It’s that time again… I’m riding to put an end to MS.


As many of you know I ride each year in support of a cause close to my heart: raising awareness and money to support an end to multiple sclerosis (MS). I got involved in the cause in support of my son’s godfather who was diagnosed a number of years ago and thru conversations with you have learned how many others are impacted by MS.

Support BikeMS 2015This year I’m stepping up the distance to ride 120 miles over 2 days including a spectacular route over the Golden Gate Bridge and up the coast before heading into Sonoma. I also am captaining my own team in an effort to rally other folks at Comcast to join the hundreds of other Comcasters around the country that also ride for their own fitness and this cause.

Now for how you can help… 🙂 You’re support will go toward treatment and cutting-edge research to both stop and reverse the damage done to the nervous system by this disease. Three ways:

  1. Make a tax-deductible donation to Bike MS.
  2. Investigate if your employer offers a matching program.
  3. Want to ride yourself? Join my team.

Finally, I would like to thank each of you who have supported me in years past. God bless you!


I’m riding to help end MS and need your support


I’m doing a 2-day 90 mile bike ride (Sept 20-21) for the second year to support an end to multiple sclerosis (MS). I am riding with and in support of my son’s godfather who was diagnosed about 6 years ago. 

Generous donations from people like you last year helped me raise $2,800 which combined with other riders came to over $2M to help in research and treatment!

You can help by sponsoring me today thru a tax deductible donation.


Update Aug 18, 2014: I reached my $3,000 fundraising goal! Going to stretch to $4,000…


I’m riding to put and end to MS. Support my team.

bike_trainingcrew_bannerHi Friends and Family,
I’m doing a 2-day bike ride (Sept 21-22) to help end multiple sclerosis (MS). I decided to ride with and in support of my son’s godfather who was diagnosed a few years ago. If you are familiar with MS you know that while there are treatments available to try and slow the disease their effectiveness is sporadic and there is no cure .

If you can sponsor me and my team in this ride, your donation will go toward treatment and cutting-edge research to both stop and reverse the damage done to the nervous system by this disease. Ways you can help:

  1. Make a tax-deductible donation to Bike MS.
  2. Investigate if your employer offers a matching program.
  3. Share this link with someone else that might be able to help.

If you can’t help financially now, maybe you’re a cycler and you can offer me some advice before I hit the road for 90 miles. Thanks! 🙂

UPDATE: Thanks to all who supported me in 2013! We raised over $2,800, which with the rest of the riders that weekend, contributed $2 million to research and treatment of MS!

How to miss a childhood

As a father of three, I was deeply moved by this mother’s reflection on a note she got from this day care provider…

I can recall a time when you were out with your children you were really with them. You engaged in a back and forth dialog even if they were pre-verbal. You said, ‘Look at the bus, see the doggie, etc.’ Now I see you on the phone, pushing your kids on the swings while distracted by your devices. You think you are spending time with them but you are not present really. When I see you pick up your kids at day care while you’re on the phone, it breaks my heart. They hear your adult conversations. What do they overhear? What is the message they receive? I am not important; I am not important.

I can remember back when I first got a smartphone and my oldest was just a baby. I thought then about how I didn’t want to be one of those parents that was so immersed in my phone that I was not present with my children. We banned phones while eating as a family and I always kept my phone in the other room at night.

However as the years have passed, I can identify with too many of the situations observed by this mother and think I need to take a renewed approach to being present. One exercise that helped was imagining my little kids as teenagers at a time when I very much want to talk and interact with them… yet they were too distracted by their own devices. I would hate to feel that we didn’t set a good example of how to be human and how to be present.

How I organize my personal finances

Maia Garau recently visited eBay as part of our “principal in residence” program and discussed with us the growing field of service design (which she teaches at RISD). My favorite line she quoted was from the Economist which defined a service as “…anything you can’t drop on your foot.”

It got me to thinking about some great end-to-end “services” that I use to manage my finances and yet what’s still missing.

Bill Management

I hate getting bills in the mail and my wife hates how they clutter up our house. So when we were first married I didn’t want to look at the bills and she’d stuff them away out of site–not a good combo for our FICO score.

logo-paytrustThen I discovered Paytrust which goes far beyond the other bill payment services available in that they actually receive your bills. When you sign up Paytrust, they give you a personal PO Box in Sioux Falls which you use as your mailing address meaning for example my PG&E (power & gas) bill gets mails to them and not my home. They scan, OCR, and post the bill online as a PDF with all the appropriate metadata (amount due, due date, etc). Bill payment is easy either by EFT or by having Paytrust mail a check on your behalf (meaning I can even pay my gardener and dentist).

There are several benefits to having Paytrust handle your bills this way:

  • It’s safer as you don’t have to worry about someone stealing bills out of your mailbox (and you don’t have to worry about organizing and storing them).
  • It’s a great papertrail. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve won with Customer Service agents over the years since I know exactly when I paid each bill and for how much.
  • They mail you a DVD at the end of each year with all your bills PDF’d for your tax records.
  • Whether I’m at work or at home or my wife wants to view the bills–we can do it from anywhere.

You can tell that this service was thought thru E2E from bill receipt, to payment, to auditing later–which sets it apart from the competition. The only drawbacks is that the service costs $12.95/mth (vs. many banks offer pure payment services for free) and Intuit (who bought Paytrust about 5 years ago) hasn’t made any major improvements in a few years–but at least they haven’t messed it up. 🙂

Daily Account Monitoring

As a big Scott Cook fan, I always wanted to love Quicken over the years but just never did. It always felt like work to keep it’s register in sync with all my accounts and payments. It also didn’t help me during the week when I wanted to know just how much money I had at any given moment and what was coming in and going out.

Mint Money ManagementThen a few years ago a board member for Mint visited a class of mine at Berkeley as a guest speaker. I tried the service out the next day and have really been pleased with it ever since. Since it’s a web service, it’s always up-to-date, synced with my accounts and I can access it from anywhere. It alerts you if you have any irregular behavior such as large deposits or withdrawls. It leverages crowd sourcing to learn how to better categorize transactions. However my favorite feature is how it learns over time what you usually spent in a given category and establishes a “budget” for that amount (letting you know if you’re over or under it later).

Finally the Mint iPhone App connects me to this rich set of data on a daily basis in a simple way. Of course it could be improved such as I’d like to be able to dig into changes in my 401K (chart of how it’s trending, which holdings are up/down), be able to re-categorize transactions, and “predict” my cash flow out a couple months based on past data and budgets.

Quarterly Lookbacks

Download Excel Financial StatementI read Rich Dad, Poor Dad around 2001 and quickly understood the value of regularly assessing our income/expenses and balance sheet. Yet nothing at the time met my needs (Quicken, MS Money, etc) so I looked to Excel to do the work for me in the way that I found most intuitive. It puts all of our monthly income and expenses, assets and liabilities onto one sheet of paper. Simple, visual, straightforward. We update it every 3 months and graph our progress over time.

Download Financial Statement Template
[MS Excel XLS – 194KB]

I imagine that perhaps someday, Mint could replace this manual aspect of my E2E experience but just not yet–however it does make filling out the statement way easier.

In summary I have incredible brand loyalty to both Paytrust and Mint due to their well thought out service design (I’m a NPS promoter) and see how powerful a differentiator it can be in what is a crowded field.

What services do you find most useful and why?

Update 9/14: With Intuit acquiring Mint they now own two of the services I mentioned above. I hope they do a better job continuing development of Mint than they have done with Paytrust and would love an integration of the two services. If anyone on those teams would like to chat I’ve got a number of ideas… 🙂

How I triage email using color

Let’s face it, many of us now receive more email that we can read. So if we’re not reading all our email, are we at least reading the most important messages? If you haven’t customized your email client, I doubt it.

Most major email clients (e.g. Outlook) treat all messages the same and sort by time stamp. Unread messages are typically shown in bold. Here’s an example inbox:

Standard Email Inbox

Notice in this example, there are some messages which are more important than others. For example Jill Executive (presumably a big shot at the company) is asking about some super important presentation coming up. And my wife apparently needs me to pickup the baby, also very important :). Yet the emails from David Shah were automatically generated when he created the projects and not critical to read.

Now, I know many of you are thinking… well Preston, why don’t you setup some filters and have some of those messages moved to folders. I’ve experimented with those but I always end up “losing” a message which was not filtered the way I had intended. Also, as with all hierarchical organization schemes, finding the messages later in folders can be challenging. Some of you may also have some other nifty email program which you’ve found to be better—but those of us in Corporate America are stuck with Outlook (at least for the time being).

About a year ago, I stumbled upon a new way to deal with this problem using a little known feature within Outlook which can automatically color messages based upon certain rules you setup. By doing this you can make less important emails appear less noticible and more important emails stand out. Here’s an example:

Triaged Email Inbox

Notice how an inbox of 8 messages at quick glance looks like just 4 messages. Amazing! In this way the likely most important messages will be most visible in your inbox whereas the less important ones you more likely don’t need to respond to will fade into the background.

Here’s how it works from within Outlook 2003. Click on Tools—>Organize from the menu.

Click on “Using Colors” and then on “Automatic Formatting”. Here are the rules I setup (in this order as they’re run sequentially):

  • Condition: Where I am on the CC line
    Font: Grey
  • Condition: Where I am the only person on the TO line
    Font: Blue
  • Condition: Where I am on the TO line with other people
    Font: Green
  • Condition: From: <My Manager’s Name>, <Executives Name> Where I am on the To: line with other people
    Font: Red

Note that this system works best in an environment where people appropriately use the TO and CC lines. You should always put a person on the TO line if they need to respond and the CC line if its simply to inform.

Archiving and Finding Messages

I’ve found the color system to work well with my archiving and search system I’ve setup. I have a daily auto-archive setup on my inbox to archive anything older than 14 days to a file for that quarter. In this way each archive file does not get too big. Then I have all my archive PST files open in Outlook which allows Windows Desktop Search to index all the messages. If you haven’t tried Windows Desktop Search, it’s based on the one in Vista but available to install on Windows XP for free. You can even do complex queries like “date:last week” and “status from:John Doe”.

If you’ve found other interesting ways to organize and triage email, let me know.

Parents: Are your baby bottles safe?

The following is a bit of detour from my normal subjects but as a parent myself I felt it was important to share with folks.About 6 weeks ago a study was released by Environment California Research & Policy Center which identified that Bisphenol A, a developmental, neural, and reproductive toxicant, leaches from clear polycarbonate plastic.That plastic is used commonly in consumer products and by all major brands of clear plastic baby bottles (e.g. Avent, Dr. Brown, EvenFlo, Gerber and Playtex). The EU Food Safety Authority found that babies fed from polycarbonate bottles can consume 13 µg/kg/day which many scientists believe is outside the allowable range.Bisphenol A has been shown to cause diabetes, obiesity and reproductive defects. Most of these effects cannot be measured for 15-30 years and so by the time we know there is a problem it may be too late for many of my child’s generation. What’s scary is that the following behaviors common to raising a baby, increases the leaching of Bisphenol A from the plastic:

  • Heating (e.g. microwaving a bottle)
  • Repeated Washing (e.g. daily washing of bottles)
  • Exposure to Acidic or Basic foods/liquids (e.g. Gerber Baby Food)

My wife and I took steps to investigate this further and then evaluated all products that our baby is exposed to. Below is what we learned. You can decide for yourself if you want to believe this new evidence and take action. We decided to play it safe and switch a number of the products we use with our baby.Steps you can take:

  • Look for plastics labeled #1, #2, or #5 in the recycling triangle. Avoid #3 and #7. (e.g. avoid crystal clear bottles/cups by Avent & Dr. Brown and baby food in #7 plastic)
  • Look for “PVC-free” on the labels of soft plastic toys and teethers.
  • Choose metal feeding utensils and enamel or ceramic plates.
  • Use glass to heat food or liquid in the microwave. You should not heat food in plastic containers or on plastic dishware, or heat liquids in plastic baby bottles.

Safer Products:

What about my Nalgene bottle?You’ll want to avoid polycarbonate (PC) bottles with #7 plastic. Fortunately Nalgene also makes a polyethylene (also known as HDPE) water bottle which is safer. It is a more opaque milky plastic identified by the #2 recycling symbol. Want to learn more?

Postnatal Workout for Mom and Baby

To take a break from design and leadership, I wanted to share something from the father portion of my life. 🙂

My friend Kim Evans recently co-founded a company that produces a postnatal workout DVD for mom and baby. It’s called Fit + Giggles and is the perfect way to get fit and bond with your baby. Great work also to her husband Cary on the website.

I’m so happy for Kim on her new venture, what a great idea!

What I’ve been up to…

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been all summer, my wife and I had our first child this July. I am constantly surprised by all that parenting has brought to our lives and am excited with each day to see how our son changes. As the fall begins I hope to start posting again on my thoughts on design and how it affects business strategy and leadership.
Tummytime Pics

My little one yawning…