3 things this week that make me want to ditch my smartphone

You ever get that nausea when you have too much of a good thing, like candy corn? (which is actually just one. One piece of candy corn.)

I’ve been feeling that way on and off about my smartphone for months. Really the internet in general – I work on the internet, albeit not the Dave Chappelle way – but the smartphone is the root of the overdose.

The first was this striking video that really hit me hard. What’s it like to live in a world where you forget your phone at home for the day?

I’ve felt this way around friends who are worse than I am at phone attention disorder. It sucks, but in my case I’ve dealt with it for an hour or two. The feelings this video conjures up… actually appalling.

The second was this NYTimes article – Step Away From the Phone! – that basically asked a bunch of hot shot public/corporate fashion personalities how they have cut down on their smartphone use, or attempted to reign it in with sneaky tricks. Like:

  • Leave it in a bucket by the door when you come home.
  • Set an 11pm curfew.
  • Don’t take it to bed.
  • First one to look at their phone pays for drinks.

And the third, was of course, the recent Louis CK bit on Conan. Louis has spoken about the evil of smartphones in the past, but he really hit home with relating it to why he doesn’t get his kids phones, despite the fact that “all the other stupid kids have them.” (Therein lies the problem.)

Also, he’s generally hilarious.

So how does someone who works in pseudo-hi tech, sometimes writing for mobile app companies, drastically cut down on smartphone use?

I have a few thoughts… meanwhile, happy to hear yours.

Unicorns, leprechauns, EL AL customer-friendly UX, & other mythical creatures

ELAL Israel Airlines For months, I’ve been trying/failing/procrastinating/trying again/failing again/sighing/punching walls in disbelief/trying again to log in to my EL AL Matmid Frequent Flyer account and handle some points issues. I’ve tried online, I’ve called, I’ve tweeted, my travel agent has tried for me, but nothing helped, and yet on every log in attempt, I’ve gotten an assortment of unclear red error messages, sighed, and moved on.

Apparently, it turns out, despite the depths of my wild imagination, I’m just not creative enough to have figured this one out on my own.

I tried calling again today. After 15 minutes of Hold jingle and Hold lady telling me to Hold, I finally got through to a nice phone rep, and told her my issue. She entered my details and responded that the account looked great. “I’ll send you your password via SMS,” said she, and I merrily hung up and went back to the computer.

It didn’t work.

I called back. Another 15 minute-hold brought me to another lovely rep, who again accessed my account.

“Looks great!” she said.

“I wish I could see,” I said.

“Oh, dear -” she said, in an I’m so sorry you’re kinda clueless voice, “you’re forgetting to enter a number on your account ID; that’s why it doesn’t recognize  it online.”

“What? A number? I’ve entered what it says on all my emails, notifications, etc…”

“You’re missing the mispar bikoret. There’s a 1 at the end.”

0_0

Oooooooooooh. A ONE at the end. Of course! Please hold while I feed my pet unicorn the tears of a hypochondriac dragon, bred on the lush farms of 16th century Icelandic garden gnomes.

A ONE at the end! You know, I had searched every coat pocket, and still couldn’t locate it.

Dear family and friends and readers abroad, allow me to introduce you to the elusive, surreal, magical creature, the mispar bikoret. I don’t even know how to properly translate it into English, and after polling, am still unsure between ‘verification number’ ‘CRC’ ‘prefix’ ‘security number’ and of course, ‘unicorn.’

In Israel, it shows up here and there. Most commonly, it’s on your teudat zehut (though it’s 99% of the time written out as part of a complete nine-digit sequence; I’ve never not had to include it…).

It might be any digit on the numeral palette, but let me tell you now that if you’re missing it from your EL AL frequent flyer account ID, it will put you through absolute airline frustration for MONTHS.

For how was I to know my account number even contained one, when my log in errors and email messages never included it or its necessity in the sequence?

Example 1: Signing in with the right password.

Example 2: Signing in with the right password, and then clicking Forgot Password.

Example 3: The member number written out at the bottom of an ELAL email; I promise that under the blur are six digits, missing the final one.

 

 

 

While it’s true the EL AL website won’t win any design awards post-1996, I do think it’s possible to get a passing grade in usability even if the design isn’t appealing. The website is a major UI/UX fail. It should not have taken a high-functioning internet literate person like myself this long to figure out the login problem.

Another failing grade for accessibility: It’s wonderful to have multiple (and updated!) Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, but what’s the good in social media investment if there is no flood of two-way conversation? Or even a functional  EMAIL ADDRESS for contacting customer support with quick questions?

[When I have been able to email EL AL, I’d get an auto-reply that they’d get back to you within ten business days. Ten? Really? Still using AOL dial up?]

I would like to say though, that I did actively choose EL AL over Delta and United for two reasons, despite the fact that Delta was cheaper, and United was the same exact price. Confidence in their security is one, and the second – I appreciate the way the EL AL staff, from start to finish, handles parents traveling with children. They are the only airline I’ve been on that really gets it. Truly ‘your home away from home.’ Despite some glaring service setbacks, it’s heimish. And as we know, United failed at that the last time I flew with them.

I’m a no-frills kind of gal, so lacking certain perks (or, manners) doesn’t phase me. But I travel alone with kids enough to require the security in knowing I’ll have supportive flight attendants.

So I actively choose EL AL.

Is it too much to ask for a pleasant customer experience before the flight as well?

An expat’s view: How joining Vine helps me celebrate humankind

Have you tried Vine yet? It’s the video answer to Instagram and Twitter. And in the tradition of most starting-out social media platforms, when I heard all the buzz about it, I could only react with, why?

Vine was iOS-only for a while, and this week joined the Android world. So yesterday I downloaded it.

First I scrolled through ten or so of the videos in my feed. Some were actually kinda moving; others were just lame. Kinda like Instagram. Or Twitter.

Hours later, I saw an opportunity to video something. Within 6 seconds of my half-Australian two-year-old daughter singing Waltzing Matilda, I uploaded my first Vine.

That evening, in a fit of boredom, I went back to Vine. I scrolled through my newsfeed, and then ventured out via hashtags. I saw everything – from the creatively executed #loop, to cheesy #magic, to the requisite #selfie.

I found myself fascinated in a way I’ve never felt through a social media experience before: I felt… connected, instantly, deeply, to total strangers. It must be something about video; Instagram makes photos of anything beautiful. Twitter makes joining conversations easier.

But video accomplishes something else. Even if it’s 6 seconds. There’s something about Vine, where you actually feel the person behind the camera. You hear them. In many cases, you see them or their friends. You view the animated world through their eyes. You see how people look, hear how they sound, take in their surroundings.

And taking it a little further… I’ll admit. The lonely expat it in me felt… connected. Opened to the rest of the world. Even if, to be honest, it’s mostly Americans I was watching on Vine. It was familiar. It was foreign. It was, for a second, like I could imagine being there, involved in the culture again.

After seeing dozens of 6 second clips, I started to imagine the possibilities once this spreads further around the world… After reading up on some of Coke’s global Happiness campaign, you really get this powerful feeling the world can be connected. It is, but it can be even more. We can have access to people we never dreamed of ever understanding.

In my conflict management degree, one of my biggest takeaways was contact theory. To interact with The Other is to begin to break down walls.

I find that to be true in every aspect of life.

Imagine all that from a ‘superficial’ social media platform.

GoldieBlox: building the next generation of girl engineers

UPDATE: GoldieBlox shipped March 12 2013! Very exciting!

Here’s a project that was fully funded on Kickstarter five days after the account went up. Those stories are rare, so what could possibly have been inspiring enough for that kind of support?

Debbie Sterling is an engineer out of Stanford University who, influenced by being a lone female engineer in a male-dominated profession, decided to invent a line of engineering toys targeted for girls.

And not just turning out pink Legos and purple Lincoln Logs.

She spent a year researching how girls can appropriately relate to engineering and building concepts, and found that combining reading and building was an effective approach.

And so was founded Goldie Blox: engineering toys for girls. The first toy is in production, due for shipping in April 2013, for ages 5-9.

Why do girls need Goldie? According to Debbie & co:

“Engineers are solving some of the biggest challenges our society faces. They are critical to the world economy, earn higher salaries and have greater job security. And they are 89% male. We believe engineers can’t responsibly build our world’s future without the female perspective. We are here to bring the female voice into engineering.”

I think in Israel especially, where engineering is an extremely prevalent,  popular and growing profession, we can do very well do encourage our daughters more. Sure, our society has chauvinist tendencies. But I’ve met some amazing female engineers – younger, older, secular, ultra-Orthodox, native Israelis and immigrants.

Here’s her pitch video from September – highly recommend watching. They are in production with pre-order available, with customer shipping by April 2013 (track it here).

Watching the video surprised me as it turned out to be a bit emotional for me.

As a girl student who was told repeatedly over years of education that I was not good at math, need to stick to writing and English, and I should just go for passing and moving on (and on many occasions, way overdoing those expectations), I feel really inspired that I will have more tools at my service for encouraging my daughter to go after whatever it is she wants, what she’s good at, what she has natural talent for, or what she just simply wants to know more about.

I suppose many from every generation of Western women in the last 150 years has said this about their daughters… And it looks like it just keeps getting better and better.

