Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Information Diet

This past summer I had lunch with Clay Johnson, and he told me he was hard at work on a book called The Information Diet. I read an early manuscript copy, and am excited to see that the Kindle version of Clay's book is out as of yesterday.

I'm over-simplifying, but his general premise is that we don't have an information overload problem, we have an information obesity problem. In the same way obesity is less a result of too much food and more about the wrong kind of food, our problem today is that we are spending too much time consuming the wrong information, and we're not disciplined enough about how/when/where we consume the right information. After reading his book, I can say he makes a compelling case.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


There's a pretty bad bill going through DC right now. Quoting at length from Matt Cutts' blog post I Need Your Help from earlier this week:

Here’s what I need:
1. Take a few minutes to learn about the SOPA/E-PARASITE/PROTECT IP bills. They’re really bad bills.
2. Take five minutes to call your Congressperson on the phone. If you live in Texas, Michigan, Vermont, or Iowa, this goes double for you.
3. Get the word out. Tell your friends on Facebook, Twitter (maybe a hashtag like #stopsopa), or Google+. If your parents live in a different state, ask them to call their Congressperson too.
I would really, really appreciate the help. If you’re the kind of person who reads my blog or follows me online, I’m pretty sure the more you read about SOPA, the less you’ll like it.
If SOPA becomes law, it could stifle the innovation (and jobs) that the technology industry creates. That’s why Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Google, Yahoo, eBay, AOL, LinkedIn, and Zynga all oppose SOPA. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue–Red State thinks SOPA is a bad idea too.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Against my better judgment, I am participating in Movember this month. If you don't know about Movember, this Chrome ad does a pretty good job summing it up:

If you would like to support me in this quest to make me look ridiculous, I would very much appreciate you making a donation of any amount on my Movember page -

As Bartles and Jaymes used to say, thank you for your support.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Uncharted 3: Arriving tomorrow

I'm more than a little excited about this: Uncharted 3 comes out tomorrow, and I just got e-mail confirmation from Amazon that my pre-order copy shipped earlier today.

If you haven't played a game in the Uncharted franchise before, you're missing out. I'm not a hard-core gamer (I hadn't owned a console for almost 20 years until I got a PS3 for Christmas a couple years ago), and Uncharted 2 remains the only modern game I've played from beginning to end.

Uncharted 2 is an incredible game - I picked it back up this past week while my Dad was in town, and my Dad (even less of a gamer than I am!) made it through 1/3 of the game over the course of his visit - and loved it. (Side note: playing video games with your Dad late into the night the same week you turn 40 is about as cool as it gets.) It's funny, thrilling, and at times surprising - and easy for a newbie like me to pick up and still feel engaged. As I said to my Dad - Uncharted - not Indiana Jones - is the franchise Steven Spielberg would build today if he were 22 years old. And after playing Uncharted, it's not hard to understand how the video game industry is bigger than the film industry.

I've deliberately avoided watching any of the game play videos or reading the reviews in depth. All I know is that I'm going to have a lot of fun hanging out with Nate Drake again in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A phenomenal birthday present

I turned 40 yesterday. It's been a great week - we celebrated at the house with friends Saturday night, then my parents arrived for the actual day and we had a terrific meal at home followed by gifts and cake.

Though I've been fortunate to have received some wonderful birthday gifts over the years, nothing really compares to what my wife coordinated for this year. Earlier this year, we got a letter from my friend Bill's wife April - Bill was turning 40, and in lieu of gifts, April wanted Bill's friends to send him a book that meant something to them, along with an inscription inside saying who it was from and why they sent it. We loved the idea, and I eagerly sent 3 books to Bill.

Robin thought it was such a great idea that she'd do the same for me - and last night I unwrapped nearly 50 books from friends around the country. I don't know what's more incredible: the thoughtfulness that so many dear friends put into the selection of the books (and the messages they inscribed), that I've only read a handful of the books (each of which I'll read again now), or that I now have easily a year's worth of amazing reading ahead of me. Opening the books last night and reading the messages inside of each was the absolute best birthday gift imaginable.

