New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Forget the Little Things

Resolutions are stupid. Goals and a plan are much better IMO. My goal for 2016 is “don’t forget the little things”. For me, that means getting much better at JIRA.

There are some days where I wonder how all of this works. For weeks now, “seasonal” sickness has been taking its toll on everyone, families, workplaces, suburban and metropolis, doesn’t matter. Everyone has symptoms.

A sample of my 5am train ride early last week, thoughts:

  • zip your fly
  • kiss your son goodbye
  • bring home bag from work
  • collect homemade caramel corn jars
  • check the online gifts orders on the way home
  • (all the work things)
  • practice sanchin whenever possible without looking weird
  • buy more travel size tissues for backpack
  • queue up “thank you” holiday emails and tweets

This is why we have tools like JIRA and Trello. Put it in there, try to get it right, and remember to check it frequently. There’s too much involved in the plans to expect that large goals will be reached without something to keep it together.

JIRA and task completion is my focus this week.

Amazon Echo and the Future of Digital Privacy

Like every warm-blooded patriot of the Capitalism State, I own an Amazon Prime account. I vote, I pay taxes, I eat burgers, and I love the Boston Red Sox.

There are no less than 4 Amazon-driven devices in my house: FireTV, Kindle Whitepaper, Kindle Fire HD, and a Kindle Dash near the dryer. The thing is, that’s not enough. For them…or for my family.

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Alexa, Amazon’s newest home device, is about the size of a Quaker Oats tin, a compact but noticeable black cylinder that has a voice and listens to your every command. It’s a smart-speaker. It helps you play music when you want it, control lighting, remember appointments, and of course, place an order for something you’ve previously bought. It’s all very convenient, and it’s all very sinister too. Let me explain.

Imagine if you’re a company as large, as powerful, and as consumer-driven as Amazon. With limited exception, you don’t produce much actual product. Primarily, you facilitate. You’re a services company. You are driven by how many people prefer to use you over something else. You do everything you can, including anti-trust tactics to make sure that consumers do use you, your services, and your products. The only reason you care about devices, as much trouble to produce and maintain as physical things are, is because those devices are a delivery mechanism for your services. Nothing sinister so far, right? Well, then…

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When some other company wants to sell a product that competes with one of yours, like the pre-installed browser wars of the 90s, you wisely preclude them from selling their device in your marketplace (tough luck., Chromecast). You bundle your services and products in such a way that it’s a no-brainer  to the average consumer to ‘add-on’ their way through your ecosystem, many of them completely unaware of any other alternatives to what you offer.

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As a consumer, you develop a relationship to the company that gives your kids something educational to do every day, entertains you in the evening, delivers you your household items and groceries, hosts your websites, connects your devices, standardizes your co-workers’ software delivery pipeline, and generally make your life easier. But make no mistake, when theirs is the first online account that you update after receiving a replacement credit card, they’ve got you right where they want you.

Yet still, all of that control over your consumer’s lives isn’t enough. You need more; you need to listen to every word their saying.

So you create a cultural monopoly.

Challenge: How do you get freedom-fighting citizens of a democracy such as the United States to voluntarily live in a surveillance state? Not through politics.

Solution: Through technology. Invent devices that include microphones and/or cameras as a critical component to the purpose of the device.

Result: People line up to sign away their liberty.

Siri

This should sound familiar. You already walk around with one on your person almost all day, every day. All major mobile phone platforms now have a feature for direct vocal interaction with its user. In many cases, this feature is enabled by default, which means that very easily your phone can be used as a surveillance device. Sadly, most people still think that their phone only listens to them when they ask it to. That is simply not the case, and I can prove it. Just hold up your Android with the feature turned on and, as if you were talking to a friend, say:

“I think it’s shameful, when I typed in the wrong thing to Google, then all of the sudden I was presented with a bunch of dildos”.

All Google hears is the last part of the sentence, and now it thinks you really like dildos. Lots of them. I’m not judging, it’s just a thought experiment. It gets worse.

