Productivity lessons from house-sitting

The last time I was house-sitting, all I did was use Facebook and watch TV. I got really bored. Despite cooking, cleaning and looking after the canine (the reason I was required to house-sit) – I had more time to burn than I ever had at home, where a large amount of cooking and cleaning is done for me (thanks mum!).
The reason for this?
When we are in familiar surroundings we fall into behavioural patterns. As creatures of habit, we do the same things again and again. Our brains do this because they’re lazy – they follow patterns so there are less decisions to make throughout the day, limiting cognitive fatigue.
When we are in unfamiliar surroundings the slate is clean. We must actively decide what to eat, do or spend our time on. We decide every element of what we do.
I’m trying to make myself more productive. The next step in this quest is not only limiting distractions, but also breaking the unproductive behavioural patterns I’ve become accustomed to.
How can you break your unproductive habits?

Facebook sabbatical

I waste a lot of time on Facebook. A lot. I’m addicted.
I stop by countless times per day to check for notifications and respond to ‘urgent’ comments on my most recent status.

I heard a quote:

“Time is our most valuable asset, yet we tend to waste it, kill it, and spend it rather than invest it.” ~ Jim Rohn, Business Philosopher

In the interests of being more productive, I’m running an experiment – I’m ditching Facebook for one month. Let’s see:
a) whether I manage without it, and
b) whether I miss it.

But more importantly, there’s a hidden part c) to the equation:
c) what extra will I achieve in that one month?

I’ve been lazy

Sorry I haven’t been around lately. I’ve been busy with a lot of things and have been trying to figure out how to transfer this blog over to the WordPress CMS.

Stay tuned! I’ll be back with some more regular posts soon…

Do companies care about Customer Service?

Last year I wrote a post explaining that when having trouble with retailers (or, I guess, any company), failing an initial success you should take your complaint straight to the top. The reason this works is because people in head office have little time/patience to deal with petty complaints and will just sent the order down the lines to comply with your request. This all, of course, assumes that you have a valid claim for complaint/exchange/refund/etc. in the first place.

Well, it seems that this method has come through again!

I won’t reveal which company it was to ensure this post remains impartial, but in summary: I was denied an exchange/refund of my faulty product at the store level, so I called head office. A day later, I got a call back saying that the company was willing to organise a replacement product for me, citing it was, “for customer service” reasons.

What are “customer service” reasons? What the company was trying to tell me was that they were replacing the product in good faith, not because I had a legitimate claim but because they wanted to ensure ‘the customer remain[ed] happy‘. Apart from that attitude being incredibly unprofessional and childish, it also proves the exact opposite of what you’re claiming to do. It shows you don’t care about the customer and are just complying in order to make the issue disappear. Not that it matters to me because I get what I want, but it shows cracks in the overall ethos of a company which strives to please its customers.

What this goes to show is that even though comanies may not take customer service seriously, they will do what they can to make problems go away – they just need a little nudge in the right direction first. But what does it show for the overall state of customer service in the retail industry (or any industry for that matter)? I know it’s not the first time I’ve reluctantly received a refund.

Regardless, I’m happy to say that in no time I’ll be donning my newly replaced Converses from Foot Locker… Whoops.
Image source: http://www.theshoespoint.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/converse_all-stars.jpg

Adam Jaffrey’s TEDxMelbourne Talk

Some of you may know that a couple of months ago (20th November 2010, to be exact) I spoke a TEDxMelbourne’s Community & Youth event. It was an amazing experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. The day was packed with inspiring speakers and performers, as well as the opportunity to network with all of awesome people I met (both in person, and online). I can’t decide which aspect (i.e. entertainment vs. networking) was more valuable!

Anyway, the video of my TEDx Talk has just been posted to YouTube. Check it out below (permalink):

Leave me a comment/feedback in the comments section below.

WorldCard Moble app review

Disclaimer: The following is a paid post, funded by Penpower Inc. However, the app has been reviewed impartially.

iPhone app review
App name: WorldCard Mobile – business card reader & business card scanner
Developer: Penpower Technology Ltd.
Version: 3.0.0
Price: $7.99 AUD ($5.99 USD)

What:
WorldCard Mobile (iTunes link) is a business card scanning app for the iPhone. While business card scanning apps are not a new idea (they’ve been around on old Nokia smartphones for years), for those who are new to this technology, here’s a rundown. You take a photo of the desired business card with your smartphone, then the app’s super smart technology analyses it’s data using optical character recognition (OCR)and creates a new contact with the information it deciphered. WorldCard Mobile, like other business card scanning apps, helps to reduce the burden of manually copying text from business cards to digital contact information.

Good:
Whilst there are many business card scanning apps on the market (there’s at least four others on iTunes) WorldCard Mobile differentiates itself by providing great OCR software. The app is produced by Penpower Inc. who has been fine-tuning their OCR software for years with physical versions of the same technology (see WorldCard by Penpower). From the trials I conducted, it recognised most text fields correctly the majority of the time (Update (30/12/10): A spokesperson from Penpower Inc. informs me that whilst the OCR is not 100% accurate, Penpower strives hard to to improve their OCR technologies. While their competitors are using OCR technology from 3rd parties, Penpower’s OCR is their core technology.)

Another benefit is that when the app does not recognise fields correctly, you can crop out a portion of the original image for re-recognition (which usually fixes the problem). The app also stores all scanned cards in a nifty Card Holderwith cover flow view.

The name WorldCard is significant because the app can function remarkably to recognise text in 7 different languages, including: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch.

Another great feature the app provides is the ability to scrape contact information out of an email signature. All you have to do is highlight the contact signature within Mail, hit copy, and press Signature within WorldCard Mobile. The app automatically grabs the text from your iPhone clipboard and can create contact data right from that screen.
The other feature which I really like is used when in scanning mode. Right next to the capture image button is a shake reduction button. What this does is waits until the camera is held steady and then takes the photo automatically – genius.

Bad:
WorldCard Mobile does what it says it does relatively well. On occasion the app would have trouble recognising some characters which I found most prominent when the text was small, an obscure field (i.e. a Twitter handle) or the original scan was blurry. Speaking of obscure fields, the app is limited to only recognising the following types of information: name, company, department, job title, phone, mobile, fax, email, website URL, address and a contact photo.

The camera shake reduction works well most of the time, except for if the image is out of focus to begin with as the shake reduction seems only to wait until the device is held still before capturing the image. A better way to activate the shutter automatically would be to wait until the image is in focus. Maybe this could be improved in a future update?

Something that’s aesthetically out of touch too, is that whilst the app is rendered for the iPhone 4’s Retina display, some icons and images within the app are still in low-res. Additionally, whilst using the app I get the idea that the image on the home screen is a stock photo. I’d rather see a little more originality here.
Also, the app doesn’t have multi-tasking support which means you lose any unsaved data if you happen to switch apps. This needs to be fixed in the next update.

Also, just to be pedantic, I’d like to see a more minimalistic icon for the app!

Summary:
Nonetheless, WorldCard Mobile does what it aims to do with minimal effort. With some of the best OCR software I’ve seen in action, the ability to crop out fields for misread text and the app’s Card Holder with cover flow view, WorldCard Mobile gets the job done.

Priced a little on the high side (at $7.99 AUD), you can grab yourself arguably the best OCR technology available on the iPhone today.

You can check out the full WoldCard Mobile on the App Store, or test it out free with the lite version (limited to saving just a few cards).

Adam Jaffrey speaking at TEDxMelbourne

For those of you who haven’t heard of the amazing conference TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design), it’s a worldwide phenomenon which goes by the mantra ideas worth spreading. TED licenses out its brand in a franchisee-like manner to events all over the world which carry the name TEDx (the x stands for an independently organised TED event).

This Saturday, 20th November 2010, I will be speaking at TEDxMelbourne which will be held at the State Library of Victoria. I’m super-excited to be part of such an amazing event and community!

This TEDxMelbourne event will follow the theme Community & Youth, which makes it perfect for me to speak about the community non-profit organisation I volunteer for called, Step Back Think. Step Back Think aims to put an end to street violence, particularly alcohol-fuelled violence – and it’s something I’m very passionate about.
Unfortunately (due to popular demand), tickets for this TEDxMelbourne event sold out in just a few days but I’d love you to watch me speak via the livestream (register here). Otherwise, here are a few other ways to be a part of the day.
Let me know your thoughts via the comments below, or @AdamJaffrey on Twitter.

Social Media “slurs” subject “sinners” to censorship

Last week it was reported in the Herald Sun that cricket players from a regional league have been banned from playing for weeks for mouthing off about the league on Facebook.

Let me get this out foremost: I’m not talking about libel, defamation or misrepresentation. I’m not talking about disclosing confidential information. I’m talking about opinions.

Read the article. It is absolutely ridiculous.

Social Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are simply extensions and digitisations of existing social norms. They are a digitisations of our everyday conversations and social interactions.

All this means is, in addition to complaining to your friends in person about the shitty local cricket league, people will complain on Facebook and Twitter. I fail to see how the comments of players in a local league owe any sort of duty to represent that league positively (especially based on the facts outlined in the article). The league wouldn’t have barred them had they complained to their mates over a few beers, so why on Facebook?

Whatever happened to free speech?

This is alarming, as many companies are developing Social Media policies which confine employees to what they can and can’t say. What gives businesses the right to control what their employees talk about in person? Nothing. So what gives them the right to control what they tweet about?

This is a form of communism run by employers, local cricket leagues and the like. We can’t continue to allow the man to control what we say, off-line or online.