Even better? Apparently more are on the way! To everyone who contributed a book (you know who you are!) - thank you so, so much. This list reflects the diverse personalities everyone who participated, and I am blessed beyond measure to have such remarkable friends.

For those who are curious to see what was sent, the list is below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Joining Google Ventures

I'm very excited to share the news that I recently joined Google Ventures as a partner, where I'm going to be running Startup University. Startup U is our dedicated effort at helping entrepreneurs at our growing portfolio companies benefit from our experience and that of our colleagues at Google.

For those who know me, you know what an ideal role I consider this. I have loved working at Google, and consider it a true privilege to continue to work among such incredible colleagues. While leaving YouTube was an excruciatingly hard decision - I loved my coworkers at YouTube, and am excited about what's coming up from them - the role that I've been asked to take on at Google Ventures was simply too perfect for me.

I've worked at a number of startups - most recently FeedBurner, which was acquired by Google in 2007. Before that, there was Socialtext, and before that a couple of software companies focused on the legal space (I'm a lawyer by background, for those who didn't know). Before Google, the largest company I'd worked for was just 200 people - I'd worked at a couple companies of just a dozen people. FeedBurner had 6 employees when I joined. I've been on phone calls where founders discussed postponing pay so they could pay the other employees. I've held my breath as we waited for news of the Big Win - some hits, lots of misses. And I've been in the midst of some pretty spectacular crises (maybe a blog post or two in there, come to think of it!) where we wondered if we'd weather the storm.

Which is all my way of saying that I've lived the startup life - good, bad and in between. But in the last four years I've lived the Google life, and seen countless reminders of what an extraordinary collection of talent, experience and insight Google is. When Joe and Bill first reached out to me about joining Google Ventures, I started thinking about what it might look like if we could combine the deep experience of the Ventures team (many of whom have far more impressive entrepreneurial cred than I do) along with the collective expertise of tens of thousands of Googlers. I've been excited ever since, and I formally joined several weeks ago.

If you haven't seen the story that ran earlier this week in TechCrunch about my move, it's worth reading. Not for anything it says about me, but for how Google Ventures as a whole is thinking about Startup U. Startup U is not about telling the portfolio companies how to do things. Instead, it's about setting them up to succeed - and if they're going to make a mistake, let's make sure they don't repeat the ones we made.

The early feedback from companies in our portfolio is exceptionally positive. We have a number of experiments we intend to try in the months ahead, and I cannot wait to report back on what's working (and what's not).

For those who've been in the startup trenches before: what do you wish you'd had access to? What mistakes do you wish you could have avoided? And for those of you thinking about taking the plunge: what assistance/guidance/input would be invaluable to you?

I'm all ears!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New dynamic view from Blogger

I'm really excited by today's announcement from the Blogger team - as of a few minutes ago, they launched "dynamic views" for all blogs hosted by Blogger. From their announcement:
Built with the latest in web technology (AJAX, HTML5 and CSS3), Dynamic Views is a unique browsing experience that will inspire your readers to explore your blog in new ways. The interactive layouts make it easier for readers to enjoy and discover your posts, loading 40 percent faster than traditional templates and bringing older entries to the surface so they seem fresh again.
They've also included an image gallery of what the different types of layouts look like:

I've fallen off the blogging wagon for too long. I'm looking forward to picking things back up again - today's announcement came at just the right time!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Falling off the cluetrain

(I posted this to Google+ earlier today. I'm loving the engagement over there, so feel free to comment on the post over there. Don't have a Google+ account yet? Click here to sign up!)

How times have changed. Just had a miserable post-sales experience with Lenovo. Ugh.

From my overwhelmingly positive experience 5 years ago (!), to this:

My nephew starts college next week, and my wife and I told him we were going to buy him a laptop as a graduation/welcome to college gift. I was going to buy a MacBook Air, but he has several games that are only playable on a PC, so I reverted to my preferred PC brand, Lenovo.

In purchasing the laptop, the estimated ship date was clearly indicated as the 6th. Not ideal - in an age when Amazon can ship things out in what seems like minutes after you complete your order, the week's delay to get a preconfigured machine out the door seemed unnecessarily long. But it'd still be there in his first week of school.

