Even though life is completely insane right now and I’m juggling 100 hour weeks with work, school, and baby, I still manage to get my email inboxes down to zero messages most days of the week. When I see co-workers that have hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of messages in their inbox it just boggles my mind. I ask, “How do you know what you have to act on?” and usually get some mumbled response combining unread status, flags, luck, and “some things get missed.” Inevitably when I ask why they operate this way the response is the same, “I don’t know when I might need to refer back to something.”

People, your inbox is just that, an inbox. Its a waypoint for new items that need to be processed, not a storage file.

A long time ago I would read through my email and for every message that might in some way be relevant I manually copied it to a read-mail folder. That way I kept my inbox clean and still maintained a history of messages in case I needed to search backwards.

Mail volumes continue to increase though, and the few seconds per message it took me to manually copy was a waste of time. As disk space has gotten cheaper and search capabilities faster I’ve moved to a new model, the complete “Mail Log”.

Basically, I’ve added a server-side mail rule that automatically copies every single message that is delivered to me into a separate “Mail Log” folder (and all outgoing mail into a “Sent Mail” folder). This all happens automatically behind the scenes, I don’t have to worry about it. Now when I’m done with a message in my Inbox I delete, no worries. If I ever need to refer to it again I open up the Mail Log and search for it. Easy peasy.

This works great on Exchange with Entourage as well as on my personal mailbox (powered by procmail on the back end). Gmail does this automatically (brilliant). Sometimes I rotate archives for manageability (quarterly at work, yearly at home), but some day someone will build a mail client that can reliably store and quickly search 10+GB of mail messages so I don’t have to worry about this.

Stop using your inbox as an archive. Get the historical crap out of there and only look at the stuff you really need to worry about!

Flying at Mach 12 right now. Most of my updates happen on Twitter.

With regard to http://www.southwest.com/help/boardingschool/:

I heard on the news this morning that your airline is considering changing their seating policy to not allow travelers with small children to pre-board on flights and instead require them to go through the regular A, B, C seating grab. As a family with a small 9-month old baby who flies at least twice a month, and as a business-traveling father who flies more than once a week, I feel that this is a very bad policy to implement and I urge you to reconsider.

We like Southwest quite a bit. In fact on a flight last weekend we were very happy to learn that some of your newer planes are coming with baby changing stations in the front lavatories. This is a very nice feature that parents appreciate quite a bit. However, because of the way your check-in and boarding process works for families, we will be unable to fly your airline if you implement this newest policy.

Normally, I like the open seating policy. However, if you require families with small children to wait in A-B-C order to get a seat, then there is a high likelihood that we will not be able to find seats together, and that is very a very difficult problem because when flying on a small airplane it usually takes two people to try to manage and keep calm a small baby. While online check-in is a useful tool for normal travelers, we have found that your online check-in system does not work well for family travelers because we still have to have our daughter’s birth certificate verified at the ticket counter, and we have found that if we do that on the outbound leg then whoever she’s attached to will not be able to do online check-in on the return leg. Worse yet, if we are in a location where we can’t do online check-in then it has become impossible to get into an A boarding group even if you arrive 3+ hours early at the airport (I’ve gotten a B pass checking in a mere 6 hours after the online check-in window opened up!)

I also believe that requiring families to board in the proposed order will result in delays and frustrations for the rest of your customers as well. We try to be efficient travelers with our baby, but there are still more items we have to carry and a squirming little child we have to deal with, so I can guarantee that families boarding along with everyone else will slow the process down for the bulk of your travelers that simply want to board, stow, and go.

To a family traveling with small children, the risk of not being able to find seats together is unacceptable. Since we are traveling with our daughter on a predictable schedule, and since there are plenty of other airlines that offer low fares in advance as well as assigned seating with pre-boarding policies, if you chose to eliminate the pre-boarding policy for families then we will likely be choosing another airline for our flights.

Again, I urge you to reconsider this change. Southwest is an excellent airline and has a well-deserved reputation for being customer focused. I truly feel that a change like this will be a detriment to all of your passengers, and result in more frustration and dissatisfied passengers.


Rand Wacker

iSquint – iPod Video Made Easy.

Last year I asked Santa for an Apple-built Blackberry/Treo. The iPhone is soon to be and I’m withholding judgement for a while (so they can shake the bugs out and see if there’s a huge developer upswell).

The next thing I want is a super-portable MacBook. The Palm Foleo has been getting a lot of chatter around work, but I know that I need a full laptop when I’m on the road. With flash-based hard drive replacements and LED-backlit or OLED screens it seems we’re close to a major shift in the way laptops are constructed…its now possible to build a laptop with zero moving parts (if they can get the cooling right).

I’m looking for something very solid, quite light, smaller than the 13″ Macbook probably (but not too small), standard built-in features and ports, but likely no DVD drive (external maybe?). Excellent battery life is a must, and I’m not even concerned about raw processing speed if we need to keep things cool. Ideally I could imagine a dock…or better yet a wireless “docking” option.

So a fully-featured Mac sub-notebook, more rugged, better battery life, and ultimately portable. You could definitely demand a premium from business road-warriors, but if you make it rugged enough and cheap enough I could see parents buying these by the boatload for their backpack wearing high school and college students.

Steve, are you listening?

I signed up on Twitter a while ago (username: randwacker) in order to stalk a good friend who just moved to NYC. Its fun to watch his head explode in near-real-time. However, Twitter utterly lacks any way to discover other friends I may know who are already on the system (I have a policy not to spam people with invites to new social networking services).

This is totally lame, these guys need to realize they are a social network, and their market cap will be a direct multiple of the size of their user base. If they don’t make it easy to find people, they won’t grow as fast as they could.

Facebook (which I’m also on) does an excellent job of this, making it trivial to find other people in their network you might know. Facebook then does an awesome job of adding cool new features on top of that network such as an excellent photo sharing tool, news feeds of interest to you, and even an elegant implementation of Twitter-like functionality.

Facebook needs to do more to market the fact they are no longer exclusive to .edu accounts, and try to market themselves to a wider audience. Of course, if they would combine with LinkedIn and Yelp! then I’d have my ultimate tool!

Oh yeah, so if you’re on Twitter please leave me your ID so I can stalk you. I’m making one last effort to prove its useful before I boycott it forever…

No, its not.

(From the way-back machine, a topic that has bothered me anew recently)

Its a great application platform, much more full-featured than the old mainframe terminal emulators that its going to replace, but is the browser the interface that I want to use for everything?

Let’s take Google Maps as an example. The basic map application is brilliant, and one of the most enduring example of a major new AJAX application (forget the fact however that Google’s directions are so often wrong). But does Google Maps work well on my Treo? No, that’s why Google wrote a phone-specific application that gave the best possible experience but accessed the same data and back-end servers.

I expect the same thing to happen for other productivity apps as well. I use a Mac because I appreciate the higher level of interface design that goes into the typical desktop application. Switching back to the browser represents a major shift back in the usability of my computer. Not that I don’t want my data accessible from other systems, but I’d much rather use a well-designed Mac app that is accessing that data on the back end.

Email is a great example. On my desktop I have a great rich-UI browser, on my phone I’ve got a mobile-optimized client, and when I’m away from both I can fall back to web-based access. How is this accomplished? A strong set of protocols that separate the data on the backend from the presentation on
the front. We should be designing first with these APIs in mind, and then focusing our energies on the best interfaces for where that data is most often accessed.

And that’s where I’m surprised that we’re not seeing more three-tier, multi-platform applications out there. A back-end network server for data storage and complex computation, a web services data access layer, and multiple rich-interface applications for acces, /including/ a browser-based version.

Yes, I think we should be developing applications by first thinking about the data access and storage, then layering the right interface on top of that. Another example of separating presentation from application, but planned in a way that makes it easy to build the best experience for network-based apps, without being tied into “the browser as a platform”.

So last week I did something you really only do once because you’re too embarrassed to do it again…I forgot my laptop when I went to work.

I had meetings most of the day, but I was able to keep up with things surprisingly well out of my Treo. I can’t present in webinars or write up extensive documents, but 80 percent of what I do anyways is email, and I could manage about 80 percent of my messages through the handheld. I’ve started spending weekend trips away from the laptop, this entry in fact I’m thumbing in right now.

How truly feasible is this though for anything beyond basic text? I’m not going to make presentations on my mobile, I don’t have my 10 gigs of work reference email, and I’m not going to write even a 4 page position paper.

Advanced phones are great as comprehensive communication devices, but they are not laptop replacements.

Yes, I can make calls over the Intraweb really cheap. Yes, I get free long distance on my cell phone, and many of those people on the same network so I don’t even get charged for minutes. However, I still like having a traditional land line at the house for various reasons, and I like being able to make long distance calls from it (especially since the Cingular/AT&T merger made my cell phone number a toll call from my house…)

Anyways, a while I go I chose to switch from a fairly expensive AT&T long distance plan to Pioneer Telecom (as reviewed by PhoneDog.com). Signup was easy and over the web.

Service and quality so far has been great, billing is automatic and only online, and last month my bill was $0.57, total (no fees, no minimums, no taxes, etc). Compare this to my old AT&T bill that ran $12 to $18/month (we had a special deal for international rates, not that special).

So check out PhoneDog, see what they may recommend for you, and I highly recommend Pioneer.

Pig and Chicken

I was having breakfast at the excellent Bette’s Oceanview Diner down on 4th St in Berkeley the other day and I felt like pancakes.

Waiter: “Our pancake special today is sour cream and banana, with two eggs and chicken, ham, bacon sausage.”
Me: “Sounds great, I’ll have that with eggs over easy and chicken sausage.”
Waiter: “No, I’m sorry, the sausage has chicken, ham, and bacon.”
Me: <blink…blink> “Ummm, OK!”

God bless America.