Jonathan's Blog

Jonathan's Blog

Mindful Leadership and Technology (Mostly Software)


Bots Conversational UI

Bots Rising - Part Next - Google Assistant App Published

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My Google Assistant App was approved within about 24 hours. That's pretty fast and beat the expectations they set at 'a couple of business days'.

It's published under 'Games & Fun' which pretty accurately describes the content - it doesn't contain anything useful, but is intented to be humorous.

The app brings to life a character I created with my kids named Chuckles the Dirt Chip Muffin - The Worst Muffin in the World. It has a bunch of quotes and silly commands.

Anyway, they approved it. It was fun to make and educational. Here is the link in the Google Assistant App Directory: Chuckles the Dirt Chip Muffin.

You can also reach him by saying 'OK Google Talk to Chuckles Chat' in Google Home or in the Google Assistant App.


Bots Conversational UI Software Development

Bots Rising Continued - Creating a Bot with Dialogflow for Google Assistant and Google Home

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I wrote some blog posts way back in the good old days of 2016 about a bot we developed for an intenral work tool. It ran inside of Slack. When we did the development we were basically writing code to handle all the states of the conversation. It was clunky and had some real limitiations.

Fast forward to more recent times - we bought a Google Home at the end of last year. Because I usually want to make something and not just consume information, I started to play around with Google Assistant and how to create an Assistant App for Google Home with tools on Google Cloud.

So right away I found myself working in the Dialogflow ecosystem. This was a big improvement over how we built our Slackbot in 2016 where we were hand-coding our state and writing a million if/else statements to handle the user interaction.

The Dialogflow designer interface is intuitive for creating your conversation. My biggest sticking points were working through the integration between it (Dialogflow) and my existing webservices. The answers were there in the documentation but it took some time to work through my SSL issues (doesn't allow self-signed certificates) and formatting of request. This was a little frustrating at times, but nothing out of the ordinary for using a tool that you haven't worked with before.

I also came across Let's Encrypt for solving my SSL issues. Let's encrypt allows you to get a real-ish certificate for development and test purposes. It is fast and automates several parts of the SSL cert process I've never seen automated before - very handy!

My Google Assistant App is submitted now and waiting for approval. I believe I adhere to all their guidelines, so hopefully they will approve me! Fingers crossed!


Mindfulness Leadership Business

Now Reading - Coherence by Dr. Alan Watkins

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If you've read almost any blog post on this site in the last year then you know that I'm interested in the overlap between mindfulness practice, leadership, and business sucess.

Most recently here a couple of weeks ago.

What a treat and a revelation to find this book: Coherence by Dr. Alan Watkins. Dr. Watkins (a cardiologist) has thought a lot about the connection between body and mind. He takes a deep look at how to improve your business results and energy management.

I don't know if Dr. Watkins himself would consider his book to be about mindfulness, necessarily. However the techniques recommneded in the first section are similar to mindful breathing techniques.

For the veteran of meditation, what will be interesting here is a focus on the physiological and some of Dr. Watkins' reasons 'why' it is importnat to engage in these practices. He is interested in your happiness, but the physiological mechanisms at play are something wholly different than you may have encountered.

I am only about 100 pages into it, but I am really enjoying it. More when I finish the book.


Internet of Things IoT Mindfulness

My Top 3 Favorite Internet of Things Devices from 2017

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Here are my 3 favorite internet of things devices from 2017:

  1. Amazon IoT Button: I got a couple of these in the summer and used one for a family communication project and one for a client presentation, both were very successful. An awesome tool to build quick, button-based interactions to do almost anything.
  2. Smith LowDown Focus: These are sunglasses that use EEG sensors to track your brainwaves. They allow you to understand how your brain is functioning, improve focus, and enhance your mindfulness or focused-attention program. It's like a fitbit for your brain.
  3. FitBit:There are a lot of activity trackers out there, but I still love my FitBit. It does just the right amount of things, and theapp is great and helpful. It's helped me lose weight, keep it off, and stick to a regular exercise regimen. That's what an atctivity tracker is for, right?


Brain is Body, Leader is Team - How are you connected to the group that you lead? Part 2

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Link to Part 1.

It's important as a leader to be the brain - and to be the full brain. It isn't just an intellectual pursuit, the brain is also where the emotions are and emotions are a big part of who we are.

If you are new to a leadership role you need to think about what you need to change in order to be effective in your new role.

If you have always been the heart, that is an important role - it has a big impact. But you probably want to be thinking about how you can become the brain of your organization.

If you are the foot - feet are still important - you have more changes to make and further to travel.

I probably am running out of mileage on this analogy. No more installments.


Mindfulness Biofeedback

Biofeedback and Mindfulness - When the 'Staring out the Window Test' Just Isn't Enough

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I know what I said about needing an EEG to know if I was distracted. I said that I used the 'staring out the window test' i.e. if I find myself staring out a window for 45 minutes I'm probably distracted.

So, I said that here.

And then I went and bought these anyway:

Smith Optics LowDown Focus

Why? Well because they are a gadget, which is fun. AND they are a gadget that combines mindfulness and IoT, so how could I resist?

These sunglasses use EEG sensors (provided by Muse)to understand how your brain is behaving and provide you feedback on how focused you are during training and mindfulness sessions.

I am about a week into using them and here's what I've learned so far:

  1. It takes me longer than I like to admit to get into a place where I am really centered and focused. It takes about 20 minutes. Anything less than that and my mind has not settled down.
  2. I eventually do settle into a relaxed place and able to stay calm and avoid chasing thoughts. I know instictively when this happens, but having the biofeedback is nice because it really reinforces when this is happening and when it isn't.
  3. I think that in reality I fail the window staring test during 90% of my life.
  4. I don't think that 3 has always been true.

How do I know they work? Well, I ran some tests, by which I mean that I intentionally tried to not focus, stress myself out, and flex muscles and those readings showed up as way 'off the charts' in the 'unfocused' zone. So that tends to support the idea that it is reading the right things.

When you really get into a focused place you can feel it.

Another thing that made sense is that I went for many sessions without getting any birds. Birds are a fun little badge you get when you have relativley long period (a few seconds) of good focus. I was about ready to give birds the bird.

Finally after sitting and meditating for 25 minutes and starting a second session where I felt really 'in the zone' I finally got some birds. It felt right, though clearly it indicates I am not there most of the time, and what passes for relaxation and presenence for me is often only scraping the surface.

It also means that focus and really training your attention take time to achieve, but then we all knew that didn't we. A few pictures:



More thoughts and reflections as I go along.