I checked on the order this morning to confirm that it was in order; the website shows the order (3 days later) as still "in process", and the estimated ship date has been updated to 9/12. The site helpfully says for more info I should call, so I called the post-sales line. Turns out the post sales line's touch-tone recognition is borked, so no matter what you do, no tones are recognized in response to their prompts, and you get repeatedly disconnected.

I followed up by calling the pre-sales line, where the touch-tone recognition works, and got through to a rep. All he could offer was that in his experience the shipments often go out much sooner - but could offer no way to improve things, no explanation for the week's delay in estimated ship time, and no promise to do anything other than follow up in two business days with any new info he might have at that time.

In '06, I wrote the following:
Lenovo cares about its customers. Lenovo customers are passionate about Lenovo’s products. And in this age of decreasing customer loyalty, you can’t put a price tag on that.
Maybe the laptop will get shipped out sooner, as my rep suggested it might. But that'll feel like an accident, instead of evidence of a company trying hard to do right by its customers. A lot can change in five years.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Remembering my Grandmother

Patsy Ruthelma (Dawson) Klau, 1927 - 2011

(My grandmother passed away in January after a brief battle with cancer. She was one week shy of her 84th birthday. Our family gathered in Milwaukee last month to celebrate her life, and each of her four grandchildren spoke at her memorial service. My remarks follow.)

I was probably 7 or 8 years old when Grandma and I went alone to Betty & Gordon Heup's house for a party. I don't remember why it was just the two of us, or what the event was for. But I do remember that we were sitting at a dinner table, and I'd seen one of the older boys (since he's here, we'll blame this on Tim, though I have no idea who it actually was!) flick his finger through the candle flame. Intrigued, and realizing that my parents were nowhere near, I did what I'd seen the older boy do, and passed my finger quickly through the flame. It was the only time in my life I can remember Patsy actually calling me Richard Parker. (And not in a good way!) I straightened up, apologized, and promised her I'd never do it again. She loved me, that much I'd always known. But she wasn't going to let me get away with misbehaving. In a strange way, that felt even more special than if she'd ignored what I'd done. (Boys, don't even think about trying this, by the way.)

In high school, I had a history teacher named Winslow Smith, who claimed that he taught because the way to become immortal was to live on in the memories of others. Winslow was playing a numbers game - if you teach enough students then one of them's bound to remember that thing you said in AP history in 1986. But the only number Grandma cared about was 2: her 2 sons. her two successful sons: the wine guy and the toilet guy. She was so proud of Chris and Dad - of their obvious success in their careers, to be sure… but her real pride she saved for the families they'd built.

Speaking of family, I remember Patsy's mom, who I knew as Nan-Nan. I didn't get too many chances to spend time with her, but as a young boy I remember that she was the really nice lady who cried whenever she saw us. I understood it wasn't because she was sad - I think now it must have been tremendous pride to see what obviously handsome and well-behaved great-grandsons she had. And though Grandma showed the same pride in her family that her mom did, she wasn’t a crier - what I remember whenever we saw her was her laughter.

Grandma and Grandpa meeting me for the first time
Some of you saw that my brother and Erin got my Dad a slide scanner for Christmas, and he started sharing a number of his scans with us. (Kids - slides are like digital photos, only on pieces of plastic. You needed to put them in a big machine, then… oh nevermind. They're digital now. That's all you need to know.) Looking at the photos Dad sent us, we got to one of Grandma and Grandpa stepping off the plane in LA to meet me for the first time. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out: "Man, she was a hot grandma!" More importantly, you can see in those pictures the absolute love she had - for her son and daughter-in-law, and for her grandson.

Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day, 1947
Grandma and Granpda with Richard #6 :)
In the same year that Grandma and Grandpa celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, Robin and I got married. I loved getting the chance to honor their life together at our wedding; as some of you will recall Grandpa made sure to corner Robin at the reception to make sure that she knew she had to name her first-born Richard. What fewer know is that while that conversation was happening, Grandma whispered to me that Grandpa wasn't kidding! A few years later, when Robin and I took the boys to visit Grandma and Grandpa in Florida, it was amazing to watch as she took to the role of doting great-grandmother - and the love for her great-grandsons is as obvious in those photos as it was in the photos from 30 years prior when she visited my parents in California.

(Great-)Grandma and her great-grandsons, 2006

With the kids in front of the Eby clock
As some of you know I've spent a bunch of time in the last year studying our family's ancestry. With the Dawsons, I'd run into a wall with Nan-Nan's parents. In one of my calls to Grandma last year I asked if she knew anything about her great-grandparents. Not much, she said - but she recalled some papers she had lying around that could help. She mailed them to me, and I was excited to discover that she had the names of her great-great-grandparents - names I hadn't been able to find. From that, I traced her roots to an original settler in Pennsylvania Dutch country - the house built by her 7th great-grandfather in 1727 still stands in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just a few miles from my parents' house. Her 3rd great-grandfather, Jacob Eby, was a renowned clock-maker - and over Christmas Robin and I took the kids to a museum in San Francisco that has one of his clocks on permanent display. Grandma was delighted at each of these discoveries - though she warned me that I might not like everything I found (I *think* she was kidding, but if any of you have stories for me, let's grab a beer later!). The best moments from this research were when I got to share my discoveries with her. Her only regret (and mine) was that I didn't do this sooner, when I would have had a chance to share this with Grandpa, who would've loved to know that a great-grandfather of his was a Colonel who led a regiment of Milwaukee soldiers in the Civil war, or that an ancestor of ours was the royal photographer in the Prussian kingdom in the 19th century, or that his fourth great-grandfather was one of the original German settlers in Milwaukee - its first gunsmith, and the owner of the first house in the city.

I miss Grandma. I miss our long phone calls when I'd call her on my drive to work. I miss hearing her take such incredible interest in how the kids were doing, and her absolute delight at what a strong-willed great-granddaughter she had. I miss her scolding me if she thought I wasn't showing Robin enough gratitude for being such a great wife and mother. But mostly I'm grateful for the incredible amount of time we did get together. I've thought a lot about my old history teacher's comments, and I think he had it a bit wrong. It's not the memories themselves that we should be focused on. Sure, the memories are important. It's not so much that Grandma lives on through our memories, it's that we will honor her memory by embracing who she was, and carrying that with us in what we do. We'll remember to laugh louder, smile a little wider, trace the kids' faces at night, respond "I love *you* more" when someone tells us they love us, or recite one of the many poems she left behind to brighten our days. If we do *that*, we'll continue to make her proud of us.

On the plane ride here, Ricky told me quite seriously: "Dad, it's kind of sad that we're going to Milwaukee, but I think it should be a celebration. Not that she's dead, I mean… but that she had such a happy life." I think he's right. She lived a long, happy life - and as she left us, she knew that she had much to be proud of. I'm grateful for that, and am so glad we've had this chance to honor that memory as we celebrate a long life well lived. We know you love us, Grandma, and we love you more.

Grandma with me and my kids, October, 2009

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Google Account security best practices

A family member recently had some questions about how to keep their Google account secure, and I wrote up a bunch of recommendations for how to stay safe... realized after I sent the e-mail that this was probably good stuff to share for people who might not know about all of the options when it comes to protecting their account. Hope some of you find this helpful!

1. Pick a strong password for your Google Account (in many cases, your Gmail address). Strong = not something you use everywhere else, a combination of letters and numbers, and at least one symbol in there is ideal. (Here are some tips on picking a good password if you need some ideas.)

2. Make sure your Google Account recovery options are set - visit the account recovery options page and make sure you have a backup e-mail address, and that your mobile number is listed on your account. Should you ever lose access to your account, these will be instrumental in restoring access.