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Imagine lawmakers who need to talk “in private” about how to deal with potential anti-trust activities that a company like Amazon is accused of committing. They’re talking over lunch, but one of them has a Fire Phone and this feature is turned on. It’s like Amazon has a way to live-stream private conversations, easily filtered and categorized by #Google because that’s how your device knows to listen up. We know other people have tried to do this nefariously. Imagine if you could do it legally?

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Consider business owners talking privately about confidential stuff in their own home, with Alexa carefully listening to every word you and every other person in the room say. Your abode, your sanctuary, becomes a chapter from 1984, simply because you want an easy way to know what the afternoon weather will be like and you currently have dough on your hands

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I find it strange that U.S. citizens get so angry when they are presented with facts on how the NSA has “secretly” listened to civilian conversations under the auspices of the Patriot Act and existing wiretapping procedures, but the same people line up at Apple stores for days when it’s something that brings them any marginal potential to simplify their lives. People will pass reforms before they even think about how traditional laws mean nothing to technology without formal transparency measures in place. They hastily scroll to the “ACCEPT” button at the bottom of a EULA that egregiously violates their digital human rights, and then are disappointed when the “convenience” factor isn’t up to their overblown expectations.

By them I mean me. I grew up with Asimov in one ear and Philip Dick in the other. Judgement Day was inevitable. Zero-One, the Machine City, was impenetrable. So I have a healthy dose of skepticism about pervasive technology and artificial value.

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But I also hope to see a world that works for me, not against me. I want my kids to grow up in an age where every new technology doesn’t automatically infer a forfeit of privacy and freedom. I want to know, not just feel, like better technology is a good thing, and I’m willing to pay for it, just not with my digital liberties. Me and my family are not royalty-free content, regardless of what our legal system lets tech startups get away with.

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I think we can do it, but it will take an ethical shift in how tech companies maintain responsibility and transparency in their use of user data. Something like a report from an independent 3rd party audit that details exactly what the company is doing with data points they collect about their users, activity, and reselling that data. That would certainly light a fire under SaaS-hole startups and enterprises alike to not be creepy. I don’t think they’d like that thought. Amazon, Google, IBM, Facebook, Twitter…they’d all send their best lobbyists.

How would you change this dynamic, the politics of digital privacy, and the inevitable impact of technology on your home life?

Unanticipated Editorial Control

I took down someone’s blog post of an event I was at two weeks ago.

All I did was to praise one of the panelists for the amount of mic-drop-esque quotations attributed to her, clear misquotes to anyone who knew how she speaks and who was paying attention. Not too many in both categories, sadly.

This is what social media and marketing gets away with all the time though. Content that is rarely verified by others in the know.

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After a back-and-forth over Twitter, making me sound like my focus was on her answers, the panelist and author direct-emailed the editor-in-chief of the offending blog expecting that it be corrected or removed. I will not share that email. Since the original blogger was already on Thanksgiving vacation, the choice was made to take it down.

Attached is the zip file of what once was before the DMCA-equivalent take down.

[archive] API Consumption at API STRAT_files.zip

My point in writing this is that it is not okay to treat people like a piece of content. If you don’t like being treated like a piece of ass, then don’t treat industry professionals like they’re personalities you can misquote.

With minimal effort, you too can exercise control over marketing ignorance, both in your own business dealings and in others. It’s as easy as starting shit on Twitter to help clarify misinformation right out in the great wide open.

[Talk] API Strategy: The Next Generation

I took the mic at APIStrat Austin 2015 last week.

A few weeks back, Kin Lane (sup) emailed and asked if I could fill in a spot, talk about something that was not all corporate slides. After being declined two weeks before that and practically interrogating Mark Boyd when he graciously called me to tell me that my talk wasn’t accepted, I was like “haal no!” (in my head) as I wrote back “haal yes” because duh.

I don’t really know if it was apparent during, but I didn’t practice. Last year at APIStrat Chicago, I practiced my 15 minute talk for about three weeks before. At APIdays Mediterranea in May I used a fallback notebook and someone tweeted that using notes is bullshit. Touché, though some of us keep our instincts in check with self-deprecation and self-doubt. Point taken: don’t open your mouth unless you know something deep enough where you absolutely must share it.

