Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.

 

Make 2014 The Year of Getting and Staying Healthy

What was your resolution for 2014 on New Year's Eve? It may seem like a lifetime has passed, but a couple of months ago you decided to make some healthy lifestyle changes and become a brand-new you. If all of that went out the window in week two, now is the time to get back on track. Start the spring of 2014 with a plan to be healthier and happier.

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1. Ditch the list of ailments and set the stage for real change

Make a list, check it once and discover what pain or unhealthy cycle you seem to be repeating year after year. Changing unhealthy behaviors can be difficult because those changes are attached to fears that we won't succeed or that lasting change is not possible. To demolish the fear, try this:

  • Make a list of your health concerns.
  • Next to each concern, write a few words about how you'd like to feel instead. For example, if back pain plagues you, think about how it affects you. If you have trouble walking, set a goal for being able to skip (in a meadow, why not?) without pain. Work toward your goal by talking to a specialist, or beginning a spine exercise routine from Laser Spine Institute. If you wake in pain daily, it's important to think about a way to make a change that will really take hold, such as looking up resources for minimally invasive procedures. Imagine all of the activities you could participate in again if you could walk free from back pain.
  • Begin with three health concerns on the list you made, create a scenario in writing for each like the one above, take action and get ready to experience real change.

2. Stay young by rejuvenating your diet

Try this: In 2014, I'm going to eat for life and skip the fad diets." There's a difference between establishing an everyday healthy diet and dieting. Discovering the foods that serve you best and sticking with them is easier than you think.

  • Try new things. Make your regular grocery list and leave three to five blank spaces. When you get to the store, choose three to five new fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats or fish that you haven't tried before. As you walk the aisles, pick from your list to create meals centered around the new food choices.
  • Stay organized. Some of the new foods you try will become your favorites. You'll want to remember how you made these dishes and how you can continue to enhance them for optimal nutrition. Try an app like Food Planner to keep your favorites fresh.
  • Fooducate yourself. Don't want to get stuck in the diet trap! Stay on top of the good and bad trends for an even keel with the Fooducate app. This app helps you understand where your food came from and whether it's a healthy choice to match your goals.

3. Keep your brain on point

A youthful mind is one that plays games. Keep your mental skills sharp and you'll be surprised what falls into place. Give Lumosity a try — their scientifically designed brain gaming program helps you:

  • Recall and organize daily improvements
  • Keep track of several concepts simultaneously without traditional multi-tasking

By the way, I have had some practice in getting back in shape lately because I'd fallen out of good eating and exercise habits in the last few years.  Since last summer I've lost over 50 pounds and gotten my vitals (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.) back under control. I used some gadgets and apps to help with this, and will share more information about what I did and what I used in my next post.

[Updated] Hands-on Review: Typo Keyboard for iPhone 5

I pre-ordered the "Typo" keyboard for my iPhone 5s and have now been using it for about a week.  I was intrigued by this keyboad when I heard about it - it promised to give me an experience that was a lot like my old Blackberry keyboard, but with the modern capabilities of my iPhone.  So far, it is delivering.

Here are some thoughts and observations.

Nice form factor, "feel," and build quality

The Typo keyboard is well-built and very sleek.  It doesn't significantly add to the thickness of my iPhone, so it still fits in my pocket just fine.  The keyboard adds a bit to the length of the iPhone (probably about a half-inch) but doesn't feel cumbersome.

The keyboard pairs with your phone via Bluetooth and has a backlight you can toggle on and off.  The feel of the keyboard is reminiscent of the Blackberry keyboard, so I find it easy and accurate in normal use.  There are some layout quirks, but I got used to those in a day or so.  One cool thing I like: you can long-press a letter to have it toggle from lower-case to caps - I always loved that on my Blackberry.

[Update: The balance of the keyboard is great - I was concerned it would want to tip forward or something while typing it, but I am able to hold it very much like I used to hold my Blackberry and it feels very stable in my hands.]

The keyboard charges separately with an included micro-USB cable.  I haven't had it long enough to comment on battery life, but there is a way to check the battery by pressing the keyboard icon and looking for a series of flashes that tells you how much charge is left (a week into this, mine still says "full").

Effects on your access to iPhone functionality

With the case on, you still have full use of your screen, but not your actual Home button. To access the Home button, the Typo provides a button that mimics the Home function - you can see it in the lower right corner in the picture above.  Of course, that means you lose access to your fingerprint reader if you're using an iPhone 5s, but everything else works fine.   

As for the rest of your controls, you have full access to all your normal control buttons since they are not covered by the case's structure.  

[Update:  If you want to use voice functionality, there are two things to know:

  1. To speak to Siri, just hold down the keyboard's Home button (square icon) and Siri will respond just as if you'd pressed the home button itself.
  2. If you want to fill in a field with voice dictation, you'll note that there is no-onscreen keyboard so you can't press the microphone button.  There's an easy solution:  Press the keyboard key on the Typo and the on-screen keyboard appears - you can press the microphone button from there.

On a related topic, the keyboard button also allows you to access international keyboards, emoji keyboards, etc. that you have enabled on your phone.]

You can also use your headphones and Lightning connector, with some restrictions - the original lightning connector and headphones fit just fine, but third-party accessories with thicker connectors may not fit in the pass-through holes on the Typo.  For example: most of my headphones fit well, but  the ones with angled connectors were prone to pulling out, and I had a 3rd-party power / sync cable that had a thicker connector that didn't fit. 

The bottom line

The bottom line?  I like this keyboard so far and I expect I'll keep using it.  The first batch of pre-orders sold out quickly, but they are working on the next batch which they expect to begin shipping next month.  If you want to get yours, head on over to the Typo site.

Great Ways to Use Downtime for Improving Memory

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Remember what life was like before you had kids? Maybe it's a little fuzzy, but before the sleep-deprived juggling act that is parenting, you probably didn't forget things like where you parked your car, who that person was that you just ran into at the store, or that you also know her sister.  The good news is you can boost your memory by working out your brain in your down time.

Get Enough Sleep

Before you freak out at the impossibility of this suggestion, remember how important sleep can be. Harvard Medical School reports that "consolidated sleep throughout a whole night is optimal for learning and memory." Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, but you'll know if you are sleep deprived. If you are, start making an effort to carve out more time to sleep through the night.

I use a fitness tracking wristband that also tracks sleep to keep tabs on how long I've slept and how well.  My kids are older now, but I still have the challenges of jet lag to deal with and sleep tracking can help me make sure I don't go too far with burning the candle at both ends.

Play Games

Simple games are a great way to exercise your memory skills. Try a hidden object game, like this free jewel quest game. You'll have some fun and you don't have to feel guilty about it! If you're away from your computer, smartphone or tablet, substitute a book of crossword puzzles or sudoko to fill the time and exercise your synapses.  I know a lot of people who swear by these puzzles as a way to keep their mind and memories sharp.

Stay Healthy

A sedentary lifestyle is bad news in many ways. By increasing physical activity and reducing time spent sitting you can improve your brain function. In his book "Saving Your Brain," Dr. Jeff Victoroff tells readers to do everything they can to improve (or maintain) blood flow to the brain. That includes the physical exertion needed to stay in good shape as well as keeping your arteries open by watching your cholesterol, blood pressure and more. For you, that might mean walking, rather than sitting, during a soccer practice or even parking farther away when you go shopping.

This is an area that bit me during the last year or so.  I didn't pay enough attention to my physical health and ended up with not-so-favorable results at my last physical exam.  I got a strict set of mandates from my doctor, have been following his advice for the last 6 months, and am in much better shape now - and feeling much better.  Don't overlook the value of exercise, even if it is just a walk around your neighborhood every day.

