, they are successes when you are accomplishing them, they are also oddly their own types of failures in that they each represent something else you could or should be doing.

Jan 05

Personal Failue

Let me get this out of the way: I have a lot of personal failure. In some ways, I have a lot of personal success as well, but if I am writing about failure then I am going to write about the failure part to start with and not so much the success.  In fact, a common self-improvement activity is to dwell on your successes in life and count your blessings (a cliche phase, yes, but that’s really what’s being ask of you in a lot of self-help). Without going into great detail about my personal failures, I will say that there are enough to bother me and force me to think about them out loud in words that I see in front of me. In front of a possible audience.

List Of Personal Failings
•Inability to take large risk
•Inability to stay consistent on creative personal projects
•Inability to stay consistent on personal productivity projects
•Inability to improve my financial life
•Inability to decide what I should be doing for a living that I can live with and be happy with
•Inability to use my time in less selfish and useless ways
•Inability to focus
•Inability to have non-exciting long-term projects and devote time to them
These are just off the top of my head failings. And the reason I am writing them down is to look at them and think about them. Are they really failings and failures? Are they really things I want to improve? Which ones are important to me? Moreover, which ones are important to me personally on a personal fulfillment level and which ones are important on a responsible adult and responsible parent level? Which ones are worthwhile to improve? Which ones are OK to live with?

Writing about failure and examining my own is to serve one of two purposes: (1)Improve on the failure and make changes. (2)Accept the failures and failings of my personality and find ways to live with them that don’t hurt other people or myself.  These two things are really the driving forces behind thinking all of this through. As much as we live in a time of accomplishment and achievement, failure defines a lot of us. I think I have defined a lot of my own life by dwelling on the failures of my life. It’s disheartening, and not to beat a dead horse, but I am writing about it to get over it by examining it and not dwelling on how those failures and failings define me. Instead, I want to examine the failures and failings and benefit from them in a way I feel OK with. But (2) is important. I can’t let failure define the lives of my family, though. And I can’t let acceptance of failure be such that it basically just becomes me saying “Yeah, I’m a failure. I’m not even gonna TRY to do things.” Being a parent very much eliminates that option if I don’t also want to be a rotten human being.

Then what in the world am I doing here? Perhaps I am setting out to define my own failure and use it to make something else that I can live with that is fulfilling and not soul-crushing.  In other words, maybe I’m here writing these to start defining the terms of my own failures. If I need to change some of my failings, and to look at some of my big life failures privately and write about them in private, then that’s what I’m doing. What I really am doing with this is turning around to face these things in my life and staring them down. I’m trying to get out of my own personal failure cycle. Jump off the treadmill and hurt myself a little while I still can before it’s too late and jumping off killing me.

Jan 04

The Continuation of Failre

My thoughts about Skitch and Google Reader has me thinking about other failed software experiences. Another very recent one was the failure of Wunderlist for me in that their 2.0 update broke exactly the two specific things I liked about Wunderlist: right hand list of task lists and the background I liked. It’s crazy how such simple things can break something to one person. All of this might mark me as someone who is simply a luddite or who fights change, but the opposite is true. I embrace new technologies to see what they have to offer. I also actively set out to embrace change because as the parent of a four year old I have little choice but to do exactly that. Four year old = constant change 24/7. Yet, change that seems to serve no purpose is what puzzles me. Removing a simply customization, such as right-hand navigation or a background, seems to be a random choice by the developer. That said, I am not in those meetings where decisions are made. I can only imagine that it has to do with “simplification” on one level or another. Removing customization removes complexity. But removing customization also adds risk if you have clients already accustomed to the customization. I am the risk. The interesting thing is that the replacement product I switched to, Producteev, doesn’t provide the functionality either. But here’s the important part: they never had it to start with, therefore I don’t miss it. Whereas the beauty of Wunderlist was how perfect it was for me because of the right-hand navigation. It kept itself above Producteev only because of that one customization. Remove the customization, remove the reason for me to use Wunderlist. Removing the background I liked was a bit more superfluous, but it certainly added to the irritation.

Is it a failure, though? For me it is. I am sure for Wunderlist that they are looking into their future for the product and trying to integrate it into some sort of future conceptual framework. Simplification makes modularity for the future easier to cope with and incorporate. But is it worth it? I have no idea. I don’t known Wunderlist’s plans for the future and how important simplifying their product is to them. I know that for me it breaks the aesthetic of the product and causes an unintentional emotional response toward the product. Unfortunately, the response is “Sigh. I used to like this when I was able to have a right-hand nav bar.” In other words, looking at it makes me sad and then irritated (I hardly think I can get angry about it as it’s just a task list). Others, however, seem to have taken Wunderlist to serious tasks on the App store reviews. Reviews for the recent version sit squarely in the negative range. Overall reviews still keep it in the positive range, but if you narrow it down to current version reviews you find mostly one and two star reviews with the most frequent complaint being one of the worst possible responses you can think of: “It doesn’t even launch anymore.” Ow. I was complaining about the nav bar and background, but losing functionality entirely is a default deal-breaker.

So, how does a company like Wunderlist deal with failure? To their credit, that have a web site where you can submit questions, and they try to answer them. That said, at this point there are 124 pages of Q&A about Wunderlist 2, a great deal of them about logging in, which is another deal-breaker.  Wunderlist, from what I can find, has yet to publicly address the issues outside of the Q&A. At this point they may just be generating ideas inside the company and tracking the trajectory of what’s happening.  Watching failure from the outside as a customer is a weird experience. It’s certainly easier to get an idea of a company’s reaction when the company is high-profile like Apple (Map app failure) or Microsoft (Vista failure). Those companies have dealt with failure before (Apple – MobileMe / Microsoft – Windows Me) and have lessons learned. But small companies failures seem to be harsher since so much risk is involved. The company’s whole reputation may ride on the acceptance of an upgrade, which is a big gamble when there’s already a well-liked product in place. But idleness and immobility as just as dangerous. You get passed or trounced without taking the risk to move forward. I guess in the end, like all great risks, you’re asking yourself just how big a loss you can take on the risk and still get a long-term positive return back.

Jan 03

Studying Failre

Yes, I know. Failure is something that has been on my mined a LOT lately, mostly about my own failures. But I am curious about other big, noticeable failures. And as odd as this is, I came across one today entirely by accident: I upgraded Skitch on my work computer and noticed that massive changes immediately. A few tweets and google searches later and come to find out that Evernote really did a number on both Skitch and the old-school, fanatical user base it has in place. It wasn’t that they just changed it and made it awful, but they pushed a major change out through an auto-update tool and then pulled availability of the older version. They relented, and then even apologized and said “We’ll fix it.” I wish them luck. Broken trust is a lot like broken bones: they heal back if you mend them, but there will always be the memory that it happened. You’ll always be a little more careful doing that thing you did.

That set me out to look up yet another big failure online in the past few years: Google Reader. Google set out to pretty much make Plus the go-to social end-all be-all of their answer to all things social. Anything else that existed in their catalog was swept up into Google Plus and assimilated. None more loathed than the destruction of the Google Reader community. For a while, I never really thought this had much of an impact on me, but I have that I use Reader less and less. I have slowly unsubscribed to a great number of feeds. I only keep a bare bones set of things in there now or use it as a search tool for job hunting. I never realized how much interesting stuff came my way through the sharing features. And I never realized how much I used starring and other features now in Reader’s glorious past.

I really can only address the failure from a user perspective. Skitch and Reader both seemed to fail for the same reasons, though: integration with a larger infrastructure paid for by the user experience. The things that people loved about both of these thins seemed to be the things both companies wanted most to eliminate. It’s like making the new Star Trek and you decide that Kirk was cool and all but really the movies main characters should be the janitorial robots. (On the other hand, Red Dwarf proved that premise is actually pretty fun.) “No more Kirk. We know classic Trek fans will miss Kirk, but we thought long and hard about this and robot toys are easy for us to make more money from as we don’t need to pay any actors.”

While I am facing my own personal struggles and failures, I am examining the failures of these two silly software and information services and asking if trying to upgrade my own path in life through integration with a larger, societal and cultural infrastructure will lead me to be just a more failed version of myself missing even the smallest parts I liked to begin with.

Jan 03

Writing Beyond 140 Characters And Status Updates

A few weeks ago after BNAT14, one of my fellow BNATers decided that he was going to drop off of Facebook for a while, and out of curiosity, I decided to join him. He looks to have disabled his account entirely, which I can respect. I have recently done that for my “professional” Facebook account for a variety of reasons (one being to keep myself from posting negative things on it during my current workplace’s ‘restructuring’), but I couldn’t bring myself to do it for my personal Facebook account. Instead I have set out simply not to post status updates, not to log in on a regular basis and when logged in not to obsess over the reply notifications. However, I know that many of my friends and family use Facebook to post timely or important things (e.g. my sister-in-law posted “I am ready to try Dr. Who. Where should I start?” – of course, there’s no way NOT to reply to that), so I have a set of “Close Friends” and have Facebook email me whenever they post something. I get those throughout the day, and it feels a little more personal in a weird way. But I also delete all of those Facebook emails at the end of the day. 🙂 It keeps me update but it keeps me from being tied into Facebook.

That said, I’ve taken to Twitter in a more immediate way that before. The character limit and the speed of posting from people makes it more of the moment than the hierarchal, monolithic structure of Facebook. Of course, Twitter is basically a time-delayed chat medium more than anything else, and it’s setup prevents a type of conversation that Facebook is all too happy to feed upon: controversy. So, for now, I am using Twitter and using it mostly just to keep up with my BNAT related friends.

Between these two worlds, though, has been something lacking: the ability to type our long strings of thoughts. And I know myself. Long strings of thoughts are what I have in my head, and I know for a fact that writing or typing them out has been an important activity for me in the past. I’ve started and stopped any number of blogs over the years, and even now when I am typing these very words I ask myself how this is going to be any different. It certainly is different in some regards in that it isn’t currently something I have told anyone about, so it’s an audience of me. I am my audience for my own thoughts typed out to read and think about. Of course, I could just use a journal app for this, and I thought about that. I thought about using Tiddlywiki, which has a great journal feature. And I thought about a devoted journal app, of which there are more than a few. But that is all very closed up to the point that I would never think to start writing well enough “just in case someone reads it”. That’s something you do just a tiny bit if you start blogging. You have a “potential” audience that’s out there and you have a sliver of an idea that you might need to write clear enough for another person to understand what you are saying. The other issues with looking for a dedicated app for journaling is that “perfect apostrophe” issue Merlin Mann talked about. I already am doing this with themes for WordPress, and frankly, I want to avoid opening up that thought process any further.

That’s the point of the writing at all, in fact. To confront myself on some personal failure. To have it available to me in words instead of just thoughts weighing me down. That’s why it has to be beyond 140 Characters. Beyond status updates. Possibly public. It has to be a little risky or otherwise there’s no point in it.

Jan 02

Hands up if you’re posting because it’s a new year! *hand up*

Yes, I am posting because it’s the new year. Sad but true. Such is my life at the moment. Anytime can be a renewal time, of course, but it’s the public recognition of moments of renewal that really get under our skins.  It’s been months since I posted anything here, and this is mostly just a place for me to round out thoughts and ideas anyway. The sad part is looking at that last post and seeing the amount of optimism I had only a few months ago and knowing that it has largely been replaced by a great deal of uncertainty and pessimism about a lot of things. This was caused by having a plan in place when I made that post in September only to have it all very much tossed out the window at the end of that month by having my job security be tossed up in the air.

At this point, there are so many things involved with job, life, etc. that even trying to write about them causes a swarm of confusion in my mind. But it comes down to simple things: (1) I might get laid off. (2) I was forced (along with all my co-workers and colleagues) to re-apply for my job and I must re-interview for my job next week. (3) I have the opportunity to say goodbye to a job I have no real stake in and get a couple of months’ pay. (4) I have the opportunity to shine in an interview and get a higher paying job at a place that I have no stake in. (5) The reason for having the job is because of the obvious: income and insurance. (6) I am at a point in my life that I feel like I flat out need to pursue something I like doing or I feel kind of like my life is over in a way.

(5) is the real anchor that keeps me doing a lot of stuff I don’t like doing and has me feeling like I am on a trajectory towards something in the future that I don’t want to do either. I’ve never been good at figuring out my own life or what I “want to do”. I’ve hit on a lot of things I like, that ultimately turned into jobs I hated, but I’ve never done something that turned into “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” I am not sure if there’s much time left to do that either. Running out of time is how I been feeling almost every day lately. To the point that it has been keeping my up a lot at night.

Like most people, I want to make the “right” decision about all of this for myself and my family, but I’m not sure the “safe” decision is the right decision. Just that it’s the safe decision. The question is whether or not it’s time to end my dead-end path where I am now and struggle with the consequences of risk or to just keep trudging along and find a way to push past that safety zone while being in it as well.

Sep 07

Let’s Begin Again

I always feel a renewed sense of purpose and focus after any travel or vacation, but I have been notorious (mostly to myself) for my inability to do the following things after I have traveled and obtained that new sense of purpose.

(1)Maintain momentum beyond a few months with that purpose.
(2)Maintain day-to-day energy.
(3)Communicate my goals and purpose to my wife and work with her to achieve those goals.
(4)Keep on target for specific goals.
(5)Review goals on a regular basis.

This is a repeat cycle that in my life I am actually very tired of and trying to figure out how to break.  This next year in particular I feel it is imperative to break the cycle.  I have a few ideas how to do this that will involve a lot of pain and sacrifice on my part, on the part of my wife and on the part of my family overall.

Some of the goals I want to achieve over the next year include
(1)An additional work-related certification that goes beyond my existing technical skills.
(2)To make my job into something I can not feel completely drained by.
(3)To have designated days and time for family meetings for both financial and directional goals for our family.
(4)To improve communication with my family, both my wife and daughter.
(5)To have a financially progressive livelihood. This might mean making more money or simply coming up with a better budget, but it means having money to set aside.

I have already discussed much of this with my wife and she thinks meeting briefly for five minutes a day to stay on focus is a good thing.  I think a longer meeting once a week to supplement that is also a good idea.

Other things I think will help:
(1)A whiteboard or easel with hanging pads for large writing down of major goals, ideas, etc.
(2)A family schedule (this was suggested by Jenn) to give us ideas about how each day will be.

I also need to make changes where I work. That will come in another entry.