Running in Dark Mode all Day

It’s likely that most of the apps that you use have a white (or light) background with black (or dark) text. It’s also likely that the operating system capabilities that you use also has this configuration.

This is the default after all and why would you change it?

You may have gone to the effort of changing the colour scheme a little, but it’s probably still got a light background and dark text.

I’ve recently taken the step of reversing this on many apps and some operating systems as a bit of an experiment. My screen world is now predominantly dark – dark background with light text.

Why? There are a few reasons, but mostly it’s about personal taste and visual preferences:

  • Eye Fatigue – When you are looking into a screen you are looking into a light. It may only be a low intensity light, but it’s still a light. Using dark mode reduces the amount of light and hence, hopefully, the levels of eye fatigue. Some people claim a scientific justification for this, but the research I could find was quite limited. I find it easier on the eye and that’s good enough for me.
  • Reduced Blue Light – Of the light that your screen is emitting the blue light is probably the most destructive. It’s thought that this type of light impacts our ability to sleep, and that we should reduce the amount of blue light before we go to bed. My logic goes like this, if I don’t need it in the evening, why would I need more of it than my surroundings are providing it in the daytime?
  • Readability – This is a subjective one, I find light text on a dark background easier to read.
  • Reduced Distraction – Using dark mode reduces the intensity of many of the interface elements. Things like window borders and app icons are not as highlighted and hence grab less attention. At the same time, the elements that I am working on – the words and diagrams – stand out more and draw my attention.
  • Reduced Power Consumption – This is a tenuous one, dark mode uses slightly less power to light the screen and hence it improves battery life on a device. I suspect that the difference here is marginal, but what it has allowed me to do is to lower the light levels on my iPhone extending the battery life by a little.

There are some drawbacks though:

  • It’s not the Default – Because Dark Mode isn’t the default for operating systems or for applications, you have to choose it. My experience has been that some applications will take the preference from the operating system, but not all of them will. Some apps provide an option which you then have to find.
  • Web Sites – The real challenge is web sites, it takes far too much effort to switch over to dark mode in each of these. I’ve tried a few plug-ins for browsers, but have concluded that the glitches are worse than just letting the web sites display in light mode.
  • Mixed Mode – Because it’s not the default it’s not always possible to work in dark mode in every application, and certainly not on every web site. The challenge with this is that you then get the rather jarring experience of switching between an app that is in dark mode and another that it in light mode. On balance, though, I think I prefer this experience to the default one. I’d call myself a lightweight dark mode user.
  • iOS Dark Mode – My primary smartphone is an iPhone. The iOS interface doesn’t really have a dark mode. You can use the accessibility features to invert the colours which is supposed to be smart enough to only invert the colours of the text, but it also has an annoying habit of inverting the colours of all of the images. Having said that, once you switch apps to dark mode it’s surprising to realise how little of the actual iOS interface you see day to day. Yesterday, Apple announced that iOS 13 will have a dark mode.

All I need, now, is for each of the apps that I use to give me the option to change, or better still, to take the default settings from the operating system. I suspect that web sites are always going to be, by default, in light mode, but perhaps a time is coming when they will pick up the correct mode from the browser that is being used.

As part of this experiment I’ve switched this web site over to a dark colour scheme and even there I’ve had some glitches to deal with, some of which still aren’t resolved.

Many people see dark mode as a way of making the nighttime visual experience better, but I’ve been using dark mode all day every day. I started this as an experiment a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting it to make much difference, but it has made a far greater difference than I was expecting.

I’m not advocating that everyone moves because I think that it’s primarily an issue of personal preference, but you might like to give it a try.

Header Image: This is Traigh a Bhaigh, Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides. Apparently this is how you park a boat around here.

Things I thought we would have fixed by now

I think I must look on things a bit too simplistically.

I am convinced that we ought to be able to fix certain things, but as we haven’t fixed them in a long time then it’s clearly not as easy to fix them as I think it is.

Here are a few of the things that I thought we would have sorted by now, but haven’t. This is only a few, because once I got started I nearly couldn’t stop:

Media Conversion Dongles

How many bits of cable do you have in your laptop bag that convert one thing to another thing? I currently have four, the most used being the USB-C to HDMI converter. I limit the volume that I carry for personal health reasons, but the combinations are potentially huge. It’s not even enough to carry something that covers the four major standards – DisplayPort, HDMI, USB and VGA. Each of these standards has its own set of variant, there are three different sizes of HDMI and another three different sizes of USB, and that’s not including USB-C.

Meeting Room Equipment Connectivity

You walk into a meeting room, before you is a table with various cables sticking out of various sockets. This is one of those fancy rooms with a touchscreen interface that allows you to select various things like the position of blinds, the inputs to the visual equipment and the depth of the carpet pile.

You notice that one of the cables aligns with the video output on your laptop (for once you don’t need a media conversion dongle). You plug your device in, you select the correct input on the touchscreen interface and…nothing. You check that your laptop is sending a signal, which it is, but…nothing. You select other inputs on the touchscreen thing and apart from a brief excursion to a strange TV channel…nothing.

This is an important meeting so you came early but the clock has decided to go double-time on you and your set-up time is fast running out.

Eventually you get a picture on the huge 4K screen at the front, but for reasons no-one understands you can only get it to display 1024×768 resolution as a postage stamp in the middle.

You decide to forgo audio.

Why is this so difficult?

Permanent Markers on Whiteboards

Almost every meeting room I have ever been into has a collection of pens available for use, but they are nearly always a jumble of permanent and whiteboard markers. Next to this scattering of pens is often a pile of paper towels and an aerosol can containing a substance to get permanent marker off a whiteboard.

Why isn’t there a standard for the size or shape of the pens to make it easy to differentiate between whiteboard markers and permanent markers? Wouldn’t that be any easy solution to avoid the problem?

Yes, I know they normally say on them, but people don’t always look and one of the drawbacks of the substance in the aerosol can is that it also removes the markings from the outside of the pens.

Browser Switching

The browser is the basic access capability for the Internet so I would have expected it to have become a commodity by now, but I don’t think that a day goes by without me needing to switch between different browsers.

This wouldn’t be too bad, but the problems that I see with different browsers are all highly annoying glitches. I get part way through a process and something doesn’t look right, or something doesn’t load, or things just hang. I’d prefer that a particular browser failed to start a page than get part way through and then fail.

Printing

Why is this so, so, complicated?

I’m not, primarily talking about the physical handling of ink/toner and paper here although that can be a problem.

My challenge is the process of getting from device to desired output. I’m imagining all of those sheets of paper that you see around any office printer that contain one line of print on them. I’m also talking about those times when you just need one page of something, but somehow it manages to stretch itself out over five pages. Then there are those times when you send things to the printer and nothing prints, so you send it again, then you go to the printer and there are three copies of what you asked for. How does this happen?

Yes, I know I shouldn’t be printing anything, but there are times when paper is necessity.

Calendaring and Scheduling

How many online calendars do you have? I have at least 5.

Why so many? It’s because various tools form part of my scheduling experience and those calendars don’t work together. They each want to own the thing that I’m doing in their tool.

They each, helpfully, provide iCal export and import capabilities, but that’s not really practical and I shouldn’t have to be copying files around for something as basic as time management.

I can get a single view of all of these calendars together because there are tools for that, but that’s still not very helpful because no one can see my availability other than me.

Password

I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Why do we still have passwords?

Video Conferencing

If you do any video conferencing you’ll know that we still have a lot to do in this area. We can barely get audio conferencing working in many situation let alone seamless and reliable video.

For a while I tracked how much longer after the scheduled start time audio conferences started – the average was 6 minutes. Compare that to walking into a meeting room and getting started (without equipment – see earlier comment on Meeting Room Equipment Connectivity.)

People have tried all sorts of technical solutions to these problems but the reality is, if we are honest, none of them are what we really hoped for when we imagined seamless video communications.

Open Plan Offices

I’ll leave this one here.

More Features = Lower Utility

There are many situations when I want to buy a new something but the new features that have been added to the latest model of the something make my heart sink. In many situations the new features take away from the primary purpose of the something.

