Raul's Blog

Random thoughts longer than 140 characters


Have you listened to that audio clip that’s been circulating the Internet? Whatever you do, don’t play it more than once. Laurel, Yanni… they are both the same name for the demon that God sent to smash the Tower of Babel. We are talking about some Old Testament evil. Repeating the name over and over summons the demon. This isn’t like the movies, you don’t need pentagrams or a blood sacrifice to summon a demon. All it takes is enough people invoking the demons name.
You’ll know you’ve been cursed by the demon when you hear the names switch.

Yanni becomes Laurel.

Laurel becomes Yanni.

It’s only a matter of time until the curse gets worse. You won’t understand the world around you. You’ll doubt what others say. The words will come out, but the message presented won’t make any sense. Nothing will make sense. But there is hope, chicken car flash windy cabbage. Embarrass pen hour tooth panoramic impress. Convictions helmeted Ontario afternoon tar snapping.

The Future Of UI: The Surface Dial

The Surface Dial

Last week Microsoft introduced a new product, the Surface Dial. It’s a fascinating device that mixes the tactile feel of a a dial with the flexibility of a contextual display. You place the dial on your Surface tablet and get different behaviors depending on what app you open. You can control the volume via the dial when Spotify is open or mix colors while you are in paint.

Why Go Physical?

I was surprised by this announcement. Going physical seems like a step backwards in a world dominated by soft keyboards and touch screens.

So why develop this hockey puck controller in the first place? Here are two theories about the Surface Dial and the future of UI.

Testing User Interfaces For Virtual Reality

The Surface Dial is a stepping stone on the way to a consistent language in VR. It’s a physical representation of what may become a common user interface in virtual reality.

We haven’t really figured out a consistent way to do user interfaces in Virtual Reality. We have devices like the Kinect and Leap motion that can determine hand motions associated with rotating a dial. Hopefully devices like this will give us a controller-less virtual reality experience. The physical Surface Dial can be a way to test a dial based user interface that can transition into a 100% virtual interface. It gives developers the opportunity to work and experiment with this UI today, with the applications users are already familiar with.

A Suite of AR Tools

It was hinted that the Surface Dial is the first of many products in this new category. I imagine a future where these devices are completely independent and used as a way to enrich augmented reality. I could easily see the Dial used as a virtual padlock in a game. Or perhaps the dial could be used to increase the size of a virtual screen. The use cases for the dial are limited to your own imagination. I am willing to bet money that the Surface Dial will become a companion product to the HoloLens as well, and not be isolated to the Surface tablet.

The Future Is Almost Here

The Surface Dial is more than just an expensive hockey puck, it’s a bet on the future from Microsoft. I can’t wait to see what creative use cases Microsoft and third party vendors will use the device for.

The Last Hat

Are Robots Going To Steal My Job?

No, not anytime soon. I propose a new phrase to define a key reason why your job is safe for now. I’d like to introduce you to “The Last Hat.”
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Intent and Consequences 

I like understanding why people do the things they do. The 2016 US election is ripe with people who are making a big decision and has piqued my curiosity. I want to talk about something I observed from both parties that I believe contributes to their decision making process. I think many of the opinions about canidates this election season can be derived from one question:

How do you interpret the intentions and consequences of a canidate’s actions?


Intentions say a lot about someone. What was the purpose of their action? What was their goal? I’ve observed that interpreting intention is the first point of contention for many voters this election.

Defining intention seems to be impossible. Canidates do what they can to define their intention, only to be bombarded with alternative narratives from all sides. The narrative voters go with starts to shape their opinion of the candidate. Here’s an experiment! Fill in the blank for these examples:

Trump is withholding his taxes because _____.

Clinton used a private email sever because ______.

Ask this to 5 random people and you’ll probably get 5 different answers.


The next part of the question is crucial. How do you interpret the the consequences of a canidates action? What were the positive and negative results of their actions? Everyone’s interpretation of the results are different. Factor in the unintended consequences and we’ve got enough spin to get a tornando started.

Defining the consequences starts to reveal more and more of the voter’s position. What facts are important to them? Are they even facts in the first place? What do they value and what do they shrug off? You’ll discover a lot about a voter when they articulate what were the results from a canidate’s actions.

Building Bridges

I am all about building bridges between people. I think it will be crucial that we put work into mending relationships in the years to come. Understanding what people think the intention and consequences of a canidate’s action is the first step to any type of real dialog. After we get an answer to the question we can really start separating facts from fictions. We can start finding the positive outcomes instead of trying to concoct a negative outcome for the sake of dragging someone down. Or, we can plant our feet in the ground and refuse to acknowledge fact based evidence. I would prefer that citizens of the US find ways to move forward together as a country, rather than push each other further apart.

El Paso is Desertpunk

Moving back to El Paso, Texas has had it’s ups and downs. I try to counter ever negative moment I have with the community with a positive one. I often see these negative moments as opportunity to grow. The real question is how to seize the opportunity and help El Paso grow.

I’ve coined a term to deal with some of my frustrations with El Paso: Desertpunk. The term is inspired by Steampunk. Wikipedia describes Steampunk as

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.

Technology is not one of El Paso’s strong points. There are occasions where El Paso feels 10 years behind current trends. For crying out loud, I rented a DVD from Blockbuster when I first came back!! I use Desertpunk to describe situations that embody this strange temporal anomally where El Paso is 10 years behind most of the country.

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Live Moments by Twitter

I had a fascinating experience with my wife while watching the VP Debate earlier this week. I was following the running commentary on Twitter doing what I always do during a good Live Tweet: Laughing at the jokes, chiming in with armchair commentary, and retweeting insightful comments. A few minutes into the debate I got a questions from my wife.

“Can I see your iPad?”
She already had her phone in her had, so I asked her why.
“I want to see what they are saying about the debate.”

We then huddled together around my iPad as we watched the VP debate. My wife doesn’t use Twitter, but she was immediately hooked. I liked and retweeted comments on her request. She asked who certain accounts were and why I followed them. It was a great experience to share my feed with her.

How can Twitter capture new users like my wife? A new Twitter user will have a hard time setting up their account to experience a live event. They won’t know who has a quality feed to make the event enjoyable. However, they can get the most of a Live Tweet if they have a little help.

Live Moments by Twitter

Here’s my proposal for Live Moments by Twitter:

Live Moments allows Twitter users to create a custom Timeline for upcoming events. Users can create a curated list of subject matter experts to give followers the best second screen experience. Need help coming up with a list? Add keywords and hashtags to keep an eye on and we’ll automatically add popular tweets to your Live Moments Timeline. Want to promote engagement? Ask a question during the event to get users involved in the moment. Anyone who replies can be included in your Live Moments Timeline. You don’t even need a Twitter account to catch a Live Moment. Anyone can follow the conversation without signing in if they have a custom url. If new users enjoy following the commentary we’ll help you set up a new account and follow everyone who was part of the Live Moment!

The goal isn’t to get current Twitter users following Live Moments. You want them to create the Live Moments. The real goal is to get casual users that think Twitter is hard to follow these pre-made timelines for an event they are interested. Live Moments can help expand market share. Once new users see the value of Twitter they’ll be more likely to create an account and become an active user.

Now you may say, “Raul, this is just lists!” Which I completely agree. Lists are great, but they are pretty much ignored by most users. Lists are a good utility feature for power users and harassment. Twitter needs something far more functional to get new users on board, and it ain’t lists.

What do you think. Reach out to me on Twitter at @uz88!

National Poetry Day

I am not a big poetry fan, however I love music. I listen to a variety of music so I think I can appreciate good lyrics when I hear them. Matches, by Sifu Hotman has stuck with me ever since the first time I heard it on Welcome To Night Vale. You can listen to Matches by Sifu Hotman on YouTube to hear it for yourself. These lyrics really stuck with me:

No friction; no flame;
No struggle; no progress;
No sweat
How many times do we have to win
‘Til you realize that we have not lost yet?

The lyrics have this perseverant spirit to them. It’s a perseverance that I’ve seen in others and strive to have myself. Also, I love how that perseverance is still met with challenges. You can win, but your wins may not even register with everyone around you.

One half of Sifu Hotman is Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre. He is a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, so I am definitely gonna file his lyrics under poetry. Who’s your favorite poet? What’s your favorite poem?

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