Archive for February, 2010

What does a product change? Part II

February 24, 2010

Just as an aside, if you liked Part I of “What does a product change?’, , you might like this post from my Information Physics blog,

My Other Blog is Back

February 24, 2010

Not knowing where my blog is hosted, I was worried that it got turned off along with a community of practice that I posted in for years. Apparently, they are not hosted by the same entity, so my old blogs are back:

Product Strategist here:

Information Physics here:

Both of those blogs disappear from time to time, so I moved here.

I need to get back to blogging.

Automated Driving

February 23, 2010

The Toyota situation has had me tweeting about it. Today, I started a string of tweets about being a pedestrian and crossing the street in front of a still moving Toyota. I wasn’t talking about a specific incident, but rather my policy changes as a pedestrian having to deal with this risk. Never step in front of a Toyota.

I realize that this is hyperbole. Is it the brake control, or is it, as some in the press have alluded to, a matter of the computer controlling the engine?

This latter issue put me onto my own suspicions about my car, not a Toyota, that has now, after numerous roadtrips crossed over into the post-warranty stage of a car’s life. You know the place where every time you turn around something else needs to be repaired. But, I’m talking sinister here. I don’t like car warranties, because they are only good if you can take your car back to the dealer that sold it to you. Apparently, the manufacturer can’t promise zip. But, beyond that, I wondered, hey do they program these breakdowns into the computer. Would changing your oxygen setting mess up your tuneup and force you to get it repaired? Just a question, but one driven by the state of my car today. It needs a tune up, and that won’t happen in the near-term. ¬† Luckily, I don’t have to drive much right now.

The damage from the Toyota situation, aka a computer problem, bleeds over to other life safety-computer interactions like the idea of automated driving where a computer drives the car. More than trust in Toyota is taking a hit here. I can imagine the downsides of a computer-driven car. I even tweeted about being pulled forceably from my steering column, white knuckles and all. But, why do I object so much?

Imagine a car where the driver need not pay attention to their surroundings, what the car is doing, or what is happening outside the car. Imagine what a driver would do with all that time. I could spend more time kissing my significant other. Well, the car would have to have a bench seat, but they don’t make cars like that anymore. We are individuals even in our family cars. Loneliness has been designed in. She is way the hell over there now. I hate consoles. Go back to the days of gangsters. You could barely see into a car, now its all glass all the time.

But, beyond the fun of it, what about the boredom of it. It’s like the issue of speeding. We have used normal distributions to figure out that speed causes accidents. But, if you think about it, speed is the obvious thing, so it gets the blame. Never mind the car that veered into your lane forcing you to do something, anything not to hit them and in doing so, they drove away, and speed takes the blame. In a very standoff way, ok, speed, but…. In a no buts allowed world, forget the buts. Yes, speed makes the accident works. It turns an injury into a death. But, does that mean it caused the accident. Looking at my own driving history, I know that I have had accidents at low speeds, rather than high speeds.

A boredom threshold seems to exist. At a fast speed, I’m seeing the big billiards game that driving is. Hell, I once saw a car bounce off a median, so I slowed down, some other car passed me, not seeing it, went down there and got hit, then to my amazement, the driver gets out and is all upset.¬† At a slow speed, I become nearly oblivious to anything beyond where the bumper ahead happens to be. If the car ahead is an SUV, semi, or black glassed car, or that thing with the tiny rear window at the wrong height, I feel trapped. I’ll change lanes, and guess what, we are not supposed to change lanes. I’m better off fast, if I have to change lanes. But, I can see this boredom threshold, I’m sure its not just me. The same question came up around gamers playing those fast shootem up games. Do their perceptual cycles speed up, and then do they become bored at slower speeds?

I know the same thing happens to me when I play Snake on an old phone. Faster, but then too fast, but slower is far worse. You fall asleep before the next time you have to turn the snake.

So what would happen if you didn’t have to attend to the road? You could talk, but don’t you already talk, and if you don’t why not? You could sleep, but I can’t sleep in a moving car or plane. You could work, make cell calls, tweet, browse the web, anything, anything except look out across that wide West Texas desert as the clouds dance overhead and cast shadows that make the impressionistic colors dance on the ground, and form those vast thunderstorms that you can see for hours before they arrive, or at night watch the lightening strikes out in Arizona, while you are still in Texas.

On top of all that, you’d never get a traffic ticket. You’d never make up time if you were late.

But, how would it feel? Would you feel different, better, tired, groggy, bored? Would you need to be distracted, entertained visually, or informed by more of those “info just a little too late to turn off” signs?

Heck, we could get married in our cars while they are moving. Try that today. “Do you take this man….” “Harry, pay attention to the road!” .. your….” What a mess. But, with an automated driver, a car would become the stage for a life lived more fully in some odd, unexpected ways.

Look at what better healthcare¬† and a longer life expectancy has done to society itself. We have 40 year old teenagers. We have retirees that can expect to spend more than half their life retired into a retirement that demands frugality just from its shear length, that demands that we find volunteerism and golf, because you can’t contribute anymore. Life itself hasn’t gotten better as it got older. We keep that to ourselves. Society might catch up with life extension, but when, and not when for the few, but for everyone that has to go through it. Will we be bored?

Back in the automated-driven car, I’ll be having a picnic, yes with a bottle of wine followed by a nap…. “Hey, we need curtains for the car.”

More than boredom and negativity, what opportunities will automated driving create for us?

On the Toyota problem, think about how a category owner also owns the Hype Cycle. And, how, like unintended consequences, or unintended uses of our functionality, you own other yet unrealized, yet to be categories. Is it the brakepad, or the computer. Computer be damned. Move from the specific to the general, and realize the general takes a hit out on the Hype Cycle.

