What Lyfe Kitchen can learn from the iPod Shuffle

This month’s Wired magazine features a profile of Lyfe Kitchen, which aims to serve up health- and eco-conscious fast-food on the scale of McDonald’s. It’s a fascinating and inspiring idea, something that could change the food system and public health for the better. Read the profile, it’s worth the ten minutes.

The end of the piece focuses on the challenges to scaling up. Consider for example the challenge of seasonality:

No matter how energy-efficient the kitchen, no matter how technically astute the procurement practices—weather happens. Too much rain rots tomatoes. Oranges freeze. Texas onions shrivel in a drought.

The assumption is that the restaurants require a steady supply of the same ingredients month in and month out. After all, the menus will be the same year-round, right?

This got me thinking about the iPod shuffle. Bear with me here. I still remember wondering how small Apple would take miniaturization as we went from the iPod to the Mini to the Nano. The devices couldn’t get much smaller, because soon there would be no room for a screen, and what good would an MP3 player be without visual feedback to select songs and see what is playing? The genius of the shuffle was to take that bug and turn it into a feature. What the heck, let’s name the device after it: “No screen? No problem? This device is for shuffle mode!”

What does all of this have to do with Lyfe Kitchen? How about we make seasonality a feature, designing the menu and diner’s experience to bring us closer to the farmers, closer to the weather. Make us a part of it and we’ll take more pleasure in our food, missing fondly the items that are out of season, eagerly awaiting their return and enjoying the novelty of a new item that nature brought our way.

Rdio remote control mode

I use the online service rdio to listen to music. One of the “features” of the service is that you are limited to a single stream at any given time. If you’re active on one device, other devices display a note indicating that the stream is playing somewhere else, and an option to re-route the stream to device you’re on. But there’s also an option to control playback on the currently streaming device…Remote Control Mode.

The upshot is, you can have Device A driving your hi-fi speakers while you work at, and select new music from Device B across the room. Brilliant.

Moved to bcc

Just came across an interesting mail technique called “moved to bcc”. Here’s how it works

  1. You introduce me to a friend of yours and finish off with some variation of “okay, have fun!”
  2. I want to thank you for connecting us but not keep you on for the details.
  3. Instead of cc’ing you, I bcc you and say “Thanks! (moved you to bcc)”.
  4. You get the thank you message.
  5. When your friend replies to me so we can get to talking, you’re gracefully freed from the thread.

Disable restore tabs in Google Chrome

Google Chrome doesn’t work the same way on all machines. On some machines, you can close the program with fifteen or twenty tabs open, and when you restart, you get a clean slate. On other machines, Chrome remembers all of the tabs and re-opens them. The latter behavior is a problem if, like me, you use Quit to clean house after accumulating a lot of tabs over time. Here’s the solution:

  1. Go to Chrome settings (wrench->Settings or chrome://chrome/settings/)
  2. Under “On startup”, select “Open the New Tab page”
  3. That’s it!

Eric Schmidt at Dreamforce

Last night I watched the Eric Schmidt interview from the Dreamforce ’11 event this past week. I have not followed Schmidt up until this point and was struck by his great skill as a communicator. Particularly interesting to me were his views on non-technical subjects such as US economic competitiveness and personal career choices. He struck me as not merely a silicon valley insider, but someone with a broad global view who is able to articulate it in a factual and serious way. Perhaps he has a successful political career ahead?

On a separate note, the stage and signs at the conference featured a logo with the word “software” and a strikethrough pattern. This was somewhat jarring to see at a meeting celebrating a computing platform that runs on software. Someone pointed out to me that for many, “software” represents “software that you download and install on a PC” as opposed to “stuff that runs in the cloud and auto-updates”. But that stuff is still software, not merely moisture condensing as it rises into cooler layers of the atmosphere.

Spot the oops

Dr. Frank I. Luntz:

[Copernicus] set forth a heliocentric hypothesis for understanding the universe, claiming that the sun was at the center of the universe and all the planets revolved around it. Today, this is completely uncontroversial.

from Win, page 72. Cosmological missteps aside, this book is rich with insights about human nature and communication.

OS X Lion

Last night I upgraded my MacBook Air to Lion. Here are a few observations that you might find helpful.

Installation: If you were previously on Snow Leopard, you can install the upgrade using the Mac App Store. The upgrade costs US$29.99. The download is several gigabytes, so prepare to walk away for a while after completing the purchase. Make sure your machine is plugged in and placed close to your wifi base station, for maximum network speed. You can check on download progress by clicking on the “Purchases” tab in the App Store.

When the download completes, the purchase line for “OS X Lion” will be marked “Installed” in the App Store. This does not mean that OS X Lion is installed, as you might expect. It means that the installer is downloaded and ready to run. I have read that the installer should auto-launch. This did not happen for me, maybe I didn’t wait long enough. Instead, there was an icon in the Dock labelled “Install OS X Lion” or similar. Click that and you’re off to the races.

Xcode: If you have the Snow Leopard version of Xcode installed, you will need to upgrade. This can also be done in the App Store. It is a free download.

Scroll direction: You’re not losing your mind — the two-finger scroll gesture switched direction in this version of the OS. If you like the old way, you can reverse it in System Preferences -> Trackpad -> Scroll Direction.

Dude, where’s my hard drive: The Finder window dropped the main hard drive from the sidebar. You can add it back under Finder -> Preferences -> Sidebar -> Hard disks. I keep this around for checking hard drive usage (command-i) and navigating to system resources outside my home directory.

Leadership books

I suspect many of you who read this blog are software programmers. If you’re not, great! For those of you who are, suppose for a moment that you are not. All together now, suppose that you are an accountant or an analyst. Suppose further that you’re good at it: your assignments are completed at high quality; you find novel solutions to difficult problems; you plan your work and communicate progress; you finish on time. One day the CEO says, “you know, you’re doing such a great job at accounting/analysis that we’d like you to write some code now.” “Great!” you say, “I’m good at lots of things, I can figure out this software engineering thing too.” You’ve heard that a lot of programmers use IDEs, so you download a copy of Eclipse, open it up and start typing.

Sound strange? Now substitute “management” for “software engineering”. This presents a more familiar scenario: individual contributors who are rewarded for their contributions with a promotion to management. But the job of engineering management is about as far from engineering as accounting or analysis. It’s a completely different skillset. Yet many of us charge ahead thinking, “I’m smart, I’ll just figure it out.”

While some do, most of us have to read books, take classes and learn from more experienced practitioners. In the past year I’ve done a lot of the first. Currently I’m working through The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company. A few chapters in, the most interesting observation is that we cannot divide work into the simple roles of “contributor” and “manager”. The skillsets required of a “manager of doers”, for example, are not the same as the skillsets required of a “manager of managers”. Looking forward to the rest. Two of the book’s authors were part of the leadership team at General Electric, a company with hundreds of thousands of employees and many layers of management. Not the same as the challenges that face a typical startup, but interesting nonetheless!

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