All posts are my own opinion and do not represent any organization I am affiliated with.

Reflective Listening

I've never been great at communication. From a young age I found it really difficult to grasp that If I understood something in a certain way, it did not mean that everyone automatically understood it in the same way. Starting with the assumption that everyone was on the same page with me meant my speech and writing were often very terse, ineffective and I was responsible for many miscommunications. Improving my communication skills have been something I've been working on ever since.

Last year, David Cohen introduced me to the concept of Reflective Listening. It has changed the way I think about communication. Basically, Reflective Listening is a framework for thinking about the successful transfer of thoughts and ensures that everyone is really on the same page. It's really simple.

  1. Listen to what the other person is saying.
  2. Repeat back, in your own words what you think they said. Be detailed. And ask "Is that right?"
  3. Then ask "Is there anything else?" Repeat the whole process until they say "No, there is nothing else."

Reflective Listening, as implied by the name, first requires listening. Which, while thinking about what my response will be, I sometimes forget to actually do. Then report back what was heard. Asking the question "Is that right?" brings out what wasn't communicated correctly. Finally, asking if there is anything else confirms the complete picture is understood by both parties. Information transfer complete. I love this, it has been really helpful. Thanks for sharing David!

Remember Feeling Bored?

Do you remember the last time you felt bored? I don't, it was a long time ago. Now with the first hint of boredom, I pull out my phone without even thinking about it. It has become a habit for boredom avoidance. Even during a lull in a conversation, it's possible for me to pull out my phone without thinking twice.

I remember reading, but can't find a source, that Zynga the creators of Farmville claimed their main competition was pornography. While this was probably a joke, their point came through; we [Farmville] are competing for your time against other activities that you do when you are bored. With always being connected to work through email and everyone else through facebook, it's clear why boredom is now so rare. There is always something to check or interact with.

In becoming more connected life has become more of a whirlwind. In the same 5 minutes last week, I started by working on a spreadsheet. Saw a text from a family member across the world, excitedly replied. Was notified that the State Government charged my credit card for the toll road I took the day before. Saw and ignored a facebook notification inviting me to a party in another country. Took my turn in Chess With Friends. And finally, reopened the spreadsheet to write another formula. By being absorbed with the whirlwind I was taken away from focusing on what I set out to work on. This happens all the time if I let it.

Another example is when having dinner with a friend. It is so important to me to do nothing but have dinner with that person. Not keep up with anything else in my world. Just be present and enjoy the time together. Presence means being in a particular place and existing now. This used to be automatic if you were in a place, you were automatically experiencing that place. Today, with so many other things competing for attention it's a choice to be present. A choice I'm doing my best to make more often.

Six Months of Sleep Tracking

Since April I've been using the Sleep Cycle app as my primary alarm clock. Basically, the app uses the microphone to try and tell when you are not in REM (deep) sleep to sound the alarm clock. You get to set a 30mn window during which you would like to wake up, and it tries to wake you at the most pleasant time. About 50% of the time I wake up at the last minute of the time window and feel just as groggy as I normally do waking up. The other 50% of the time though I wake up during light sleep and feel much better! I've been recommending the app for the past few months.

At it's very worst, it's still better than the default alarm clock. Another thing I like, although probably not billed as a feature, is that when the alarm is active if you switch to another app it shows in the top bar. Which acts as a gentle reminder that I shouldn't be using my phone right before sleeping. I've been working towards not having any electronics in my bedroom at all, but frankly it's hard and I'm not there yet.

Another added benefit of using Sleep Cycle is that you can actually export your sleep quality data. Which includes: Start Time, End Time, Sleep Quality (a percentage metric they made up), Time in Bed, and Activity (number of steps the iPhone pedometer recorded that day).

A project I'm working on is tracking some key personal metrics over time, the first one I've talked about here is my happiness. Sleep is another fun one, this is my raw data from Sleep Cycle. I'll refresh the Google Sheet periodically with new data.

It's nice to see that my average (and median) sleep times are both about 7.5 hours. This is what I believe is healthy for me, and I intend to keep it up. Meaning I'll have about 16 waking hours a day. Best to not waste too much of that time merely keeping track of it :)

Detroit Half Marathon 2016

Yesterday I ran the half marathon in Detroit. This was my first ever half, with the furthest I've ever run prior being 8 miles. I successfully finished, with my goal of running the whole time, in 2 hours and 8 minutes. Here is a link to the Strava activity: link

I ran the race with my sister, and this was also her first half marathon. We arrived in downtown Detroit around 7am. It was very dark, humid, and the speaker system was broken so it only played music every 10 seconds for 1 second. It was loud, and disorienting.

We started in the very back with the last group. Which meant I would have to pass a lot of people over the next two hours, my guess is around 3-5 thousand. There were 13 thousand runners total.

About two miles into the race, the route crosses the Ambassador bridge into Canada.

The view of the city from the bridge was incredible.

After the bridge, while in Canada, the sun started to rise shining on Detroit.

The run was on the waterfront the whole time in Canada. There was a woman holding a sign just out of this photo that read "If Trump can run, so can you!"

The race continued through the under river tunnel back to the United States.

The tunnel was very hot and humid with huge fans circulating the air. I'd compare it to being inside a massive hairdryer. It was not very pleasant. This photo is of the underwater border between the US and Canada.

Back to the US for the final 3 miles.

The final 3 miles were the hardest on me. Looking at Strava apparently these were some of my fastest miles however, they felt misirable. For the final stretch, I ran as fast as I could (while also taking this picture).

All in all, it was a great race. Set a personal distance record and got to enjoy the race not only with my sister but with 3 friends as well.

My next major race is going to be the original marathon in Athens Greece which takes place in November 2017.

Amazon Search by Photo

The Amazon app lets you search products with the camera, and it's amazingly impressive. I'm not sure if this is a new feature, but I've never heard anyone talking about it before.

If you have the app, take it out now. And click this picture icon next to the search bar here:

Now start pointing it at things. First I tried something simple.

Then something harder. It's actually an iPhone cable, but very close.

Then something very hard. Super impressive that it pulled out Brown, Leather, Boots. Especially hard in low light.

And clothes, from a super weird angle.

This is now one of my favorite toys. If you see something you like at your friend's house you no longer have to ask "Where can I get one of those?" Just point your camera at it and Amazon takes you directly to the product search results.

The core technology here is very impressive. The use case for searching Amazon is questionable... how often has the above situation been a problem for you? It is useful, however, when you are in a store and are comparison shopping, as Amazon usually has a lower price. But I'm really interested to see what other things can be developed with this type of technology. Hopefully, Amazon opens up use of this through AWS.