NAFEX Digital Strategy

NAFEX website
Screengrab of the new North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) website.

A nonprofit dedicated to fruit growing branches out while trying not to forget it’s roots.

I was asked to create a new and modern web presence for the North American Fruit Explorers, a group of orchardist, backyard fruit growers, and enthusiasts largely centered in America and Canada. The group itself was founded in the 1960’s and has many members with challenges related to their needs from the organization. At the same time the organization’s leadership wanted to expand and capture new members who are more technically savvy.

Research

Before embarking on the website update I interviewed members of the organizations leadership to find out what they saw as the mission and how they felt they were promoting the mission and serving their members.

I also conducted a survey with these board members and ran an analysis on a member’s survey that they had conducted themselves a year or so prior.

What We Learned

From interviews and the survey it became clear that the leadership of the organization struggled to define the mission, value, and membership benefits. There were few ideas of how to better benefit the membership and confusion on who would be responsible for generating ideas or overseeing them. From my experience with other all-volunteer non-profits, especially those with such a wide geographic range and a board that is drawn from all across the area they serve, this was not surprising and is fairly common.

Our survey follow up provided them with several ideas they could test to with their members as well as identifying areas that they needed to improve due to their fiduciary duties. The biggest take away was they they needed to conduct more regular surveys of their members.

From their most recent member’s survey we were able to identify areas that members were concerned with including their quarterly member’s written publication which had once been delivered in paper but for several years was only available as a digital download.

Going In Depth


The members who were in favor of paper copies of the periodical were not followed up with and their desire for a paper version have yet to be addressed. However it appears the reason for their request was based largely on their lack of access.

The members who were in favor of paper copies of the periodical were not followed up with and their desire for a paper version have yet to be addressed. However it appears the reason for their request was based largely on their lack of access.

Many of these members are in remote rural locations and internet access is sparse. Broadband penetration is limited, and their age and income levels as well as a lack of desire for the connectivity that folks such as the relatively younger leaders of the organization feel are important just are not there for these members. A surprising number of their members still rely on the public library to access the internet. They don’t have time to sit and read a periodical. They currently print it at the library and take it home to read.

The willingness of the members to pay for printing costs indicates a potential willingness to pay for more for in dues so that they can receive a printed copy in the mail.

Sadly this information wasn’t gathered from user research but generated after our web design process wrapped. It was discovered via user complaints. The leadership didn’t opt to do follow up on the initial survey so we missed this critical information.

What Went Wrong

We created a website that embedded new articles for the publication in the website itself rather than the previous method which was a link to a PDF collection of the articles. The membership survey had asked where members gather other information that they find helpful and the top answer was from other websites. This allowed the idea that we were dealing with a more web savvy group with greater access to the internet to interfere with delivering the best design that users would find useful.

We created a website that featured articles that were easy to print but were not packaged like a magazine. They were searchable, easily indexed, and the website was mobile ready. For a significant number of members, long term, core supporters of the organization, this was the second strike. The first was no longer offering mailed copies.

Lesson Learned

Our mistake was easily rectified and we were able to revert back to PDF versions of the quarterly publication. There were many positive improvements that we were able to make. Previously the publication was uploaded to the website and an email telling members to visit the site in order to download it was sent. We streamlined this process and the email to members now includes the PDF. Additionally the membership emails are now sent through an email marketing program so leadership can track their effectiveness.

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Hacking The Election

With the mid-terms behind us and the obvious truth that the Senate is going to continue being dominated by voices that don’t align with the people they represent I’ve been thinking a lot about hacking the election in ways to make them work for the American people. I don’t mean changing votes, at least not in an illegal way. I mean creating a laws that change how we conduct our elections. 

How to Hack the American Election System

I have some ideas for how to hack the American election system to make it work for the average citizen and to make it harder for powerful groups to influence our elections. Ideally we should have a system wherein the citizens within the districts and states are the most important influence on their representatives. This is far from the case today. There is so much special interest money that there isn’t room for conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans.

None of our representatives can have their own ideas that differ much from the party’s platform. For the Republicans there was a purse of so called RINOs years ago and the Democrats have been only slightly less irrational allowing for the likes of Joe Manchin and Connor Lamb to remain in the party and to serve their more conservative state/district while still voting with the party on a lot of issues.

Platforms are highly influenced by special interests as are the candidates. This means that the will of those being represented by individuals, especially for Representatives in the House, is often the last thing on a representative’s agenda unless it overlaps with a special interest. 

Our problems with these powerful special interests are so bad that there are media figures willing to work day and night to convince citizens that they should support the agendas of these groups even if it’s counter to their own interest and it’s sadly working. 

A lot has been written elsewhere about this issue including how House members now represents a huge number of voters thanks to their numbers not increasing for the last 100 years as our population has exploded.

I won’t get into all of that. Instead here are some ideas. not all of them are mine but taken together I think we could build a stronger republic that all citizens can know they play a vital part in. 

Election Day Holiday

This is not my own idea but I fully support an election day holiday. I know it’s not a solution for everyone but giving more people the day off and giving kids the chance to see their parents participate would encourage them to do the same. It would also place a higher importance on the act of voting. Holidays are reserved for things we think are sacred. Voting should be one of those things. Voting should be seen as sacred.

Automatic Voter Registration

Automatic voter registration just makes sense. We automatically register people for civil service despite not having had a draft in nearly half a century. We track our citizens for all sorts of things and in all sorts of ways. The government doesn’t require a state issued photo ID to accept your tax payment on April 15th. The only arguments against automatic voter registration and for things like poll purges is to disenfranchise voters and to suppress segments of the population from voting. 

Universal Early Voting

Universal early voting would give busy people more time to get to the polls and would increase participation. This might not be easy to pull off as it does require the states spend more time and money but the fact that we can only vote on one day in many places and that absentee ballots in many of those places require proof that you’ll be unable to vote that day and often requires extra postage to mail is anti-democratic. 

Other than issues of cost there are no good arguments to oppose universal early voting. Allowing those votes to be tabulated early means faster results on election day, allowing those voters to participate when they can means fewer long lines, and it allows time for problems to be worked out without voters needing to use provisional ballots. 

Extend Voting Rights to the Incarcerated 

We imprison more people per capita in the US than anywhere else in the world so it’s time we extend voting rights to the incarcerated. In many states even after being released there are restrictions placed upon your voting rights. Given that our criminal justice system has long had issues of racially motivated sentencing it’s time that we not only fully restore the voting rights of former inmates but it’s time that we reexamine the notion of removing their right to vote while incarcerated. 

Being incarcerated should mean you lose a lot of your freedom but we’ve got a serious issue with school to prison pipelines, with for-profit prisons, and even publicly owned prisons that have lots of outside contractors. All of these private groups benefit from prisons being full but society doesn’t. 

There will be those who might worry about inmates voting for their self-interest or them throwing their support behind sheriffs and district attorneys who are softer on crime. That’s not a concern I want to dismiss. In fact I’d argue that this is exactly what we want. Citizens who understand the system who having the right extended to them to have some small say in how the system works. It’s not as if they’re going to greatly influence these elections. Their numbers are still much smaller and the influence of the for-profit prison industry will certainly still have a lot of power. This would be one small step to making sure that prison isn’t being used just to unjustly influence elections. 

Localized Financial Support 

My big idea is localized financial support, which I won’t call original only because I can’t have been the first person to have thought of it but I will say that I’m unaware of any attempts to make this idea big and popular though I’ve not done a ton of searching to be honest.

If we really want to see representatives that represent their constituents then we need to laws that localize financial support within the bounds of the race. As we saw in 2016 with the Russians and other setting up fake social media accounts and websites foreign interference in our elections can and does influence outcomes. We have laws against foreign contributions but we allow special interests in Kansas and Nevada to dictate who is elected in Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

It’s these contributions from outside of districts that has helped reduce our US House races to empty stand-ins for their party’s platform who are largely just there because they’re good at collecting more of that money and can string a few sentences together on the floor of the House.

If the only people influencing an election had to be located within the bounds of that district or state, like they are required to be within the borders of the Unites States to influence US elections we’d make it far more difficult on these groups and we’d force them to spend money locally on more than just TV advertising.   

As I envision it an organization wishing to influence an election would need to have “residency” in that district. For practical purposes, a corporation should need to have a significant financial interest in that district, or their spending should not be able to exceed a percentage of the financial interest they have in an area.

Let’s take Walmart as an example because they are an organization with significant stakes in every district but those stakes vary greatly. In areas where their sales and the net worth of their buildings are smaller they’d be more restricted in their ability to spend politically. So if they wished to spend more on politicians they’d need to spend more in terms of their investment in the area.

No matter where you fall on the political bell curve, no matter which wealthy political donor you despise, supporting this idea would mean that their influences would be held more in check.

It’s not perfect, there would still be a lot of money influencing races and we still need to overturn Citizens United, get the dark money regulated, and solve a whole host of other issues but I believe if we want representation that is responsive to the people that vote for (and against) them we need to limit the influence of money to within the bounds of the race.

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Design Challenge: Reducing Piles of Laundry in the Bedroom

Levels of Laundry

My wife and I both had parents that used hampers but we trace our organic approach to our many levels of laundry to Bill Murray’s character in Ghostbusters 2 as seen in this clip:

This system served us well enough until for years. Then we found ourselves in our mid 30s tired of dealing with occasional moth issues, an inability to remember what was clean vs what is beyond wearing in public without being washed, and worrying that maybe it was time to grow up and do what our parents did. If you’ read my archives you’ll find a hamper that we designed and built. It’s a sturdy copy of a flimsy store bought design and overall it worked fine.

The hamper is not the system.

Our entire system needed examined from dryer to washing machine. We set aside most of a week’s stay-at-home vacation to try to figure it out and implement something new. Here is the process we took.

Define the Problem

Laundry is a collection of clothes, linens, towels, etc. which need washed before they can be worn or used again. Laundry does not equal clothes, it equals dirty clothes, clean clothes by definition are not laundry and our issue was larger than clothes too. If we limited our question to How do we do our laundry better? Or how do we reorganize our dirty clothes? we’d not be solving the problem. Our problem was larger. We started by talking about these areas of concern:

  • How much clothing and other textiles do we own (hereafter referred to as textiles)? Do we own too much?
  • How do we store clean textiles?
  • How do we use and categorize textiles?
  • How do we store textiles between uses and washing?
  • How often do we wash discrete categories of textiles?
  • The washing process and the journey to and from the washing facilities reduces our trips to the washer and causes pile ups.
  • Our desire to not overuse water, energy, and soap or to wash things when they’re clean enough limits our trips and causes pile ups.
  • How do we prevent clean and dirty textiles from getting mixed up?

This is a complex set of issues. Defining the question we were trying to answer was not easy but here is what we settled on:

How might we process and store reusable textiles before and after uses? 

This question works because it doesn’t limit our answers to clean or dirty, or the many layers between those two states. It also doesn’t limit the question to clothing. The questions of how we deal with dirty towels or towels that are not totally dirty both fall under this larger question.

The Design Process is Almost Never Settled

This would be a good time to say that we’ve not yet had that ah-ha moment where we’ve revolutionized the practice of laundry or developed a whole new way to organize clothes. What we have accomplished thus far is a partial solution based around our analysis of the issue. We’ve yet to create something new. That said we’re still working on the project. For now the following is what we’ve done.

  1. Took inventory of existing clothing, towels, sheets and other linens.
  2. Washed or otherwise cleaned all existing textiles.
    1. Threw away, donated or repurposed all textiles that were no longer needed.
    2. Evaluated the room needed to store all textiles if all were clean and none were in use.
    3. Categorized all existing textiles as use and by season.
  3. Created or purchased new storage solutions for all existing textiles.
  4. Committed to a process of putting away all clean textiles in their assigned places immediately after washing
    (this step should (and has) help(ed) keep clean and dirty from mixing).
  5. Identified pre-hamper places for storing textiles that are able to be reused before being washed (jean, sleepwear, etc).

Ultimately we might not need to completely redesign laundry as we know it but our analysis and reprogramming of our system has helped in a substantial way. Being better organized and having a less chaotic bedroom has meant better sleep, less fights over what animal gets to lay on what pile of clothes, less wrinkled clothing, less fretting over what to wear, and has allowed me to streamline my wardrobe somewhat. I don’t have a uniform but I have fewer looks which I’m finding suits me nicely.

Check back regularly to see if we do come up with some revolutionary solution to the laundry problem. You never know.

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Designing Weight Loss: Limiting Factors

Designing Weight Loss: Limiting Factors

In every problems there are limiting factors to achieving success. Weight loss is no different. Designing a successful weight loss plan requires an understanding of the limiting factors which shape (and limit) what we can do. I typically classify these factors under the following intentionally broad categories:

  1. Feasibility – What is possible. We need to understand what we can and can’t do. Some things are beyond our control and understanding what is and what isn’t possible (and even what will be but isn’t now) is vital to building a plan that will be successful. To accomplish our goal we must adapt our design to the limits we face. We can’t do anything about our age and we may not be able to do anything about a medical condition that limits our activity. Our schedule might be difficult but we can probably make space in it for increased activity if we study it.
  2. Resources – What do/don’t we have at our disposal to help us. Do we live in a food desert? Do we have access to local organic farms? Do we live in a place where the weather and other factors (crime, pollution, pedestrian friendliness) are conducive to outdoor exercise? Do we have a supportive family and peers?
  3. Understanding – We need a level of knowledge and understanding of any problem before we can solve it. We’re limited by what we don’t know about weight loss/maintenance. Even if we know a great deal about the mechanics of weight loss if we’re not putting that knowledge into action there are probably things that we still need to learn about nutrition or exercise. Do we know what exercise or dietary changes we need or will be the most effective? If not where do we find that information? The best resources come from professionals who can advise us individually but if those resources are not available or feasible we need to look to the next best sources and we need to know how to pick out who those are.
  4. Desire – How much do you want to change? How much is the extra weight you’re carrying bothering you? Is your doctor demanding you make changes or face a shortened lifespan? Is summer approaching and you’re going to wear a bathing suit that makes you feel bad but not bad enough to have another slice of pizza? If you are afraid to go to the doctor because you believe they’ll berate you, if you’re depressed whenever you look in the mirror or at the scale (even without getting on it), if you’ve tried to lose weight but don’t know what to do then your desirability of weight loss factor is probably higher and you therefore have a higher chance at success.

Knowing our limiting factors is one part of what we need to know before we start to build a successful program. It’s part of our analysis but it’s not the entire analysis. It’s also something that, if we truly want to be successful we’ll have to keep coming back to and reassessing. Design is cyclical and analysis is not only the first step but it’s where we return to every time we get results so that we can adjust. Below are my Limiting Factors and in my next post I’ll go over the real of the analysis that I did on myself.

My Limiting Factors

I really want people to understand how to design their own weight loss plan. The following are the limiting factors I took into consideration when I did my analysis. It’s important to understand that I didn’t see weight loss as a design program when I started so my analysis began several months into my weight loss journey but it’s best to do this before you begin.

Feasibility

I was already somewhat active, not enough, but I could exert myself to some degree. My diet on the other hand was out of control and I loved bread, other grain based foods, and carbs in general. The activity that I was doing and which I love to do is soccer. Here are the factors that limited me before the start of my weight loss:

  1. Shin splints – I suffered intense pain if I ran a moderate amount. I was using compression braces but my shins ached sometimes for days after I played soccer and this made running for any length of time or with any intensity very difficult.
  2. Body shape – I had a lot of belly and mid-body fat and fat around my thighs. This made running and even kicking a soccer ball really difficult as the fat would get in the way.
  3. Bread Making – I recently began to bake bread and was really getting good at it. It was an activity that I loved equally for the joy of getting it right and for the joy of eating it after. I had a very grain heavy diet that was hard to modify.
  4. Schedule – Before I began my weight loss journey I owned my own business and was the president of the board of directors at a local community development organization in a rapidly changing neighborhood. We were going through a massive transition and due to the staff resigning I’d not only been trying to grapple with better representing and informing the existing businesses but welcoming the new businesses, helping members cope with the development pressures, build confidence amongst our peers and partners, raise revenues, and do all other aspects of the day-to-day work as a volunteer while conducting the higher board level business which left me with little time to exercise and think about what I was eating. That all was coming to an end as I was transitioning a new president and we hired an amazing and talented new Executive Director to staff the organization so my schedule would soon (after nearly 2 years of that) get back to normal.
  5. Mental Health – Part of what lead to my weight gain was stress and depression from an abusive relationship. I had this happen one other time, in college, when a boss (at a retail store where I was an assistant manager) was incredibly mentally abusive and made me feel worthless. She scheduled me in such a way that my eating, while at work, had to be done incredibly quickly because I was often the only employee at the store for the entire day (9 am to 10pm). I would binge when there were no shoppers, inhaling my food. I know that I need to avoid stress eating and depression from abusive people be they clients, peers, or even people under me. It was an employee who last destroyed my mental well-being through bullying and then crying that she was the victim of bullying in an attempt to oust myself and our executive team to maintain and cover up the terrible job her and her employees were doing.
  6. Access – My soccer team were all over 30 and most lived far away and had busy schedules so none of them would travel to practice with me. I did find a great field near my house to practice in and eventually met others and began to play on another team. I still don’t have many teammates who make the time that I do to practice but I quickly was able to overcome the initial limit when I found this field less than 10 minutes from my house.

Resources

Some limiting factors bleed into each other like number 6 above. I didn’t have a resource (a field to practice on) until I found one 10 minutes away. Due to my schedule changing and my family income level, etc. I have few resources limiting me. I have access to medical and lifestyle professionals, I can purchase equipment, etc. We even bought a nice treadmill about 4 months in so that I could continue to run in the winter. My resources are not unlimited but they’re not a major factor in my weight loss. It’s not a problem if you don’t have any or many limits in one or more category, in fact it’s a good thing because it means you can concentrate your efforts on resolving or adapting to the few you do have.

Understanding

It’s really hard to analyze what you don’t know but knowing what you need to know is vital to resolving any issue. I knew that I didn’t know what activities would help me to lose weight efficiently nor did I know how to change my diet. I sought advice from several experts. First and foremost I saw my primary care physician. As I had not been to a doctor in quite a while he ran a full panel and at my follow-up explained some of the biggest issues I was facing (medically). These including being .1 percentage points away from being a type 2 diabetic, having moderately high cholesterol, being chronically dehydrated (which resulted in bilateral kidney stones), and having mild hypothyroidism. The thyroid helps regulate metabolism, mood, and sleep. Getting it under control wouldn’t cure my obesity but not doing so would make it incredibly hard to accomplish.

My doctor gave me great advice, though it was nonspecific (you’ve got to lose a lot of weight, you need to cut your carbs by about 90%, you need to drink a lot more water) but he’s a generalist so we’ll forgive him. He was/is willing to write consults with specialists if I need them but he also told me to take advantage of the abundance of available information of reputable websites. The hospital system he works for has lots of resources on weight loss so he suggested I start there rather than going straight to seeing a nutritionist who would just tell me to eat fewer carbs (though I’m sure they’d tell me a lot more than that).

My wife is a pharmacist so she was taught in school about how to find and distinguish reputable information but not everyone learns these things which is why some people still think vaccines cause Autism (which they don’t). I won’t go into how to tell good from bad but professionally written peer reviewed information is the gold standard. Still you can find a lot of accurate and correct information on youtube or elsewhere if you understand how to distinguish good from bad. If you can’t tell the difference it’s best to try to meet with professionals and trust their word rather than going it alone and either injuring yourself or just wasting your time.

Desire

I had a lot of desire. I weighed 310lbs. This was equal to the heaviest I’d ever been which came after that abusive retail job, switching to another job I hated, dropping out of college, getting married, having a rough start to that, and getting fired from a terrible job. I didn’t want to think about how bad things were when I was that fat before because they were really bad. I also knew that I was going to be 40 in the next few years. I understand that life expectancy numbers factor in death at infancy and so on so the 76 years of age that a man in the US is expected to live to is really probably somewhere over 80 given that I’ve survived infancy but that still means I’m coming close to the halfway point and if I want to extend that as long as I can I needed to get serious about getting healthy. My wife and I don’t have any children yet but we plan to have one in the next year or two (if all goes well) and being around for my, as of now, non-existent kids is important as well so my desirability is actually very high.

What if it wasn’t though? How would I overcome a low level of desire, or at least a moderate one. I know a lot of people that “wish” they could lose some weight. Those folks, in my view, have a moderate level of desire. If it were low they probably wouldn’t even wish for it, they’d just accept where they are (reluctantly or not) and not bother to think about it. To be clear there is nothing wrong with this. Also there might be something wrong if your desire to lose weight is high but your need to do so is low.

If you “wish” to lose weight you’re not going to. You’ve got to want to do it enough that you’re willing to make changes and stick with a program. I wish I would have lost the weight I’ve lost recently a lot sooner but I didn’t. I wish I would have stuck with playing soccer but I didn’t. I wish I was independently wealthy but I’m probably not going to get there unless I desire it so much that I create a plan that I’m willing to stick to.

I’ll post more how I did my analysis in my next post. If you like this let me know. I’m on social media in a number of places and you can always email me to tell me your thoughts as well.

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Weight Loss As A Design Challenge

Weight Loss As A Design Challenge

I shy away from writing about subjects like fitness and health. I’d rather write about design, the future, and honestly, things that annoy me. I resisted writing this until I realized that weight loss is a design challenge. Breaking my weight loss down into repeatable patterns and creating a system rather than just setting a goal allows me to measure progress, avoid frustration, and provide more valuable insight to those looking to repeat my success. I’ve lost over 75 pounds since September 15th of last year. I will turn 40 in about 18 months so people are surprised when they see what I’ve accomplished, how fast I’ve done it, and though they don’t say it, the fact that I’ve done it at my age.

I tell people who ask how I’ve done it the truth. I’ve lost the weight through diet and exercise changes. I also found out I have hypothyroidism and am treating it. That explanation doesn’t give people looking for answer they can replicate my success a lot to go on. I’ve also found that people may focus on my thyroid. Let me make clear that the pill I take everyday has not done the heavy lifting.

Why I Mention My Thyroid

My TSH was outside of normal range just enough that we are treating it medically. I mention my thyroid to remind people that sometimes there are things something that we’re unaware of. Including your physician in your weight loss planning is critical. You might have a thyroid issue, a benign tumor, the medication you take for one thing could affect your ability to lose weight or your motivation. You won’t know until you talk to your doctor. Getting the all clear and buy-in from your medical team is a critical but often overlooked step. Treating my thyroid problem didn’t lose me 75lbs but my weight loss wouldn’t have been as easy without addressing it for a number of reasons.

Designing a System for Better Health

I didn’t think of weight loss as a design problem at first. In fact I’ve lost most of the weight without seeing it as such but I’m an anomaly. Weight loss is generally a lot harder than it was for me. If I want to keep losing and keep it off I’ll need a solid system that can help me transition from weight loss to healthy weight maintenance once I reach my optimal weight and strength.

I lost around 50lbs over a decade ago and kept it off for several years without a good plan. When I quit the only form of exercise I was doing (long story) I slowly began to put the weight back on. When I allowed stress and work to take over my eating habits suffered. Lack of activity and poor eating habits are the formula for weight gain.

System Analysis

The first step to creating a better system is analysing your current system. Even if it’s chaotic and inconsistent what you’re currently doing can be viewed as a system. Look for the patterns you’re repeating over long and short periods. Long period patterns include overeating at the holidays every year for a number of years. Short period patterns would be eating a giant popcorn, a whole box of M&M’s, and a massive soda when you go to the movies twice a month. Another example would be ordering unhealthy calorie heavy take-out or delivery several times a week.

Identify not only active problems but deficits as well. A deficit is not getting enough activity or not eating enough fiber. Once you understand the system you’ve created (passively or otherwise) you can begin to make changes to it.

Building a Better You

Now that you’ve analysed your current system you can begin to build a better one. The contents of that system must be personalized to you. That doesn’t mean that you must create it from scratch. You can draw inspiration, patterns of behavior, or large scale plans from existing systems but they must work for you or you will stop incorporating them into your life. Break down what you plan to change into categories such as meal design, meal planning, exercise planning, contingency planning in the event of injury.

Those categories can be filled with patterns of behavior. I prefer to create patterns over plans for a few reasons. Plans can be complicated and can also be disrupted. Patterns are more natural and require less concentration. If we’re having a particularly difficult time sticking with a pattern we can do two things. We can quit that pattern and find another that we can stick with or we can build a habit.

A word about Habit Building. Habits are not easy to establish, especially if we don’t enjoy them at first. Take smoking for example. Nobody likes to smoke when they start, they pretend they do because they want to look cool but it’s not an easy habit to establish. Many people don’t like that they smoke even after years of doing so. Yes nicotine is physically addictive, but beyond that it’s a habit that has been built up over time. Good habits and bad habits are equally hard to establish when we don’t particularly enjoy them.

You’ll find on the internet and in respected books a lot of information about how it only takes 21 days to establish a habit. This number is unscientific and it turns out based on one very old study that hardly applies to active habit building. A habit takes far longer to establish according to those who’ve studied it such as Jeremy Dean who wrote the book Making Habits, Breaking Habits and found that if there is a magic number it’s closer to 66 days or even far longer. That may sound discouraging since workout challenges tend to be 30 days because they’re based on the flawed idea that you’ll have created a new habit within that time but remember we’re building a system for ourselves and we have the right to adjust our system to make it work for us.

Weight loss doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We need to design our life around being healthy and we need to start with where we are. Some people will not see results quickly while some will. Some will have an easy time integrating running or other physical activity whereas others won’t. Some will have an easy time changing their diet. We need to design a system for ourselves and we have no other person to compare that system to so we shouldn’t. Creating a system isn’t about reaching a goal quickly it’s about moving in the right direction in a sustainable way even if that movement is slow. We can always add, change, or remove behavior that can change the speed of our transition. Systems work best when they’re living, evolve, and semi-fluid.

Weight loss and maintenance requires regular observation and analysis to ensure that the system is working the way we planned. We’ve done the analysis the first time around but we need to keep checking in to measure progress on ourselves (weigh-ins for example) as well as the effectiveness of the plan itself (are we sticking to it).

Measuring Success

It’s critical to remember that this is a personalized health plan that we’re building so our measures of success must be based on metrics that are also personal. That means that the time it takes us to lose weight, our ultimate sustained weight, the amount of weight we can lift or number of situps we can do, and so on can’t adhere to some formula based on our age, height, or BMI. Those things are great measures of average health but we’ve got to work with our healthcare professionals to make sure we’re where we should be (when we get there) and we shouldn’t measure our success based on societal expectations.

 

Want More

Now that I’ve written this piece and am thinking about weight loss and health as a design challenge I am considering writing more. The next time I’ll outline detail of the system that I designed and talk about how I measure and analyze how I’m doing as well as the issues I’ve encountered on my journey thus far.

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Peel Smart Remote Dumb Decision

Peel Smart Remote Dumb Decision

Peel Smart RemoveI really don’t want to write about the Peel Smart Remote dumb decision but since it took me so long to figure out what was happening with my phone I feel obligated to do so. You see after a random set of app updates to my Samsung Galaxy, Peel Technologies’ Peel Smart Remote must have been one of them, I began to see this popup on my phone’s lock screen.

It reads, “Phone is in silent mode. You might miss calls.” and has two options, “I don’t want to miss calls and “It’s ok.” If you press, “I don’t want to miss calls” it turns your volume up to just beyond silent. Of course since my phone is basically always on vibrate adjusting the volume to be incredibly quiet and to not vibrate would cause far more missed calls if it were not for the smart-watch which I wear that alerts me to incoming calls (which one of the reasons I leave my phone on vibrate all the time). If you choose “It’s ok” then you’re permitted to leave your phone on silent until the next time you try to unlock it wherein the question will pop up again – every time.

There is no “Don’t ask me again” option. There is no branding to tell you that this isn’t a new Android, Samsung, or carrier specific popup. Additionally the popup typically gets in the way of your unlocking activities forcing you to tell it every time that it’s OK to leave your phone on the setting that you’ve chosen. Often the popup interferes with your phone’s unlocking making you clear the notification before you can continue but on occasion it will either popup and disappear several times in a row even after you’ve unlocked your phone demanding your phone’s focus, and not allowing you to do what you’ve picked up your phone for.

As you can see in the screengrab above it kept coming up as I was trying to use Sleep As Android to activate my alarm for the morning and connect to my watch for sleep tracking purposes. I couldn’t hit the little crescent moon shaped button without having to tell this popup It’s ok several times. In fact it insisted so many times that I got tired of it and screen grabbed it so I could once again conduct a search all throughout my phone trying to find a way to turn it off.

Peel Technologies Incredible Overreach

This leads me to the real meat of this post that I don’t want to be writing. This popup is an example of Peel Technologies Incredible Overreach and incomprehensibly inflated sense of importance. This app, that has taken over my lock screen is for changing channels and adjusting the volume on your television in the event that you’re too lazy to walk across the room to where you’ve left the actual remote sitting. It’s one of the least important apps on my phone and one that was pre-installed. I’ve used it a handful of times, mostly to mess with my wife, but usually to change the volume on the television. I don’t use it to keep in touch with people, I don’t use it to listen to music, I don’t use it to track my fitness, I don’t use it to track my finances. I don’t use it to play games that improve my cognitive function. In fact, the thing it helps me with probably does the exact opposite of what all of those other apps do. It keeps me watching dumb programs and movies, it keeps me from exercising and talking to friends, it encourages me to order movies on demand that I didn’t budget for and it helps rot my brain.

Ok, maybe I’m being a bit facetious but truly this app is probably the least used and the most useless app on my phone so in what in the world were the people at Peel Technologies thinking when they added this “feature” and automatically enabled it. I can’t even come up with an analogy to explain how far beyond their worth they’ve reached with this popup. A popup which, as you can see, conveys no evidence that it’s related to their application when it insists on telling you what you already know. Oh, wait, I’ve got an analogy.

Peel Technologies Peel Smart Remote’s “Your phone is on silent” unrequested lock screen popup is Donny in the Big Lebowski telling the Dude that his phone is ringing. Actually it’s worse than that. Despite the fact that the Dude knew his phone is ringing that incident only happens the one time. This is like having the “your seatbelt is unbuckled” alarm in your car going off for the opposite reason. Yes, it’s as if the seatbelt alarm “dinged” constantly to remind you that your seatbelt was in fact buckled. Actually it’s worse than that because your car has a reason to let you know that. It’s as if the same drunk guy who you once met at a party was at every place your car came to a stop including traffic signals and intersections. It’s as if he walked out in front of your car every time the speedometer reached zero, prevented you from continuing, and told you that your seatbelt was buckled. That is what the Peel Smart Remote is – a useless drunk standing in front of your car.

How do you get this drunk guy to stop telling you that your seatbelt is buckled? Oh, that’s easy you just need to call your dentist who told him to do that after your last appointment. Did you talk to your dentist about your seatbelt? No, you didn’t? Oh, that’s fine your dentist is telling that drunk guy to tell everyone that sees him once every 6 months that their seatbelt is buckled because that is something clearly within the scope of practice for your dentist.

The real reason that I’m writing this post is because the first dozen times I searched for “phone silenced popup” and so forth I came up with pages upon pages of results for how to silence my phone (even using the exact language of the popup). Finally this morning I found a post on Android Central where others were reporting the same incredibly annoying popup. My search skills are fairly good. I understand how to phrase a search in different ways to try to find satisfying or hard to find answers and it took me dozens of tries before I found out that it was Peel Technologies and their Peel Dumb Remote who were at fault.

The problem with trying to find the answer is that the terms you have to use are so ubiquitous and they return links full of solutions for questions about how to silence every phone that has ever been made or how to unsilence them. This is because there are a ton of people who have searched for how to silence each phone because nobody reads the instruction book that comes with their phone. They’d rather type the question into Google and because of that there are boatload of sites, posts, forums, etc. dedicated to answering that question for every phone, for each tablet, etc. and you will get all those results because they’ve worked hard on their SEO so they can make money on the ads they’ve got next to the answer.

All this means if you’re searching for how to disable the “Phone is in silent mode. You might miss calls.” popup on your Samsung Galaxy phone you’re probably not finding the answer so I’m hoping that my post will show up in your search results not because I’ve got ads next to the answer but because I’ve been where you are and I too was as frustrated as you are.

Turn off “Phone is in silent mode. You might miss calls.” Popup

If you are looking for how to turn off the “Phone is in silent mode. You might miss calls.” popup on your Samsung Galaxy phone you simply need to open the Peel Smart Remove app, go to settings (click on the gear icon) then onto Notifications and scroll to the very bottom. Uncheck the Ringer Alerts under the General heading. Because of course not only do they automatically turn on this non-branded notification that is well outside the scope of their application but they also hide how to turn it off under submenus and at the bottom of those to boot.

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Cultural Consequences of Electric Car Charging

Cultural Consequences of Electric Car Charging

The cultural consequences of electric car charging have the potential to reshape the gas station experience in a profound way. Gasoline powered cars can be filled at a filling station in a few minutes and with the exception of full service stations the refueling requires us to remain at our car should the automatic shut-off fail or should it be a little overactive. Currently charging an electric car takes hours so it’s done while we sleep or while we work but all of that is going to change.

A Fast Charging Future

We’re moving towards a fast charging future, a future that will be here before we know it. News broke today of an Israeli startup, StoreDot, that has developed an electric car battery system which can fully recharge in 5 minutes. They expect it to be commercially available within 3 years. Even if StoreDot fails or falters it won’t be long before we reach a recharge time measured in single digit or low double digit minutes. Tesla’s batteries at their fastest take over an hour to recharge fully.

The Evolution of Service Stations

The evolution of service stations is an interesting one. They started as little more than a space to keep the full service attendants of old out of the weather between customers slapped onto the side of service garages. For years they slowly changed as full service gave way to self service into cramped tiny spaces full to the ceiling of candy bars and cigarettes with hardly enough room for the register next to the caffeine pills and scratch off lottery tickets with their filthy single toilet bathrooms. Today they are mini grocery stores and fast food restaurants that are, in certain rural or remote villages, the gathering spot for teenagers and the source for community gossip.

Despite their evolution today many visitors never walk through their doors. As of 2012 73% of gas station customers pay at the pump, fill their tank, and go on their way without ever leaving the pump. As cigarette smoking and soda consumption has decreased so has the need to ever go inside the shop at the gas station. Being tied to our pump that is moving flammable volatile liquid into our car keeps us at the pump but when the future of fast charging arrives we’ll be able to leave the pump. In fact the pump will probably leave the pump.

Leaving The Pump

Gradually as fast charging electric cars become the norm we’ll see the gas pump relegated to where the kerosene pump is. It will be an anomaly that only classic car owners know what to do with. In the place of the island which is central to the service station experience now the shop will become centrally located. It will be surrounded with parking spaces that feature either in ground fast charging or electric plugs depending on how fast all of those technologies move and when they move together.

This centering of the store will upend how we see our visits to them. Perhaps we won’t even have service stations and charging will be ubiquitous, at the grocery store, at work, at red lights, but America is still a capitalist society and I don’t suspect that the capitalists will let us go that easily. Even if they’re at the grocery store they’ll likely still require some sort of payment or sign-in so we can be charged for the electricity we’re consuming. There will still need to be some interaction and not everyone is going to want to drive to the big local mega-walmart for a 5 minute recharge. They’re far more likely to want a closer and less busy option on a Sunday afternoon.

This leaves us with the chance to completely rethink service station design, or rather leaves the corporate architects who design service stations that chance. In fact it forces them to rethink the whole concept. The design challenge is how to get people to not just climb back into their cars with their phones or in-car entertainment systems and get them to come into the shop and buy more stuff? I don’t know the answer but I can tell you that I’ll probably spend the next few hours thinking about it.

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Calculating the Citizen Offset Cost Savings of Cities Such As Pittsburgh

Calculating City Savings Offset by Citizen Action

I was mowing the city owned lots next to my house the other day when an idea struck me. Technically I was doing a job that a city employee should be doing – maintaining city owned property. I began to think about calculating the citizen offset cost savings of cities such as Pittsburgh.

Let’s face it, the city is not going to maintain these two vacant lots tucked away on a nearly suburban dead end street that few people see. They just don’t have the resources. That thought lead to me wondering what my tax burden might be if they were to hire enough workers to actually try to maintain all of the city owned properties that citizens like myself maintain. There should be an easy formula for calculating how much potential cost the city is saving through the actions of citizens such as myself.

The first step is figuring out what the cost to the city would be per hour per person. The next step is to create a database to collect data from my fellow citizen stand-ins for city maintenance crews.

Current Status

Currently I’m designing the database to collect the data.

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The Milk Bottle is Half Full

The Milk Bottle is Half Full

I’m a somewhat optimistic person which is why when I see something that is inefficient or poorly designed I’m not afraid to think of solutions and ask if they can be implemented. You might say that I’m a milk bottle is half full sort of person. This is why I decided to try to tackle a problem that annoys me and wastes my time whenever I shop at Giant Eagle Market District.

Reducing Giant Eagle Customer Wait Times

I’m interested in reducing Giant Eagle Customer’s wait times specifically those who, like myself, buy their milk in returnable glass bottles. The easiest way to reduce these wait times would be to stop buying milk in bottles that need to be returned but that’s wasteful on a whole other level. Besides Brunton’s milk, the milk that Giant Eagle Market Districts sell in glass bottles is delicious. It’s really the best milk that I’ve ever had and I’ve bought it in all of it’s available forms (whole, 2%, skim, chocolate, and even buttermilk). They’re all delicious and it’s locally produced in Beaver County and bottled in Aliquippa.

Giant Eagle’s Current Process

Giant Eagle’s current process involves returning the bottles to their customer service department. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal if you’re not a regular Brunton’s drinker when you buy it every week it becomes increasingly frustrating to find yourself waiting in line for, at times, upwards of 5 minutes while customer service reps help customers with a wide range of issues all so you can recoup $2 per bottle. The $2 deposit is then added to your next purchase at the register which seems like a more logical place to return the bottles to at least from the customer perspective.

Exploring Giant Eagle’s Perspective

When exploring Giant Eagle’s perspective one can understand that returns at the register might present some issues from minor problems like bottles piling up to challenges for their personnel and their computer system.

Personnel wise their employees already must look up these bottles and often need to ask what the color labels are if they’re not familiar. This too can create a slow down but it’s typically fewer than a couple seconds unless you’re using a self-checkout as the milk isn’t listed in their search anywhere and an employee needs to search for the code and bring it to you.

On the computer system side there are likely a variety of solutions they could employ but all present their own problem. It’s possible that any negative dollar amount (such as deducting the deposit) would require a manager’s override. There are ways around this such as creating a new set of codes for the bottles that doesn’t include the deposit but if one is returning more than they’re buying that doesn’t work. A coupon code could work but I’m not familiar enough with how Giant Eagle’s system works in order to say that this is a viable solution.

Current Status

The current status of this project is that I’ve reached out to Giant Eagle to express my concerns related to the bottle return process. I’m awaiting their reply and considering the idea of building a survey to collect information from other people who buy this incredible milk in glass from Giant Eagle to find out their feelings.

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Why Batteries Not Included is the Movie America Needs Right Now

Batteries Not Included is the movie that America Needs Right Now

The story of a villainous greed driven New York land developer, vulnerable people banding together, and intelligent machines performing jobs typically done by people sounds incredibly contemporary for a film that came out in 1987 and in many ways it’s the perfect film to explain where we are and what we need to do. This is why Batteries Not Included is the movie America needs right now.

Of course the film features the “little guys” as Jessica Tandy‘s Fey refers to them or “the fixers” as they’re otherwise called who can rebuild anything, even a burned down apartment building. The real story however is one of community coming together, rebuilding, fixing what is broken, and building a better future. This cross-cultural community consists of an elderly couple coping with dementia, aging, and the loss of their son, a retired boxer who could not longer hurt a fly, a latina woman facing the trials of motherhood without help, and a down on his luck artist stuck contemplating decay.

As happens all too often in real life this group never battles the developer directly. Rather the developer employs an equally disadvantaged group of young men headed by Carlos who is as much a victim of the developer as the rest of them. Carlos is the perfect stand-in for the duped masses that look up to and aspire to have the type of money and power that evil developers like Donald Trump have and have bought into the myth that people like him are self-made despite being born into incredible wealth and privilege.

Carlos, like so many Americans, will willingly do the bidding of this evil developer because he’s desperate and foolish enough to think that he’ll be rewarded with a seat at the developer’s table and a chance to live the life that people like him live. Carlos might not look like the middle American blue collar whites who helped elect Donald Trump but he is a fair representation of them. He’s confused, angry, willing to do anything, even to try to profit off of the destruction of his own neighborhoods. Carlos is desperate for a piece of that grandiose lie that is the American Dream. My only hope is that they still have a conscious like Carlos. I hope they will wake up to see what they’ve done before it’s too late and will help the rest of us put it right.

While I’m not afraid to admit that I’d happy take a benevolent alien intervention which would stop Trump from destroying our country the bigger message that I take away from Batteries Not Included is that we need to be the fixers. We need to band together in our communities and fix this things. Yes we must disrupt the plans of evil developer looking to profit from the destruction of our country but we must come together with each other, no matter our backgrounds, no matter our politics, and fix this thing because nobody else, alien or otherwise, is going to do it.

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