3. Set up Two Step Authentication on your Google Account. Details are here, you can set it up by starting at this link. What this does is block anyone else from logging into your account - even if they have your username and password. This requires you to have access to a physical device - your iPhone, Android or Blackberry phone - to ensure that you are really you. This may seem like overkill - but it's a key step to ensuring that your account is secure. There are ways committed hackers can discover your password - even if they get it they won't be able to do anything with it unless they also have your phone. Go through the process of installing the app on your phone (this page has the download link and instructions for setting it up); once done, here's how it will work:

  • the first time after you enable this, Google will ask you to log in. You'll provide your username and password, then Google will ask you for your "verification code". Launch the Google Authenticator app on your phone, and then type in the six-digit code from the phone into the verification code box in your browser.
  • if this is your computer, check the box "remember verification for this computer for 30 days" before clicking verify... you won't need to provide the verification for a month. (If it's a shared computer, don't check this!)
  • You'll see this anytime you try logging in from another computer (i.e., your laptop, your work computer, the iPad, etc.) - it's a bit more cumbersome (just a bit), but the advantage is that your account is far more secure than just a username/password. It's worth it.
4. IMPORTANT: once you've set two step verification up, you may need to change the password for your phone and/or other apps that are communicating with Google's servers. (For instance, I had to do this for iMove this morning when uploading a video to YouTube.) Because these apps don't know how to check for the verification code (they just know username/password), Google has a back-up: an "application specific password" -- you set these up here (see the bottom of the page: "application specific passwords"). Type in a name - say, Nexus S - and then click "generate password". You'll get an auto-generated string of characters, which you will then type into your phone or application's password field for your account.

5. Check to see what applications/services you've authorized to have access to your Google Account. Go here and see what websites/applications are listed - these are services who you previously granted access to your Google Account. If there are any there you no longer use, or sites you didn't intend to authorize, click revoke. (I'll come back to this later - as you centralize your e-mail, address book, calendar, etc. on your Google Account, authorizing other services to access this info can be very powerful - but you will want to use discretion in deciding which services get access to this data. It probably goes without saying - only grant access to trustworthy sites who you have absolute faith will not compromise the integrity of your data.)

6. Phone: if you don't already have a passcode on your phone, turn it on so that someone getting possession of your phone can't use it without knowing your passcode. (Otherwise anyone getting the phone can read your mail, receive "forgotten password" e-mails that would help them reset passwords on your account(s), etc.)

If you do those things, you'll have dramatically increased the security of your information online, and prevented any ongoing security problems. Now here are some best practices to keep in mind:

1. Try and use your Google Account when you log in to other services. When prompted to create a new account, look for a "login with Google" option. This will allow you to use your Google identity on those sites - not only is this simpler for you (one less username/password to remember!), it's also more useful (the service can access your contacts/information, helping you avoid having to manually enter more info) and it's more secure (when you're through with the site, you simply revoke its access to your info).

2. NEVER manually type your Google account information (username/password) into a webpage that is not owned/provided by Google. If you do this, you have no guarantee that the middle-man you've just shared your credentials with will protect that info. (This is why, by the way, Google's 2 step authentication is so useful - even if you did this, your info would be useless without the phone verification code. So long as you retain control of that, you're safe!) Whenever you're asked to login w/Google, the right way to do this is for them to send you to Google (look in your browser's address bar: is the URL, where you are asked to login if you're not already logged in, then you are asked whether you want to grant access to the referring app. Say OK, and you'll be returned to the app, which is now approved by Google.

3. Keep an eye on Gmail's "last account activity" feature if you're concerned that someone else may be accessing your account. Towards the bottom of the page in Gmail you'll see something that says "last account activity". Click "Details" to see a report of where your account is being accessed from; you can sign out all other sessions from that page, as well as review the actual location/IP address of any other computers accessing your account. (Gmail keeps an eye on this as well, and may contact you if suspicious activity is detected.)

4. Don't e-mail sensitive files as attachments. Upload the files you want to share to Google Docs, and use Docs to control access to the files. Ideally you will share the file with a Google Account user. This is the most secure, and is helpful in the event you ever want to stop sharing with that user - you simply remove them from the list of people who can view the file. If that's not an option - the user doesn't have a Google Account, for instance - you can set the document's visibility to 'anyone with the link'. This has some risks - the person you share with can share the link with someone else - but you retain control of the document, which means you can delete it, or update the security settings to require login to view... either of which is much more secure than files you e-mail as attachments, which you lose control of the minute you hit 'send'. And whatever you do, be smart about who you e-mail those files (links or otherwise) to in the first place.

5. Don't send passwords in e-mail. While Gmail uses https to encrypt all traffic between your browser and the Gmail server, there's no guarantee that the recipients of your e-mails containing passwords are similarly secure.

If you've hit this point and you're wondering whether there's even more you could read (!), swing by the 2010 and 2009 tips and tricks that Google compiled for National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and this page has some additional tips for keeping your info secure.

Any other tips for keeping your account secure?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The New Google Profile is here!

Last year I announced I'd moved over to the Google Profiles team, and then went all but radio silent as we put our heads down to upgrade the product. Hilariously, last weekend someone not-so-subtly teased me by leaving an anonymous comment on that post: "11 months and counting..." (It's nice to know people are paying attention, I guess!)

Well, the wait's over. Over at the Social Web Blog, you can read the blog post that outlines what's new. Most notable, from my point of view:
  • bigger profile pic - go update yours now!
  • "scrapbook" lets you pick 5 thumbnails to show on your About page (clicking through will open the pics in full-screen lightbox mode)
  • overall update to the look & feel
  • "About" tab is the default tab (whether you use Buzz or not)
  • Buzz users can choose to hide the tab (if, for instance, you don't use it or just don't want it shown)
  • several fields have auto-complete (e.g., schools, employers)
  • search visibility is controllable: you can choose to prevent your profile page from being indexed

Here's what the Profile looks like now:

And here's what it looked like before:

There's more (hint: upload multiple profile pics, see if you can figure it out), and a lot more to come in the weeks and months ahead. I'm really proud of the team - this represents a complete rewrite of the profile, and will serve as a great foundation for more fun stuff down the road.

On a separate note, I can now share the news that once we got the Profile to code completion a few weeks ago, I moved over to YouTube. I'm now a PM at YouTube, where I'm responsible for the homepage, YouTube's social strategy and a variety of other related pieces. Leaving the Profiles team was a very tough decision - I loved working with them and am eager to see the next set of things they launch.

That said, the opportunity at YouTube was simply too good to pass up. I'll have more to share about the new gig soon. In the meantime, go update your profile (or create one)!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Protip for book publishers

The Inner CircleIn the nearly three years since I bought my first Kindle, I've become an enormous fan. I've purchased about 100 books, and have read books on the first gen Kindle (now gifted to my in-laws), second-gen Kindle (a gift to my wife), my iPhone 3GS, my Nexus One, my iPad, and my Nexus S. The reading experience has been consistently terrific - synching between devices (so you can pick up on the phone where you left off on the Kindle) is flawless, the experience of transferring titles to any device is simple, and the more recent ability to lend titles to friends is great too.

But I had a terrible experience with a book last week, notable as much because it's the first time I've felt that the Kindle degraded my reading experience in three years. To be clear, this isn't Amazon's fault - it's a combination of a disappointing book (hardly their issue!) and a dumb decision by the publisher (which may have been intentional).

Let me explain: I heard an interview last week on NPR with Brad Meltzer, author of a new book about intrigue at the National Archives. (I know what you're thinking, and in hindsight, perhaps I should've thought twice: "intrigue" at the National Archives?) It sounded interesting, and I'd read some of Meltzer's work before so I picked it up.

I wasn't really enjoying the book as I read it. The plot strained credibility in several places, twists were pretty foreseeable, and Meltzer never really pulled me in. But it had one thing going for it: as I watched my progress meter on the Kindle get to just 25, 30, 40%, I figured that perhaps the best of the book was still in front of me. Maybe this was just necessary setup for a more engaging ride?

Then, at 47%, I was at the end of the book. The book didn't just end on a cliff-hanger, it ended with the main conflict in the story completely unresolved. Certain that there was a mistake, I tried to re-download the title. I skipped ahead to 50, 55% to see what was there - and discovered that Meltzer's publisher had bundled an entirely different book - by a different author - in with this downloaded title. End result? Total, utter confusion. (I'm not alone - here's one reviewer who had the same reaction; there are many others in the book's reviews.)

This is partly the author's fault: I can't remember another book I've read where the author so utterly punted on the central conflict at the end of the book. (After reading some reviews on Amazon, I discovered that this is the first book of a series Meltzer intends to write centered around these characters.) But it's also the publisher's fault: if they hadn't included the second book in the download, at least the Kindle's progress meter would've accurately reflected the % of book I'd read. As it was, the % meter reflected the % of the downloaded item I'd completed, which is useless - why do I care that I'm 47% of the way through the combination of two books by two different authors?

If Amazon has any opportunity here, it's to prohibit this kind of bundling by publishers - it degrades the user experience, and through no fault of their own, renders one of its key features useless. One of the tremendous assets of the Kindle reading experience is that it's consistent - not only across devices but across titles.

Bonus: I guess maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss the notion of intrigue at the National Archives. From this week's headlines:
Maybe Meltzer was on to something...?!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tasker makes Android better

When I got my Nexus S last month, I was excited about a number of things, but particularly the remarkable battery life promised by a number of reviewers. If I had one complaint about the Nexus 1, it was that the battery often gave up the ghost by the end of the day. I got used to charging during the middle of the day just to be safe, and for the most part that worked, though it didn't avoid the fairly often end-of-day battery drain (which always seemed faster than at any other point in the day).

When I started seeing similar behavior with the Nexus S, I was concerned. Thanks to a couple Android utilities, however, I was able to finally figure out what the root issue was. And with the help of Tasker, a terrific Android app, I believe I've completely solved the problem - not to mention gained a very useful utility that's capable of doing a lot more.

It turns out that the issue is where I live: there's next to no T-Mobile service within about 100 yards of my house. Elsewhere in the neighborhood is fine - but the particular hill we live on is a dead spot. In Settings, I clicked on "About phone" and then "Battery Use" to get a full report of what processes were responsible for the battery usage. It's a handy way to know what's responsible (if anything) for abnormal battery consumption - in my case, it was "Cell standby". What this means is that the phone was trying to acquire a (mostly) nonexistent cell signal - the longer it tried, the faster the battery drained.

I experimented with using the phone's airplane mode (turning off all radio antennae) to see if it helped - and sure enough, the phone held its charge without a problem. Now that I'd isolated the culprit, I wanted to automate the process of disabling the radio antenna so that the phone wasn't constantly trying to reaquire a cell signal - that's where Tasker comes in.

Tasker's an automation app for Android. You can define a set of criteria that, when met, trigger an action - loading an app, presenting a menu, changing a system setting, etc. For this particular scenario, I just wanted to have the phone turn on airplane mode (but keep wifi and bluetooth on) whenever I'm home. Tasker made this a trivial task - and the battery at the end of the day is now often north of 40% where it was previously empty by day's end.

There's a lot that Tasker can do for you - check out the example profiles included in the Tasker wiki. Each profile is described in detail, and includes a download link so you can load the profile directly into Tasker. For around $6, it's a great deal. (You can download a 7 day trial here, if you want to kick the tires before buying.)

If you're looking for other things you can do with Tasker, Lifehacker has a great write-up with step-by-step instructions about how you can use Tasker to extend your Android phone's capabilities. I particularly like the profile that asks you which music app to load when you plug the headphones in:

I asked some co-workers for tips on how they use it, and one guy had a great idea: when the phone is placed face down (like in a meeting), have Tasker mute the audio and turn off wifi, bluetooth, GPS, etc. Ultimately, it's this kind of customization and control over your phone that I love about Android. One warning, however: Tasker, while powerful, is itself rather utilitarian in design. It will take a bit of getting used to, and you'll need to invest some time in learning its quirks from an interface perspective. (Critics will rightly point out that this is the trade you make when you give users customization and control over the phone. I'm quite comfortable with that trade-off, but your mileage may vary.)

So how about you: any Android automation tips? Do you have a Tasker profile you want to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments.