The Ultimate Personal Dashboard

With some great technological advancements in the past decade, why am I still organizing my life in bookmarks and spreadsheets?

The next great technology needs to get more personal. We need to drop the rectangular web browser and think in higher dimensions. Let’s say iGoogle meets Macbook Dashboard meets a much better version of the new Yahoo! homepage meets the iPhone application platform. I’m talking about a secure, personal, customizable dashboard/portal through which one can live. It’s where I’ll track my information, both from the web and my mind to better organize and optimize my life. It’s where I’ll see and interact with my personal data in a comprehensively insightful yet very organized environment.

Right now, how do I track my information? Some is on the web, some is on my hard drive, and some is on paper. I have over 200 username and password combinations I use to login to various sites. I’ve got at least 250 bookmarks in 15 top-level categories. I’ve got spreadsheets that summarize my finances and visuals I’ve created to try and learn about them. For now, when I need to know something, I find the appropriate link, look up my account credentials (if not stored), and then investigate. But for those in a similar place in life, are my personal needs really that different?

If I list out all the things I do online, all the things I read online, all the information I organize on my computer, all the personal resources I access online, and all the questions I might have about myself, can I begin to minimize some clutter? Can I get Google Reader, Macbook Dashboard, iGoogle widgets, social network widgets, and personal spreadsheets in a secure, organized interface? Please?

Base

  • Accounts – Search logins by account, email, username, password, notes, date added, date updated
  • Address Book – Contact Info, birthdays, anniversaries
  • Links – Yahoo!, Google, GMail, CNN, Wolfram|Alpha
  • System Stats – Files/Folders, latest backup, storage space
  • Weather – Today’s weather, 7-day forecast, full interactive radar/satellite map

Financial

  • Bills – Due dates, billing cycles, average costs due
  • Energy Monitor – Monitor your home utilities, set “green” goals
  • Finances Monitor – Monitor stocks, IRAs, retirement, savings, checking, credit card
  • PayPal – Request/receive payments, see pending invoices
  • Subscription Management – Expected issues, renewal dates,

News/Events

  • Coming Soon – Movie releases, Tickets on sale, Upcoming concerts (Thrillist, Ticketmaster, Fandango)
  • Google Reader Tracker – Total unread, shared items, etc.
  • Local – Weekend Events (Going Out Guide, Eventful, etc.), Breaking News
  • News – CNN News Pulse
  • Sports – Scores/News

Social Media/Networking

  • Brand Monitor – See sentiment for desired keywords/terms
  • Discussion Board Monitor – Track your posts and comments, desired forums
  • Hot Topics – See trend topics and most searched items
  • Notifications – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter
  • Social Timeline – LinkedIn Updates, Twitter Lists, Status Updates
  • Web Analytics – Twitter Stats, Google Analytics

Entertainment

  • Movies – Times, upcoming releases, IMDB search, RottonTomatoes rankings
  • Music – Playlists, connect with Grooveshark albums, iTunes Radio, etc.
  • Photos – Flickr/Picasa portlet
  • Sports – Fantasy team tracker, favorites scoreboard, breaking news
  • TV – Guide, schedule of favorites, DVR control

Health

Lists

  • Map – Where I’ve Been, Where I want to go
  • Reading List – What I’ve Read, What I’m Reading, Connect to Amazon
  • Recipes – Saved links, suggested items, BigOven link
  • Shopping – Grocery (connect with PeaPod), Retail deals/coupons
  • Tasks / To-Do
  • Watch Lists – eBay Auction, StubHub
  • Wish List – Amazon, iTunes, Retail Stores

Utilities

  • Calculator
  • Currency Conversion
  • Dictionary/Thesaurus (Wordnik)
  • Flight Tracker
  • Job Tracker – Monster, USAJobs, search agents
  • Maps – My placemarks, directions, search locations
  • Shipment Tracker – UPS, USPS, FedEx, etc.
  • Translator

This is just a list of things I do, need, have, and want. Obviously there are a lot more to be added. It’s important to note that all of these widgets/portlets have a similar foundation that parallel the major dimensions (in light blue) I spoke about in my earlier post on the boundaries of the human condition:

Accounts – List of all companies/organizations. Information is tagged by the company and all info can be found with regards to that account, when needed.
Dates/Time – Many things are calendar-based and should be aggregated to a personal, customizable calendar view
People – Address Book is a foundational database. People can be searched throughout for linkages and notes.
Places – With the current technological trend, many needs are location-based (including news and tweets). Personal organization dashboards should leverage geo-tagging for contextualization of information to the user.