I don’t use notes anymore. I live what I talk about. I talk about what I live. APIs.

I live with two crazy people and a superhuman. It’s kind of weird. My children are young and creative, my wife and I do whatever we can to feed them. So when some asshole single developer tries to tell me that they know more about how to build something amazing with their bare hands, I’m like “psh, please, do have kids?” (again, in my head).

Children are literally the only way our race carries on. You want to tell me how to carry on about APIs, let me see how much brain-power for API design nuance you have left after a toddler carries on in your left ear for over an hour.

My life is basically APIs + Kids + Philanthropy + Sleep.

That’s where my talk at APIstrat came from. Me. For those who don’t follow, imagine that you’ve committed to a long-term project for how to make everyone’s life a little easier by contributing good people to the world, people with hearts and minds at least slightly better than your own. Hi.

It was a testing and monitoring track, so for people coming to see bullet lists of the latest ways to ignore important characteristics and system behaviors that only come from working closely with a distributed system, it may have been disappointing. But based on the number of conversation afterwards, I don’t think that’s what happened for most of the audience. My message was:

Metrics <= implementation <= design <= team <= people

If you don’t get people right, you’re doomed to deal with overly complicated metrics from dysfunctional systems born of hasty design by scattered teams of ineffective people.

My one piece of advice: consider that each person you work with when designing things was also once a child, and like you, has developed their own form of learning. Learn from them, and they will learn from you.

 

When you are really invested, you worry

I watched a couple of guys help each other today. One of them wanted to test out a dory by paddling it around the harbor before selling it. The other didn’t want anything to do with the water on such a nice day.

I only began to take notice when the other pulled up to the local dock hurriedly, backing in to a double-spot closest to the water. Since we share a share a small neighborhood with him, I said hi and asked how his Thanksgiving was going. He told me fine and what his other was doing and how long it would take him to appear in the cove.

In previous years, I might have lauded how awesome it was that his elderly friend was rowing around in open water, but today I quickly and carefully responded by saying “oh” and asking him “how do you feel about that”? He sort of muttered quietly first and then said loudly “oh, it’s fine, he does things like this all the time”, and wouldn’t look me in the eye. After some chit-chat we moved off each other’s company, and in about 10 minutes, his friend’s two-person row boat peaked out from behind one of the lobster boats docked in the bay, with a guy in it, rowing slowly and steadily.

After navigating past the dock and to the rocks where the truck was parked, they carefully collected the small dory out of the water and navigated it up into the truck bed. The rower then proceeded to fasten the protruding boat to the truck with ropes and carabiners while the driver stood patiently out of the way enjoying the 50 degree holiday weather, free of anxiety and grateful for the salty harbor air.

When two people live together for the better part of their lives, like an odd couple mirroring the dynamics of other married couples, they develop a deep emotional connection to each other, the sweet bitterness of co-dependency. It is the bond formed between people who see more and more into each other, the wonders and the flaws, the longer they captivate each other’s curiosity and souls.

The best part of it is, there are dozens of examples of this fine form of relationship in my neighborhood. Men devoted to each other, women who have known from their first meeting that they were meant to live life together, and every other kind of relationship you can think of too. Single moms. Single dads. Parents of young and old. Grandparents. Young parents. Parents twice and thrice over. Kids made of the most creative and kind things in the known cosmos. Couples, singles, veterans, retirees. Humanitarians. Artists. Engineers.

It takes all kinds. It takes these guys, to make a world. We’re better for having them in it. They help us remember to follow the path of love back to each other.

Don’t Insult Technical Professionals

Some vendors look at analyst reports on API testing and all they see is dollar signs. Yes, API testing and virtualization has blown up over the past 5 years, and that’s why some companies who were first to the game have the lead. Lead position comes from sweat and tears, that’s how leaders catch the analysts attention in the first place; those who created the API testing industry, gained the community and analyst attention, and have the most comprehensive products that win. Every time.

There are snakes in the grass no matter what field you’re in

I recently had opportunity to informally socialize with a number of “competitors”, and as people are great people to eat tacos and burn airport wait time with. Unfortunately, their scrappy position in the market pushes them to do things that you can only expect from lawyers and pawn sharks. They say they’re about one thing in person, but their press releases and website copy betray their willingness to lie, cheat, and deceive actual people trying to get real things done.

In other words, some vendors proselytize about “API testing” without solid product to back up their claims.

I don’t like lying, and neither do you

One of my current job responsibilities is to make sure that the story my employer tells around its products accurately portray the capabilities of those products, because if they don’t, real people (i.e. developers, testers, engineers, “implementers”) will find out quickly and not only not become customers, but in the worst cases tell others that the story is not true. Real people doing real things is my litmus test, not analysts, not some theoretical BS meter.

Speaking of BS meter, a somewhat recent report lumped API “testing” with “virtualization” to produce a pie chart that disproportionately compares vendors market share, both by combining these two semi-related topics and by measuring share by revenue reported by the vendors. When analysts ask for things like revenue in a particular field, they generally don’t just leave the answer solely up to the vendor; they do some basic research on their own to prove that the revenue reported is an accurate reflection of the product(s) directly relating to the nature of the report. After pondering this report for months, I’m not entirely sure that the combination of the “testing” and “virtualization” markets is anything but a blatant buy-off by one or two of the vendors involved to fake dominance in both areas where there is none. Money, meet influence.

I can’t prove it, but I can easily prove when you’ve left a rotting fish in the back seat of my car simply by smelling it.

What this means for API testing

It means watch out for BS. Watch really closely. The way that some companies use “API testing” (especially in Google Ads) is unfounded in their actual product capabilities. What they mean by “testing” is not what you know as what’s necessary to ship great software. Every time I see those kinds of vendors say “we do API testing”, which is a insult to actual API testing, I seriously worry that they’re selling developers the illusion of having sufficient testing over their APIs when in reality it’s not even close.

Why your API matters to me

On the off-chance that I actually use it, I want your API to have been tested more than what a developer using a half-ass “testing” tool from a fledgling vendor can cover. I want you to write solid code, prove that it’s solid, and present me with a solid solution to my problem. I also want you to have fun doing that.

The API vendor ecosystem is not what it seems from the outside. If you have questions, I have honesty. You can’t say that about too many other players. Let’s talk if you need an accurate read on an analyst report or vendor statement.

 

Automating the Self: Social Media

I’m taking on the task of building an automation system for some of my online social engagement. Since I am not such a Very Important Person (yet :), the absolute worst that can happen is that one of my friend/followers shares something racist or sexist or *-ist that I wouldn’t otherwise agree with. Bad, but I can at least un-share or reply with an “I’m sorry folks, my robot and I need to talk” statement. But this leads to an interesting question:

What does it mean to imbue responsibility over my online persona to a digital system?

It’s not really that bizarre of a question to ask. We already grant immense amounts of control over our online profiles to the social primaries (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+). For most people, any trending app that wants access to “post to your timeline” is enough of a reason to grant full access to activities on behalf of your profile, though it shouldn’t. Every time you want to play Candy Crush or Farmville, you are telling King and Zynga that it’s okay for them to say whatever they want as if they were you to people in your network.

The more of a public figure you are, the more your risk goes up. Consider that Zynga is not at all incentivized to post bad or politically incorrect content to your network on your behalf. That’s not the problem. The problem is when (not if) the company behind a game gets hacked, as did Zynga in 2011. It happens all the time. It’s probably happened to you, and you stand to lose more than just face.

So what is the first thing to get right about automating social media?

Trust and security are the first priorities, even before defining how the system works. Automation rules are great except for when the activities they’re automating do not follow the rules of trust and responsibility that a human would catch in a heartbeat. There is no point to automation if it’s not working properly. And there’s no point in automation of social media if it’s not trustworthy.

For me at least in the initial phases of planning out what this system would look like, trust (not just “security”) will be a theme in all areas of design. It will be a question I ask early and often with every algorithm I design and every line of code I write. Speaking of algorithms, an early example of these rules go something like this (pseudo-code):

 

 

Quality Means Not Accepting Crap

Software. Hardware. Things. Opinions. Places. Excuses. Ideas.