I used to have a Bluetooth headset that only connected to one device. It was difficult to get connected, but once it was connected it worked. Then it broke. I bought myself a newer version of the headset with the promise that it was easy to connect and could connect to more than one device. This new headset does indeed connect to more than one device, unfortunately it gets confused about which device is playing sound and it’s almost impossible to make it switch. It even loses connection when it’s only paired to one device. The two-connected-devices feature destroyed the utility of the headphones.

I have more examples, but I won’t bore you with them now because this post is already long enough.

Are we really so desperate for new features that we are willing to compromise the primary reason for buying the item?

How about you?

I’m sure that I’m not the only one?

The Future Looks Very Bright at #ChorleyHack

We have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) skills problem in the UK. Estimates vary on the impact, but it’s significant:

UK STEM businesses have warned of a growing skills shortage as they struggle to recruit qualified workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields.
According to new findings from STEM Learning, the largest provider of STEM education and careers support in the UK, the shortage is costing businesses £1.5 billion a year in recruitment, temporary staffing, inflated salaries and additional training costs.
The STEM Skills Indicator1 reveals that nine in 10 (89%) STEM businesses have found it difficult to hire staff with the required skills in the last 12 months, leading to a current shortfall of over 173,000 workers – an average of 10 unfilled roles per business.

Skills shortage costing STEM sector £1.5bn

This shortfall is particularly acute for women entering STEM careers where less than 20% of the workforce are women.

The number of graduates is a result of many years of education and the earlier that we can get young people interested in STEM the better that the results will be. We can’t expect schools to be the sole instigators of that change either, as an industry we need to step up and help to provide life change STEM opportunities to children and young people. That’s one of the reasons why I was delighted to be a mentor as #ChorleyHack which was organised by the town council in the area where my office is.

What a fabulous day with 25 teams of four children from 14 local schools coming together in the local town hall to spend a day coding together. The task was “create a game or animation that educates other young people about cyber bullying, online safety and social media safety.”

The levels of preparation and enthusiasm were an inspiration, the room was buzzing. The children and young people were so focused on the task that many of them returned early from their lunch to get their code as far along as possible, even though the task was not to get their code finished. The sophistication of their work was amazing with a significant depth of understanding of the challenge subject area. As mentors the conversations where inspiring, I particularly enjoyed an extended chat with one of the children who was very excited to explain to me how Scratch worked and about another project he was writing in Python.

Observe anything about the make up of the winning teams from the tweets below:

That’s right, a significant proportion of girls, something that was evident across the day, no 20% here. #ChorleyHack was a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that girls can indeed code and another nail in the coffin of the lie that IT is just for boys.

Thanks go to each of the teams leaders, mostly teachers, who had clearly invested a huge amount of time in getting the children and young people prepared for the event.

A particular thanks goes to Simon Charnock, Digital Transformation Officer, Chorley Council who did a fabulous job of facilitating the whole event.

If we can see this level of enthusiasm and passion continuing through the education system then we should be looking forward to a very bright future.

Document Driven v Data Driven

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about forms. Why forms? Forms give us fascinating insights into that way that organisations work.

A Life of Forms

We are surrounded, some would say inundated, by forms:

  • Banking runs on forms.
  • Insurance wouldn’t survive without forms.
  • Most organisations have thousands of ad hoc forms for various diverse purposes.
  • One of the worst things to happen in some organisations is that a situation arises for which there is no form.
  • Visit a medical professional and somewhere within the dialogue a form will become necessary.
  • Subscribe to any service and forms will be used as part of the contracting process.
  • Start a new employment and you are likely to spend much of your first day completing forms.
  • Our birth and our death are accompanied by forms.
  • How many times a day do you complete a two-field form in order to gain access to some technology.
  • Interact with a government organisation and a form will be required.

Sometimes these forms are online, web page, or even forms on mobile devices. There are still, however, many situations where forms are completed with a pen. How many hours have you spent trying to complete a pseudo form that was sent to you as a Word or PDF document.

Document Driven Business

There are many PowerPoint decks, Excel spreadsheets and Word documents that are in essence forms. They are created from a template that sets the titles and contents of each slide/worksheet/section. The person completing them is expected to say certain things in certain ways, just like a form.

  • This first slide has the title on including the reference number, person presenting and target date.
  • The next slide has the required content on and only this content.
  • The following slide will explain what it is you are going to do.
  • The penultimate slide will outline the business case in the supplied table.
  • The final slide will contain the risk register, using the supplied table headings.
  • No other slides may be added.

It’s a form, isn’t it?

A Form to Transact

Each of these form-types exist to support a transaction:

“Once you have completed sections 1 to 5 and 8 of the loan application form we will proceed to the next phase of you application.”

“You are required to complete a tax return of which sections a to e are mandatory.”

“We’ll proceed with your project once you have provided the project initiation template document.”

The boundary of the transaction is defined by the form, without the form nothing moves forward, or backward.

This way of working produces a number of effects:

  • Over preparation – in order to make sure that a transaction can complete documents tend to be over-worked. Many hours are spent making sure that every detail in a form/document are correct to a level of detail that is not required to move onto the next phase, but everyone strives for perfection to avoid rework at all costs. A small amount of over-work is compounded as a process is worked end-to-end. Imagine how much work goes into producing a set of 40 document? Add a little bit of over-preparation to each of them and the amount of effort being expended is huge.
  • Over-stating – The over-preparation of documents often includes over-stating, where things that aren’t required in the document are stated in the document “just-in-case”. The problem with this superfluous information is that it becomes part of the record and is then used by people who make decisions despite its heritage and trustworthiness.
  • Point-in-time perspectives – The information in the form/document was mostly correct at a particular time on a particular day, but that’s all that can be said about it. Any perspective that is taken on that document is locked into the context at that time. The information in the document isn’t being refreshed, it was completed, a transaction took place and now everything within the document is, at best, history. Yet, people will continue to refer back to it as information way beyond the valid life of the data contained within it. The reality is, even before the document is concluded the data within it will be out of date.
  • Action blocking – A form/document represents the end of one activity and the start of another – a phase-shift. The next phase can’t start until it has received the information from the previous phase. Even if an element of the next phases has all that it needs to proceed it can’t until the transaction has been agreed. Consider how many actions are expected to be undertaken following the transaction of a 100 page document? How many of those actions could have safely been undertaken way before the transacting of the document?
  • Phases based on documents – The definition of a document as the point of transaction means that production of the document often becomes the definition of the phases/stages of an activity. This way of planning has little to do with the amount of effort involved, or the value being produced, it just represents a transaction. An activity that only exists to produce a document is a bad activity.

Data Drive Business

Let’s turn our attention to data-driven activities.

The document has been with us for thousands of years, but we no longer need to work at such a coarse level. The information that is placed into a form was not generated by the form. A form is just a place to consolidate information that already exists elsewhere. When you are asked about your date-of-birth in a form you are simply recording information that has existed, for some of us, for many years. So why not link the data directly with the intent for which it is needed. Why bother placing a date of birth on a piece of paper when one system could ask another system whether I’m older than 18 and get the correct answer back.

There are situations where data isn’t enough and a set of information may need to be brought together to tell a particular story. Imagine a design for a network topology, the design may be the first time that it’s been outlined. This isn’t to say that in this situation a document is required, it’s just to highlight that an intermediate step from current state to future state may be required to fill gaps in the data. Even in this network topology example a diagram with meta-data is probably sufficient to communicate the change being proposed and for people to agree to transact. Once the change has been implemented the diagram is no longer required because the current state information becomes the record.

Taking the network topology example even further, the need for a human-readable design demonstrates a gap in policy and understanding. If the change could be codified in a way that a policy mechanism could understand and assess, then the change could have taken place without the need for a diagram. If, as an example, an application needs to add more resources to the network, the network would respond on the basis of the data provided and the policy defined. Likewise, once those resources are no longer required the policy engine would turn the resources off. All of this would happen before someone has filled in half of the “necessary” paperwork.

Our job, as humans, should be to assess and define the required actions for the exception, for those situations where data and policy is not sufficient for a decision to be made.

Time for Transformation

For much of the life of IT may applications have been little more than form replacements and that has given us some productivity gains. In many ways we are only just at the beginning of a transformation from a world driven by documents to one driven by data  This will require a profound change in the way that we think and act.

Organisations that continue to rely upon forms (including apps that are replacing forms) will be overtaken by the machines.

Header Image: This is one from a recent morning walk along the lanes near my house. I’ve always loved the shapes of tree skeletons in the winter.

The 5 Phases of a Reply-to-All Storm

Reply-to-all Storm: The set of events that occur when a group of people decide that the appropriate response to an email is to reply-to-all. In nearly all of these situations the replies add no value other than to fill-up the email account of everyone on the distribution list.

I’ve observed many a reply-to-all storm and it occurs to me that they have a set of phases to them, have a missed any?

Phase 1: Initial Contact

I’m not sure quite what the anatomy of an email needs to be to start a reply-to-all storm but there are some characteristics that will increase the likelihood of a storm starting. Emails with a pointless subject and equally pointless content are my favourites, they create a response in certain people that is completely disproportionate to the initial contact. It’s rare that a reply-to-all storm is generated from a meaningful email.

I’m pretty sure that the likelihood of a reply-to-all storm increases exponentially with the number of recipients on the initial distribution. Emails to 500 people aren’t likely to result in a storm, emails to 5,000 people have a much higher probability, correctly crafted emails to 50,000 people are almost certain to result in a storm.

Phase 2: Initial Reply

Someone has to be the person to start the storm. Much like a firework requires an ignition a reply-to-all storm requires someone to get everyone started. It helps if the initial reply is as benign as the initial contact.

The purpose of the initial reply email is to create a release valve that gives everyone else permission to participate in the storm. A single drip doesn’t create a flood, but it does make a pathway for what is to follow.

Phase 3: Engage the Pack

Two emails do not constitute a storm, but that’s all that the pack requires for those who are going to participate to become engaged. The pack, in general, only have one response which may use different words to these, but they are basically all saying the same things:

  • “Why was I sent this email?”
  • “Stop sending me these emails.”
  • “Remove me from this distribution list.”

None of the individuals involved in the pack realise the irony of their actions.

By this point most people have disengaged by clicking “Ignore” or “Mute” in their email app but this is where volumes come in, all that the storm needs to continue is one more person in the cohort to keep it going.

Phase 4: The Anti-Pack Becomes Engaged

The anti-pack’s role is to keep the reply-to-all storm going by telling people to stop replying-to-all. We are now in double irony territory.

These emails come in various grades depending upon the frustration of the recipient. This appears to be one of the few occasions where it has become acceptable to use capital lettering in an email subject. The use of the words “IMPORTANT”, “URGENT” or “STOP” become prevalent as does the use of bold, coloured and enlarged content all saying the equivalent of “please stop”.

Phase 5: The Die Down

Thankfully reply-to-all storms rarely last longer than a day, in my experience. You can sometimes get someone who tries to restart it the following day, not realising that everyone has already left the party, but that rarely does a restart result in a full storm emerging.

As quickly as they come, they leave.

Avoiding the Reply-to-all Storm

People have talked about getting rid of this problem for decades and yet it still persists, you may be wondering how we stop it. The simple answer is that you can’t because the instigator of the action is that weakest link in most processes – the human. You can do many things to avoid it, but stopping it altogether requires humans to behave in a logical way and that’s not going to happen.

Stop the Self-Inflicted Pain | Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we let others do it to us?

Do two posts make a series? Anyway, this is second post looking at some modern-day frustrations where we look inside things that we do that are daft and dangerous. Some of them you may not realise are doing you damage, others probably already drive you a bit loopy. Part 1 is here: Stop the Self Inflicted Pain | How Much Better Could Your Life Be?

We have three more topics for today:

Devices in Meetings

What is the purpose of a meeting? Do you know? In almost every case, the addition of screens into that meeting is harming that purpose.

Most meetings that I attend, if I attend in person, are based around a large table. The table is littered with laptops, phones and tablets. People join the meeting with every intention of contributing wholeheartedly to it, but within minutes they are distracted. They don’t mean to be, but they are powerless to stay away from the distracting movements that are occurring before them.

“But” I can hear you say…

“But, what if I want to take notes electronically?” If you are far more disciplined than me, then perhaps you can have a powerful, internet connected, multi-skilled device there in-front of you and only use it to take notes. If that is you, then I take my hat off to you, but it’s still not as good for you as writing notes.

“But, what if I need the material off my laptop to inform the meeting?” That may be a perfectly valid point, but it should be limited and clearly understood in the objectives for the meeting, often it’s an excuse.

“But, what happens if someone needs to contact me?” This is the ultimate expression of the problem. If you take a device into a meeting because you think that someone may need to contact you, then you will be spending a significant amount of time in that meeting distracted by the potential that someone is going to contact you. “Has my phone run yet?” “What’s was that email that has just come in?”

Multi-tasking

One of the main reasons that devices in meetings is such a bad idea is that it draws us into multitasking and we are very poor at multitasking.

There are numerous experiments that show our inability to task switch, but perhaps we need the kids to show us how it is (not) done:

There’s also growing evidence that the impact of persistent multitasking is lasting harm. You’re less effective while you are multitasking, but you are also permanently numbing down your brain.

Aside from the impact on our brains there are situations where multitasking is downright dangerous. Those of you who still think you can text and drive are kidding yourself:

It has become normal many of us to multi-screen in front of the TV every night. Even if we are only using our tablet or phone while the adverts are on, we are still expecting our brains to multitask. Those advert may be annoying, but rather than picking up a screen we would be much better standing up and having a stretch.

This isn’t a new subject for me, but we still have a very long way to go before people listen.

Open Plan Offices

Once the darling of every office manager the open plan office is a disaster for productivity.

You don’t need to look any further for evidence of this than this invention from Panasonic:

wearspace_rolling

These are a pair of blinkers for the office, for those times when you need some peace and quiet to get your job done! Seriously!

Again, I hear that “but” word entering into your head. The primary “but” for open plan offices is: “But, doesn’t it improve communication between teams and enable more creative interactions?” Let me put it as simply as I can: “No.”

Open plan offices drive down interactions:

The results were stark: after the shift to an open-plan office space, the participants spent 73 per cent less time in face-to-face interactions, while their use of email and instant messenger shot up by 67 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

Most people spend their time in an open plan office with headphones plugged in which makes it difficult to know whether they are one a phone call so it’s normal to instant message them, even if they are on the next desk.

How many more things?

That’s eight different areas that we’ve covered in two posts, I wonder how many more there are? Imagine if each one improves your productivity, or wellness, by just 2% we would have improved our lives by at least 16%!

How weatherproof are your headphones?

On the 28th August 2018 I went out for a walk in the mountains of the Lake District. It was a glorious day of contemplation and enlightenment, and quite a lot of water.

When I returned home I was unpacking my somewhat wet equipment and getting out of damp clothes when I noticed that my Anker Bluetooth Headphones were missing. I’d definitely had them on my walk because I’d listened to part of an audio-book on them. How frustrating.

I like these headphones because they are light, have good battery life and are supposed to be waterproof which I’d tested a bit and it seemed to be the case, but I’d not gone swimming in them or anything like that.

But now they were lost.

I searched the various nooks and crannies of the car, I searched the many pockets of my rucksack, but no headphones. I even checked the many pockets of my walking trousers and waterproof coat, several times!

A eventually came to the conclusion that they must have fallen out of a pocket, or the car, probably in the car park near Thirlmere.

Today on the 29th September – a month later – and just to show how often I do gardening, I found the headphones. They were about a metre from where I get out of my car, laid on some plumb colour slate. They weren’t wholly disguised, not were they very visible, I’d obviously not looked there. But, I did need to look there whilst I was weeding.

In the last month we have had rain and wind in the form of storms Ali and Bronagh, as well as the usual English September showers, we’ve even had sunshine and our first mild ground frost.

Would these waterproof headphone survive a month laid on the ground outside my house? I’m please to say, absolutely! One of the ears is a little quieter than the other at the moment, but I suspect that may ease as they get dried out a bit. How’s that for resilience?

If anything, the biggest impact has been from the sun and bleaching, some of the black isn’t quite as black as I remember it, but they work, and that’s what counts.

Anyway, I’m off now to enjoy another audio-book with my headphones on. Hopefully I won’t loose them this time 😀.