My Tissue Management System

    My tissue management system might seem excessive to you, but allow me to explain.

    When you need a tissue, timing can be critical. Unfortunately, the tissue industry does not attract the finest industrial designers in the land. There is no Jony Ive in the snot-removal business. I don’t mean to be unkind, but tissue box designers are probably not the same people who designed the Tesla. That’s all I’m saying.

    And it shows. Often I attempt to grab one tissue and six come out in a clump. Sometimes I have to excavate inside the box, clawing at the wadded hump of tissues with my fingernails like some crazed badger until they release their bounty. Sometimes I need multiple tissues and I am disappointed that there is only one left. Why didn’t I buy tissues when I was just at the store??!!!

    Sometimes a tissue sticks in the box’s opening and I accidentally lift the entire box off the counter. Once airborne, gravity separates the box from the tissue and before you know it the room is a frenzy of cardboard, tissues, and bodily fluids. Sometimes cursing is involved. That’s my experience anyway.

    You can fool me once. And you can fool me several times a day for several decades. But sooner or later I will put a row of tissue boxes together and solve this problem for good.

    Why so many?

    Well, for starters, it serves as a monument to my ingenuity. There’s that. And it gives me great calm to know this one area of my life is totally under control. But the exact number of boxes is based on this calculation:

    – One box is often out of tissues.

    – One box often has tissues curled up in a tight ball, unwilling to be part of the job.

    – One box often has a tissue dispenser jam and can’t be safely operated with your one available hand. (Say you have a beverage in the other.)

    – One box is usually a duplicate problem to one of the above mentioned.

    And that leaves the fifth box as a probable source of tissues. There’s a sixth box in a decorative container at the end of the row, but that’s just for looks. Unless I need it.

    Sometimes I read books. Other times I write them.

Your Phone Interface is a Legacy Train Wreck

    If you were to design a smartphone interface from scratch, without any legacy issues, would it look like a bunch of app icons sitting on a home screen?

    No. Because that would be stupid. Would you want your users to be hunting around for the right app every time they want to do simple things? That ruins flow. And it unnecessarily taxes your brain by making you shift your mental model each time you switch apps. You’re always thinking Is this the one with the swiping left or the one that scrolls down


    There is a lot of background processing in your brain just to move from app to app. I sometimes skip simple tasks on my phone because I can’t go app-diving one more time or my head will explode. My brain seems to have a finite capacity within a given day for “hunting for the right app.”

    When you have my kind of job, losing flow is devastating. I’m a fan of new technology, but objectively speaking, the smartphone is the biggest threat to creativity since communism. My phone interrupts me all day long. And if I have a new idea that I want to jot down before the next interruption, it is nearly impossible because of the app-hunting legacy model of phones. I usually forget what I was thinking because I get interrupted or my mind moves on before I even decide what app to use for my note.This is all worsened by the fact that modern life is making my attention span shrink to nothing.

    So what would a proper smartphone interface look like?

    It would be a blank screen. Like this, except with a keyboard at the bottom. 


    Let’s say, for example, you start typing (or speaking) on the blank screen…


    Your smartphone starts guessing that you are either writing an email or a text message because “Kenn” is almost certainly short for Kenny and you have been communicating with someone by that name. A hovering menu appears at the top right while you continue, offering you the chance to choose your app (email or text) whenever you please. You can do it now or wait until you stop typing, to preserve flow.

    Halfway through your typing, the OS understands that this is probably an email message because your recent messages to Kenny were all email. The OS starts wrapping an email interface around your message as you type. It also automatically attaches your history of email back and forth to your new message, at the bottom.

    The idea here is that you start working first, to maintain flow, and only later do you select the app. And by the time you need to select the app, the OS has done a 95% accurate job of doing it for you, so you simply proceed without ever actively selecting the app.

    Does this work for all sorts of apps? I haven’t thought through every possibility, but I think so. Let’s see some more examples and I’ll tell you how the OS would guess the right app and auto-surround your work with the most relevant options.

    If you type…             Then….

    ———————-              ——————————————————-

    wea…                        Local weather info pops up

    wel…                         If Wells Fargo is your bank, the sign-in page


    eat                            A restaurant search app or search engine pops up

    saf…                          Safari browser pops up

    Goo…                        Google search box pops up

    Stev…                        Either text or email (hover menu choice)

    Ala…                           Open alarm clock

    tw…                             Open twitter

    My bagel is…               Hover menu for Facebook, Twitter, 

    Pick up…                      Reminder app opens for your to-do list

    Thurs…                        Your calendar pops up to show next Thursday

    Stop saying I am reinventing the DOS operating system. DOS was dumb. The smartphone can see your work as part of a larger context. It will know what you need based on the situation. 

    Smartphone users are experienced at typing because we do so much texting. We do it quickly and effortlessly. So my suggested blank-screen interface goes with our strengths instead of making you play a game of Where’s Waldo to find the right app before every task.

    How did we get the app-centric terrible interfaces of today? I think it goes back to the dawn of personal computers. In those days it was no big deal to first pick the software (Word or Excel) and then spend a few hours within an app doing one task. There was no mental tax involved in switching apps because you only ever used one or two. So the app-first model became normal.

    Fast-forward to the original Apple smartphone. The business model required an open market for software providers, and they each got their own little branding, navigation strategies, and real estate on your screen. It works great until you have fifty apps. The app-first interface is a total failure at this point. It works, but the cost is so high I am having legitimate thoughts about abandoning my smartphone for good. (I won’t pull the trigger, but why am I even considering it?)

    If you don’t like the blank screen with a keyboard interface, here’s another idea that is better than current phones: Use faces for the interface.

    By that I mean my home screen icons should be the faces of people I deal with most often. If the icon with Bob’s face shows a little “2” on it, I know I can click to see two messages from Bob, or perhaps I have one message and one meeting today with Bob, or one task to do for Bob. 

    The main insight here is that humans reflexively arrange their tasks by the human that benefits from it. Sometimes the human is yourself, so your face is on the front page too. I doubt you can think of a task that does not relate to a specific face in your life.

    And finally, a word to current makers of smartphone operating systems. If my OS interrupts me to ask about updating software, you failed. Please keep working on that until you get it right. Make your machine conform to my flow, not the other way around.

Reaction to Bad News

    When something unexpected and bad happens to you, what is your initial reaction?

    I hate to admit this, but my first reaction is usually excitement. Nothing good or interesting happens when everything is working as expected. In chaos we find opportunity, as the saying goes. When one door closes, another opens, or so they say. And of course we have all absorbed the wisdom that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. But are those old saying enough to make you actually feel good when things around you are going to hell?

    I sometimes wonder if my excitement in the face of problems is a common reaction. I know I conceal my excitement when I’m surrounded by gloomy pessimists who think the world has ended. It feels rude to exhibit happiness within the context of something going totally wrong. It makes me wonder if other people are closet optimists too, politely hiding their glee when they encounter huge problems.

    I don’t know what made me this way, but when things go wrong, it automatically triggers my creative energy and I suppose I enjoy that rush, as well as the freedom that comes with destruction.

    When my computer started giving me illegitimate errors saying my copy of Windows is counterfeit, I learned there was literally no practical solution (in my unique case) short of wiping the hard drive. Bad news, right?

    But it caused me to add a second monitor to my system just to hold the error message pop-ups. After a week with the second monitor my productivity was way up because I put my useful work on top of the error windows. So I came out ahead.

    At the same time, the Windows errors were enough to push me to switch to an all-Apple shop, which I had been putting off. So that is good too. I’m almost ready to cut over.

    When i lost my ability to speak for more than three years I did a ton of vocal and speech exercises trying to get my voice back. In the end, the solution was a new and risky surgical procedure. Once I healed, my voice was more functional than ever because I learned proper speaking technique. In the old days, no one could ever hear me speaking above background noise. Now I do it easily because it turns out that technique matters more than loudness in that situation. And since we live in a noisy world, my new vocal abilities are a huge benefit to me nearly every day.

    I would be hard-pressed to come up with an example of bad news in my life that didn’t lead to something positive. But perhaps that is selective memory.

    My curiosity today is about your reaction to bad news in your own life. Does it excite you or depress you?

    Scott Adams

    Twitter for Dilbert content: @Dilbert_Daily

Alone Together Technology

    There’s no succinct way to ask this …

    Could you network together via wireless technology a bunch of over-ear headphones with integrated microphones so that when one person talks the sound is captured by all microphones in the room and used to create nearly-perfect sound-cancellation in the other networked headphones? 

    The point would be so a bunch of people in a room, such as an office, could carry on separate business without disturbing each other. And I could see it being useful at home as well.

    As far as I know, current sound-cancellation headphone technology only gets you about halfway there. I’m wondering if networking the headphones together and using the information from all connected microphones as data about the sound wave could close the gap. And maybe this only works in rooms that have sound dampeners on the floors, walls and ceilings.

    I’m going to assume that some sort of current or near-future technology can get us to a point where we can be alone together. And by that I mean we might be physically near each other but our attentions will be unreservedly elsewhere. I know you think that’s already the case when people text. But a person texting still hears you and still has one foot in your reality. Things will feel entirely different when we give over our full audio attention to external sources nearly all the time. 

    In the future, we’ll be zombies to each other while our full attentions are focused far away. Eye contact will become a lost art. In the interest of efficiency we will place calls to people who are sitting next to us because the sound quality will be so much better. The technology will auto-correct for the mumbler who likes to talk while standing next to running water. And wouldn’t it be nice to have a playback feature to hear what someone just told you, such as the proper way to pronounce their name?

    You scoff at my prediction, but I’ll bet you’ve texted from one room of your home to another, and you probably didn’t see that coming either.

    I predict that someday every source of sound during your workday will come to you via wireless headphones simply because the experience will be so much better than natural sound.

    I recently started using over-ear headphones while I draw. I was surprised at how absorbing they are in the sense that they improve my ability to focus. As our world becomes more complex, and distractions are multiplying exponentially, headphones are a way to filter out a lot of the stress-noise. 

    I assume Apple has interesting plans for Beats. In five years it might be surprising to see anyone’s naked ears in public. Watches, schmatches. Over-ear headphones, networked and with better sound-cancellation are the next big thing.

    (Disclosure: I own Apple stock but I hate half of their shit. The other half is cool.)


    Scott Adams

    Here’s a link to the paperback of How to Fail Almost Everything And Still Win Big

    New Hardcover Dilbert book: Go Add Value Someplace Else

    Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     

    Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

    Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays