Thursday, May 28, 2015

Up and Running with Watch

Space Black Watch
Yesterday was my first full day with my Apple Watch. My first foray into wearable technology was 20 years ago when I purchased a Polar heart rate monitor in June 1994. Since then, on nearly every run, from training, to 5Ks and 50Ks, I have worn a heart rate monitor. But the Apple Watch is my first experience with a consumer wearable high tech device designed for daily use.

A buddy purchased an Apple Watch Sport, and, when I told him I had ordered a Space Black Apple Watch, he said, "The internals are all the same. The only difference is the casing, band and crystal." A good point. In other words, this device is more fashion than technology; just like a car.

Unbox and On Wrist

When my Apple Watch arrived, I recorded the unboxing and then played around with my new toy for a couple hours. The fit and finish is exquisite. I also ordered three bands (leather, Sport, and Milanese). The traditional wrist watch has been around for more than a century, yet it took Apple to design a simple way to swap and adjust bands. You can see, in my unboxing video, that my Apple Watch bracelet was too big and needed resizing. Instead of bringing it to a jeweler to adjust my band, I did it myself. It only took a couple minutes to pop out links from the bracelet, with my fingernail, until it was a perfect fit. Swapping out bands is even faster – simply make sure that the three rubber shims are facing up as you slide on a new band and you'll have no problem.

On the Go

New York Times, July 9, 1916
The heart rate monitors I've used required that I wear a chest strap. Before the Apple Watch, if I wanted to go for a run while listening to music, I needed to bring four things: watch, chest strap, iPod shuffle, and headphones. Since the Apple Watch can store music and monitor my heart rate without being tethered to an iPhone, I now only need two things: Apple Watch and Bluetooth headphones. 

Yesterday morning I walked to breakfast with my Apple Watch while listening to a podcast. The Apple Watch Workout app performed beautifully while tracking my heart rate during my mile and a half walk. The app lets you set a specific goal for running, walking, cycling, etc. The goals can be set for time, distance, calories, or left open with no specific goal.

In the afternoon, I took my Apple Watch for a run. During my one mile warm up run I didn't use the Workout app. I was a little concerned when I tried measuring my heart rate while warming up because it took 10 to 20 seconds to measure it. Looking down at my watch for that long, while running, seemed worse than texting while driving. 

Heart Rate Hubbub

Heart rate fonts could be larger for easier reading.
Once I was done stretching, I activated the Workout app and my heart rate measuring concerns melted away. The Workout app continuously reported my heart rate. Measuring your heart rate is the key to knowing your personal exertion levels during endurance sports. You don't want to be anaerobic if you're running a marathon because you'll bonk. On short runs, you don't want to run too slow and miss out on maximizing your training. Noticing that your heart rate is higher than normal while running at a slow pace could indicate something. Perhaps you're coming down with a cold or you haven't recovered from a previous workout.

What's the Big Deal?

The allure of wearable technology is that it physically incorporates you into its system. It's a part of you and you're a part of it.

I usually wear a traditional watch so I might as well wear one that ties in with my iPhone. Since I've only been using my Apple Watch for a couple days I still have a lot to discover. For simplicity sake, the small size of the Apple Watch necessitates limited UI interactions, so it takes a little getting used to. But, it's very handy to answer phone calls and respond to text messages without needing to carry around my phone. However, it is, yet, another device I need to have with me. And it needs to be tethered to an iPhone to use all of its features.

Time will tell, but so far it's definitely an asset. I'm pulling my phone out of my pocket far fewer times throughout the day without missing alerts, e-mails, and messages.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Advice to the USNA Class of 2015

Veep Joe Biden handing out today's diplomas.
Today, the US Naval Academy class of 2015 graduated. When I graduated, in 1993, I was ready to take on the world. My challenge, as a new second lieutenant, was that I had a lot to learn after graduation, not from books but rather from experiences. Here are a few things I wish I had learned sooner, rather than later.

1. Ask Why

No, don't ask your seniors why, ask your subordinates.

Before losing your temper with subordinates, when things aren't going right, ask, "Why?" This is Stephen Covey's fifth habit.

When I was a supply officer, we had some equipment that needed to be moved from one area of our warehouse lot to another. The warehouse chief told me that he'd take care of it while I was at a meeting. When I came back I was surprised to see that this task hadn't even been started. I was a tad unhappy when I asked, "Why wasn't the equipment moved?"

I was immediately thankful that I worded the question the way I did, rather than using a "What the hell is going on?" tone. The warehouse chief's answer to my question was something I hadn't considered, "Sir, the CO came by while you were at your meeting and told us not to move the equipment."

Every good Marine knows to follow their last order first after pointing out the conflict.

2. Answer the Question

When I was a new second lieutenant I frequently answered a superior's simple yes or no question with an explanation before giving the answer. After I was cut off, a couple times, and told, "Just answer the question...yes or no?" I got the hint. Start with the simplest answer you can give and go from there. After awhile, you'll get a feel for how much of an explanation is needed.

3. Leading vs. Staff Work

The Naval Academy is the leadership crucible. There are plenty of examples of how to lead, and how not to lead. Leading is a challenge, and outranking your subordinates makes it easier. At Annapolis, we're all the same rank. Leading peers is hard. You can fool your seniors and you can fool your subordinates. But, fooling your peers is nearly impossible since they see you when your guard is down.

The best leadership experience I had my Firstie (senior) year was being a company commander. That gave me the confidence to speak to 120 midshipmen, while standing in front of the company, everyday. I constantly reviewed my technique, delivery, message, and mistakes so I could improve.

After graduation, I was a little slow to learn a key aspect of my job in addition to leadership: managing up, known in the military as staff work.

A staff is a group of peers. Each has administrative, technical, or tactical expertise in their area of responsibility. A battalion staff is typically managed by the executive officer, who is the chief of staff. The entire staff reports to the commanding officer.

Unlike one-on-one meetings or working sessions, staff meetings are primarily used for reporting status updates and quick, simple decisions. I was slow to learn that I was expected to make recommendations to my commanding officer (CO). An example of good staff work is when you need a decision from your CO. Let's say that there are two possible choices, option A and option B, that require the CO to sign off on a memo or letter announcing their intent. When you show up for your one-on-one meeting with the CO, you may not know which choice the CO will make. So, you should draft up two separate memos for signature. One memo supports option A and the other supports option B. After you present your recommendation the CO will make a decision and sign the appropriate memo.

This example is how the process works in it's simplest form. It enables you to see other's perspectives. More importantly, it is a more efficient use of time since a second meeting isn't needed to sign the paperwork.

4. Align Tasks and Timing with the Interested Party

This is a leadership technique that's more of an art than a science. Basically, if you can get into the mindset of assigning tasks to the most interested party, you'll get the best results. This works well in most organizations whether in the military, a corporation or a family.

Timing is also an issue when delegating tasks or passing information. Don't task someone when passing them in the hallway or as as they're headed out the door for PT because they're likely to forget it. Try to control your excitement of needing to pass along information. What good is it to task someone when they're not in a good position to receive and act on that information? The reason people pass information at inopportune times is because they are worried about forgetting it, themselves. It's not about passing the buck and checking a box where, later, you can say, "I told them to do it." Rather, it's about having the task accomplished by setting people up for success.

Here are my tips for Time Management in the 21st Century.

5. Get Everything Into Your Medical Record

Marines know that they have to carry their weight, regardless if they're sick, lame, or lazy. This drives Marines to push themselves so they're not a liability. There's sometimes a perception that one should not go to sick call, when appropriate, and have an entry made in their medical record. At some point in the future you will no longer be on active duty. The VA will evaluate your health, based on your medical record, so anything that's missing will work against you. Something minor, from decades ago, could turn into something major, tomorrow, so having a record of it is important.

6. Let Him Fail

Occasionally, you have to let a subordinate fail, resulting in you or your team taking a face shot. This isn't a case of hanging someone out to dry, rather, it's that you can't step in and do someone else's job when they're failing. I've written about this in detail in Let Him Fail. When this does happen, consider the possibility that a subordinate's shortcoming may be a result of your failure to properly train them. While that may not be the case, simply think about how the problem could be avoided in the future.

7. Don't Brag That You Graduated From Annapolis

There's a very old joke:
Q: How do you know if someone went to Harvard?
A: They'll tell you.

Yes, the service academies are vastly different experiences compared to civilian colleges and universities. (And, yes, I told you in the second sentence of this blog post that I graduated from Annapolis.) But, officers from the Naval Academy aren't better people than officers from other commissioning sources. The Naval Academy may make an individual a better officer, initially, since they've spent four years on active duty by the time they're commissioned. But officers from civilian schools have faced an array of issues that midshipmen were shielded from such as college loans, rental leases, working a job, daily commutes, doing their own laundry, taking out the trash, and raising a family while studying.

8. Never Forget the Basics

Honesty, integrity, and setting the example are key. People, in the military and in the civilian world, will follow your example as I pointed out in Everyone's a Leader. And, while lying is discouraged, there are times when it's okay to be deceptive which I covered in Ethics for the Junior Officer.

Congratulations and fair winds and following seas to the US Naval Academy Class of 2015.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Noteworthy Customer Service

Everyone loves great customer service, especially me. It's an integrity issue and it's one of my pet peeves.

I've had my Accord for more than a decade. Recently, the factory installed GPS nav system was on the fritz. Honda offered to repair my system for a couple thousand dollars, which is steep considering it's merely the GPS DVD that needed to be fixed.

Following a recommendation from a local business, I brought my car into La Jolla Audio. I'm happy to say that everything the rep, Gary, at the shop told me was wrong.

First, he told me it would cost $800 if he could repair it in the shop. But, if he had to send out the DVD it would cost closer to $1,000. After spending the day trouble shooting it, he told me that he'd have to send it out; but it would still only cost $800 because the repair prices had dropped.

Second, he told me that it typically takes at least two weeks to repair the DVD player. He was also wrong about that. Six days later, he called me back to say that he'd received the repaired DVD player and it was ready to be installed.

As soon as I hung up the phone I drove over to La Jolla Audio. He told me that it would take about an hour to install and program the repaired unit. It turns out that was wrong, too – it only took 45 minutes. Very refreshing.

I could have done the work myself for about $300, but it was worth it to have an expert do it. It might be easy to reason that his process was planned, but that wasn't the case.  He gave me his best estimates not based on the soonest the repairs could be made, but rather the average, with a couple possible delays thrown. That's the hallmark of excellent customer service.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Ideal Online Scam?

I think I've encountered the perfect online scam; or, at least I can now envision how it would work.

Over the past ten years, I've blogged a few times about my experiences in junior high school with lasers and holography. A few years ago, I read about Wicked Lasers on TechCrunch. The diode lasers they sell are spectacularly powerful – more than a thousand times more powerful than the helium neon lasers I used to make holograms in my basement as a kid. A few years ago, I began to place an order for a Wicked Laser but I stopped myself from hitting submit when I saw that the company was based in Hong Kong.

Last December, I saw that Wicked Lasers was going to stop shipping to the U.S. after the New Year, so I placed an order for a discounted laser of $375. After all, TechCrunch reported on them multiple times.


The gotcha that I'm seeing more and more often is that companies charge your credit card as soon as you place your order and then ship their product more than a month later. When this happens, the consumer's best avenue of recourse is to ask their credit card company to run a chargeback within 60 days if they think they're being scammed. I have yet to run a charge back for any purchase I've made, but I am seriously considering it in the future. I've most recently seen delayed shipping from Nanoleaf and Stack Social. Nanoleaf delivered my product on the 60th day and Stack Social has been replying with delayed shipping dates, but I'm still within my 60 day window.


What makes Wicked Lasers the model for online scams is that their customers will accept a two month delay since the product is coming from Hong Kong. During that time, Wicked Laser missed a few shipping dates, but their customer service team was responsive via phone and e-mail. Now, they no longer answer their phones, but their e-mail team is still responsive. Yet something is amiss. Wicked Laser's e-mail replies are written in excellent English, but vague enough to seem like a fortune cookie message or horoscope. Each response, in a vacuum, seems like it was addressed to me, or at least that's what I wanted to believe:

One month after ordering:
"Our support staff will not have any additional information regarding the shipping of your order until it ships. If you no longer want your order, we can cancel your order and process a full refund immediately."

Six weeks after ordering:
"Your order has been shipped and is on its way. You won't receive a tracking number for another 2-3 weeks because we first ship in bulk to our domestic warehouse, then directly to you."
(This is brilliant because it seems plausible and it stretches out the delivery to just about 60 days.)

Four weeks later:
"We are still waiting for the tracking information from the carrier. Orders that has shipped in February were returned by Chinese customs and shipped again after that."

Two weeks later:
"Your order will need 4-8 business weeks to be delivered from the date it has originally shipped."

April 22, 2015:
"We just received the latest update that your order is one of those that were held by customs and after trying to ship your order a few times, we can no longer ship the item to you. A refund will be made on your account. This will take 1-2 weeks before it gets credited to your account."

At the end of April when following up on my refund:
"Its mainly because we have exhausted the refund limits of our processors for the month which will replenish this May. You can check with me around Thursday next week for the transaction number."

Follow up from this past Thursday, May 7, 2015:
"We sincerely apologize for the delay in refund. Its mainly because we have exhausted the refund limits of our processors for the month of April which will replenish this month. We are doing the refunds based on the the order ID. However, I have included your order ID to be refunded as soon as the processor limit is lifted. You can check with me around Thursday next week for the transaction number."

How Will it End? Perhaps it Already Has

I'm sensing a pattern.
It's certainly plausible that everything Wicked Lasers has told me is true, but I feel like I've been scammed. It's very frustrating to chase down companies who know about order hiccups, but don't tell the customer unless the customer follows up. If I have been swindled, then I have to admire their technique of stringing customers along past two months while being responsive to customer service queries. I really wanted to believe that my shipment was on its way. In the words of Alexander Pope, "Hope springs eternal."