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Mindfulness Technology

Making a Simple 'I Love You' Button with the Amazon IoT Button

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The article below is specifically about using the AWS (Amazon Web Services) IoT button to create a simple 'I Love You' button that my kids could use to send a text to their mother while they were staying with me.

While that was a specific idea, the concept could easily be extended for children to send a message to a grandparent, a friend who has moved away, or a cousin who lives in another city. It's not strictly limited to the situation I describe.


As a divorced parent, you often find yourself trying to make the divorce have as limited an impact on your child or children as possible.

One thing they teach you as you are going through that process is that your child ultimately views each parent as key to understanding themselves, and any time you do anything to tear down your ex you're really only hurting your child.

So, last summer, shortly after my divorce was finalized I happened to come upon the AWS IoT button, which is basically an unbranded programmable Dash button. I've written about using it at work here.

As I was working on the pitch for that project, it occurred to me that the button could be used to solve another problem. My children are too young to have phones (my opinion), but it would be nice if they had a way, when they were staying with me, to send their mother a text to say 'Hi Mommy! I love you!' or something similar.

This is easy with the IoT button. Here are the steps involved.

Step 1 - Order Button from Amazon All you have to do is order them from Amazon here.

Step 2 - Use the mobile app to configure the button to communicate Download the setup app for Android or iOS. Next, use the setup app to put your button on your wifi and configure a basic function.

Step 3 - Change the message to your custom message The last step is a little trickier. You need to edit the Lambda function created by the setup app. I won't go in to the details, but it is possible for a person with limited technical expertise to pull off. Certainly, anyone with a technical friend or relative could do it with help.

Essentially you change this:

PhoneNumber: PHONE_NUMBER,
Message: 'Hello from your IoT Button ${event.serialNumber}. Here is the full event: ${payload}.',

To make it look like this:

PhoneNumber: PHONE_NUMBER,
Message: 'Hi Mommy, I love you.',

The change itself is as simple as what I outlined above. It's just getting to the right place that takes a little Googling/spelunking if you haven't done it before.

For kids, this is also a nice, simple introduction to coding where a simple change can be made simply, and without needing tons of additional explanation, deployment, or other fanfare. Just make a change and hit the 'Save' button.

Once done, my boys were able to send their mom a short message and have her know that they were thinking about her. In return, I knew I was helping them build connections and self-esteem and not tearing that down. Here is our completed button, plus decorations:

-iot_button_custom

This is extendable to other situations - absent friends, geographically distant loved ones, parents who might be travelling. Even adults could benefit from having a dedicated 'I love you' or 'I think you're great' button to press from time to time.

Who doesn't need the occasional reminder/short cut to tell our friends and family that we think they're great?

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Technology

Carbon Dating a Web Page

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As a side note to this post, I wanted to link to the first person to post such an article. If you search for '3 Types of Fun' on Google you get quite a few different search results back and no one gives anyone else credit (annoying) and none of the top hits had a date-time stamp I could find.

So, I found this article, which was very helpful:

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/513996/how-to-carbon-date-a-web-page/

Which linked to this thing:

http://cd.cs.odu.edu/cd/<YOUR_URL_HERE>

And yes, you really do paste your whole URL there, without the pointy-brackets. Here was one the queries that I ran:

http://cd.cs.odu.edu/cd/https://www.rei.com/blog/climb/fun-scale

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Leadership Technology

Art Week - Post 3 - Laika Exhibit at Portland Museum of Art

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Laika is a stop-motion movie studio located in Portland, OR. If you don't know the 4 Laika movies, they are:

Coraline - On Amazon
ParaNorman - On Amazon
The Boxtrolls - On Amazon
Kubo and the Two Strings - On Amazon

The post header image is a large (about 20 feet tall) skeleton that was used in Kubo and the Two Strings. It is, by their account, the largest stop-motion model ever created. It was amazing to see it in person and imagine them using it to create the movie.

These movies have been a cornerstone of our family entertainment since ParaNorman was released. So, when I heard that Portland Museum of Art was hosting an exhibition I knew that I wanted to make the trip to see it.

Laika really opened the vault - providing character models, complete scenery (including the garden from Coraline), detailed break downs of models and processes, and videos with explanation of how they approach various aspects of film making.

A favorite detail was the locker scene from ParaNorman where you can see the scale model junk accumulating on top of and next to the middle school locker room:

20180329_103107

The amazing detail in creating the overhead projector and mop bucket and paper on top of the lockers shows the kind of time and detail that Laika invests in to make the movies feel real.

When you watch the movies, they are full of detail like this.

It's clear from the exhibit that Laika invests a lot of time in money in the movies they make. This investment takes the form of details (as mentioned above), ambition (they don't rest on their laurels or just do things they know work), and technology (their use of 3D printing to create facial expressions is amazing).

Here is an image of a small portion of the 'wall of faces' showing 3D printed details that were used to create facial features for a number of characters across their films:

20180329_102415

It's often surprising how a great stop-motion studio or artist can produce wonderful emotional depth in their characters - think Wallace and Gromit.

Laika have their own special brand of this, and the 3D printed facial features are part of that capability.

That's at least partly a technological achievement in their case.

The exhibition was well put together and enjoyable. I don't think you had to be a fan of the films to enjoy it, though it helps.

I admire the work that they do and I hope for many more films to enjoy in the future.

Leadership Angle: Laika pushes themselves relentlessly in their art. They search for larger obstacles to overcome, better stories to tell, and more exciting ways to overcome them. Check out all 4 movies to see how they've evolved as storytellers, animators, and innovators.

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Leadership Technology Art

Art Week - Post 1 - Art Made Entirely with CSS and HTML

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I recently came across this image created entirely with css and html:

Francine Thumg

This is pretty amazing stuff. You can see the true css/html version here (the image above is just a captured image):

http://diana-adrianne.com/purecss-francine/

HTML and CSS are the guts of the web and they do a lot of neat things. Usually they're used to make menus, position buttons, display data, animate things, and do other heavy lifting tasks of the web.

Most people who wanted to make an image like this would go into a graphics or drawing program (or get out some paints) and draw the picture, which would then be converted to an image file.

What this artist (her name is Diana Smith) has done is to use the same technology developers and designers use to position a 'Save' button on a web page, and she's used it position every single strand of hair (and everything else), as well as color and shade all of it.

If you look closely you can even see veins in her skin.

This is incredible talent with this technology, and a willingness to do something more and see what a particular tool can really do.

It also shows the versatility and power of HTML and CSS to do almost anything when it comes to display and visuals on the web.

Incredible.

As a leader ask yourself, "Do I ask enough of myself and those around me? Am I prepared to put this type of discretionary effort to my own work and art?"

Featured

Mindfulness Technology

Mindfulness, Gadgetry, Quantified Self

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I've been thinking about my earlier post related to mindfulness and gadgetry. And I believe it is possible that gadets and quantified-self measurements really can help us live more mindful lives. There's evidence to the contrary, of course, but that doesn't have to be the path that we follow.

To think clearly about the relationship of mindfulness and gadgets, let's start with a definition of mindfulness. I like this definition from mindful.org:

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Here's a link to that quote.

So, we're trying to be fully present in the moment.

We all know that gadgets can distract us. We've had plenty of experience with important work emails arriving at dinner time and social media posts that draw our attention. Look around most any public place you go and you will see people who are mentally elsewhere.

So, how do we use our gadgets to the best effect to help us be present in the moment?

Part 1

Technology can help us if we are using them to be conscious of ourselves.

What are some things that get in the way of this? If our quantified self goal is about the future. Something like "My resting heart rate needs to be X and I need to make a plan to achieve that." Or "I want to be in a calm state of mind for 80% of the time when I meditate, and I'm not getting there now." Well, then you are not present.

You may be making yourself more healthy, and that's good, but you are not present now. You are looking at now and reflecting on how to improve.

If our gadgets and measurements allow us to be more aware of the body. To lead us to make choices in the moment. "I"m going to go for a walk now because I'm aware of my stress." Or "It's time to go to bed because my body needs rest." Then we are more present because we're aware of how we're doing.

Gadgets and quatnitifed self measurements can help you into this awareness.

In reality, most of us probably do some of both. There's a healthy element to looking ahead and making plans. You just don't want it to overwhelm you or for it to become the only thing that you think about, or to continual make it about goals down the road and never appreciating the moment that you're in.

Part 2

If you are using some type of gadget or device to actually measure or evaluate your meditation practice, then you have an additional way that a gadget can help you.

There are risks here, too. If you are too focused on the gadgetry or the goals, it detracts from the meditation. It's happened to me before.

But if you incoporate into your routine and you don't make it ABOUT the gadget. Then it's worth reflecting on the patterns that you see.

A different kind of visualization of what your mind is doing when you're at rest is interesting and can be revealing about how you are really doing.

I mentioned my own particular challenge in this blog post. I have a challenge sometimes where my mind becomes MORE active when I am meditating. I actually start out calm and relaxed and it's during the meditation itself (when I am not distracted by other things) that my mind activates around stressful things that may have happened that day.

Here is another example - this one the app actually granted me the 'Wanderlust Award' for. This badge was awarded because my 'mind began to wander near the end of this session'. No kidding:

Screenshot_20180406-121530_Muse

Well, someone did a nice job of naming it 'Wanderlust', but that is not as fun as it sounds.

It's not that you don't know that your mind is wandering, it's something that you learn to recognize when you're meditating. It's the pattern:

Start Calm
Mind Wanders
Get Less Calm
Mind Wanders More

The gadget and app aspect has helped me to recognize this, and this is helping me be more aware and think about that situation when it happens.

It's a bit different than the 'I know I am not calm but I'm meditating anyway', because it's a bit sneakier.

Conclusion

I think there are slippery slopes in both of these scenarios. The gadgets can overwhelm you and the apps often inject elements of gamification that I am not interested in and that I think tend to draw you out of the moment. Be wary of those things.

But if you can avoid the traps and stay present, the tools are there and they can help you build your practice and stay focused in the present.

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Quantified Self Technology Heart Rate Monitor HRM Samsung S9

Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Heart Rate Monitor

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I finally replaced my old phone last week and opted to go with the S9+ because it has the built in Heart Rate Monitor (HRM). This was useful for being able to measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV) without needing an external, specialized HRM to do so.

I was also intrigued by the HRMs purported ability to measure blood pressure, which is a new feature. In the past you needed a blood pressure cuff to measure blood pressure.

Here is what I have learned so far:

  1. There is only one app (as of this writing) that can use the blood pressure technology for the built in HRM. That app is the My BP Lab app. You can find it here. This is a wellness focused app (akin to Welltory), so it does other things in addition to measuring blood pressure. The app used blood pressure along with other health/stress informaiton you provide to make lifestyle and wellness recommendations. I don't have any recommendations yet, so I don't know how well it works. You can use the app without the S9 HRM, but you need some other way to measure your blood pressure.
  2. The sensor currently requires you to input an initial blood pressure reading from an external source at the same time that you take your baseline reading using the HRM in the device. Without the additional baseline reading it can only measure differences in blood pressure as a % change from the baseline.

The ramificaiton of number 2 is that it isn't really capable of measuring blood pressure, it's measuring something and then it can measure differences from that. Those readings and changes can be interpreted into a blood pressure reading as long as you have an initial reading to go along with the baseline. It's still neat in my opinion, just something to be aware of.

It may that this changes over time and as they collect more data (from Quatified Self nerds, such as myself) they'll be able to do blood pressure directly. I'm interested to find out.

I've been using the app for about a week and I had to do one recallibration using my Qardio blood pressure cuff.

The early morning reading I got from the app seemed off to me. I double checked with another device and it was off. So I re-baselined in the app. The app allows you to do this, which seems like a good feature and also possibly a bit telling.

I don't know how it handles previous measurements if you do a rebaseline. It certainly seems to call their validity into question. I'm pretty sure that, at least for the app's purposes, it is going to assume their correct and keep them around. I don't have any reason to feel that other, earlier, readings were off. They seemed in line with what I got with Qardio throughout the day, though I wasn't comparing them side by side every time.

Yes, I own a Bluetooth blood pressure cuff. Why wouldn't I?