Bryan Ruby


Thoughts, Words, and Deeds

Technology

Recovering from Blogging Burnout

Getting burned by the fire

I don't think I want to do this anymore...

After three or four decades of being immersed in the digital lifestyle and blogging on a continual basis for 15 years, I found myself puking at the idea of spending more time in front of the computer outside of work. It's not that I don't still like technology and content management, but I didn't recognize until it was too late that the lack of topic diversity would eventually lead me to digital burnout. To fix this, I seriously tried not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In the end that's exactly what I did.

Having walked away from CMS Report earlier this year, it's taken me months to recognize that the problem wasn't being bored with content management systems. The problem is I didn't do it in moderation.  Between my day job working in information technology and the evenings spent blogging and running personal websites, there were days I spent close to 16 hours in front of a computer screen. For someone like me that can be over enthusiastic in pursuing my interests and activities, I never considered my computer time as work. As odd as it sounds, it became a great shock to me that my body both physically and mentally still perceived it as work.

I know there are others that have dealt with job burnout, but this wasn't just my job it was my hobby. Until recently, writing blog posts always brought me great joy and satisfaction. Steven D’souza in a recent article published at Harvard Business Review wrote about going through something similar. In the article he discusses the dangers of not recognizing work we love as still being work.

Starting my Summer with the Blossom Smart Watering Controller

Blossom Sprinkler

Spring brought to South Dakota plenty of rain. The lawns are green, the flowers are in full bloom, and it seems we can't go beyond a couple days without a rain shower or thunderstorm. While water is usually plenty for my city, we do things smart around here and restrict water usage for our lawns year round. It's not uncommon in my part of the country to see the weather pattern quickly change from wet to dry. What once was green can turn brown in a hurry.

If you want a green yard when summer is in full swing, you will do best to respect the water restrictions and program your sprinkler controller the smartest way possible. Here in my city, watering lawns is not allowed during the hours of 12 p.m to 5 PM. Homeowners with even-numbered addresses may water lawns on even-numbered calendar dates and users with odd-numbered addresses may water lawns on odd-numbered calendar dates. Last summer though, my traditional sprinkler controller decided this responsibility was too much of a burden. The failing controller couldn't even keep the time of day correctly yet alone maintain an ideal watering schedule. So this May, I replaced my failing controller with Blossom's Smart Watering Controller in hopes of a greener lawn and a better sprinkler system.

A new generation of sprinkler controllers

Haven't heard of Blossom before this article?  Up to a few months ago, I hadn't before I watched Cali Lewis and David Foster at this year's CES interview Manrique Brenes. Blossom's water controller was so new at the time of purchase that it wasn't available for regular sales and I found myself for the first time committing to a product via a KickStarter investment.

My Blossom Sprinkler Controller Has Arrived

Blossom Sprinkler still in box

My Blossom Sprinkler Controller has arrived! For home owners with a water sprinkler system, you no longer have to be stuck with the expensive but dumb irrigation controllers that was originally installed at your house. There is a new generation of "smart" sprinkler systems arriving on the scene, including those created by Rachio and Blossom. The Blossom controller self-programs based on real-time weather data and gives you control of your schedule right from your phone. Once the controller understands the vegetation, layout of your yard, and the weather it should do the thinking for you when deciding how much to water should be used. The company claims that because their controller is "smarter" than conventional controllers (and hopefully smarter than me), I can expect to save up to 30% on my water bill.

For the past couple years, the old controller for my home sprinkler system hasn't function well. Whether the sprinkler was bad to begin with or took a power hit, it couldn't remember it's programming well from day one when my wife and I bought the house. Then last January, Cali Lewis and David Foster at the CES interviewed Manrique Brenes of Blossom​ about his company's new product. The product was so new that it wasn't available for purchase and I found myself for the first time committing to a product via KickStarter.

The great ENIAC

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Glen Beck (background) and Betty Snyder (foreground) program the ENIAC in BRL building 328

After spending most of my years years in grade school working hard on experimental science fair projects and not receiving a ribbon, I finally gave up and wrote a "non-experimental" paper on the history of computers in the eighth grade. Despite the paper being weak even for eighth grade standards, I finally won a ribbon (third place) in the school science fair. Remember, this was the early 1980's and everyone was still fascinated with the then new concept of computers entering "everyday" life. Why am I going down memory lane? Well I came across an article on the 60th anniversary of ENIAC  [via news.com, broken link] the "first" computer built which of course was mentioned in that paper of mine some 25 years ago.

Though, only to find out after reading the article, ENIAC wasn't the first computer and it really didn't do a whole lot. They just had a good public relations department that explained well to the American audience what role the computer would play in the future. If you read the article you'll find (not included in my excerpt) that the PR people went so far to include the placing of flashing light bulbs on the computer console so that people had something to look at besides vacuum tubes and switches. Still, you have to admit it was an amazing engineering achievement despite needing a good marketing campaign to go along with it.

Technology is no longer a disruptive force

Google Fiber

When Google announced in 2012 that they were bringing Google Fiber to Kansas City, my father called me and said he was interested. As an information technologist, I was excited. I told the “old man” that Google Fiber was going to change everything. Last month, Google Fiber finally came to my parents' neighborhood, and I made the six-hour drive to visit the house I grew up in.

After watching my parents interact with Google Fiber, I confirmed not only that Google Fiber was a game changer, but I also discovered something I hadn't expected: in a world where technology companies prefer to deliver shock and awe, Google made every effort to deliver no surprises to homeowners. On the surface, my parents weren't doing anything different than they had before Google brought their tech to town. This ultimate game changing disruptive technology could not be more non-disruptive to the families who are about to consume it.

Home Is Where The Network Is

My home's network distribution panel

A couple years ago, my wife and I took advantage of the post-housing bubble low interest rates and upgraded to a larger home. We came across a pre-owned house built in 2006 that came with the price, size, and style that just screamed to us "buy me".  As a family, we carefully reviewed our finances and listed our pros and cons before making the purchase. My wife and I were excited to finally have a bathroom connected to the master bedroom. Our then young son was excited that he finally had a family room that offered him fun and adventure. Secretly though, what sold me on the house had nothing to do with these things. What impressed me most was that this house had a network distribution panel.

Anyone who likes to avoid supporting a "rats nest" of network wiring should insist that their next house contain a well thought-out network distribution panel. In fact if it doesn't and I were you, I would insist to the seller that's why you as the buyer will pay less for the house due to future headaches you are likely to encounter. In my house, the builder and contractors pre-wired the house for phone, data, cable, satellite, cable, and audio. What more could an IT professional want? The best thing of all, the previous owner of the house barely touched those wires giving me the opportunity to hook things up my way for the very first time.

Dethroned: Content Is No Longer King

I spent most of the last two weeks camping and hiking in the Grand Teton National Park of northwest Wyoming. If you've never visited this national park then take my word on it that Grand Teton is one of the most beautiful places a person can visit in this world. The mountains in this place peak near 13,800 feet and rise from the valley by almost 7,000 feet. Despite the warm summer much of the United States experienced, ice glaciers can still be accessed through a number of day hikes. For anyone that loves the outdoors, this place has everything in the form of wildlife, scenery, and activities. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending from your perspective), what the Grand Teton doesn't have is good 3G or 4G cell phone coverage.

Mobile cell phone coverage in vacation spots like these are spotty at best. There were times my Android 4.0 enabled smartphone phone was rendered into nothing more than a tin can on a string.  I'm usually OK with this, but my Jayco CMS developed a problem with it's propane powered refrigerator and a good internet connection would have been very helpful to help me troubleshoot the issue. In the end, old fashion workarounds and a bit of luck fixed my fridge issue at a time when the Internet and its vast amount of content remained unreachable to me. During those two weeks, I quickly found that content was not my king. The desired end product for me was not content but instead it was information.

I purchased the Google Nexus 7 tablet

If you follow me on Google+ or Twitter, you likely already know that I am not a tablet fan. I know the statement is contradictory when coming from a techy person like me. I have a hard time seeing the benefit of a tablet in my day to day life. I already own a great smartphone (the Android-based Droid Razr) and I prefer the ease of a physical keyboard on my computer and notebooks when writing content is crucial. Overall, I'm just not convinced that a tablet will allow me to do anything more than what my current devices already do. Perhaps this is a sign of my age, but I lost my "wow" some time ago for new technology.

Google Nexus 7 BannerYesterday, I bit the bullet and finally ordered my first tablet, the Google Nexus 7. Although, I bought my wife an iPad 3 last spring (it seldom gets used around here), I never really felt comfortable playing with the iPad since I am not the primary user of the device. With regards to my decision to purchase the Nexus 7, I have to admit that I'm not looking forward to confusing my family further with another new device in our home. We are already at war here in Ruby Manor battling the mix of Windows, OSX, iOS, Linux, and Android devices scattered throughout the household. The mix of DVR and Blueray players connected to our TV's aren't helping either. Life should be simpler but we tend to have complicated matters as none of my family are fully satisfied with a single cloud service whether those services come from Apple, Google, or Amazon.

Who really invented the tablet?
Illustration of the Dynabook
Bryan Ruby Tue, 12/13/2011 - 01:01

The 1994 Knight-Ridder video I attached at the bottom of this post  is a fantastic reminder that the tablet predates the iPad and Android tablet by many decades. During the "hypermedia" era of the late 1980's, I can recall taking a "tech of the future" class where my professor discussed in similar detail what a tablet might look like in the future. He described a day where students would be sitting under trees reading not not from paper books but utilizing exactly what we know today as the digital tablet. 

 Believe it or not though, the origins of the tablet computer date back to the 19th century.

Electrical devices with data input and output on a flat information display have existed as early as 1888.[3] Throughout the 20th century many devices with these characteristics have been ideated and created whether as blueprints, prototypes or commercial products, with the Dynabook concept in 1968 being a spiritual precursor of tablets and laptops. In addition to many academic and research systems, there were several companies with commercial products in the 1980s.

Ready or not: Content management is going mobile

Not having the opportunity to own an iPhone due to lack of coverage by phone carrier AT&T, I haven't been a smartphone user. Then a few weeks ago my carrier, Verizon, introduced the Motorola Droid and I purchased my first smartphone.  Since then, I've been carrying the Droid where ever I go and taking full advantage of the phone's features.

My experience with the Droid has forced me once again to question what I know about Web content management and best practices. I knew I would use the phone for social media aspects (Facebook, Twitter) but I've been surprised at how much I hungered to read content from various Internet sites. Despite the iPhone and the Droid both having good Web browsers, I've come to the conclusion that reading content on a smartphone for a site like CMSReport.com still sucks.

How much further do content management systems need to go to deliver content to the mobile user as well as the touchscreen tablet folks? Delivering content to mobile users has to be more than just stripping off the site's cosmetics and delivering only text. Though, I suspect that's what most of us will do as a lot of time and money would be involved. Also, I don't think it's just the delivery of content that needs to change for mobile devices but also how we manage the content that will also need to be changed. I think the challenges are enormous and wonder if we're really ready to deliver on the promises we're making.

One such promise that is being made for the tablet folks is the vision being provided by the publishers of Sports Illustrated. This vision for hypermedia isn't new but perhaps we're a lot closer now to having this vision become reality as our smartphones, electronic books, and tablets advance forward into the future.