Tuesday, July 15, 2014

If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

The following is adapted from by book Trello Dojo, all about getting the most out of the awesome organize-anything service Trello.

I obviously am a fan of Trello, and can't imagine anybody finding it difficult to use or confusing. However, I do occasionally run across people who, for various reasons are unwilling to give Trello a try or spend a few minutes with it and give up. I've had a few readers share similar stories- they personally thought Trello was the bee's knees, but their customer wouldn't be bothered.

My first solution, obviously is to tell them about this book. But for work projects, I do have another solution. Instead of asking the other party to participate in the board directly, simply set up a weekly status call using Join.Me. This simple app requires no download or login for the other party- they simply go to the website and see your screen.  I've found a short (15-30 minute) weekly call to go over "what's happened, what's happening next, and what's being held up" is a terrific practice for managing projects.

While on the call, pull up your project board, and discuss the project (NOT the board). Be sure it's updated, add and move cards as needed, but don't mention Trello at all unless they ask. Best case your reluctant Trello-er will love what they see and will want to join in, at which point you can simply invite them to the board. Worst case, they still don't care about Trello, but you're organized and gain their confidence.

While it may not work in every situation, this can be a great way to wean projects into Trello without hitting people over the head with it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

In Which a 99$ Gadget Gives Me the House from the Future

I sat on the worn 70s vintage red striped couch, tired from a day of swimming, muching popcorn and watching The Jetsons. To a young tinkerer (and admittedly sometimes lazy individual), the draw of our bubble-housed, flying-car, robot-vacuuming future was inescapable. I had no doubt that one day my bed would tump me out on to the morning conveyor belt to an automatic shower and insta-breakfast while my robotic maid straightened my room. (To a twelve-year old boy, that last one was a biggie). A few decades later, I still have to make my own bed and I don't fly to work, but my home is getting smarter bit by bit, thanks in no small part to a little white box tucked away in a bookshelf cabinet.

The box, a $99 gadget from SmartThings called the SmartThings Hub, was set up in under 10 minutes, and connects all sorts of home automation devices to a service that lets me control and monitor them from anywhere using my phone or tablet. They offer tons of switches, dimmers, and sensors on their site. Each has a video showing exactly how to set them up- typically a simple one-minute process. By answering a few questions in the app, I can then add smarts to my home to automatically turn things on and off, alert me to various conditions, and take action for me.

You may be thinking you don't have a need for this, but you may be surprised. Here are some of the conveniences this gadget has brought:

  • I can control my lights (and soon, garage door) from my phone, from anywhere. Did I forget to close the garage? My house notifies me and one tap later I close it while I'm out fishing.
  • My gun case is locked and up high, but I also have a motion sensor inside. SmartThings alerts me whenever the gun case moves. It could very well save a life.
  • Whenever my wife and I both leave the house, my house knows and turns off lights. If there's motion while we're away, it notifies us. When we come back, it can turn on lights as well.
  • When there's no longer any motion in the living room, it turns on the bedroom fans and turns off any lights that were left on.
  • I'm brewing beer, and SmartThings logs the temperature at the fermenter to ensure a consistent temperature.

Next on my list of things to automate are several more lights, locks, garage door, and watering. What impresses me the most with SmartThings is that after the novelty of controlling lights from your phone wears off, it's still bringing intelligence and value to our home.

If this sounds a little nerdy - well, it is. But, I also think it's the "next big thing" in technology. Think smartphones before everybody had them. Already, the media hype engine is revving up around the "Internet of Things" and various big-name players are jumping into the market. What sets SmartThings apart, though, is that they play well with lots of different systems and do not require a monthly fee. I can pick up a ZWave switch at Lowes, or a Phillips Hue bulb and the system sees it just fine. Similar systems I've tested either require a monthly fee, or are not as polished.

Disclaimer: I'm using a referral link to SmartThings, but it's a good deal. You get 10% as a new customer, and I get $10 to automate my next thing.