Anyone can produce a cheap “affordable” solution. But details matter. How many cheap plastic things have broken in your hands unexpectedly, and were entirely disappointing in that moment?

My AirBnB is not that. I knew “quality” when I saw it. You can tell someone lived in this thing and made it convenient for them, then handed it off to you. That’s quality, making something that meets your own standards, then giving it to someone else.

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I travel a lot, enough to know what matters on a trip. Leg room on the plane. Working wifi. Power plugs, everywhere. Politeness. Clean bathrooms. Details matter.

Conversely, a $300/night hotel room only to have plugs too far away from the bed, lamp toggle buttons that take so much effort to push that you push the lamp over, light switches that are harder to find than Carmen Sandiego; the annoyances all add up too. The lights in this camper that I’m staying in are easy to use and don’t cause me to cuss.

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Same with software, details matter.

Quality software comes from people using their own product, living in it, fixing its flaws, and asking others how their experience with it is. In the tech industry, we call it “dogfooding” your own product. Believe me, it works.

People intrinsically know “quality” when they experience it. They pick up a phone, it’s heavy and solid, they think “that’s quality”. Conversely, they close a car door and it rattles or sounds hollow, they think “that’s cheap”. Even the sounds shipped with your mobile phone help to engineer your perception of the quality of the device.

Quality is in the details.

Oh, and BTW, I’d also rather put a constraint on myself not to over-drink and stumble into a $450/night on-premise room way too late at night to wake up on time the next morning. I have business to attend to. Knowing when to quit starts with looking at a ridiculous estimate and just saying no:

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So, even at only 3 nights, this would have cost $1,350 just for a room I would be spending around 4-6 hours a night in, and not getting all the charms of an outside shower and condensation on the windows each morning. The AirBnB alternative for all three nights, just 60% as compared to JUST ONE NIGHT AT THE SHERATON!

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I should have remembered to check the crime overlay though, but Uber is a cheap solution to that problem:

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HackCU : An Example of Student Leadership

In an unused downstairs side room of a hotel, I listened to students from the University of Colorado express their desire to change the world, and their concerns about commercial interests moving in to poach talent from hackathons.

Alex Campbell, Alex Walling, and Nika Shafranov.

[Download as MP3]

HackCU is a Boulder-based hackathon incubator program that seeks to educate, inspire, and connect local students to technology and hands-on skills. It is at the cutting edge of technical education. It is student-led. It is well intentioned.

It is a way for students to arm themselves in the digital workforce when they can’t trust the technical market to treat them properly as employees. They teach each other how to code, design, and prove the value of their own technology.

I think this is great. These are the right people to be running this sort of thing. I’ll be keeping my eyes open about hackathon politics in the local area thanks to my conversations with these fine engineers.

My goal in engaging the two Alex’s and Nika, with help from Maria Sallis of StartupDigestCO and Lorinda Brandon‘s wise words, was to assist these students in any way a storyteller like me can: network the right people together, understand their challenges, and help them tell that story to a wider audience.

Much like the open source community (which I am far less a part of than I’d like to be), the communities of student-led hackathons are a brilliant place to hang out and listen, intellectually stimulating and ethically challenging. My own exploration of this space will take time.

Defrag 2015 == Legit

WP_20151111_007Defrag is legit. By “legit”, I go with the urban dictionary definitions in that it is “real”, “authentic”, “truthful”, generally a good thing.

Who am I? Just a guy who goes places and interacts with other real people, like this guy, Andy Rusterholtz who isn’t even on Twitter yet.

Keynotes (a.k.a. new friends)

Ramez Naam illustrated how our conscious perception of the world around us is very much a function of both sensory input and our memory of past input mixed together, never a perfect raw clear representation reality. He followed that up with proof that these squishy memories are entirely transmittable onto silicon. Want someone else’s memories? They’ll come mixed with yours, but we can do that now. He came in full Philip K. Dick style. This guy is within calling distance of Orson Scott Card via Wasteland 2 and Brin. Legit.

WP_20151112_028Mary Scotton put the whole keynote floor to rest with the depths of her compassion for considering the inequities of the industry around sexism, racism, and greed. Being inclusive is a responsibility we all share in common as humans who work for companies. Legit. She answered each of my quotes with a witty twitter mention to the original source of the quote or idea. Inclusive, ask Ben or anyone else she talked to, ever. Legit. “I don’t have to have the same kind of talk with my son that African American parents have to have with theirs…”, as she has a still photo of the Rodney King tragedy. Legit.

Bilal Zuberi. Great research. Great oration. Now that I’ve looked him up, typed hist name out, and referenced it in many conversations since yesterday, I’ll remember it well. His ideas for how much we should invest in reaching higher as a human race through technology and how the best leaders are formed; no problem remembering them now either. Are we really trying to get liquor to your door faster via mobile app, or should we maybe cure cancer first, then celebrate after? Legit.

CTpSvzmUsAAKgp8Lorinda Brandon. Mindful tech. It is socially irresponsible to let courts rule in favor of letting upskirt videos be taken, protected under “free speech” because they are recorded by a phone. What does that make a phone? Things don’t go away once you share them. Also, she put the kibosh on Google images as a way to help law enforcement crack down on illegal pools but not on illegal acts of law enforcement. Legit. She makes advocating for privacy the new gold standard for how to show which institutions and governments are leaders and which ones aren’t. Legit.

Lisa Kamm. Legit. Right after Lindy challenged Google’s propensity for privacy snarls, Lisa bounces back by showing us all that we need to get the fuck off our phones while in transit. We are not efficient at either when we do both at the same time. The only demonstration in her talk was her demonstrating how to navigate complex topics gracefully. Legit.

Kin Lane. A great mind behind honest ideas like APIware and APIs.json, a new format for how to describe the API lifecycle, something he invents in his spare time. Legit. Thinker of thoughts. Most terse person in the world if he wants to be, recently so about the OAI and about Swagger. You just gave all the students at Defrag (myself included) a map for how to build businesses around API tech. Legit.

[Transparency. I was not able to make a few of the sessions that I only heard people talking about afterwards. Duncan’s talk, for instance.]

Sam Ramji, we hope your shoulder feels better. Sad that you couldn’t come inspire us. Hello world demos aside, I will look for some time with you like I did with Phil Windley where we can talk about some stuff that is important.

Anya Stettler. Renegade developer evangelist at Avalara. What the hell is a tax company doing paying for a badass, beautiful brain such as hers to come and speak? Same thing that Capital One is doing by convincing Lorinda Brandon to join their team. It’s called financial technology, and it took over everything recently, did you know? Anya is shorter than I am, had more to drink than I did, and still kept going back and forth with Mick longer than I could. She knows who her people are. Legit.

David Nielsen. I missed his talk entirely, sat across from him a lot in two days, took no notice as he slept while sitting upright at “Indian” dinner with me and Emmanuel Paraskakis, only to wake up and lay down some serious story about working in India himself which to me at least made the already not-so-Indian food seem a less authentic. I still ate it up, his company and the food. Legit.

I could go on, but not really because I was busy having other conversations and missed all of day one and some of day two. Sad for me. Not legit. Also not legit, I missed the cloud foundry meetup last night.

The Legit Thing to Do: Say Thank You

Eric Norlin. Incubator. There were students all over this conference. A true sign of legit. I’ll post on this topic more tomorrow, better timing for them and for Maria at StartupDigestCO #GSB2015. Eric and these kids are enabling the next great thinkers and business owners to connect up and are helping them make good choices about their careers from day one. Legit.

Kim Norlin. Consummate professional host and organizer. Just being in her presence make me know I will never hold a conference myself. I’ll just ask her to either do it for a very hefty sum or a referral for someone else who can. She closed one of the bars down when there was no point in having it open anymore. Legit.

What’s Next?

I let some students speak their peace about getting poached like river trout by VCs and sponsors with dollars. I’ll post that tomorrow when I’ve had a few hours sleep between today and tomorrow, wait, no, today.

Also, I’ll be speaking at APIstrat in Austin next week, asking the question “how early is too early for childhood development around digital devices and #techlife?”

Peace to us all, especially those involved in the tragedy tonight which writing this article has acted to help me avoid breaking down about.