Saturday, 7 September 2013

How to respond to constructive (or difficult) feedback

All feedback is good feedback. And if you ask for feedback, there are only two appropriate responses to whatever you get in return:

1: "Thank you for your feedback."

Someone has taken the time to tell you what they think, so they deserve a polite acknowledgement. If you disagree with the feedback, that's fine, but keep that to yourself. In the world of feedback, perception is reality. If my colleague tells me that he finds me intimidating, now is not the time to tell him to toughen up, or that I'm really a pussycat. Whether I actually am intimidating is neither here nor there for the moment. This is information that someone thinks I am intimidating, and information is something I can use, or not, as I choose. (Maybe I want to soften my image. Maybe I want to be gentler on just this one teammate. Maybe I don't want to act on this information at all.)

2: "Please help me understand your feedback."

Some feedback needs further clarification. Being told I'm very quiet could mean I have a soft voice, or that I don't speak up very often, and if I'm going to do something about it I need to know which. So ask for more information, but be careful. It's very easy to step over the line from openly seeking clarification to getting drawn into trying to defend yourself. ("What do you mean I'm too quiet? I talk to you all the time!") Try to limit your questions, and keep them as open as possible. "Can you give me an example of where that happened?" is always a valid response. Sometimes people can't remember an example, so it's fine to say "Can you let me know if I do that again?"

Even if someone's opinion is demonstrably wrong, imagine it prefixed with "I think..." and it becomes a piece of information, which you can deal with as you choose.


Feedback cartoon

This all applies to good feedback as well as 'constructive criticism'. So if you find yourself deflecting compliments or arguing with them, stop! It doesn't matter whether you agree or not, just say "thank you", you can decide later what to do with the new information.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

What I want from a Google Reader replacement

So far none of the alternatives to Google Reader are quite ticking all the boxes for me.

Here's what I use right now and will really miss if I can't replace:
  • A web UI. By which I don't mean a browser-specific app or plugin. I want to be able to access my RSS content from work, and I don't have the option of installing plugins.
  • A good, solid Android app with offline viewing. I've been using NewsRob for years and even though it hasn't been updated in ages, it just works. And I like that it allows me to choose when to sync, what to sync, and how much to sync.
  • Synchronised read/unread state between web and mobile apps.
  • Doesn't insist on looking like a magazine all the time - I'm fine with lists. I like lists. Let me have my lists.
On my nice-to have list would be:
  • Ability to subscribe to feeds from a browser by clicking a link to RSS xml
  • IFTTT support, but I expect that if something becomes popular and has an API, they'll be on the case.
Surely I can't be alone in wanting these things? I'm hopeful that Feedly or one of the other contenders will quickly be able to bridge the gaps.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Helping the next generation of techies


R0010445

I have a favour to ask...

I'm taking part in a careers networking event in March where I'll be meeting teenagers from a range of backgrounds. When I was in school the careers advice we got wasn't great, so I want to make sure these sessions are worthwhile for the kids and young adults I'll be meeting.

If you're a teenager, please tell me in the comments what you want from a career. If you're not sure, here are some questions to get you started...
  • If you have an idea of what career you want, what makes that job attractive to you? E.g. doing something you love, working with brilliant people in a nice environment, helping people and saving the world, or do you just want to earn a huge pile of cash?
  • If you think of yourself being 'successful' in the future, what does that look like for you? Would you like a career that allows you to spend a lot of time travelling and maybe live in different countries, do you want a smart home with every comfort, would you be happy to live without luxuries knowing you're doing something for the greater good, or do you see work as a means to an end so you can afford to make the most of your time off?
And I have just one last question:

What do you want from a careers event? Do you just want to hear about different careers and hopefully be inspired? Do you want to know about what qualifications you'll need? Would you like CV and interview tips, or a list of links to industry-specific resources? Or something else...? On the flip-side, what do you already get from every careers event that's really not helpful at all?

As a small, geeky token of my thanks, here's a video of what happens when you heat mercury thiocyanate*, via @The_Stealthcow on Twitter:

Thanks for your help, and may all your careers advice be useful and inspirational!

-TechieBird

*no, I don't really know what that is either, just look what happens when you heat it



Saturday, 19 January 2013

Automating WeMo with IFTTT and Tasker to automatically charge Android device

My Android tablet can switch the power on to charge itself. This is the future and I'm living in it!



This solution also requires Google Calendar and a WeMo switch connected to your IFTTT account, which, for now, requires an iOS device for the initial setup.

I expected to easily get Tasker to email IFTTT, but sending a mail from Tasker isn't so simple. Fortunately there's another solution that works.

I'll post a more detailed walk-through if anyone wants it, but here are the basics - if you've used IFTTT and Tasker before you should be able to figure the rest out.
  1. I created a separate (private) Google Calendar under my account called IFTTT. This saves my main calendar from getting cluttered with trigger events.
  2. In Tasker I created a task to write an appointment to the IFTTT calendar with #WeMoOn in the title, and another task with #WeMoOff. (The Calendar Insert action is in the App category.)
  3. Next I created two Tasker profiles, and associated each with its corresponding task:
    1. Battery is 0-20% full and Power is NOT plugged in (both in the State category) - runs the #WeMoOn task
    2. Battery has fully charged (this is in the Event category) and Power is plugged in to any source - runs the #WeMoOff task
  4. Created rules in IFTTT to use the Google Calendar triggers (this) to turn WeMo on or off (that)
Now my tablet will switch the power on if the battery is running low, and switch the power off when it's fully charged.

This assumes the tablet is actually plugged in, so right now it could result in the WeMo being switched on pointlessly if the device is somewhere else. I created a Tasker recipe to check after 16 minutes* whether there's a power source connected, and switch the WeMo off again if not, but that's a bit more fiddly. Let me know if you want me to post it...

*IFTTT checks triggers every 15 minutes, so by this time WeMo should have switched on

EDIT: I've had two more great suggestions in the comments for easier ways to do this. Neither of them quite work for me, but do check them out in case they'd work for you...
Creative Commons License This work by TechieBird is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.