Practice Remembering Things

Memory isn't a magical function that either happens or doesn't happen. The simplest (but often the most difficult) way to remember something is to really focus on it. By removing distractions like your iPhone, and the television in the background, you'll significantly increase the probability that you'll transfer it from short term memory to long term memory and therefore remember it.

Beyond simply focusing on something you want to remember, there are lots of methods that can help you remember a wide variety of information. Mental mapping, the peg system and memorization are all tried and true methods. You can't necessarily learn a system in your spare time, but if you choose one and begin using it, you can practice it in your spare time. Lifehacker has a great explanation of three popular techniques here.

Whatever you choose, stick with it! Eventually you'll know the teacher's name without peeking at your smartphone during your next parent-teacher conference. Who knows, you might even become a World Memory Champion (yes, there is such a thing). Good luck and remember to practice!

How can you hire people you'll never have to fire?

Over 8 years ago, I wrote about how to look at "things you'd hire on" vs. "things you'd fire on" and I still love that as a way to think about the things you'll look for when hiring people to join your team.  In my "day job" of cybersecurity, this is a frequent topic of discussion (in fact, I'll be on a panel at the RSA security trade show in a couple of months talking about Closing the Cybersecurity Skills Gap).

Today, I want to share some perspectives from Girish Mathrubootham.  Girish is the Founder and CEO of Freshdesk, which is a leading SaaS-based customer support software that seeks to help businesses promise, deliver and wow their customers. Girish has over 15 years of experience in building enterprise products and is on a mission to make the world a happier place for customers everywhere.

Girish has been talking a lot about how to hire long term employees that you will never have to fire, and focuses a lot on non-technical attributes (i.e. "not hard skills") when he hires.  It seems to work for him, so I recently did a "5 Questions" interview with him on this subject.

1. Girish, how do you recruit and interview for “passion?”  What are your biggest red flags when you evaluate a candidate?

Girish Mathrubootham CEO & Founder, Freshdesk

Girish Mathrubootham
CEO & Founder, Freshdesk

"One of my favorite questions is to ask people to tell me things that they have done and are really proud of, starting from the time they went to school. This gives me an opportunity to identify if they have been passionate about anything at all. If you are passionate about something, with the proper push, you can be made passionate about work too.

"I often come across people who don't have anything significant to share but assure me that given an opportunity, they will perform. If someone hasn't done anything worth sharing their entire life, how can they expect me to believe that claim?"

2. You say you can teach skills, and you don’t use them as primary selection criteria;  how do you quickly get people up to speed on the skills they need to be successful?

"Let me explain the difference between talent and skill. The ability to draw well and having a great sense of colour coordination is talent; knowing how to use Photoshop is a skill. Writing good code is talent, knowing Java or Ruby on Rails is a skill. We hire for talent and allow people to pick up skills on the job.

"For example, our core development platform is Ruby on Rails, but until we hit 69 employees, we did not have a single engineer who knew Ruby on Rails when they joined us. We just focused on hiring good programmers and they learned Ruby on Rails in a few weeks.

"Of course, there is some short term loss of time in getting people up to speed. But our talent pool expands like crazy and we end up hiring some awesome people."  

3. What are the limits of this approach?  In other words, is this approach limited to specific types of industries or specific types of positions?

"You cannot always follow this approach blindly. There are several roles where specific knowledge is crucial. And hiring people who are experts in their trade is great for your company. So we are open to hiring these people as well. But it's not always that simple. Maintaining a high quality team when experts are hard to find, or expensive, is very tricky. So complement your team with talented people who can learn on the job. 

"Let's say I need someone to ensure that our Production apps are running at peak performance. My pick would be someone who has the right skills and experience in handling scale and who can tune our MySQL databases. I will hire someone with the right skill rather than someone who can learn these things over 6-8 months." 

4. When did you begin using this approach, and how has it benefited Freshdesk?

"We have been doing this right from the beginning. We hired someone who used to handle retail operations (and hated the job) as our marketing content writer. Our Product manager today was earlier with a telecom company, managing their 3G network infrastructure deployment. One of the engineers working on our Search, used to build firmware for Audi cars. We would have missed a lot of such awesome people if we had focused on skill-based hiring. "

5. What advice would you give to employers and rewriters who are considering adopting this approach?

"If you find awesome people with the right skills and talent, then hire them by all means. When good talent is hard to come by (which is usually the case) try relaxing the skills part a bit to see if smart people with the right talent can learn on the job. I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised."

I tend to agree with Girish's outlook on this topic, and have often said I try to hire people who have the ability to tackle problems they've never seen before, apply focused effort and learn what they need to know along the way.  Of course, I also look for people who can communicate well around complex topics, work well with others, and can aggressively pursue a goal without panicking.

What about you?  Have you learned any good techniques to find strong team members that you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear from you.

Maximize Your Business Revenue with Mobile Payment Options

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This is a little different from my usual topics, but a lot of people I know are beginning to start their own small businesses, or grow their existing businesses.  Recent conversations have caused my subconscious to tune into the nuances of this.  

For example, I was traveling this week and I noticed a couple of the cab drivers swiped my credit card on their mobile devices using Square readers and I was able to receive my receipt via email or text message.  That would have been unusual even a year ago, but it's very common now.

If you're a business owner that isn't accepting credit cards yet, here is some food for thought. 

In TimesFreePress.com, small business owner Josh Lattimer details how being able to accept credit card payments saved his business and boosted his bottom line. In the past, Lattimer required his customers to pay with cash or write checks for his car care services, but since he started accepting credit card payments on his wife's iPad, his sales have steeply increased. In fact, Lattimer estimates that customers use credit cards for 90 percent of his outside sales—that money would have been lost without the right technology in place.

Jumping on Sales

Small business owners have to optimize their revenue by jumping on sales anytime, anywhere. For the hot dog stand owner or the ice cream truck driver, this means realizing that not everyone carries cash, and that it is important to have the technology in place to take alternative forms of payment. For someone who runs an online business or even a storefront, this may mean offering more payment options at checkout. By increasing the number of ways that your business accepts payments, you can pick up more sales and boost your bank balance in the process.

Listening to the Growing Market

The demand is not only there, it is growing.  According to the Motley Fool, mobile payments in the U.S. are estimated to hit $90 billion by 2017. Last year alone there were $12.8 billion in mobile payments, representing huge growth. Business owners who are poised to take advantage of this sweeping growth will stand to make more money than their counterparts who let the shift pass them by.

However, the vast number of mobile payment products on the market means that consumers need to spend some time investigating so that they can find the right products for their needs. The main factor to consider is the cost of credit card processing services. This can cost users either a flat fee, or a percentage per transaction. Even large corporations like Starbucks have forgone their traditional credit card processing equipment in favor of more affordable and versatile mobile payments processing.

Companies like Intuit have stepped in to offer a range of credit card processing services for small business owners. Their mobile apps make it possible to process credit card payments using a phone or a tablet, while their online services are perfect for ecommerce sites. All of their services can be synced to your data files so that copies of all your receipts are readily available come tax time.

Expanding Technology

Business owners who accept mobile payments also need to keep up with the technology surrounding these types of payments. The umbrella phrase mobile payments can refer to devices which allow you to accept credit cards with your smart phone, but the phrase can also refer to accepting credit cards that have been stored in an app or accepting payments via a smartphone with a special chip, reports USA Today. The challenge for small business owners may be staying on top of these trends and anticipating how their clients want to pay both today and tomorrow, but information is available to the smart business owner seeking to stay ahead of the curve.

Mobile payments are going to grow, particularly as: more phones have NFC (Near Field Communications) capabilities;, more people move to digital wallets; and more consumers become comfortable with the convenience of mobile payments.  If you're not already doing so, it's time to get familiar with the mobile payment landscape, understand your options, and figure out how this shift will impact your business.