Drones Herding Cows!

This is such a cute video. I’m originally from dairy farm country in upstate New York, so I have an affinity for this sort of thing.

From the research above, drones seem to be at least as effective as dogs for herding cattle … but clearly out of their league if you’re going for prize in cute:

By the way, Urban Drones (@UrbanDrones) is worth following for everything you ever wanted to know about drones. They’re active on Cyber Dust, where I originally found them. Here’s the link to use from your phone to add them: +urbandrones

More on drones

Touchable Virtual 3D Objects

This is really far out: a team of researchers at University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science has demonstrated a way to use ultrasound to create floating shapes that feel real to the touch!

They speculate that “The new technology could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan by enabling them to feel a disease, such as a tumour, using haptic feedback.”

ultrasoundshapes-article

Simple Methods Save Lives: Who Needs Fancy Technology?

When I saw this article over at Slate, it really struck a chord. “Endless Blood. How smart use of an old technology is saving women’s lives.” Dr. Chavi Eve Karkowsky writes about how protocols and communication between team members combine to save lives, in a way that expensive technology can fall short.

I’m a huge fan of technology. And I’m an even bigger fan of simplicity. I love the efficient, especially when it’s applied to life’s big problems.

Saving women’s lives after childbirth would qualify as one of those big problems that begs for huge, expensive solutions. But, Dr. Karkowsky demonstrates that sticking to tried and true, non-technical techniques gets wonderful results.

My work is in magazine publishing, admittedly not a life-and-death pursuit. Still, I think any project can benefit from the takeaway here. By setting aside time to coordinate efforts — to use what’s readily available, but in better, more efficient ways — we can accomplish great things. It’s not always necessary to invest in expensive hardware and software systems to get results. I’d go as far as to say that it’s a waste of resources to invest in any system if you’re not also exploring non-technical solutions to the problems your business faces.

By habitualizing the process of thinking through better processes, we may save some lives. Well, for most teams, at least we can save a project.

Pretty Visualizations From R, Explained

If you’re interested in learning what people go through to create beautiful graphics from basic statistical output, then spatial.ly is a site worth bookmarking.

This post, Improving R Data Visualisations Through Design, is especially worth reading. It has a handful of well-explained examples from geographer Dr. James Cheshire’s new book, London: The Information Capital. I haven’t worked with R, but data visualisation is dear to my heart. In a former life, I created animations in Flash to demonstrate things like data flows for a security network. If I ever delve back into that sort of work again, I will definitely count on Dr. Cheshire as a resource.

commute_flows_before_after

Empathy Over Logic

Here’s an excellent discussion of the importance of remembering how human beings work, when you design anything for humans. Megan Schwarz is a User Experience Architect in Michigan and Brian Bono is a Detroit based art director and designer. The link is a transcript and podcast from their talk at 2014 IA Summit in March 2014 in San Diego.

Slowing Down the Machine: Interrupting Process for the Greater Good

Curation, Algorithmic & Human

Here’s a great quote from Mike McCue of Flipboard in an interview by Robert Scoble at the launch of their version 3:

algorithmic & human curation woven together is extremely powerful

Marcy and Mike McCue, Flipboard’s co-founders, set out to create a personal magazine. The Zite acquisition earlier this year brought them closer to that vision. Now they have a better topic-based model for surfacing the content that people indicate they want to read. The cool thing here is the emphasis on making human-generated data an important part of the mix.

There are lots of flavors of weaving together algorithmic and human curation.

Compare Flipboard to Mashable, which orders itself completely by an algorithm. Well, it kind of does. Its “Velocity graphs” show which content is trending in number of shares. That data is pulled back into Mashable, merged with their predictive engine, and the articles that are likely to go viral are fed to the top of the stream. So you could say that there’s a human metric built into the algorithm: people naturally share what they like, and everyone gets to see more of that sort of thing. Flipboard has a similar feedback process, but they designed it so the pivot of control is closer to the individual readers.

With Twitter, you can already curate your own content, just by following interesting people. It takes more effort, but you can use lists and search to surface the content you want. Twitter is cautiously moving in a more algorithmic direction with their main feed, and they got some flack about it, too. Twitter should start thinking more like Flipboard and give people better tools, to let them curate their own main feeds.

Playlists are a more sophisticated kind of human-curated content, since content is in a specific order, in a context. Humans love playlist features like the ones from Songza (acquired by Google) and Beats Music (acquired by Apple) because we like to tell stories. We also do it better than machines.

In Boxes & Productivity

Inbox-logoGmail’s Inbox has me thinking about my email as a task list, now more than ever. I’m trying out this new way of managing my messages now.

I’m having fun with the UI on my phone, and the new terminology. I can “sweep” bunches of emails into a “done” pile, now. It’s just so much more satisfying than archiving ever was, but really you are just archiving your messages like before.

I used to scroll through page after page of messages that I wasn’t quite ready to delete, but I wanted to file them … some day. Now I just sweep them away. I’m still postponing the filing/deleting, but I get all the nonsense emails out of my way, and I can deal with the important messages in no time.

Impressively, using this for a couple of days, I was able to cut my unread messages down from thousands to none. I’m actually dealing with messages as they arrive now. Unheard of.

I use the Inbox app pretty much exclusively on my phone now, but I still use the old Gmail UI on the desktop. I find it’s easier to search and select multiple emails.

There are other features of note, like bundling and pinning and being able to set alerts. But the big one for me was reducing all the message clutter. So, thank you, Google.

Bottom Navs for Large Format Phones

I have tiny hands, so I’m all for Luke Wroblewski’s call for placing navigation at the bottom, especially when a handheld is any larger than an iPhone 5.

I do like the big screen on my iPhone 6 — I wouldn’t trade it in. But I find myself doing this “crawling up the phone” action to reach the navs on so many apps, and then I end up dropping the phone. Bottom navs for one-handed use would make my life a lot easier.

“Finger Crawling” up the sides of the phone to reach the hamburger menu:

Using my pinky as a tray to hold the phone so I can reach the home button: