Secrets of a childhood Strider Balance Bike. A great reminder for us all Why Less is More.

When I was a toddler, my parents bought me a traditional bicycle with training wheels. A balance bike at the time was not invented yet. The training wheels were there so I would not tip over and hurt myself. The traditional childhood is like this when it comes to learning to ride a bike. We all remember that 1st bike. How it felt, the freedom to move faster and further. But to move you had to pedal while relying on the training wheels to keep us upright. It was tough at first.

Rynek in Sandomierz, Poland - birth town
Rynek in Sandomierz, Poland – my block on the right

The pedals kind of got in the way. Brakes were activated through the lever on the handlebars and sometimes moving the pedals backwards would also activate the brakes. Oh boy, that was a lot to take in. But we did right. I remember the early wobbles as I tried to learn to balance. Knowing the training wheels were there helped, but it still made the hair raise up on my back. Then once I got enough courage I would ram straight into a wall of the building where we lived, many times. Arms and knees were bleeding. What an experience.

Enter the Balance Bike

Fast forward to today; when I became a father, and my kid (Josh) was ready at a ripe age of 2 we did something different. We got him a balance bike. Have you heard of Balance Bikes? Yeah neither did I until Urszula kids occupational therapist from SensoryLifestyle.com mentioned it. Few Googles later I was up to speed.

“A balance bicycle, or run bike is a training bicycle that helps children learn balance and steering. It has no pedals and no drivetrain.”.

The bike has NO pedals. NO drivetrain i.e. chains or gears. And NO brakes! It’s as simple as it gets. A frame with wheels, a seat and handlebars. Even the wheels are basic. Heck, the WHOLE bike is basic. It’s like they started with a standard bicycle and said… let’s strip it down till we cannot anymore. Down to the core essentials.

Less is truly More!

Strider Balance Bike Standard Bike
Balance Bike Normal Bike

Unlike a traditional bicycle where you might have to push the child or support them, with a balance bike there is minimal supervision. Josh started sitting on the seat and walking the bike. Like the Flintstones. Then he progressed to pushing his feet off from the ground and balancing. Soon he was coasting around turns and speeding along pathways. All in about a month. A child learns to balance faster when they don’t have to pedal. Pedals also get in the way. I saw Josh fall over few times trying a normal bike with pedals, before ending up on the seat and looking at me to push him.

Check out this video I made of Josh riding a Strider Balance Bike in Shoreline Park, Mountain View

The Power of Simplification in Software Development

As a software engineer and a maker of many things, I am always intrigued by simplification. In software we often “refactor” code to make it smaller, better and faster. When working on technology products, we often say to blow away features to make a large application light. Less is More. Products users love often simple. Not complicated. And usually serve a single purpose.

When we discuss product design, we also talk about building habits (ref Hooked book). What is the simplest behavior which can lead to a reward. It’s hard building sticky products feature heavy. People get overwhelmed and lose interest fast. Many books, many blogs and many words are exchanged by makers in Silicon Valley about the power of simplification. Most products suck because this simple approach to simplifying the product is often ignored by the ego. If you want to learn more about features vs. benefits, please read my prior blog post on SPIN Selling.

Less is More

And right here in front of me stands the BEST reminder of the power of simplification. It may not be a technology product, but it sure carries the same weight. Less is More.

Necessity > Novelty. For a 2-year-old learning to balance is a fundamental motor skill development milestone. If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend you read SensoryLifestyle.com or google this topic.

1. knowing the rules of the game and 2. using the right tools; is how we get results.

Technology Products

When we think of the two best technology companies in the world, no doubt Apple and Google fall into that spot.

  • Remember the beauty of Apple’s iPod? It was its simplicity.
  • When you visit Google.com, the page is simple. The only thing you can do is Search. Simple right?

Let’s also look at Cars. Who is the most innovative car manufacturer? I believe it is Tesla Motors. They haven’t done anything revolutionary. No, really they haven’t. They just simplified the car. If you know a bit about engines, you will know that a piston motor is complicated. It has many moving parts. And many things that can and do go wrong. Now, the electric motor is winning. It’s simple. A magnet, coil and apply electricity.

Benefits > Features

I’m going to finish on a final note. When we simplify, we remove features. Features do not sell. So don’t worry about stripping down your product. Instead, focus on the benefits. And sell on those. The stripped down bare bone balance bike Josh rides cost ~$130 while a regular bike with gears, pedals, balance wheels et al, cost ~$80. The price difference is nearly 50%, yet guess which one wins hearts?

~ Ernest

A roundabout with a stop sign? Confused? So was this Cute Google Self-Driving Car. Enjoy this video!

Mountain View, California. The heart of Silicon Valley. Where in our local streets, you can actually find roundabouts. Yes the type you see everywhere in Australia and UK. Not the norm for US. But, something is difference. The Roundabouts here also have a Stop sign. Yes, the traditional stop sign you see at just about every street in the USA. Now we know a roundabout’s purpose is to keep traffic moving while a stop sign’s is to stop traffic. The 2 together are counter intuitive right? Even for a Google Self-Driving Car.

Now what would happen when you have a roundabout and you must give way to your left? Confused? Me too. Even for the new 100% automated robots cruising the local streets of Mountain View. Those cute bubble Google Self-Driving Cars. These cute self-driving cars have been around Mountain View for the past few months. They are the future of transportation. An awe of inspiration to see. A Borg like intelligence, developed by mankind up the road at Google HQ, is making autonomous decisions in transporting humans. This is the pinnacle of human innovation! They are still in closed Beta mode. Carry max 2 people. One day I hope to get an opportunity to order a lift from my smartphone.

So back to the roundabout and stop sign issue. We know the scene. We know the car. Now check out the video my wife recorded of this Google self driving car getting confused as it pulls up to such a roundabout with a stop sign. PS. I did some edits to the video to add character in good spirit. Enjoy!

Google Voice – how to protect your privacy

Teach your phone new tricks – Google Voice enhances the existing capabilities of your phone, regardless of which phone or carrier you have – for free. In my view, Google Voice is the 2nd most useful product offered from a set of Google apps. Here’s why.

What is Google Voice

Google Voice gives you one number for all your phones, voicemail as easy as email, free US long distance, low rates on international calls, and many calling features like transcripts, call blocking, call screening, conference calling, SMS, and more. Google Voice allows me to select any of my phones (fixed line and/or mobile) to connect me with the caller.

Google Voice interface
Google Voice interface

What features work for me

  • One Number – I have set up a nice network of phones closest to me for Google Voice to call. So I am no longer limited by a handset or carrier and I can always give just the 1 number to people.
  • Online voicemail – Should I miss a call or choose to not accept a call Google Voice will divert the user to my online voicemail (which can be customized to each caller) and record it. No big deal here right. But here is where it gets better. I also receive via email and SMS a transcribed version of the voice mail and if I log in to Google Voice there it is again, the transcribed version.
  • Call screening – Everytime someone calls me on my Google Voice you go through my virtual secretary who asks you your name and then tries to connect with me. I can choose to decline the call if I’m busy or am getting spammed and it goes directly to my voicemail.
  • Do not call block – In Google Voice online interface I can “Block” callers from ever calling me again. This is great since in Australia we have the “Do Not Call Register”. A government ran website protects individuals privacy by stopping certain telemarketing calls to fixed line and mobile telephone numbers. In the USA (as far as I’m aware) there is nothing like this. This is where Google Voice helps.
Blocking a caller
Blocking a caller

Protecting my privacy

This means that I can still keep my fixed land line and mobile (cell) numbers but now I give out my Google Voice number to people I meet at meetups, real estate agents, car dealers etc… if one of them abuses my number or passes it to a telemarketing agency I just block them in Google Voice and Google Voice will no longer connect me with those callers. Simple.

Also, since there is a screening feature which allows Google Voice to 1st call me and ask me whether I want to speak with the individual trying to connect with me I always know who is calling me before I say g’day. Should I wish not to speak to them, Google Voice will tell the caller I am not available and they can leave a message for me. Talk about a personal assistant!

Business cards

When Google Voice launched into Beta I was one of the lucky few American’s to get access to it. Google also gave out a bunch of free 25 business cards with the Google Voice number. Since then I have paid to have a lot more printed since I love the simplicity of these cards and the fact that I can hand these to people I meet.

Here’s my Google Voice business card:

Call me!
Call me!

URL’s mentioned in this post:

Do Not Call Register – https://www.donotcall.gov.au/
Google Voice – http://google.com/voice

Ernest