Embrace randomness – SXSW Themes

THEME 4: Embrace randomness
‘Go with the flow’ was definitely the best piece of advice I got for sxsw. It’s good to plan, but feel free to break that plan for a chance to go somewhere random with a random group of people. I’ve been very interested in the balance of structured efficiency versus embracing randomness and the effect that has on both creativity and your ability to be effective.

I was moving towards structured efficiency until I read an amazing book on creativity in the workplace called “Orbiting The Giant Hairball” which takes a very opposite approach. Like many things, I think the answer is in the middle, and I think Tim Ferriss nails it on his head in 4 Hour Workweek by showing how carefully placed structure can free you up so that you have much more time to live more randomly (if that’s what you want). Structure if used right can be complementary to randomness

There is more to gain by giving it all away – SXSW Themes

THEME 3: There is more to gain by giving it all away

Not exactly a theme of this year’s sxsw in particular, but of the whole blogger rooted culture that has grown sxsw to where it is now. The whole experience was almost like living inside Web 2.0. It’s a weird analogy, but the best way I can think to explain it. The culture of the people there is one where everyone has adopted the idea of broadcasting thoughts to the world. It’s a glimpse of where the internet is moving our whole society towards, where information is no longer locked up and protected, but rather everyone comes to the realization that there’s actually more to gain by giving it all away.

That realization has provided motivation for me to get back into blogging and feeling free to broadcast my thoughts to anyone who wants to listen. What good is an idea in a walled garden if no one ever sees the garden? And for me, it’s more than spreading ideas. Honestly, not that many people will be reading my ideas here on randomdestiny.com. But I gain more by the act of fully developing an idea and communicating it to the world. There’s more to gain in that act than having the biggest lockbox of ideas in the world.

Do you make happiness, dreams, or just kick ass? – SXSW Themes

THEME 2: Help people kick ass so they can reach their dreams. That’s how you create happiness. Make that your business and your life.

The products and services we build have a wide array of goals. We think of our business as being the category that our product falls into. My company, Revolution Health, is obviously in the business of health content, tools, and community, right? Well, most businesses are reducible to the business of happiness. Jane McGonigal predicted that quality of life will become the ultimate measure of a product. “Happiness is the new capital.”

Kicking Ass
Similarly, Kathy Sierra asked “How do you help your users kick ass?” I found that to be a really powerful question. How much time do we spend at work on work that does not help an end user kick ass? If that’s the majority of the time, either the product is on the wrong track or you’re doing the wrong work.

New Measurements
We need to reframe and re-evaluate what we and our products actually accomplish in our end users. Metrics should not be around page views and sales but around how effective we’ve allowed someone to be or how many interruptions we’ve eliminated from someone’s life.
Jane provided four common elements that provide true happiness across the board. Take these as starting points for your new ‘happiness startup’.

1) Satisfying work to do
2) The experience of being good at something
3) Spending time with people you like
4) Chance to be part of something bigger

I want to leave you with Randy Pauch’s life changing talk on making people’s dreams come true. Creating happiness is something bigger than the products and services we work on. It’s how we should live our lives.


Update: Looks like Randy Pauch has written a book based on his amazing lecture.

Interconnectedness and Cooperation Overlaid Onto Real Life – SXSW Themes

Table of contents for SXSW Themes

  1. Interconnectedness and Cooperation Overlaid Onto Real Life – SXSW Themes
  2. Do you make happiness, dreams, or just kick ass? – SXSW Themes
  3. There is more to gain by giving it all away – SXSW Themes
  4. Embrace randomness – SXSW Themes

After transcribing my 15 pages of handwritten notes and starting to think through some of it, I’ll be posting a few big takeaways and themes I pulled from South By Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) this year. Here’s the first:

THEME 1: Interconnectedness and Cooperation Overlaid Onto Real Life
A feeling that I came away with after sxsw was that I had just experienced the super-connected world we envision the future to be. Everyone had macs and iphones, icons of great user centered design, and was completely interconnected in a wireless digital sea. But this high tech interconnectedness did not draw people away from face to face interaction (which we often blame new technology for doing). Instead, it actually enhanced it and sped it up. Twitter allowed people to move in groups and figure out what others were doing, yelp helped people sort out what places to go to, social networks like facebook instantly made long term connections for followup and learning more about the person you just met.
On a more global scale, web 2.0 tools are helping with the spreading of ideas and knowledge and helping people take cooperative action with that knowledge.

Spreading ideas
The Africa 2.0 session showed how Africa’s rising entertainment center, known as Nollywood, is currently relying on the internet to get content out and get Africa’s message out to the world (rather than Hollywood’s interpretation of it). Zuckerberg talked about how students from the Middle East that go to western universities are staying in better contact with friends from home and creating idea bridges between the two worlds.

On top of the spreading of ideas was the idea of cooperative action on those ideas. People have worked together to create an index of knowledge known as Wikipedia that is far larger than the Encyclopedia Britannica. Henry Jenkins spoke about how Harry Potter social networks in the UK are starting to make political actions as the members grow together. Facebook groups allow people to channel joint interests or movements together

Overlaying real life
In the last few years I think the new web 2.0 technology and jargon have been the focus. But it seems like the discussion is starting to revolve a lot more on how those technologies are creating real world changes and disruptions. A last example of this was Jane McGonigal’s talk on how games can be used to better design real life. Mashups on the internet between two technologies has become a daily occurance, but this talk sheds light on the new ultimate mashup, the mashing up of technology and the world. Online gaming and social networks have drawn users from the real world to the virtual world, but new ways and ideas are emerging to push some of that back into real life.

Second Life.png First Life.png

Navigation for complex dashboards

I found a really nicely implemented Find function on Bluehost’s pretty complex hosting dashboard. It combines the lookup capabilities of a program like Quicksilver or Spotlight, but uses the actual dashboard interface to show the filtered search results.

Bluehost 1.gif

Bluehost 2.gif

Bluehost 3.gif

Live example:


Click on ‘Demo Login’ button

I’ve thinking this could be a useful model for navigating a personal health record. Imagine if the icons on this example dashboard were instead PHR fields or doctors you have saved to your PHR. This would definitely help in retrieving information out of PHR quickly or make updating a single value easier.

Left Godaddy for Bluehost, never happier!

I finally got so sick of how slowly my pages were loading when hosted on Godaddy I made the switch to a new hosting company.  I went with Bluehost because 1) it was listed on the wordpress.org suggested web hosts, and 2) it nudged out the others on the list with the live chat tech support.

A lot of the hosting sites were relatively close in stats like storage, bandwidth.  All of them were way over what I’d ever imagining ever using (though if my blog got that much traffic it’d be nice).  In the end, the ability to jump into a chat at any time to fix problems really trumped the little differences in hosting statistics.  I ended up firing up 3 chats to solve some minor issues I had while setting up my site.  Had this been with a hosting company that only had phone or e-mail I would’ve gone nuts, but instantly solving problems with really helpful reps was a pleasure.  Blue Host wins with the great user experience.

Also nice is the automatic WordPress install and easy to use panel that they let you sample before the site.  Pricing is reasonable.  They do make you sign up for at least 3 months, and at least 12 months to avoid the $30 setup fee.  However, they have a 30 day cancellation guarantee so to me it’s fine to have the longer contracts.  I went for the 12 month.


Digital Camera Shopping and Comparison Widgets

After about 7 years with my trusty Sony Cybershot I decided it was time to retire it for something new and also get my Mom to make the jump from film to digital, too. The biggest annoyance with my old camera were the long time to turn on and take the first photo (especially with flash on), so this was a big priority. I used CNet for most of my comparisons.

One piece of UI I really liked was their Recently Viewed / Comparison box. On many sites I’ve seen the Comparison feature placed in the search results and Recently Viewed as a separate piece of functionality (like on the bottom of Amazon pages). This is a really smart combination of showing your last 4 viewed products, linking to those products (clicking on the picture), ability to compare a subset (checkmarks and compare button). The final touch that really make this UI superb is the ability to remove items from the widget. Often the usefulness of modules like this are diluted because they get filled up with items that you aren’t interested in at all. The list gets so full and loses relevance and it’s almost as easy to go back to the search results to move back and forth between products.

CNet Compare box.png

So what did I end up buying? I went with the Canon Powershot S870. Canon still seems to be the leader in this class of cameras (ultracompact and compact). High ratings, fast load up time, image stabilization, and small size were the main reasons. I also ordered the new wireless SD card called Eye-Fi. This card transfers your photos directly to your computer and/or online photo sharing site wirelessly. I’ll write about how it works after trying it out.


If you’re looking for a camera for your mom or anyone a little older, I recommend the Panasonic Lumix TZ3. The camera’s exterior has a bit more of a big and chunky feel. The controls are more tangible feeling than many of the ultracompacts. I think my mom was really drawn to it because it reminisced of her analogue film camera. The screen is pretty big and Panasonic used nice big clear fonts and my mom immediately made positive comments on as soon as they came up. The 10x zoom lens is pretty beautiful for a consumer grade camera, probably at the upper end of its class. Definitely a great choice for anyone who doesn’t need one of the ultra small cameras that are becoming the norm for consumer models.

Back from SXSW, favorite quotes


I’m back from SXSW Interactive today and am feeling quite delusional from the lack of sleep and 5 days of hearing great ideas and meeting amazing people. I think the best part of the conference was just being around such interesting and passionate people in similar fields. As a fairly new user experience designer, it was great to finally meet other similar people around the country and hear their stories.

I’ve got tons of notes to sift through this week but will get to that tomorrow, as well as get started on making arrangements for next year. =) For now, here’s a few of my favorite quotes from this week:

“Ebola style virality” (from battledecks)
“Fuck yea, it scales!” (also from battledecks, probably the best slide I’ve ever seen, see below)
“Steve Jobs is like the pope of design”
“The liver is evil, it must be punished” (indeed)

Planning your visit to SXSW

This Friday will be my first time at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW). I’ve been to a couple other conferences but this is by far the largest. It looks like it’s going to be a blast in Austin. Insane amounts of great music, warm weather, parties, bbq, and getting to meet some of the top designers and digital creatives. It looks like it will be a bit of a sensory overload, but I’ve found a few links that may help you plan / get psyched for this event.

Schedule your panels AND parties
Sched.org is probably the most helpful resource you’ll find for planning your SXSW. It comes set up with every panel and party for the whole week. You mouse over to read the description and select the checkmark if you want to put it on your calendar. At the end you can access your list at a custom URL or download it all to an ical folder. This is a really awesome site.

Where to eat
A great thread listing places to eat over at Chowhound. One place that keeps popping up is Casino El Camino. I’ll definitely have to stop by for a burger.

Get a map
A great easy to read map of downtown Austin can be found at downtownaustin.org (pdf download). Great for locating things, though I hear 6th street is kind of the epicenter of everything, so you might not really need a map as long as you can get there.

Listen to music
Get into the frenzy by listening to free SXSW music through the SXSW Player. The bands you hear on there will probably be walking around while you’re there.

Other Austin stuff
Time to explore the city will probably be a little scarce with all the stuff going on downtown, but a here’s a pretty good travel guide for Austin.

And of course, don’t forget to set up a Twitter account and hook it up to your phone.

SXSW Interactive Logo
Austin Logo

Dreaming with a broken heart

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When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
The waking up is the hardest part
You roll outta bed and down on your knees
And for the moment you can hardly breathe
Wondering was she really here?
Is she standing in my room?
No she’s not, ’cause she’s gone, gone, gone, gone, gone….

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
The giving up is the hardest part
She takes you in with her crying eyes
Then all at once you have to say goodbye
Wondering could you stay my love?
Will you wake up by my side?
No she can’t, ’cause she’s gone, gone, gone, gone, gone….


Now do i have to fall asleep with roses in my hand
Do i have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?
Do i have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?
Do i have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?
Would you get them if i did?
No you won’t, ’cause you’re gone, gone, gone, gone, gone….

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
The waking up is the hardest part

-John Meyer

What gets you up in the morning

I was recently asked a really simple question that I had no answer for, ‘What wakes you up in the morning?’. It’s one of those things you’d think everyone has figured out since we all seem to be getting out of bed successfully on a regular basis. Well, there are some obvious answers like force of habit, money, or a really uncomfortable bed. But each of those things could have a whole slew of more basic motivations behind them. Who’s forcing the habit? Your parents, boss? Are you forced because you want to live up to expectations or is it really just pure inertia?

Well, I had no good answer so I thought a good thought experiment would be to imagine yourself physically staying on your bed for weeks, not touching the phone, any of your books, talking to roommates, looking out the window, or anything. You’re just completely cut off from the world around you and you don’t get a chance to tell anyone in advance. What strikes you the most? Who gets the most worried about your well being? Who is let down? What things you are involved with crumble down? And for all the things for which you identify someone or something, which things Really make you long to be back?

Well, a number of things came to mind, but here are my first few immediate, most visceral thoughts. The first thing that came to mind was how worried my parents would be. I know I would be getting a long string of concerned calls and e-mails from them. The feeling of abandonment they’d feel if they knew I was ignoring them really struck me hard because I know how much it means for them just to receive a simple phone call or card from any of their kids. Not being able to hear or see my girlfriend would also be one of the worst things. I’ve really cherished every bit of our three years together even through the long distance which has been tough. I think I’d also spend a lot of time on that bed thinking about where I hadn’t done the best job as a boyfriend and wished I had opened up more.

The first two things that hit me so far had been relationships. The other two were about missed opportunities. One is the missed opportunities to change the world. Now, I don’t mean to be so pretentious as to say I’m sparking global movements. I mean it as making some kind of positive impact on the world around me, through the designs I do at work, helping friends one-to-one, writing a blog post that changes the way someone thinks, or simply figuring out how I will make that positive impact sometime in the future. Finally, I’d miss the opportunities to learn. One of my biggest joys is simply learning new things about this world and processing what I learn into new ideas.

So that’s what came to mind for me. On a lighter note, if you’re Really having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, try this alarm clock (revealed by a I’m Feeling Lucky Google search for “what wakes you up in the morning”):


Rising alarm clock

3D Patient Records for Dentistry paper published in JADA!

After about a year of waiting, my senior project exploring 3D Patient Records for Dentistry has been published as the cover story in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA)! I had no idea our work would end up getting published let alone in a journal like JADA. I’m also very excited that our group was able to get a 2 page attachment explaining what user centered design is to an audience that is not very familiar with the field but will hopefully want to push for more exploration of it in medicine.

I’d like to thank the professors at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Dental Informatics, Titus Schleyer and Thankam Thyvalikakath, and the head of the Carnegie Mellon HCI undergraduate project course, Jason Hong, for making this all possible.

See the research write-ups and video demo for the paper.

3d dentistry jada cover3D Patient Records for Dentistry