It’s also important to note that most people want information in 3 forms: a quick preview, an expanded summary, and an interactive tool. This follows closely with a recent social trend – high variability in the speed with which we move. Sometimes we want a snapshot of our current personal information because that’s all that we have – a few seconds of time. At other times, we may have a few minutes of free time, most likely coupled with a defined question or purpose:

“How much do I have in my checking account?”
“What will the weather be like this weekend?”
“Need to transfer rent money to roommate.”
“Did my package arrive safely?”
“Who has a birthday in the next month?”
“What are the hot news items of the day?”
“I want to buy a book from my Amazon wish list.”
“To which country should I travel next summer?”

And finally, this cannot be overwhelming. It needs to be there when you need it but not short circuit your mood if you don’t check it for three weeks. All charts and graphics need to be simple and interactive and customizable, but also intelligent in design to attract the most novice of digital users.

So what will the next decade bring us? Will personal desktop technology be able to fully leverage the vast amounts of data we have online, on our computers, and in our heads? Will the world become more stat-conscious, and learn to take insight from the graphical display of life data? Will the desire for a less-click lifestyle drive better personal dashboards for secure, centralized organization? I hope so.

Future Search Requires Human Intervention

The business of organizing information is a tricky one in that it’s a moving target. It’s hard to tell what will be the next hot topic or consumer need, and the contribution of digital information is not necessarily bound by the structure and rules of those needing that information. Second, the mechanisms by which we wish to access and use information are constantly changing. The world in 2050 won’t be PowerPoint presentations, heat maps and csv exports, just as 1950’s world wasn’t all emails, tweets, and search engines. Lastly, with the emergence and growth of social media and networking, information contribution has dramatically increased. Without providing the statistics, it’s well known that more people are online, and more people are hitting a “Submit”, “Post”, “Send”, or “Tweet” button than ever before. As a result, there are more pieces of information, more individual topics, more ways to categorize information, more uses for information, more ways to see information, and more unknowns about that information than ever before.

That being said, it’s important to not be unnerved by this. Collectively, we are smart enough to guide search technology in the right direction, or at least put it in the right place so that its path is optimized for future generations. And collectively, we are smart enough to ensure that the ways we use information will publicly provide guidance to the development of a optimal suite of available tools for effective visualization and communication. That being said, by focusing on the relative near-term, emerging trends can be detected, understood, and leveraged for advancement in the business of organizing information. Gaining an edge on future trends brings tremendous value and exactly that – edge. Among other methods, the detection of such trends requires quantitative analysis mixed with psychology, history, and good ol’ intuition.

In terms of finding information (and more importantly, relevant information), most people think simple search. Or maybe more specifically, they think Boolean search with some available advanced search options. It’s Google, Bing, Wolfram|Alpha, or some other engine – typing in some logical query, occasionally setting some supporting filters, scrolling through the first ten results, and settling on what looks best by some meta data. This certainly works today, and these search engines may be sufficiently wrapping their arms around the influx of new and changing information. But soon technology reaches a limit. The responsibility must shift back to the human. As the informational requirements become more complex and the underlying data become more specialized, relevancy must become more human-driven. We can’t rely completely on technology to provide us with answers.

This notion is two-fold:

  1. Future queries needs more human input. This means “advanced search” needs to become part of “normal search”. Spending 3 seconds to check a box could save 3 minutes in scanning results. You can obviously set defaults for your regular search, but I’d be interested to see stats on the use of type of search vs time spent scanning results. The distance between the two will only grow with the ever-accelerating growth of internet content.
  2. Future content needs more human organization. About.com, Wikipedia.org, and howstuffworks.com are great examples of this. They are sites that show up in search results that organize information. Wired Magazine had a good article last month on About.com as an “answer factory” (in fact, their motto is “Guidance. Not Guesswork” – I love that). These sites organize thought and mimic the human mind looking for an answer to a question, not a query. Websites and blogs need to organize information about information, and as a result we can increase transferable knowledge and decrease search time.

It’s obvious but important to note that people collectively drive relevancy through thought. Trend topics in Twitter, News Feed on Facebook, Google Hot Trends, etc. are driven by fingers on a keyboard, which are driven by synapses in the brain, which are driven by actions and observations, which are driven by circumstance – and maybe even fate. Technology should not drift too far away or we’ll lose access to the very knowledge we create.

the mind as a map

The human mind should work much like modern mapping and camera technology – zoom, pan, adjust, layer, interact – and export too.

At any moment, the majority of minds fall into one of two categories: big and strategic, or focused and tactical. But as changing times require changing minds, the third category has emerged: the dynamic and balanced. This category can be seen as a mix of the first two, instantaneously being able to function based on the attributes of the surrounding medium.

These minds are very much like new cameras, mapping applications, GPS tools, and related emerging technologies. They build a informative picture for a user, based off organized databases and knowledge bases, and allow a level of functional interaction to continuously feed new information to that user. These functionalities, when applied to the human mind, are all essential for continued growth in a rapidly changing (and unpredictable) society.

Zoom

  • Act as a lens. Be able to zoom in and out from a single focal point. For any given topic, the mind must be able to pay attention to the smallest of details while still being able to see the big picture. Understand the color and shape of the individual puzzle pieces while at the same time seeing where that piece fits into the full picture on the puzzle box.
  • Re-focus instantaneously at every level of zoom. Purposely making pictures blurry can provide useful in some instances, but the act of focusing should be natural and automatic. 
  • Like looking at a Magic Eye or a lovely Seurat, be able to find the right level of zoom where the picture is most clear.
  • “Zoom Analytics” as I’ll call it, should be embraced as a common analytical method. It’s always been a mathematical problem solving technique, but not universally taught.

Pan

  • Need to be able to swiftly move from topic to topic, and connect those that are related.
  • Moving back to a previously-visited topic should bring quicker loading of that memory.

Adjust

  • The mind must continuously grow in dimension and adjust for core characteristics. Recognize patterns and contrasts, shapes and sizes, color and form and adjust the view and output accordingly.
  • Toggle perspective and angle to see the infinite sides of any one picture. Perspective is everything.

Layer

  • If the brain consisted of data and memory silos, the main interface should be able to integrate any combination of data and memory into a single comprehensive picture.
  • It should be able to see localized data as well as aggregate data for larger constructs. Filter data and memory based off a set of parameters, re-organize it, and feed it into the common operating picture.

Interact

  • The picture is not static. The brain must by dynamic in nature, allowing a constant influx of new information and updating of old information. 
  • Re-organization of data and memory should be consistent with the changing society in which we live. When a scientific/technological revolution occurs, the way in which our information is processed and stored must be compatible with the changes in society.

Export

  • Not every tool can do every task. That’s why exporting is good. Create a new data set from which you, or someone else, can work. Export a map or a picture that can be analyzed by another set of eyes. For the human, you must be able to transfer stored information to others, and most importantly, communicate it effectively. English is English, math is math, kml is kml.
  • Language is good because it is a standard by which we can effectively communicate. Choosing words wisely is something that should be practiced on top of a common linguistic standard. It’s one thing to speak the same language, but another to foster understanding.

And so, truly finding a balance between big and small perspectives is important. It’s important for making wise decisions, being a team player, being an effective manager, giving valuable advice, and finding optimal direction in life. So as much as you make sure you can get deep in the weeds, make sure you can easily get out.

“It’s not what you’re looking at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

make your own ringtone

Make a ringtone from any mp3 file in iTunes in under a minute.

Personal Note: I say keep it on vibrate most of the time out of politeness for the general public, but use the ringtones for your morning alarm!

1. In iTunes, find the song from which you want to make a ringtone. Write down the interval of time you wish to capture (e.g. the chorus from 1:13 to 1:27).

2. Right-click on the mp3 file and select ‘Get Info’.

3. Go to the tab for ‘Options’, check the boxes for ‘Start Time’ and ‘End Time’, and input the interval you wish to capture in your ringtone. Hit ‘OK’.

4. With that mp3 file still highlighted, go up top to the ‘Advanced’ menu and select ‘Create AAC Version’. This will automatically create a new file in your library (and it should have a length equal to the interval you set previously).

5. Drag and drop this new AAC file to your desktop. It should have a .m4a extension.

6. Change the extension of this file from “.m4a” to “.m4r”.

7. Drag this file from your desktop back into iTunes. It should now be available in your ‘Ringtones’ library on the left. If you don’t see this library, got to Preferences and make sure you have checked the box to show this library in your iTunes.

8. Lastly, you can delete the file on your desktop, and can delete the AAC version of the song in your iTunes music library. Also, remember to change the original mp3 file back to the normal start and end times (just unclick the boxes).

9. Sync your iPhone/ringtones and you’re good to go.

Reference: eHow

math in 2010 and beyond

If we want to fuel future growth and innovation in mathematics, three worlds must meet in the middle.

In 2009, we see three distinctly developed worlds:
  • The Communities: Math + People = Associations, Publications, Journals, Groups, Departments (ASA, IMS, WFU Math, etc.)
  • The Connectors: People + Technology = Social Media & Social Networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, iPhone Apps, etc.)
  • The Foundations: Math + Technology = Software/Web Applications (Wolfram|Alpha, SAS, R, Matlab, Mathematica, Statistica, etc.)

In 2010, we need these three worlds to mold into one, unified experience. With whom does the responsibility lie and when does it start? You and now.

how i get my news

Everyone is unique with regards to his/her fingerprints, aspirations, and the news he/she reads. Regardless of the topical interests, it’s still very easy to get overwhelmed with managing bookmarks, feeds, readers, interfaces, and social networks.

I’m sure at some point you’ve felt at least the feeling that you are behind in the latest technologies, the feeling that you are missing some major news of interest to you, or the feeling that you haven’t updated your account often enough. With that in mind, I’m going to list some subscriptions I have and technologies I use with the hope that it might help you become more efficient and comfortable with accessing news. If not, maybe you can offer up some advice to me as you’ll see I’m still hitting a hodgepodge of sites/links.

Note: Obviously this doesn’t include everything but tries to show main sites, sources, and technologies I hit on independently. For my categorized blog rolls check out the widget on the right side of my blog (directly from Google Reader). And although I don’t use them very often, everyone should know about Technorati for blogs, Delicious for bookmarks, and Digg for all content.

Major News Sites, Aggregators, and Readers

  • BBC News – Quick glance gives quick review across all regions of the world.
  • CNN – Top news on homepage gives quick review across all topical categories. Top of the page is good for breaking news.
  • ESPN – Best (and most timely) source for sports news.
  • Twitter – Most customizable feed of informal news links, blog posts, and sentiments. Best for breaking news.
  • Google Alerts – Very targeted news (search results) in an easy-to-use format. Helpful for breaking news.
  • Google Fast Flip – Newest, most-efficient and well-categorized interface for paging through news.
  • Google Reader – My favorite. Best aggregation and categorization of RSS feeds with email-like features.
  • My Alltop – Good way to find new things to read by category and/or search term. See my previous post on some feature enhancements that would make it a primary news hub.
  • NYTimes – Today’s headlines email comes in around 7am ET every day.
  • SmartBrief – I get the daily SmartBrief on Social Media. That’s just 1 of 120+ briefs they have.
  • Stratfor – I get weekly geopolitical intelligence reports by email. They’re easy to read and they hit on global topics of current interest. This week: “Misreading the Iran Situation”.
  • USA Today – iPhone app is nice interface and lets you interact with the news (polls, comments, link sharing/posting, etc)
  • Washington Post – You can customize daily email newsletters by topic, columnist, etc. Good to check out your local paper to make sure you hit on news relevant to your hometown.
  • Yahoo! – The OLD homepage. I like to see what’s the most popular news of the day/hour.



Events

  • Eventful – This weekly email is specific to my location and points me to all types of events by topic, location, venue, genre, etc.
  • Ticketmaster – This weekly email points me to all events in and around my area, and particularly shows newly posted events or those with tickets going on sale in the coming days.

Friends & Family

  • Facebook – Kevin Berardinelli likes this.
  • LinkedIn – Best for professional updates and networking for business/employment/research opportunities.
  • TwitterTweetDeck is best on desktop. With a categorization of actual close friends you follow, it’s helpful for staying up-to-date with friends and colleagues. Twitterfon (now called Echofon) or Twitterrific are good on iPhone.

Magazine Subscriptions

  • Amstat News – The magazine of the American Statistical Association. I’m sure some associations or groups related to your topical interests have free or cheap newsletters and publications… so be sure to look around!
  • National Geographic – Best photography ever. And simple stories on basic science that should be of interest to readers aged 6 to 106.
  • Washingtonian – Good local magazine (and it’s cheap). Look around for a hard-copy publication specific to your hometown. It’ll make you feel good.
  • Wired – The best, although I hear FastCompany is on its heels as being coolest?

And Some Rules To Live By…

1. Stay calm. News and technology will always find a way to come to you. You’re the consumer.
2. Stay sane. Take vacations from technology and the internet. Read the paper version of the paper.
3. Stay human. Get news through conversation. Hear what others read. See what others use.

And so I ask you… how do you get your news?