“No, thanks Maam. That’s not how mama fixed it!”–Allan Jackson.

What does a product change? Part I

February 23, 2010

I’m a compass and map guy. I walk in the woods. I don’t get lost. I’ve managed that without a compass and map. Water goes down to the road. Follow the water.

In a city, I always buy those big thick map books with the street indexes. I have it at my side as I’m driving. Badly though, I consult it while I’m still moving. My last girlfriend didn’t like that, so she bought me a GPS. So my map book days were over, or so you’d think.

My GPS is configured to put me on the interstate, and here in Southern California that is nuts. The interstates are crowded, and most of the time the streets are not. Besides when I’m not in a hurry, I take slow routes at slow speeds just to enjoy the place and see it almost as intimately as if I were walking. I say almost, because when I walk the same streets, I’m surprised to find things I didn’t see when I drove by. Walking, driving streets, driving interstates give us scale-dependent experiences.

I have a good spatio-temporal memory. I know what changed since the last time I was in a particular place. I can drive some trips knowing that I need to make a right turn just beyond a particular tree. I understand the lay of the land. A map does that.

A GPS device takes that away. Instead of the street, the stores, the people, the other vehicles, your attention is on the device. Yes, it is designed to fade into the woodwork, and on a long trip it does fade away. But, I find myself turning off the speaker and the incessant “make a u-turn.” Hell, those u-turns are illegal here. You are so tuned to what is right in front of you, instead of the lay of the land. A GPS doesn’t teach you the local geography.

I argue with my GPS device. Yes, it knows the fastest route, but those faster routes are counter intuitive. Those faster routes put you in places you would rather not be. My GPS device routes me off the freeway and then back on the freeway. This even to the extent of running me through a small town. I end up being lost, pulling over and looking on a map, but not my map book, which is now left at home. I’ve had it route me around a block over and over again. OK, have I arrived yet? Apparently not.

I use my GPS to go where I’ve gone before until the lay of the land sticks. On my weekly trip out to UCLA, I turn it on, because I want to know how soon I’ll be turning right among the skyscrapers. Actually, I’ve got that down now. It lays on the floor on passenger side of the front seats. It slides around and can get so far away that I have to undo my seat belt or use a tool to extend my reach. Worse, if I punch stuff in while moving, I might leave my lane. Bad. It’s designed to not allow control entries while moving, but that was design, rather than the actual deliverable. Yes, you can use it while moving. I’ve been lucky so far. My guardian angles are working overtime. I don’t use it much anymore, but I’m living in a small world right now. I hardly drive anywhere. I do have my once a week escape Glendale trip to somewhere, anywhere else.

So while my GPS gets me there. I don’t believe it.

It is also out of date. The POIs might be wrong. But, so is Google Maps when you look for a business. They might have existed once upon a time, but apparently, there is no way to remove a page from Google’s database. Google never forgets, and the real world forgets.

I recently took detours, side trips, and roadtrips to find German restaurants in various parts of California. It turns out that the list is ancient. All those restaurants have gone out of business. Where did the Germans go?

Even finding the LA main post office turned into a fruitless drive. I’m convinced that there is no such post office.

I find that my spatio-temproal behaviors have been changed by my GPS. I know how to get there, but I no longer know where I am. I do not know the place. I imagine that others don’t even capture where they’ve been, so they can get back without their device.

Spellcheckers teach us by their false positives. They punish us by forcing us to look up words that we know we’ve spelled correctly. Yes, it is a punishment, because the word is not in their list of “approved/implemented” words, or those lists don’t incorporate word stemming. We have to copy the word and paste it into Google, previously Word, and then copy the correct word from those tools before pasting it back into our text. It’s negative reinforcement learning.

In a word, they are stupid, and they punish us until we become stupid, or lose our confidence in our ability to spell.

GPS erases our confidence in our sense of place. In other words, we are lost. The old saw, “You are only lost if you think you are” is as accurate as ever. So what if a computer knows where you are, its not comfortable to not know where you are. Knowing cannot be allocated to a machine.

Products teach. They teach us towards confident ability, or confident inability. They con us into reaching beyond our limits. They teach us that we are wrong, or wrong more often than we really are. They teach us that we are incompetent. This stuff happens with good UIs and good models underlying those UIs.

Product managers are taught to listen to the voice of the customer, to find the problems, to attend to the doing. But, where in that is the cognitive, the sociological, the cultural components of being human, and of human tool use? Where in demongraphically-overlaid market segments, and mathematical abstractions are the confidence or lack of it, or erasure of it? How much damage does our tools and processes do to the world.

Even the simplest of tools is a tool of cognition. Cognition is fluid, dynamic, ever changing, ever learning.

The big guess what is that it isn’t a training problem. It isn’t a documentation issue. It isn’t even a UI issue. It is model to the core, and more importantly the tools we bring to bare when creating these cognitive tools. It’s because we are not taught that tools we use to do, are tools we use to think. Since when did we do things that didn’t take some thought. Hell, that’s somebody else’s job. We think, therefore our tools are tools of thought.

We need to focus on the human. In doing so, we will eventually learn to create tools that fit into the world without diminishing the human and their ever malleable cognition, self, culture, and society.

Forget integration applications, common vocabularies, average functionality, stakeholder tradeoffs, politically mediated requirements, demographics, abstractions, even technologies. These things create distance. That distance is cost, cost in terms of time and money, but beyond that costs that diminish the human, their thinking, their self, their culture, and their society. Bad practices, needless bad practice, got us here. We have better tools. We can do things in ways to eliminate these problems. But, like all yet to be discovered solutions, they wait for the unasked question, questions like the one asked here, “What does a product change?’

Comments please!