 

Thanks, Yona!

The time the kids met the PR2.

And now for something different…

Meet my brother, a robotics engineer Phd student at the University of Pennsylvania. (Disclaimer: I’m not sure if this can realistically say much about me).

Meet the PR2, Willow Garage‘s research and innovation robot, which my brother works on with a team at the GRASPY lab in Penn, coding for arm movement.

After telling Koala for… literally years… his uncle “makes robots,” we finally got to introduce him to his artificial version of an uncle, PR2:

He’s a bit badass, yes.

Koala got right to work. The arms were the most intriguing…

And after being chased by the PR2 (or rather, uncle at the reigns,) Koala set his sights on a softer model of robot. Needless to say, he’s a big fan all around.

Family portrait, in the laser beam eyes of the PR2:

(That’s me, standing to the left).

Marissa Mayer: CEO-to-be, mom-to-be, and, one hopes, game-changer-to-be.

Marissa,

I really have respect for you ever since I heard you speak at GarageGeeks in June 2010. I was working for Answers.com back then, in an office of 60 and a company of 90. It was a year since having my first child and I was lucky to be involved in a family-friendly company in a kid-friendly country. It was still an overwhelming time as a new mother in the workplace, but on a different level I definitely appreciated your drive and poise as a woman and a driver in hi-tech world.

So here’s where I’m going with this:

Before I went to bed last night, I read the news that you quit Google after 12 years to become the CEO of Yahoo. My first thought was, holy crap, way to disrupt! My second thought was, Yahoo? Aren’t you going to get a lot of shit for that? Then I thought, wow. Another female CEO, already so well-respected in hi-tech. This is going to be great.

Then I woke up to the news that you’re expecting, and due in October. As we say in Hebrew, b’sha’a tova! (meaning, all in the right time). And your new employer knew this when they considered you, and they took you on anyway. You’re the first pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Well done!

Surely, you must be SuperWoman: you’re 37 and a high-powered, well-respected, successful, gorgeous CEO of a company that no doubt reveres you as the messiah… and now you’re pregnant with your first son.

But I’m a bit troubled. In your exclusive interview with Fortune, you were quoted as saying:

As for maternity leave, Mayer… expects it to be speedy. “I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she says, referring to the CEO job that she is starting tomorrow. “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”

I get it. You’re breaking through the ‘glass ceiling.’ You’re working it out so you can have it all. You’ll probably have a night nanny and excellent daycare and help while you’re on your few-week maternity leave. I’m guessing you won’t breastfeed or pump. Obviously these are your choices and your priorities.

I guess what I’d love to see – as a fellow working mama, one with a career, one who must constantly balance work and life, deadlines and children, ambition and love – I guess what I’m hoping is you’ll realize what kind of power you hold right now. The example you could set. The change you’re in a position to work for. Maybe not for yourself, since you have negotiation power… but for the rest of us.

Most women in the United States don’t have much choice when it comes to maternity leave and balancing children and workplace. There is no official, federally outlined, paid maternity leave set. I don’t know the laws covering discrimination against pregnant women, or who can be fired and how, but I do know it’s far from ideal over there.

Women should not have to be forced back to work within a couple weeks of giving birth. The physical toll is actually abusive, and the emotional toll is unfair and belittling of the importance of initial mother-baby bonding and emotional security for the infant. Not to mention the emotional state of the mother.

What about mothers who had traumatic births? Mothers with severe physical damage? Those who had c-sections?

And babies, who are considered to be living in a fourth trimester for the first three months. Why shouldn’t they be given their right to breastfeed from a willing mama? Feel the warmth and protection of the world their parents can give them? Why not set the stage for all babies across America – children of poor and wealthy mothers alike – to get off to a quality start? We talk, as a society, about the problems in our culture, the collective challenges of raising skilled, confident, loved kids. What better time to start fixing the brokenness of our American parenting culture than before high school, before grade school, before kindergarten – at birth? With proper attention paid to both baby and healing mother?

Ok, I strayed a bit. My point: I really hope that aside from serving as a role model for working women in your capacity as Yahoo CEO, you also find a place in your maternal heart to seek and encourage change with America’s broken maternity system. To open the discussion, as Sheryl Sandberg does. To encourage our male colleagues to consider our challenges. To use your position, standing over what is now the glass flooring, to show employers across the country what is possible for mothers in the workplace. To show your board that a healthy CEO with a positive family life is better for everyone.

It’s going to have to flow top-down. And Hollywood celebrities certainly fail us in this regard. Could our hi-tech sisters lead the way for a workplace-family balance revolution?

