Tag Archives: ideas

Evernote – a bigger brain?

CC image thanks to Jason Tester via Flickr

One of my favourite amusing and simultaneously most cringe-inducing moments as a consultant came a number of years go, shortly after I started doing middleware consultancy. It had been a long week on a hectic, high pressure project. I was part of a team helping to design and implement a new system. The system design had been debated over and over again, and some of the basic technology principles had been described just as many times. Eventually the lead architect snapped, and without either meaning to (or possibly, without realising what he’d done in that moment) turned to the project technical lead and said “sorry, but come back when you’ve got a bigger brain!”. There was a stunned silence in the room… fortunately it was all pretty good natured as it was a friendly team, but it’s just… not the sort of thing you expect to happen.

The moment came back to me while I was listening to a recent podcast, which interviewed the CEO of Evernote. Evernote is a note taking application available on Windows, Mac and iPhone (other platforms to come) which lets you synchronise thoughts, ideas, photos and memories between devices. It has been around for a year or so now… the obvious thing to describe it as is a cloud service, since your stuff gets sync’ed through the cloud, but it seems as though it has been around longer than the term itself – maybe I’m imagining it.

Actually the description I just gave of Evernote doesn’t really do it justice. It’s far more than a way of syncing simple notes. It has text recognition in images, so you can actually search for text inside the images you add to Evernote. You can grab pieces of web pages on your desktop and paste them into Evernote. You can make voice notes. You can take photos of business cards to remember and index people. It’s very clever.

I struggle to use it though… I can see what a great idea it is, but it’s rare that I physically remember to put notes in there. Since I’m at a conference this week, it seems like I should be using it as a scrapbook a lot more, but I think it will take discipline.

Why did the interview about Evernote remind me of my consulting story? Well, simply that the CEO describes it as his “bigger brain”, and their ambition to be the place where your external memories or brain overspill ends up. It doesn’t quite map to the original anecdote, as that was really a matter of frustration of lack of understanding of a concept, rather than simply the ability to remember facts – but the words struck a chord.

The moral of the story is – don’t forget anything, just use Evernote. As long as you remember to keep using it… or something.

On writing

For a variety of reasons which are far too boring to explain, I’m currently writing blog posts on paper. I wouldn’t mention that unless the point was central to the topic of this post, as it is essentially transparent to the reader – the fact that you can actually read this means that I’ve electronically transcribed it by now.

Anyway… here’s what I’m thinking as the process continues:


  • writing, eh. Pen and paper. Takes me back a bit. I mean, I make notes and stuff, but it’s ages since I’ve written long passages on paper.
  • my handwriting got really bad in the last 10 years
  • I can type much faster. This will take me 3 times as long, as I guess I’m about 1.5 to 2x faster at typing, and typing up what I’ve written whilst trying to decipher what I wrote will take 1 to 1.5x longer than typing it direct in the first place.
  • this biro is rubbish
  • how did people cope? My ideas and sentences all arrive out-of-order. I like to be able to rearrange bullet points and paragraphs. Where would I be today without being able to insert and correct words, sentences and paragraphs? Cut-and-paste is marvellous. Ah, this must be what it would be like to use a pre-3.0 iPhone as my regular computer…
  • hyperlinks. A conceptually simple and incredibly powerful concept. I guess that’s why they stuck.
  • I used to do my university essays by making notes by hand; creating an electronic mindmap to organise ideas and sections; and then type the essay. Overkill for blogging, and I remember how hard it was to churn out 3 12 page essays by hand in each of the exams without the weekly writing practice.
  • OK. End of page and rubbish biro. That’s all for this “post”, then.

Smart Planet

IBM’s Chairman and CEO, Sam Palmisano, has been speaking to the Council of Foreign Relations in New York today. He’s been discussing how the planet is getting smarter:

These collective realizations have reminded us that we are all now connected – economically, technically and socially.  But we’re also learning that being connected is not sufficient.  Yes, the world continues to get “flatter.”  And yes, it continues to get smaller and more interconnected.  But something is happening that holds even greater potential.  In a word, our planet is becoming smarter.

In the speech, Sam talks about how the world has become instrumented, more interconnected, and devices more intelligent. And he talks about how the current world crises – ecological, financial, and others – represent an opportunity for change. The next step for the globally integrated economy is a globally integrated and intelligent economy and society.

Some of the problems and solutions that are being mentioned are interesting.

67 per cent of all electrical energy is lost due to inefficient power generation and grid management… utilities in the U.S., Denmark, Australia and Italy are now building digital grids to monitor the energy system in real time.

Congested roadways in the U.S. cost $78 billion annually in wasted hours and gas… Stockholm’s new smart toll system has resulted in 22 percent less traffic, a 12 to 40 percent drop in emissions and 40,000 additional daily users of the public transport system

This is exciting for me on many levels. Let me step up through them.

As regular readers will know, I’ve become increasingly interested in pervasive computing and home automation. The little “Current Cost craze” that has swept through my group of friends at work could be seen as a mark of the individual interest in applying technology in a smarter way. I’m excited that this has widened out to a group of folks who are supporting Chris Dalby’s Home Camp idea in London later this month.

Secondly, beyond this individual approach, it ties in to some of what I heard at the recent Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin… people talking about the opportunity for technology to change the way things work, from Tim O’Reilly’s keynote on the way forward for Internet technology and innovative thinking, to Tom Raftery’s brilliant GreenMonk pitch on Electricity 2.0.


STOP Studying the world. START Transforming it.

Finally, and most broadly, it’s a hopeful vision which resonates when lately, things do sometimes appear bleak.


Technology can help society. Let’s go and make it happen.

New York Times article on Sam Palmisano’s speech

YouTube Smarter Planet videos

Update: a couple more links, if you want to get involved…

Smarter Planet on FriendFeed

Smarter Planet on Tumblr