My phone is dying. What should be my next mobile device?

My phone is kinda coming apart. It presents a terrific opportunity for changing up the way I use a mobile device.

I am considering not having a phone. As my Dell Venue tablet is no longer supported and has a drastically reduced battery life (which is made worse in that it doesn’t show the accurate level, turning off when I think I have half a battery…), I am considering getting something in-between, one of those so-called “phablets”. Do they make phablets anymore?

There is apparently no plan to make new Ubuntu phones at the moment. FirefoxOS is undergoing, um, something. Cyanogenmod got turned off and is restructuring as Lineage OS. I still can’t order a Fairphone. The Purism phone is still just a survey.

What am I gonna do? I mean, besides buying a Runcible?

I don’t have a hard list of requirements, I am willing to compromise on nearly anything if the overall package holds value for me. Here is a rough priority list of things I’d like in a device:

  • Built with regard to people and the environment; the least amount of exploitative productive. Built to last
  • Free and open OS. iOS is a deal-breaker, and I want to avoid Google Services (so open-source Android is preferred, if at all).
  • Ability to connect to mobile networks, probably (I am willing to let this go, because I can carry around a clamshell for emergency calls).
  • Less than the cost of a nice laptop. I can get a new XPS 13 for $800, so a Pixel starting at $650 is just silly.
  • Modular, can be fixed without replacing the entire device.
  • Ability to add microSD for storage.

One thing that doesn’t appear on my list is the ability to function for more than one or two years. It touches upon many of the items on the list, because the hardware and the software have to both have upgrade paths; one without the other becomes the limiting factor.

Another that doesn’t appear is specs. I don’t really care how “powerful” the device is, as long as it runs its OS relatively quickly. I don’t want audio to skip or the device to freeze, but otherwise anything is okay.

When I think about that Runcible, I like that they refer to it as an heirloom. While I am personally more likely to pass on Pokemon than a digital device to Clover, it is the intention that piques my interest. I’ll need to track someone down that has one to see how they’ve put it through its paces, but that may just be my next mobile device.

What am I missing? There are so many new devices coming out all the time, I know I missed some. But more importantly, which missions and movements have I missed? Who is building something interesting and responsibly? Let me know! ^_^

Obligatory noun-verb joke: Switch

Last night I was brain dead from a strategy meeting, so when I noticed that the Switch presentation was starting I just dropped in. Video game presentations are often hyperbole-filled nonsense; perfect for my state of mind.

My main takeaway is that it looks pretty cool. Not something I need, because I have enough games, and don’t really go in for consoles anymore. But no need.

So I am getting one.

Just wait a sec! I am not making a silly move, I am actually consolidating. I will be trading in a Wii U and two 3DSs. I am actually trading in game systems I don’t play for the latest, slickest game system I won’t play. Boosh!

That is the worst case scenario, of course. I hope I do play it, a bunch! But this is mostly driven from a minimalist standpoint, albeit one where I give up very little.

Here are the circumstances that lead me to conclude this is the best course:

I enjoy novelty, and Nintendo systems are low-hanging fruit. I wish I could buy and play with every piece of tech and kit that comes out, but I don’t have the cash for that, and with hardware I often have moral arguments against. I give a pass to Nintendo because it is a toy, and because while Nintendo does weird things that other corporations do, they make a safe gaming space. I’ve seen it first hand, a fun engaging way for kids (and up) to play without harassment. And that is important to me as a parent.

The games look even more kinetic, and I want to move more. The reason we got a Wii U was for the Wii Fit stuff, but the good exercise is from Just Dance. I will for sure be getting Just Dance 2017 for Switch! But from the titles I saw in the launch presentation, there seems to be so much more movement in the titles. That appeals to me greatly.

I want an adult portable. This may sound funny, but I like the idea of coordinating with other adults to play portable Switch games, rather than hoping for StreetPasses from my 3DS. Don’t get me wrong, I love my 3DS. But even the XL is small in my hand, and I hold it too close to my face, and when I run into other 3DS players they are kids and I don’t want to approach kids, but I do want to game with folks. There will no doubt be Switch parties (okay, that sounds a big too adult ;]) and gatherings, and the software and hardware will hopefully lend itself to a better experience.

I don’t really use the current hardware I have. My 3DS is without battery in a drawer, and I can’t recall the last time I turned on the Wii U. But I play Guild Wars 2 and a random PC game every day, and I have stuff on my phone and tablet. I want to play my 3DS, but it doesn’t compare to the games I have elsewhere. But the Switch might have something I want to carry with me.

And finally, I’ve owned every Nintendo system…? This really surprised me! It hasn’t always been at launch, but somehow, over the last 30 years, I’ve had every system Nintendo released in America (with the sole exception of having never owned a VirtualBoy, for hopefully obvious reasons). For those playing at home, those were:

  • NES
  • Game and Watch (boom!)
  • SNES
  • GameBoy
  • GBA
  • GBSP
  • N64
  • GameCube
  • NDS
  • NDSi
  • Wii
  • 3DS
  • 3DSXL
  • Wii U

I find it delightful to have been this close to gaming history during my lifetime, and I’d like to see what Nintendo has to offer next.

So those are my reasons. Interestingly enough, I never feel compelled to pick up a PlayStation or Xbox. I do like Final Fantasy games, but they all end up on PC anyhow. And those systems, with their corresponding online communities, just scream toxic gaming to me. I would never expose Clover to the culture of harassment and misogyny that are hallmarks of inherently competitive gaming, and there isn’t anything else going with those systems that I care about.

And if there was a single reason I am opting for the Switch, it is because I will cover the entire cost with trade-in credit. Despite abhorring GameStop, reducing the objects in my home to carry on a now conscious tradition sounds like fun! ^_^

Email standards or go home

I use Basecamp for managing client work, and it is generally worth the trade-off of using a proprietary service.

I know, I feel guilt about using it when so much of my life is free and open, but we can discuss that later. What I want to point out is how “Inbox by Gmail” is not good for long term growth and protection of federated email.

Case in point: Bundled Basecamp 3 Notifications for Inbox by Gmail.

The gist is that Basecamp notifications, which can get unwieldy for active projects, are easier to digest in the Google product. The first sentence is the big red flag for me:

The Basecamp team has worked with Google to organize Basecamp 3 email notifications into bundles.

This is the exact behavior we do not want in email. Vendor-specific development can neither scale nor support an open technology. It is as ridiculous as the highest office in the land personally making deals to create jobs: we don’t need one-off developments! We need better, open, evolving systems and standards.

This is the exact reason I use Basecamp but don’t encourage others to use it: it draws one into an ecosystem of integrations, but between companies rather than open technologies. It’s a bad idea, and will fail those involved in the future.

Email standards, or go home!

Institutional memory is still a weak area

The other day I posted a quip about the horribleness of Google Docs:

This is anecdotal, but I can’t think of a single person or organization that uses Google Docs and is able to share knowledge effectively because of it. Quite the contrary, Google Docs stands in the way of sharing, while encouraging the same hoarding behavior in “collaborators”.

Consider why people create documents. It is hardly ever for their own personal use. Documents are created to transmit knowledge, to exchange information between people. And yet the first tool many folks reach for when documenting their info is a word processor.

It is known there is no love lost between me and word processors. While I am certainly old enough to have used an electric typewriter, I became a web publisher first and foremost, so my priorities were less about processing words and more about syndicating and feedback. Also known as blogs, wikis and forums.

I simply skipped over the era and necessity of “memos” or printing docs to hand to another person.

But that was a big deal for a lot longer than the web had been around (thought admittedly it fades “faster” each year). And yet we still use that kind of thinking in creating documents, especially in work that involves high-info but low-tech knowledge.

The end result is that I ask if a person can share a piece of info with me and they either poke around their Google Docs, or just share an entire folder with me and wish me luck.

You already know this, of course, and that isn’t where I want to focus. Instead, let’s talk about institutional memory. The current wiki article has a great description that lends to the point I will make:

Institutional memory is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people. As it transcends the individual, it requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group.

And that is the crux of what I am saying, “it requires the ongoing transmission“.

If we look at how folks actually store their documents, they dump them into silos that fit their own cognitive model of collection and sorting, and that is fine. But it means that at worst their silos are lost or lack updates with the ongoing transmission of knowledge, and at best another human has to figure out how someone else’s cognitive model fits into the groups’; think about someone leaving a company and handing over a laptop on their way out the door.

Never mind! Don’t think about that. No need to keep you up at night as well…

There is a wide spectrum for scenarios where information is lost in someone’s personal storage space. Advocacy-based non-profits are particularly vulnerable, given the personality centric structures they tend to invite, with subsequent burnout. Any group that has a dedicated IT sub-group will feel these pains, because that means there are more than three people, and networking gets weird after that.

A few quick prescriptions off the top of my head:

  • Be open. The fact of the matter is that even most “financial” info is incredibly mundane and useless outside of the internal context where it’s used. But each time someone “protects” a piece of info, the entire org suffers. Is it worth it?
  • Documentation is more cultural than technical. You don’t even need to do special training (though it wouldn’t hurt!); just coming into a space where people share information in the open is transformative.
  • Assume every document is a living document. It changes your priorities and requirements. If your knowledge becomes better, more informed, clearer over time, why would you lock it behind permissions and storage that doesn’t scale along a timeline?

In a future post I will look at specific tools that replace the file-based storage idea, as well as talk about asset management, which has a lot of the same issues, but different end results. In the meantime, tell me how you share knowledge with others, and what you’d like to see change.

Boredom or fatigue

I was sent an academic survey, and the following was on the front page:

What risks are associated with this study?

There are minimal risks associated with this research study. Potential risks include boredom or fatigue during your participation in the survey.

I feel most meetings are putting me at risk!