I do recognize this just may not be the kind of woman you are. You said yourself – you need to keep moving. I do hope you ease into motherhood as gracefully as you seem to do everything else, but it is not easy. For anyone. I hope you come to see the reality in that and do what is necessary for you and your baby.

And I hope somehow you come to realize the major flaws in the American maternity non-system, and decide to become not only a CEO and a mother… but a game-changer, too.

Why I’m not an Apple fangirl.

It’s been over ten years since I was first converted to the fruity side. I remember it well; after my embarrassing use of an old Compaq desktop PC my entire freshman year of college, a good friend pulled me aside and told me it was time to buy an Apple.

“Apple? the computer my dad bought in the 80s?”

“No, Apple: the brand new iBook line that will help you pursue your graphic designer dreams.”

It went something like that, anyway. I bought the steeply-priced iBook G3 and began living my new Mac life.

And then, something went wrong. The iBook line I had purchased from had an inherent flaw that only became apparent around the time the warranty ran out. It was a universal issue – I think the graphics card – and Apple had to add to the warranty and offered to fix it for free within the time frame.

Except the damage kept coming back (blank screen) and the laptop was essentially fucked. The customer service channel wasn’t very sympathetic and it was a pain to keep sending in the broken computer. I scoured internet forums to figure out ways to get around it, or find out how others were dealing with it, but everyone was complaining into a cyber black hole. These were the years before social media, my friends. The years before companies had no choice but to pay attention. Incidentally, also the years before Steve Jobs became a tech celebrity. (Yes, I’m a bit old).

By 2004 it was so bad I was operating in a tech-ghetto, and I finally broke down and gave up in 2005.

Why did it take me so long? Why am I still angry about it?

  1. I’m that freakin loyal of a customer. It’s not even funny how loyal of a customer I am. I have bought more expensive flights because I felt loyal to one particular airline (it’s El Al, whatever, don’t judge until you travel with kids). I have bought four consecutive Canon cameras because that’s just how I feel about the company. I’m a marketing professional, I like to help people, and I talk about things I love. A lot. So don’t cross me, brand.
  2. I expected more from Apple. Back then, Apple was making a comeback. And it was going for artsy designer types and students. And I was both. I thought I’d be taken care of – you invest me, I’ll invest you.
  3. Apple messed up. Why did I have to pay? Not literally; I bought a flawed product before they knew it was flawed. They were trying to make that better by extending the warranty a little and sending me boxes to ship it back and forth. But that’s not the kind of product experience I signed up for. Wouldn’t a supplemental voucher for a better model have done more?
  4. I don’t care for the snobbishness. As Apple rode the success of its iPod genius, one couldn’t help but notice – especially if you didn’t care much for iPod genius – the marketing voice of the company. Apple seemed to want to attract the people I hated. And I hated everybody, to be sure, but yuppie, hipstery, elitist, well, Apple fanboys, were not who I identified with. Ok, so everyone in my world owns an iPod or Mac or iPhone, but whatever.

Disclaimer: I do own an iPad that was a gift. And a gifted iPod Shuffle that I broke down and chose this year since I recognized it’s truly the most convenient for what I needed.

Yes, Apple, you are a creative marketing and product genius. There. Happy? I never thought otherwise, but it’s time to let go of the anger. Maybe your customer service has improved. Maybe all the people with MacBooks at cafes wanted them because they are high quality computers and not because they are cool factor.

Maybe Apple fanboys and girls have independent brainpower and the hivemind is all my own crazy skepticism.

Maybe not.

My next phone will still be an Android though. And my next laptop… we’ll see. I’m currently taking recommendations.

UPDATE: I’m a huge Louis CK fan. Turns out he’s not a big iPhone fan either. h/t @simonyag

#tomorrow12: Shimon Peres project for Israeli-Arab integration into hi tech.

In this week’s episode of That’s! So! Shimon! I am pleased to present a new initiative of Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers “which promotes the integration of Arab academics into the Israeli hi-tech industry through a coalition of leading hi-tech companies and NGOs in Israel.”

The project is called Ma’antech, and they are announcing its expansion today at the Israel Presidents Conference.

Our mission is to launch the natural integration of Arab employees into the Israeli high tech industry by supporting both candidates and employers throughout the entire recruitment process.

Over 22 Israel-based and Israeli companies have already gotten involved. Many of them aren’t shockers (and good for them as international entities). Some examples include Cisco, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, HP, Checkpoint, Amdocs, LivePerson… and more:

Of course, other companies are welcome to join the initiative with Ma’antech.

A few words from President Peres:

“Everybody is asking about my age. Whats the secret? Everyone can be as young as his dreams. Look at the future.”

Other Tomorrow 2012 coverage: