The Self-Proclaimed Expert

If stock market experts were so expert, they would be buying stock, not selling advice. – Norman R. Augustine

experts-090109So-called experts are quickly flooding the relatively new social media niche in large numbers, each and every one clambering for attention. While Facebook, Myspace, Virb, Flickr, Twitter, and countless other social sites and apps have been around for years, we are currently experiencing a significant boom in focus, understanding and adoption. There’s a massive influx of new users, people that normally remain on the sidelines waiting for the early adopters to help apps through beta phases and assist in ironing out the kinks.

But, how are those new to the scene supposed to find their way? Who are the leaders?

Perhaps these self-proclaimed experts are under the impression, as Seth Godin suggested in his review of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers last week, that it’s much easier for people to get past The Dip1 and find success in “niche areas, new areas, unexplored areas. You can get through the Dip in an online network…because being seen as the best in that area is easier…”

What are the benchmarks for success? Is it number of blog readers? The size of your Twitter following? Is it your ability to soapbox, wax poetic and pontificate with confusing 2.0 jargon?

Or is it the ability to convince a town to rename itself for one of the largest marketing coups in history that makes you an expert? While Mark Hughes is undoubtedly an expert, he isn’t the benchmark either. He is one of those grand slam success stories.

So then where is the marker for the upper echelon of thought-leaders and exemplary masters? Do we leave that title reserved for people who have figured out how to make a name for themselves, or are we frugal with the moniker, giving it more often to people who are masters in making a name for others?

Does being an expert even matter in this landscape, or are we all just people trying to figure out the best way to connect with each other?

Just whom is that “expert” stamp in the social media arena reserved for?

1 Godin defines The Dip as “a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing.”

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Make your suggestions on who you think should be classified as an expert. Thank you kindly.

To Friend Or to Follow

Facebook Profile BarThe connective branches of the web are spreading out at an ever-increasing rate. Have you noticed how many of your old friends from high school and college are showing up in droves on Facebook? If you’re on Twitter, have you witnessed the literal flood of new registrations each day?

As more and more people jump into the social media space, regardless of their motive and catalyst for doing so (which we’ll address in a minute), you are going to be faced with the questions: should I accept that friend request and/or should I reciprocate following that person that just followed me on Twitter?

On Facebook, I have made very few exceptions to my general rule: I only accept and make friend requests to people that I am really friends with, online or otherwise (after 10+ working in the digital arena, I certainly have friends on Facebook that I’ve never met face-to-face). There are a very few exceptions to that rule – like, under 10 – which I made in either the interest of developing a friendship or widening a networking relationship with someone in or around my field.

With Facebook, there’s a simple reason for the wall. I use Facebook to share my personal information. I share pictures of my wife, my kids, and my closest friends. It’s my private space. Ha, it’s my space.

Twitter on the other hand, is a completely different beast for me. I find myself constantly squabbling with myself over whether or not I should be following everyone that follows me first. And so at the same time, I have to set my expectations on other people following me just because I followed them first.

Listen, I’m all for following people out of kindness and reciprocity. But the more users that fill up my Twitterstream with nonsense, the less I follow the stream. I originally fell in love with Twitter because of the amazing content that was steadily delivered to Tweetdeck.

I felt like I was getting smarter by spending lunch at my desk eating and reading Twitter. Now, as I follow more people, I don’t really feel the same way. I feel like I’m wearing waders and searching for post-rush gold.

So, what I’ve been doing as of late is checking out every single person’s Twitterstream that follows me, if only for 5-10 seconds. I look long enough to read the bio, check a handful of Tweets, and maybe 50% of the time I click on their URL to see what sort of stuff they write about (or design).

Twitter ProfileHere are the things I’m looking for:

  • Humor
  • Links
  • Information relative or useful to me
  • Retweets and @replies
  • Engaging gravatar (lets me know the person has a good idea what they’re doing)
  • People I recognize in their followers list

Here are the things I try to avoid:

  • Rudeness
  • Tweets about the sandwich you just ate
  • Pointless rambling
  • An entire list filled with only “New blog post: How to make your Mac look like D.A.R.Y.L.”
  • Following 1995 people, with only 32 people following back
  • Under 10 posts (unless they are totally brand new, and those 10 pass the criteria in the first list)

I would say that 75% of the people make the cut. I mean, really, the list of things that I’m trying to avoid are pretty basic. I just don’t want to fill up my Twitterstream with useless nonsense, and since I’m not trying to win any popularity contests or prepping for Magpie ad insertions, the size of my following is far less important to me than it’s quality.

I expect that someone has followed me because they enjoy what I’m adding to the larger conversation. If they aren’t and are just baiting me for reciprocation, I don’t mind if they unfollow. I still don’t think I’ve unfollowed someone once because they hadn’t followed me back, and I don’t plan on starting to do so anytime soon.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

What Did You Want To Be When You Growed Up?

Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing with your life? Are you happy with where you’re at? Do you have any regrets about the decisions that you’ve made? Many of us end up down far different career paths than what we envisioned for ourselves. While it’s not necessary that you follow that path your 10 year-old mind set out for you so many years ago, it is important to remember that you can (and should) always try to seek out the same level of joy and satisfaction you anticipated for yourself when you were younger.

All kids have dreams

I can remember as far back as five or six years-old telling people that I wanted to be a dad and a professional baseball player when I grew up. I worked at being a baseball player very hard as a kid along with all of the other sports you play like soccer, basketball and football, but baseball was clearly my love. Once I got to high school, I ditched the other sports and started playing year round.

After a mediocre high school career and my first long bout with tendonitis before my senior season, I went on to play college ball at University of Redlands, and majored in everything in the first two years: International Relations, Accounting, Economics, a minor in Chinese, etc. After a great sophomore season (easily the best in my life), I decided to transfer to a better baseball program and a school where I could study my lifelong love of architecture more seriously.

For some strange reason, I changed my mind and returned to Redlands days before classes started and quit baseball to focus on my education. In hindsight, walking away from baseball is the only regret I have in my life, albeit it a minor regret (I don’t really believe in the word, but perhaps that’s an entirely different article). Either way, this decision started things in motion that have brought me to where I am now.

There is life after the dreams change

During my sophomore season, one of my buddies was a transfer from Montana who was about as bright as they come. He was a writer, and since I’d always fancied myself the same, I kinda jumped in his back pocket and joined the campus weekly as a staff writer.

After baseball, I wrote much more extensively for the paper, and really started to feel strongly about my course of study. I was terribly interested in anthropology, environmental studies, and of course, writing. I rolled them all together and majored in Ecological Anthropology, with a minor in writing.

My senior year kicked off early and halfway around the world on the small islands of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Tanzania, East Africa. I was writing correspondence articles from abroad, and studying marine biology and coastal ecology with the trailblazing group of American students (the first group to live in Zanzibar).

My life began to feel focused. I was sure that a master’s degree, PHD work, and an academic future lie ahead. I could feel everything starting to come together.

Upon my return home, I took over as editor-in-chief of The Bulldog Weekly at Redlands, and began my education in Adobe programs as I helped transition the newspaper to a fully digital pre-press operation.

I had no idea that I was beginning my career in those late night editing and layout sessions.

Graduation brought with it a whole new level of confusion and question all surrounding the main theme: “What’s next?” I didn’t want to go back to school immediately, and I decided that temping at Wells Fargo, part-time shifts at Trader Joe’s, and healthy amounts of drunken frisbee golf would be the best bet.

Life was going smoothly until about December, when my first college loan payment notice arrived. Two nights later I stood up at a coffee shop – after probably 48 hours straight searching for editing positions, layout jobs, staff writer openings – and asked if anyone in the room needed a designer. I realized my incoming cash flow was not going to pay the bills, and was willing to do just about anything to find a job that I wanted to work.

Okay, so I’m a designer

Oddly, someone said “yeah, actually, we are looking for a junior designer right now.” I laughed, and double-checked to make sure that the guy wasn’t pulling my leg. But sure enough, he was serious. I interviewed a few days later, and started the job the following week. I’ve called myself a designer ever since.

I didn’t go to school for design. Even though I nearly transferred after my sophomore year to enter architecture school, and have sketched my entire life, I have no formal design education.

So, as soon as I started my career, I started reading HOW Design Magazine, devoured books by Steven Heller, Milton Glaser, and Paul Rand. I read on Helvetica, about Bauhaus, and fell in love with the institution of design. Without classes on color theory, grid, and typographic basics, I felt naked at times. My designs exposed my weaknesses, and I often cursed my inabilities to translate my ideas and concepts into well-executed design.

While I was able to get along and ultimately succeed without a design education, I’m not suggesting that is the right path for everyone. In fact, it’s an uphill battle for years and years without one. You have to constantly be improving and learning.

My career path since those early days slinging Photoshop for minimum wage (literally) has been filled with ups and downs. I’ve had a blast to be sure, and have learned a ton. I have since had a chance to contribute on a variety of articles about design, and a few years back had a chance to be interviewed by the first designer I ever read back in 1997, Steven Heller. That was the point when I felt like I’d arrived as a designer.

As for the original dreams?

I started playing competitive adult baseball a few years back, and really loved being back on the diamond. There’s something in me that just purrs when I get to compete physically. My soul really had a chance to heal playing baseball for the better part of 6 years, from the spring of 2001 until the fall of 2006.

I’m now married as well, and have two beautiful kids and a third on the way.

While slightly modified, my dreams as a five year-old have been reached. Being a father is the most important thing in my life, and I fill my need for competition and sports by staying active and by writing on Bleacher Report. I didn’t ever get to be a professional baseball player, but had I continued playing I can very safely say that I would not be where I am today. And I could not be happier where I’m at.

I did go back to school, to UCLA for a master’s degree, but that was put on hold when I started working at (mt) back in 1999. Someday, I plan to return, finish my degree and work towards that goal of becoming a professor some day.

Please, share your stories about your first jobs and what got you there. Did you take a critical path to get where you are (that is to say, for example, let’s take a designer: high school art classes to design school, intern with an ad agency, and climb the design ladder)? There’s no right answer. Share your experience and maybe you’ll have someone reply that you’re telling their story. It’s fun to find kinship in common experience.

The One Thing To Work On

“We shall never have more time. We have, and always had, all the time there is. No object is served in waiting until next week or even until tomorrow. Keep going… Concentrate on something useful.” - Arnold Bennett

I was sitting down to write a response to ChrisBrogan’s article, “12 Things to Stop Doing in 2009“, when my answers started to develop a trend. When I whittled each of my 6 things (I decided to stop and write this article instead) down to their core, it looked the same for each: procrastination.

If I look down the last 15-20 years of my life, through the first decade of my career, through college, even through my high school years, procrastination is responsible for probably 90% of my frustrations. At this point in my life, I’ve learned how to work through the habits at work, largely, but at home and in my personal life it’s been a more uphill battle.

I am the king of “in a little bit” or “I don’t know when…later”. Which has to be quite frustrating to my wife, kids, parents, and friends. I know the fine art of self-rationalization too well, and will be working against years and years of habitual repetition breaking the cycles.

I’m realizing that I spend too much useless time on the computer, without a specific goal or focus for my non-work time on the computer. I need to work on staying focused, reading, making comments, writing, and getting out. I think I could make my non-work computer use much more productive.

So this year, instead of putting together some long list about eating better, working out more, and taking more time each day to smell the roses, I’m just going to work on procrastinating less. Because, for me, so many of the things that I would write about will happen more often if I just do the things that need to be done, instead of always putting them off for later.

I’m not going to put it off by reading a GTD book before getting started either, though I somehow think that would really help. I know I’ll put that off though, and keep myself hovering. For me, procrastination is about three different things:

  1. Putting things off until later, the obvious piece of the equation
  2. Getting stuck in thought – I will start to think about a task and/or its pieces and get lost in thought, and totally forget to do what needed to be done in the first place
  3. Thinking that somehow I need to rest in front of the television or computer screen because of how hard I work everyday. It’s true, I am a hard worker, and do run around from morning ’til night, every day. But, getting things off of my plate frees me up mentally and emotionally, thereby reducing my stress level far more significantly than an hour of television. This is something I need to remind myself of constantly.

Maybe over time I’ll have to enlist a GTD program like Backpack (which I already use, but just not in a GTD way or with that level of precision) or Omni Focus. But for now, I’m going to just get started trying to stay in action as much as possible. Starting, right now.

Unfreelancing – Letting Go Of The Attractive Freelance Life

For years and years I worked on my own. Two months shy of six years, to be exact. I gave up all of the freedoms and self-employment perks in exchange for the shackles of servitude and obedience.

But I also left behind the stresses of the EDD, corporate taxes, business development, and operations management. Those management concerns all happened on top of designing and developing interactive applications and websites; usually at nights and on the weekends.

Making the switch definitely had it’s perks.

However, the transition was not easy at first. Soon though, the sense of confinement and control lifted and soon I came to enjoy the freedoms that accompany working for someone else:

  • My family is first priority, and now, when I’m not working, I’m not working. Being in management, I always need to be reachable and I do sometimes work long hours, but that is all up to my discretion. If my son has soccer practice, or my daughter wants me to read books to her all evening…that’s where you’ll find me. Overtime happens, but only if I want it to.
  • My job comes with a description, and while I tend to wear a bunch of hats, I know that I’m not responsible for everything. I don’t own the company, and that is just fine by me.
  • I don’t have to worry about making sure we’ve got enough projects or revenue to pay the employees.
  • They hand me checks twice a month. Look, I may have made more money as a freelancer, but I don’t ever need to experience another 3-month dry spell waiting on delinquent clients. I’ll gladly exchange a little dough for piece of mind. So will my wife, I’m sure.
  • I have 10x less paperwork every day. I really should repeat this one like Bart Simpson on a blackboard.
  • My office isn’t the spare room in my house, and my co-workers are actually a nerf football to the head away. I do not miss the solitude of freelancing, and I doubt I ever will. Collaboration is king.
  • When I need technology, software, fonts, resources, hardware, etc., my employers purchase these things…I don’t have to worry about mapping out purchases, and such. It’s not my job.
  • I can take sick or personal days off, delegate my work to my team, and know that things will be done. While I could take days off whenever I wanted to before…if I wasn’t working, things weren’t getting done.

Look, you can always make a very strong case for the freelancing life. It can be wildly lucrative, can allow you to work on a ton of great projects, travel, collab with a variety of different teams and agencies, and give you the ultimate scheduling flexibility.

But for me, it’s a lifestyle so much more befitting a single guy in his 20’s than a married father of 2 in his 30’s. I was so scared when I took my first job in July 2007, but in the past 18 months have really grown to love this balance I’ve found which was much more difficult to attain (and maintain) when I was running Go Farm or freelancing as 417north.

I’m a strong advocate for returning to the office. I have grown so much more as a designer, and as a creative director for heading up design teams for companies other than my own. I’m now directing an in-house design team (the in-house design life, that’s a whole other post), and that has brought even more lessons and growth.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

Keep Your (Design) Job Right Now

It seems that the world’s economy is on a steady collapse, each day bringing new stories of companies closing shop, and another industry asking Congress for a bailout plan. Our industry is no different than any other. I’m sure that you all have a handful of friends that have lost jobs in the last 3 months.

Well, let’s take a look at a handful of things that we can all do to help protect our design jobs (these tips will nearly all work for non-designers, too, but a few things might need to be translated and interpreted for your own industry/career). There are tough decisions being made in conference rooms and owners’ offices all over the world right now, and your name might be inextricably on one of the cut lists. So, let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that you are on the chopping block, but you are in the gray area. You still have the possibility of affecting whether or not you get pink-slipped.

If you think this article is a bunch of bullshit, I want you to go do some job searches on Krop.com right now (also try Creative Hotlist, Authentic Jobs, and LinkedIn). If you come back with 15+ available positions in your field, location and experience level, maybe you can relax a little bit. If not, I’d get involved here because it could mean the difference between P.F. Chang’s and Cup O’ Noodles for you.

First seven “good employee” things that you can easily do to get your employers leaning towards keeping you (these apply to every single employee on Planet Earth, by the way…not just designers):

  • Devour tasks on your plate. Don’t let things assigned to you linger or sit uncompleted.
  • Show up on-time, or early, in fact. I don’t care what your boss says about being okay with you coming in sometime between 9-10am, when you show up at 8.45am consistently, everyone notices.
  • I don’t know whether I’d say stay late, but don’t be the douchebag packing up at 5.54pm everyday in anticipation of the 6pm bell. (I say this, and I leave work everyday at 4.30pm to go pick up my kids…but let’s just say I work more hours than you, so no shit-talking that point.)
  • Do your homework and come to brainstorm discussions prepared. If you’re the one delivering the ideas your clients are picking (or at least the ones your bosses are presenting each week), they’ll have a hard time justifying your dismissal.
  • Don’t take long lunches for a little while. Try to keep to the hour (or other time) allotted.
  • Try to minimize the amount of appointments you make during the day, when you can. If you can’t, ALWAYS ask for the first appt of the day, or the last, and then compensate on the other end (i.e., 8am appt, arrive @ work at 10.30am, work until 6.45pm instead of leaving at 6pm).
  • When your bosses are cruising the office, minimize your blog, feed readers, Twitter apps, and NSFW content. I know this seems simple, but you’d be amazed how often it happens.
  • Oh yeah, don’t EVER be caught working on a freelance client’s project at your 9-to-5. Nothing will get you scraped quicker.

These seven tips are pretty standard. Getting square with each and every one of them will maybe add 30 minutes to your day, maybe an hour. Isn’t that time worth not having to go brave that job market? I didn’t think so…let’s keep reading.

As a designer, chances are, your team has dwindled a little bit in the last few months. If you’re in a place that hasn’t suffered any firings, well, a big congratulations to you and your firm for surfing the waves when everyone else is battoning down the hatches to weather the hurricane. Yeah, a big congratulations, or…your company is next.

So, down to the more design-specific work habits and characteristics that will keep your neck clear of the hangman’s axe:

  • More than just finishing the tasks on your plate, be a production beast. Beat deadlines, advance work from the left side of your desk to the right as quickly as possible, not forsaking quality.
  • Win the creative battles. When you’re going up against other people in “comping” phases, or if you’re pitching clients or higher-ups, get your designs into development. The more work your company is producing of yours, rather than the designs of your peers, the more essential you become to the company’s current trajectory.
  • Make yourself wide-open to criticism and evaluation. This is not the time to be defensive with your art directors / creative directors / owners. Don’t get me wrong, don’t become a push-over, and don’t change who you are. Just be quicker to get back to task and ditch the arguing. It’ll go a long way. Remember, your bosses are quite stressed out trying to keep the company going, which in turn keeps your lights on, your cellphone paid, and your spouse/significant other happy.
  • Now is the time to head over to Lynda.com and do some learning. Pick up a new program or language. Try to see what skill set your company could benefit from the most, and go figure out how to add that to your toolbelt. All things being equal, if you’re the only designer who knows Flash as well…hmm, it becomes an easier decision.
  • And quite possibly the most obvious, but essential tip…ask your boss / supervisor straight up what you can do to help secure your job. More importantly, if you are given suggestions, make sure that you live up to the expectations you’ve just set. They will now expect to see you perform on what you discussed.

This is an economic earthquake, and there seem to be aftershocks steadily running amuck. Protect yourself from falling debree.

So in addition to protecting your current job, you should probably start to get some things in order just to be safe:

  • Get your resume cleaned up.
  • Beef up on your LinkedIn profile, and if you haven’t done so already, build up your network with all the peeps you’ve worked with and for (co-workers and clients). This is a BIG deal. I love getting LinkedIn links in job application emails. Shows that you have some business sense about you (or in the least, that you are not dead and have actually used the social web in the last 12 months). Solicit recommendations. A good way to get reco’s quickly, is to post up recommendations on the people you want a reco from.
  • Put together your portfolio, whether that’s in a book or not. Oh, yeah, it might be in a book, but it sure as “H” “E” “double hockey sticks” (my son’s way of saying “hell”) better be online as well. Look over at Behance, Carbonmade and Coroflot for starters if you don’t have something up yet.
  • Do some of those job searches I mentioned above, if you haven’t already. If for no other reason, it’s good for you to know what’s out there. If something does happen which you didn’t expect, you’ll be less scared (or more, depending on your results…lol, sorry) about getting a new job.
  • Start thinking about new revenue streams, preferably passive income sources (important note: your company will always be more supportive of your moonlighting if it doesn’t compete with their core services, and also of course, that it doesn’t interfere with your job):
    • selling WordPress themes
    • creating custom fonts
    • making icons / illustrations (ala YouWorkForThem)
  • Talk with your friends out in the workforce. Feel out your network to see if there are jobs waiting for you should you lose yours.
  • Don’t be too proud to file for unemployment if you lose your job, to help keep things going while you look for a new job. Do so by finding your state in this list.

Remember, at all times, you are not alone here. I mean that a couple of ways. First, we are here and most anyone whom you reach out to will grab extended hands and give advice when solicited. Secondly, there is a lot more supply than demand for designers right now…for all employees, in fact. So put your best foot forward, stand out from the crowd.

Make yourself indispensable, however you must.

I am more important than you

Yesterday, an interesting blog post went up on Loic LeMuer’s website requesting an advanced Twitter search and how you should be able to filter search results based on how many followers you have. He simply stated, “Comments about your brand or yourself coming from @techcrunch with 36000 followers are not equal than someone with 100 followers.”

I don’t want to get into the discussion about the filtering and advanced search, because I would clearly like to have some filtering features added to search.twitter.com. (And there’s already been a bunch of discussion around this…in fact, probably far too much. Take a look at what Robert Scoble had to say about the matter…and he also talks a little bit about the issues raised later in this post.)

I still think ranking by number of followers is a little odd, but that’s neither here nor there for me, because there are apparently a lot of people who will find value in that funtionality.

The conversation to be had, in my mind, is the underlying problem: the importance placed on the size of your following.

I’m not sure how each person goes about gaining followers, but I have done my best to purposefully NOT follow a thousand random people in the hopes that I’ll end up with more followers. Sure, I love seeing new followers pop up in my inbox just like the next person, but I suppose it’s even that much more meaningful to me because I’m going about this organically.

I like to think that I tweet about stuff that matters, things that add value to the greater stream, or in the least, may make someone feel good or think deeply on a subject. I hope that that is why I have new followers.

There are plenty of people I follow that don’t have a thousand followers who I feel add 10x the value of someone like Loic, whose tweets (not right or wrong, mind you) tend to be more of the personal status updating nature.

Of course, Twitter is used for a bunch of different purposes, but for me, I tend to search out people that are talking about social media, interactive marketing, design, philosophy, humor, etc. I like posts with links much more than those without, because I am largely on Twitter to learn and participate in the community, hopefully adding some value along the way.

I guess it’s just human nature to enjoy the feeling of celebrity that comes with having 10,000 people watch your every move. It’s something that a great many people are interested in attaining. And for those Twitterers/bloggers out there trying to earn a living from their time on Twitter and other social media channels, I totally understand why they think they need to grow their following by any means necessary.

I think all of us using social media are trying to increase our reach, but I hope that we’re working hard to make sure that we’re not gathering subscribers and followers just for the sake of building up the numbers.

For me, I’d much rather have a closer-knit community of people interested in furthering dialogue, conversation and cooperative learning.

So, if you enjoyed this post, please follow me on Twitter and tell 100 of your friends to do the same. ;) I would however, love to read your comments and thoughts on the matter.

The reporter is dead! Long live the reporter!

Tonight showed, yet again, how our current news system is filled with holes, and dying a very long and drawn out death. It’s not as if I’m the first to suggest this…it’s been coming for years and years and years. But in the past few months, it has become painfully obvious that both traditional broadcast channels and the trusted online news sources are both turtles to the hare of the social web.

At least 20 minutes before the first comment was made on CNN.com regarding Continental 1404 sliding off the runway at DIA, there were sizable reports coming in bite-sized 140-character chunks through the waves on Twitter. BreakingNewsOn was the one to hit first with the news: “BOEING 737 CRASHES IN DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — LOCAL TV (BULLETIN),” just as they were the first to report the terrorist attacks in Mumbai a few weeks back.

As soon as I read the report, same with the first Mumbai chatter, I told the people close to me that might be affected to start watching for news and info, and then I started checking everywhere else for more information. In both cases, I had been given much of the important information before CNN.com had their “Breaking News” banner pop up at the top of their page. I knew the flight number, the flight plan, and the low probability that there were any fatalities.

In fact, before CNN.com reported, I witnessed at least two different groups of Twitter friends devolve into discussions about why Denver International’s Airport code was being listed as DIA in news reports, but written as DEN on Kayak.com.

Sure, they’re (we’re) all nerds that get distracted easily, but what that means is that this group of people had already started to calm down knowing that everything was likely going to be fine before major news channels were readying to give their shock-and-awe “breaking news” productions. We are witnessing the changing of the guard.

Even now, after the situation has come to a close and fallen off the radar of significance for most people (no one died, so people don’t have to stay glued to the news…sad, but true), there are still very few reports of what happened…except for Mike Wilson, who was actually on the plane that crashed! He hasn’t been interviewed, hasn’t been debriefed, but keeps on tweeting things like “You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can’t even get a vodka-tonic. Boo.” This is just hilarious, and a little sad.

I guess changing directions for these guys is like cornering a semi, in the snow.

This is a fairly small-scale example of the failure and collapse of the old guard of journalism. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai at the end of November showed how a small team of citizen journalists lead by Dutch journalist Michael van Poppel (good interview here, article here and details here), can change the way people are informed  of (literally) breaking news. Michael’s team at BNOnews.com were so many steps ahead of the “frontline” reporters, triangulating details, it felt like the rest of us had about a 20 minute headstart on everyone else. Amazing.

As our friends on Facebook were starting to pass messages around that something was happening in Mumbai, we were able to tell them how many attacks, at which specific locations, and rough fatality numbers that were much more accurate than what was being reported by other online news retailers (I’m not using that word lightly, either).

It’s time for news to decentralize. Actually, that has already happened…it’s time for the old guard to abandon their post and start to expand their sources, lest they be left in the dust. What other choice is there? My CNN Twitter update didn’t come until 3 hours and 28 minutes after I first heard the news from BNO. But this, again, shouldn’t really be shocking news. CNN bowed to the speed of the social web in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

What’re your thoughts? I’m terribly interested to see other opinions. Are teams like BNOnews going to take over the breaking news space? Are sites like AssociatedContent.com and NowPublic.com going to start to serve as our trusted news sources? Is BleacherReport.com the new CNNsi.com?

Chime in, let me know what you think.

How To Get The Most Out Of Twitter

For those of you who aren’t Twitter users (also commonly referred to as “twitterers”), this article is meant as an introduction. For those of you who are just getting your feet wet, hopefully this will serve as a guide reviewing some of the popular Twitter tools and applications.

First things first
If you have no idea what Twitter really is, instead of explaining it, I’m just going to suggest that you go and watch a brief little movie which does a better job explaining Twitter than any other site I’ve seen online: go watch videos at Common Craft.

Get yourself signed up with Twitter
When signing up, I strongly recommend choosing a name that is either widely recognized as an alias of yours, or some arrangement of your name. For me, while 417north would probably be recognized by a certain group of design industry folks, my name Greg Huntoon has far more recognition at this point in my career. To keep it short, I played around with the idea of using “ghuntoon” as my handle, but my name is pretty distinct, and so I made the decision to use my full name “greghuntoon” as my username/profile name on every single service where it’s available.

Don’t underestimate the power of this recognition. You will be easier to find by your friends and colleagues, and also by search engines. I would say that 75% of the people that I follow on Twitter agree with this based on their Twitter handles.

Figure out your voice
Find out what it is that you really want to say. When you’re new to micro-blogging, figuring out what to say might be a little difficult, because you’ll be tempted to just tweet about every little thing. For me, Twitter is largely a business tool. I have Facebook to stay connected with my friends, and Twitter allows me to follow the conversation leaders on a wide variety of topics that are of interest to me. And in turn, I try to make sure that my tweets (the name given to Twitter’s 140-character posts) are relevant, and hopefully not boring to my followers.

Don’t use multiple posts to get your point across. Part of becoming a good twitterer is learning how to condense your thoughts into the 140-character limit. After a while, you’ll totally see the utility in keeping things short and sweet. It’s really amazing how much can be communicated, and culled, from 140 characters.

Find people to follow
Search for topics that you’d like to find “experts” in, and then check out the profiles of the authors that are returned in the search results. That’s one way, for sure. There’s also the TwitterPacks Wiki, which will give you some lists of people to follow based on a bunch of different filters / categories. I can nearly guarantee that you will walk away from the Wiki with at least 30-40 new people to follow (and depending on their reciprocity, you will probably end up with a bunch of new people following you).

Once you have a handful (20-30) followers and people that you are following, I strong urge you to follow Mr. Tweet “Your Personal Networking Assistant”, by visiting the site and clicking on the “Follow Mr. Tweet” gray button on the front page of the site. That is all you need to do, and within about a 1/2 a day later, you’ll get a reciprocal follow from @MrTweet with an accompanying link to their report which will show you two things:

  1. Which of your followers you should be following in return.
  2. Who the influential people are that you should be following (and it is different for each person, depending on your interests, what you post about, and the types of people that you already follow).

Which programs and tools you might use
I always have my main Twitter stream open using Tweetdeck. This allows me to split my stream into the main tweets from me and the people that I follow, all of my @replies, and my direct messages. Additionally, Tweetdeck has the ability to add multiple columns so that I can filter off specific people, searches, or fine-tuned groups of people to follow. This is the ultimate tool if you are managing one account, or have one account that gets 75% of your attention or greater.

TweetdeckSince I have multiple Twitter accounts I use, I also use Twhirl to manage all of those other accounts. Twhirl isn’t quite as great for showing me everything all at once, but it does a great job of managing tons of accounts all at once, including your friendfeed, seesmic, and identi.ca accounts if you so choose.

Tweetdeck and Twhirl are definitely the two applications that I use to post tweets with the most, but I take advantage of quite a few other services that really make it easy for me to Tweet wherever and whenever I want:

  • Twitter Tools – a WordPress plug-in that auto-posts your blogs tweets as part of the publishing process
  • Twitterfeed – the best, and most painless way to auto-tweet your blog entries (any RSS or Atom based feed), which I use for all of my non-Wordpress posts and entries
  • TwitThis – a bookmarklet that uses javascript to prepopulate a Tweet with relevant data like the title and the url of the page you are currently viewing in your browser
  • Twitterific – although not often, sometimes at home it’s just far easier to rattle off thoughts and links via the iPod Touch (in my case). This, however, is definitely the best iPod/iPhone Twitter app on the market.
  • Tweetburner – a great service if you’re really wanting to track your tweets
  • Twitter.com/home – although rare, sometimes I’ll exceed my limit on Twitter (long story, more on that here) and returning to your web home, tweeting by IM or by txt are your only options

Etiquette: some do’s and don’ts
Most importantly, unless you’re a chef, don’t tell me what you’re having for lunch today. The only other exception to that rule is if you’re giving links, reviews and/or dining tips that are useful. I guarantee you that the quickest way to getting yourself unfollowed is incessant tweeting about mundane eating habits, such as “Really enjoying this apple. It’s the best after a Subway sandwich.” I cringe at posts like that, while, conversely, a food-related post like this would be much more engaging: “Just finished off a caprese panini from @atlanticgrille on South E St” (fictional post…don’t go searching for Atlantic Grille on South E).

On the other hand, a very important Twitter practice is getting involved in the conversation(s) by replying to people. Let your voice be heard, and contribute when you have something constructive and new to offer into the stream. When done effectively, you’ll make new friends, followers, and widen your experience on Twitter.

I have made new business connections and friends, and learned a ton since joining Twitter way back when. But it continues to redefine itself, and there are new tools and services jumping into the fray nearly every day.

So, the sooner you sign up and get involved, the better for you…

Show your appreciation, kindness, and support to those you work with

Appreciation and kindness should not just be reserved for your personal life. One of my friends always says, “If we can’t figure out how to be the best versions of ourselves at work, when and where are we going to do that?” Because the fact of the matter is, we probably spend more time at work and with our co-workers than we do anywhere else. Depending on your schedule and extracurricular activities, you might spend more time at work than you do at home. So again, why not figure out how to be the great guy (or gal) you are at home while you’re at the office?

It seems a rather simple concept: be kind to those around you, wherever you are. But ask yourself, do you always give thanks and praises to the people on your team for a job well done? It’s an often overlooked piece of the puzzle, and when exercised, a simple congratulations can strengthen the connection inside your team and help build loyalty and dedication. This is not a tactic or ploy – simply tell people they’re doing a great job when they are. Write a LinkedIn recommendation when your clients or vendors have been awesome, because I guarantee that they will appreciate it.

The power of spoken (or written) gratitude is amazing. This does not have to be a concept and action reserved for management level. And, more importantly, it shouldn’t be saved just for people within your company or organization. Surprise recommendations from clients or vendors are the greatest thing. To that end, submit positive reviews at Yelp.com for businesses when you have a great experience. I have a few I need to post actually. And just for today, reserve that negative post that you really want to flame that @ssh(*# with who gave you attitude at the coffee shop. Just let it slide today.

But make sure that you reward your co-workers and clients and/or vendors with praise when they deserve it. You can make someone’s day, with a very short couple of minutes of thought.

Hope you all have a great day today.

What should I write / post, and where should I put it?

I have come to a bit of an impasse with my blog, and all of the other personal properties that I use. The blog that I currently use at GregHuntoon.com isn’t built for the length of posts that I prefer to write, and as such, I don’t write often. The design (ironically) looks unbalanced when you don’t write a 5-pager, and so I have a backlogue of half-finished articles dying in the sea doomed to irrelevancy for being untimely.

Another issue that plagues me is my portfolio. I appreciate it when designers keep their portfolios up-to-date, allowing others to participate in the evolution. But I don’t really want my portfolio and my blog to be the same site. Main reason being, there are a handful of topics that I want to contribute on, but I fear that a project post about my latest launch sandwiched between two lengthy articles about parenting and a trip to Africa will splinter my readership. I am looking for the way to best collect my work and my thoughts, but I’m not quite sure that they all need to be collected in the same place. Many people do take that route, but it usually comes across disjointed, and is they’re trying to shove a round pegs into square holes. I want it to be easy for visitors to participate in the thoughts and ramblings of a thirty-something new dad, who happens to like to cook, discuss sports, and talk about photography and design, without alienating the people who’d just like to click through my portfolio, and vice versa.

I guess what’s funny about this discussion, is that I currently have the two different functions of portfolio and blog separate already, with GregHuntoon.com and 417north.com, my portfolio site. Instead of just doing it, and keeping my mouth shut, I’d like for this post to serve as part of my inventory process. I need to streamline the online sites and apps that I use to write and manage my online content, as I feel too thinly spread out at times. On a daily basis I keep 3-4 Twitter accounts up-to-date, write blog posts for this site occassionally, rarely update my portfolio because of the tedium of doing so, and sporadically post to my Tumblr, Posterous.com blog (which is a new site I suppose I’m just evaluating), or any of the other umpteen micro-blogging and social community sites / services that I hold an account with. I could use my Ping.fm account to simply write once and post to all of the various sites, but that seems disingenuous.

The only thing that I know for sure right now, is that I need a new design for GregHuntoon.com that can be a catch-all for my digital life. Here are the content dilemmas that I really want the next incarnation to address:

  • a new design that is built so that all blog posts will look great, regardless of length or content
  • I need to make it easy to post thoughts, articles, portfolio pieces, photography, videos, and other content, without having to stop and think about what goes where
  • a sidebar widget and dedicated homepage real estate to feature pieces from my portfolio (whether those pieces are pulled in from some other off-site location or not)
  • an elegant and inviting display of my Twitter feed, as this is the most updated and interactive piece of content I have to offer
  • dedicated spaces for my Last.fm feed and Hype Machine feed, which is actually updated more regularly than Twitter since music is always playing (and scrobbling), whether at work, hanging out with the fam, driving, or on my bike
  • my Flickr feed (there are a thousand different great solutions for this…the least of my worries)
  • and possibly to round out the content objective, a page or section devised to pull back all of the various bookmarking, reviews, and other worthwhile participation around the web (on sites like yelp.com, del.icio.us, digg.com, etc.)

As I write and think about this more, I realize that I would like to keep my portfolio on site and archive 417north.com, but it will require me looking for some help in writing a custom plugin for WordPress to help manage the portfolio. I definitely want the posts sequestered away from the main content, because some people don’t like it when their ketchup touches their salad…even if ketchup is one of the main ingredients in Thousand Island. You get the picture.

I’ll keep talking about this as I go through this transformation, and I’d love to hear (and see) how you or someone else has elegantly addressed these same concerns. Jason Santa Maria does it quite well, and I’m definitely paying attention to his deft management.I just don’t have the time to keep up a portfolio on my own with great customization. I just want to post screen shots and project details when I’ve got new stuff to share.

Does anyone out there know of a hosted portfolio tool that allows you to pull your uploaded projects offsite via XML or an ultra-customizable widget? Carbon Made? I know that Behance.net doesn’t allow this yet, as cool as their service is. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Satisfaction vs. recognition

Of course, there’s no reason that these two words need be on opposite sides of the net. They are not opposing forces, and quite often arrive together at the end of a project. And of course, every client would love to walk away from each project with a big fat smile, and a large gold pencil or Webby in their hands.

But here we are, smack dab in a world where not every client is Coca-cola, Addidas, or Nike. The same world where budgets shrink and expectations rise. Where clients push you to move quickly, and often lose focus of the greater picture through the development (or design) process. So, for the sake of conversation and spirited dialogue, I want to know which of these are more important to you.

Would you rather have a satisfied studio and client with less recognition in the industry, or overworked and beleaguered staff, stressed out clients, and an award for your efforts? (Of course, there are other options, but I am Oz in this line of questioning. Deal with it.)

Which is more important to you and why: client satisfaction or project recognition?

Do I have the foreign policy experience to be Vice President?

Does anyone else find it incredibly scary that a woman who could conceivably become our commander-in-chief has only visited 3 countries in her entire life? Well, four, if you include Canada. Five, if you include Russia, because she can see Putin and his planes circling from the kitchen where she cooks dinner every night for the local hockey team.

But here’s a disturbing fact: Sarah Palin had to apply for a passport in 2006, so that she would be able to go visit Alaskan National Guard troops in Germany and Kuwait (and there have been recent assertions that she also visited Iraq on the same trip – recent changes to previous statements that did NOT include Iraq on the trip’s itinerary…odd).

Let me make that clear again. Sarah Palin, Governor of the great state of Russia-bordered Alaska where the KGB is a stone’s throw away, a woman who is one 72-year-old’s heartbeat away from the Oval Office, never left our country until 2006. Shit, I keep forgetting Canada. She had left the country before 2006, when you include Canada.

No one is suggesting that you need to have backpacked Europe, climbed the pyramids in Giza, or looked down from the snows of Kilimanjaro. There are not any travel requirements when applying for this position. Apparently there are very few requirements at all.

But as someone who has traveled outside the American viewpoint, and who has seen the way that other people in this world live, it is saddening to me that such a sheltered person is being considered for such a powerful position. We tout ourselves as leaders, beacons in the world for justice and equality. We cite our ability to fight for the disenchanted and to rally support for those in need. Whether or not those things are true, wee see ourselves as world leaders on so many levels, and yet somehow this candidate has squeezed into this race without an ounce of international experience. You don’t have to work in an AIDS hospice in Lesotho (that’s in South Africa, by the way) to pass these tests Ms. Palin, but I would hope that you’ve at the very least had the opportunity to learn how to say “hello” in a couple of different languages. “Hola” doesn’t count. Neither does “Ey” or “Ai” for the Canadian and Inuit greetings, respectively.

As a global citizen, and the husband of a woman with dual-citizenship, I really hope that we choose someone who has a little bit more of global perspective. The world is a far different place than America, let alone Alaska. This is not an election for the president of Earth, but since we call our president the leader of the free world, isn’t it important for that person to know what lies beyond Anchorage? I know it’s not all Northern Exposure up there, but I think it’s a much simpler life than the metropolitan speed of LA, NY, or DC, and without a bit of foreign experience to balance, I think you are unfit (on yet another level) to run this country.

I have a well-stamped passport and have lived in a 99% Muslim East African country. By your measure, doesn’t that make me like the grand poobah of foreign policy experience?

Surely it does not. But at least I know I’m unfit for that position.

Blog formatting, a redesign, and another job change

I go through times where I post a lot, and then times where I find it difficult to do so. I have like 10-12 blog posts in draft status, and it’s probably because the current design of this site nearly requires the posts to be a minimum length; and that length is not too minimal. I know I’ve needed a redesign for a long time, seeing as this site is just a modified version of someone else’s joint, but I think more important than the redesign, is the rethinking of the blog format that fits me the best.

Over the last year (and really the last couple of months), I’ve fallen back in love with Twitter. It’s an ideal format for someone who is busy from sun-up to sun-down, and while I love to write longer and meatier posts, I just rarely find the time to tackle them. But Twitter leaves very little room for expansion, which is a good thing most of the time, as it keeps thoughts short and to the point. But what if I want to say a little more than 140 characters? Now I need a new blogging platform, and I’ll have to try to wrangle a new audience (as if circling up your twitter followers, Facebook friends, MySpace cohorts, IM pals, and frequent emailers isn’t hard enough). So while I have a Tumblr account (notice my “must haves” back on Nov 5th), like the idea of Posterous, Pownce, and all of these million interactive mediums, it’s all a bit tiring.

The plan is to find a blog format that serves as a bit of a catch-all for the various social tools, bringing it all under one roof, and be designed and structured in a way so that the length of a post won’t really matter. I’d like to create a plugin that suggests I’m talking too much when I go over 200 words, or something to that effect. In any case, changes and a redesign / redeployment are in the works for early ’09.

With that said, I’ve left Real Pie Media, amicably of course, and am now heading up the creative department at a mid-sized startup in Venice, CA, Musicane. My wife and I have also been working very hard on her new clothing line: WeWe Clothing. It’s been great so far, and I’m finding myself pushed on a daily basis, and learning a great deal. I’m learning new programs, new software development methodologies, and have a great budding creative unit. You’ll see more about these guys and gals as time rolls on. But just know, the ones I’m working with now are beasts.

So, here are some of the places I’m playing lately. Come and join me in the fun. Until later:

  • Twitter – micro-blogging at its finest, and using Twhirl to manage multiple accounts
  • Last.fm – my favorite music charting and suggestion site
  • The Hype Machine – the best way to find new, relevant music
  • iLike – drop the iLike Sidebar on your iTunes and watch the magic
  • GetSatisfaction – forward-thinking proactive customer service
  • Backpack – a GTD app, in a sense…but just a bad-ass tool altogether
  • Facebook – I have a love/hate relationship with the facebooks…we’re on right now

Holding corporate feet to the fire

I have decided that I am done with the endless cycle of blind consumerism. We buy, buy, buy, and then buy new again when our products are broken, tired, or defective. How many people actually hold the manufacturers of their products accountable for the shortcomings? How many of you are scared of the customer support nightmare, and instead opt for the painless process of purchasing something new?

Customer support is structured to breed this reactive response: no way I’m going to go stand in line, sit on hold with some support agent in India, or go through the rigmarole of 14 automated email responses which, in the end, still might not amount to anything. If you get the responses I’ve received, you’ll be directed to the fine print in your contract or told that there’s nothing that [fill in the blank company] can do for you.

If we are so dedicated to buying companies products and services, shouldn’t they be dedicated to us? As a marketing professional (all you art directors and creative executives are exactly that, my friends) we know that the best marketing you can do is to provide solid products and services, and replace or refund when your product is defective or your service was ineffective.

Case in point #1: I purchased the Motorola Q, for use on the Sprint Network, back in February ’07. There is really only one problem I have with the phone (though there is a pretty long list of OS problems, which have been detailed in previous posts); but what the list lacks in length, it makes up for in weight. First off, my phone can’t hold a charge for even half of a day. I have purchased multiple batteries (including the extended battery) and had them replaced, to boot. There is nothing as frustrating as charging the phone all night, and then having it turn off at 5pm as I’m driving to pick up my son from school. I am shocked that they even offered this phone knowing that it had such a glaring defect. Honestly, if this phone is meant to be the stylish, business solution for those seeking the newest and greatest PDA, how could they overlook the fact that you have to travel everywhere with your charger? It is baffling to me.

And Sprint’s response thus far has been that it isn’t their problem. It’s my problem, because I trusted them and the products that they sell through their store. They aren’t forcing me to buy anything, so the responsibility of my satisfaction is on my shoulders.

I have decided that enough is enough, and am going to escalate this matter with both Sprint and Motorola until I get a satisfactory response and resolution. I was sold a defective product, and there should be reparations. I will keep you posted.

There are companies out there that understand this sort of proactive customer retention. Both Patagonia and REI, two companies I love and admire, will allow you to return nearly anything you’ve purchased at either store for the entire life of your product. I’ve returned things after 6 months, 9 months, and once a little over a year later because of product defect. Some companies would argue that I had already used the product to a point beyond return, but when you’re talking about products that you’re expecting to use for 10 years, 18 months of use falls far short of that point for me (and apparently for REI and Patagonia as well).

Case in point #2: I was headed to SXSW earlier this month only to receive a frantic call from my wife that she had been in a bad car accident. I ran up to the ticket counter to switch my flight, ask for my baggage to be returned to LAX, and to leave a note for the guy I was traveling with. Ten days later, an American airline (hint, hint) had given me every possible runaround possible, and still no bag. They were rude to me on the phone multiple times, told me that I should call this number and that, and really offered me no comfort or idea that they might be able to find my bag.

Conversely, one of my co-workers was quick to tell me a story in the midst of this mess of his “damaged bag” experience with JetBlue a couple of months ago. His stroller was very slightly damaged, and one of his bags had a couple of significant scuffs on the bag. After raising the issue at the JetBlue baggage counter in the airport, they immediately responded by handing him checks to replace his luggage and stroller. JetBlue will always get his return business because he feels that his belongings are safe with them. I wish I could say the same for this other airline.

I am a consumer. Given my career and predisposition to the consumption of media – books, magazines, music, film – I think that I’ll always buy a certain amount of those items. I’ve always been a gearhead as well, and love buying new bags, gadgets and doodads. Whether it’s a new heart-rate monitor for running or a carbon filter for camping, I like things in which I will find great use. At times, I am an impulse buyer, though becoming a dad, marriage and saving for a house and/or rainy days certainly have made me much more close-pocketed.

Now, I refuse to be the guy who gives up just because it might be a bit of a hassle to get purchase justice. I know I’ve said it before, “my time is worth more than the 1/2 hour I’m going to spend on the phone trying to get this sorted out.” But is that really true? Is my free time intrinsically worth a dollar amount? More and more, I’m starting to realize that my free time is not to be quantified monetarily. Products should not be purchased and discarded at the first sign of failure or defect.

It’s time to start holding some feet to the fire. I have a starting place, but I’m going to sit down and go through my entire life and all of my possessions to see where I’ve just learned to deal with the problems I have, and start addressing them. I am going to perfect the complaint letter (which I’ll make available here soon, after a few more iterations), pull out the trusty #10 envelopes, and start sending away.

Please send me your stories. I’d really like to see the experiences that you’ve all had, both those that were successfully handled and those without resolution.

How hard is it to make a great phone?

Forgive me, because my cynicism and knowledge are not up to speed when it comes to the mobile phone world. But honestly, my bitterness is growing and catching up quickly. I currently own and rock the Motorola Q, which sadly is often in need of recharge by midday. There are so many things that I love about it, but I just can’t deal with the horrible battery life.

Family members scream about the Blackberry 8800 series because it runs CDMA and GPRS/GSM networks, but somehow is without a camera. The Blackberry Curve is quite nice, but I’ll have to switch networks to use it. There are a ton of great Sony/Ericsson phones, but I’ll have to switch continents (and/or networks, to boot) to use them.

It’s simple. I want a phone, preferably that can run on Sprint (CDMA protocol), because a ton of family and friends are on Sprint, that has the following:

  • nice 2.0+ mgpx camera w/ video
  • full QWERTY keyboard
  • great battery life (at the bare minimum, I need to be able to take the phone off charge before leaving to work and not need to charge until I get home)
  • push email technology (Blackberry or MS Exchange)
  • instant messaging
  • threaded text messaging
  • a nice web browser (I love the Windows Mobile browser, and Safari on the iPhone is fantastic)
  • ability to cut and paste (might seem rudimentary, but talk with the geniuses that released the Motorola Q, and iPhone from what I hear, without this base technology)
  • edit word and excel docs and spreadsheets
  • audio player
  • expansion memory slots

If anyone knows of a phone hiding from me, please pass it along. I’m at a loss for what to do. The iPhone is close, but so many people are saying that it’s just not worth the hype. I’m sure it’s a fantastic experience, but I’m just wondering why it’s not more customizable; just seems kinda strange to me. I may have to make the switch over to another network, but I just can’t envision paying the damn early cancellation fee. The mobile phone industry really is a racket…

As technology allows greater convergence, some level of mobile standardization will be required, but I still think that we’re a ways off. There should be a base level of competence for phones that just isn’t anywhere close to reality at this point in time. It’s a sad state of affairs for so many of us that rely so heavily on our phones for productivity and performance. I would really like to be able to have a phone that also has the ability to: send & receive emails and instant/text messages, be my music player, take digital camera for snaps (not serious photos), and also have enough storage or expandable space to transfer files to/from work/home. Again, I don’t think I’m shooting for the moon, but suggesting that these “great” technology providers actually deliver something worthy of our monies.

Because think about it, for the prices we’re paying year in and year out, we should be happy with what we have. I know few people happy with their current situation. Most of us switch phones before our 2-year discounts are available, and they just keep us running in circles.

All I’m saying is, what if a company actually delivered something that made us completely happy? It’s a great feeling to think someone might actually do that…

Three months of Real Pie

In a sense, this is a follow-up to a previous post regarding all of the changes in my life. It’s been about four months since I wrote that article, and all of the apprehension I had concerning my big career decision have fallen away and been replaced with excitement and anticipation, and the horizon is filled with opportunity.

So, the first three months at the new job are coming to a close. After some 70 odd months on my own, the first three for someone else have been unexpectedly great. I’ve traded in an hour long commute (each way) for a bike ride that won’t even allow me to finish two songs of my most played album right now, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I’ve traded in the long hours and sleepless nights working, for long hours and sleepless nights with my new baby. And, I’ve traded a lonely office with one, sometimes two, at our largest, 4 other employees in-house, for an eclectic band of merry gentle[people] numbering 10. I loved Go Farm, and all of the time, learning experiences and projects (well, most), but that chapter closed at the right time, it appears.

Generally speaking, things are grand. There’s lots of stuff on the horizon. Tons of great projects are starting up shortly, and we’re about to break ground on the new company site in the next few weeks. I’m really feeling challenged in my new position, and look forward to strapping up the shoes and rolling up the right pant leg each morning to crank off to work.

There is a continuing trend in my life: I love going to work. I’m not one of those people that is counting down the minutes to 5 or 6pm. Actually it’s quite the opposite. There are not enough hours in the day to finish what I want to do. This is a direct result of being in a career that I’m passionate about, and continually challenging myself to get better at what I do. Also, I try to expand the list of what it is that I do, which means my skill set grows and grows and grows. Learn a new program, study a language, take personal inventory of your strengths and weaknesses; you’ll be happier for it, I promise.

And as excited as I am for work, that feeling pales in comparison to the excitement overflowing as I leave the office each day at lunch to hang out with my wife and new precious daughter Zurhi. There’s very little in the world that can top the smile and giggle of your little ones, and this part of my day is so key. Ugghh, just thinking about those moments makes me miss holding her.

I have a handful at work, and two handfuls at home right now. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world…

Here’s to hoping your lives are all just as blessed!

For all you USC haters out there

I’ve got a bunch of words for all of the sports writers, flip-floppers, and folks that have jumped off the bandwagon and completely abandoned the Trojans this season. But I’ll start with a very couth and sophisticated two: blow me. I’m really tired of hearing, “What’s up with your team?”, or “How does it feel that the USC dynasty is over?” Look folks, it’s really hard to win week in and week out when your the starting lineup you began the season with looks like Swiss cheese, but even still, the dominance USC has enjoyed over the last 5 years is hardly over. Here’s a note from USC’s weekly release:

Already this season, 10 starters or projected starters have missed games with injuries: S-CB Josh Pinkard (5 games – done for the year), C Matt Spanos (3 games), TB C.J. Gable (2 games – done for the year), LB Brian Cushing (2 games) Pre-season All-American, CB Shareece Wright (1 game), OG Chilo Rachal (1 game), C Kristofer O’Dowd (1 game), CB Cary Harris (1 game), WR Patrick Turner (1 game), TB Stafon Johnson (2 games), and TB Chauncey Washington (1 game). Pinkard and Gable have season-ending injuries. And the last two weeks we added a few more: QB John David Booty (1 game), MLB Rey Maualuga (3 quarters Saturday with concussion) Pre-season All-American, OT Sam Baker (3 quarters Saturday with high hamstring) 2 time first team All-American, and RG Zack Heberer (?).

Out of this entire list, I really hope that everyone returns and is healthy. But I do hope that John David Booty stays on the sideline. I rooted for Sanchez to take the spot Leinart vacated, and last year called for Booty’s job multiple times, especially after his losses at Oregon State and UCLA. Make no mistake, the team certainly has been beatable and continues to show weaknesses, but Booty’s inability to show up in clutch situations means he’s not the one to lead this team.

So, for all you yahoos out there trying to say that USC’s dynasty is over, I say, it’s going to be fun watching you eat your words in the coming years. USC isn’t going anywhere. Their depth is ridiculous, especially at the talent positions. They need to get their O-line and linebacking corps healthy soon, and if they can, they’ll be back in the hunt. When this team is healthy, they are dangerous.

It’s a crazy year so far for sure; from Appalachian State over Michigan in the big house, to upset Saturday which saw 5 top ten teams topple, SC getting shocked last weekend in the Coliseum by unranked and unnoticed Stanford, to this weekend watching numbers 1 and 2 LSU and Cal, respectively, fall to teams they should have beat handily. No one is safe…save for maybe South Florida that has already beaten its truly tough opponents.

Who knows what the rest of the year has in store. Tough games on the road in top 10 ranked Cal and Oregon, and top 15 ranked ASU, and rarely is a game between USC and Notre Dame ever easy in South Bend, regardless of how the two teams have fared all season. Sanchez will grow up exponentially as he tucks experience and snaps under his belt, and hopefully this weekend will be more of a coming out party for the young future Trojan QB.

Oh yeah, one last note: if you are one of the folks that jumped on the bandwagon and have since jumped back off, please, just stay off. Go start espousing UCLA as the new LA team to beat or spend your time telling us that the SEC is the tougher league. USC is far from done with this streak of dominance, and I think they’re going to right the ship with a couple of tough wins through the latter part of this season. But whether they do or don’t, I stand by them, as I have for the past 25 years as a cognizant fan.

Album Reviews: Wilco and Akon

You could very easily jump over to my profile at Last.fm to find out exactly what I’m listening to, up to the minute. But I think at times those dynamic utilities, at times can be disingenuous to what I’m really feeling. You know, there’s music I throw on when I’m reading a script or writing a proposal, and it’s usually something without lyrics like Yo-Yo Ma, something orchestrated by John Williams or one of the Cirque Du Soliel albums. They’re just so good for inspiring concentration. But they aren’t always the music that I listen to for listening’s sake; they aren’t the artists that spur enjoyment, unless I’m going for the melt-away sleep kinda enjoyment. So, every once in awhile I’m going to drop a few albums here and give you a few words to pump them up.

Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

This is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of all time. I first fell upon Wilco back in 1996, in what my close circle of friends dubbed “The Summer of Love.” They came along with Son Volt and the Jayhawks, and stole time from our then constants of The Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz, Bob Marley, and Dave Matthews Band. While I still listen to all of the latter bands, I really hadn’t listened to Wilco in about a decade until I ran across one of their recent albums at the library (read more about this here).

Wilco is a lot of things. Some credit front-man Jeff Tweedy’s 90’s band Tupelo with being the crystallizing genesis of Alt-Country. Tweedy is a guitar force, who’s lyrical genius and musicianship has been overshadowed by the turbulence and inconsistency in his personal life and supporting cast (only recently has the same Wilco lineup shown up in the studio for back-to-back records). Regardless, if you are a fan of what I like to call mid-country rock and artists ranging from Neil Young to The Black Crowes (the poppy-end of the spectrum), you’ll love Wilco. And Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a great starter album.

This album starts with an easy paced mellow tune, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, which serves its purpose as a lead-off hitter, but honestly I usually skip it in favor of one of my favorite Wilco songs, “Kamera” which comes in the second slot. Like a good baseball lineup, the first song gets you in the door, the second song really picks up the pace, and the 3, 4, and 5 slots are heavy hitters. “Radio Cure”, “War on War” and “Jesus, Etc.” which itself echoes Grateful Dead like nothing I’ve ever heard before, are all absolutely great songs. The rest of the album is solid, but the next great song is “Heavy Metal Drummer.”

There are sounds of Jeff Buckley in here, Radiohead, The Dead, The Shins, Neil Young and the what is becoming an unmistakable Wilco quality to the music. The Black Crowes are oft called “America’s most rock n’ roll Rock N’ Roll band.” I don’t disagree, but Wilco is becoming one of the most original Rock N’ Roll bands around. I can’t recommend this record more.

Akon
Konvicted

My review of Akon’s Konvicted is going to be shorter than the review of Wilco above. I suppose it’s because there’s a bit less substance to it. But I’m not sure that’s a completely fair assessment, as I don’t think that Konvicted (which is a pop album) was written or conceived in an effort to rival the depth or structure of a neo-country / indie rock record written by one of the more accomplished guitarists of this generations. But I still say this album is well worth a purchase. It’s a hip-pop album, with some Highlife-Afro flair; a great recipe for mellow beats and smooth rhythms.

While the whole album is pretty good, there is one absolute gem in here on track 7, “Mama Africa.” It’s not quite the enduring reggae standard of the same name by Peter Tosh, but Akon’s “Mama Africa” is rich with near Soukous style guitar riffs and runs that play a nice backdrop to this love song to Akon’s motherland.

The rest of the album is filled with a mix of: well-known club-bangers, two featuring Snoop and Eminem, songs which beside their nice beats are absolutely raunchy songs with absurd lyrics; the radio hit “Don’t Matter” which is what helped catapult Akon into the limelight in 2006-2007, which is really a very solid song; and a handful of songs where Akon’s Senegalese roots shine strong. Top to bottom, it’s an interesting collection, and I’m really happy that the album is on my figurative shelf. It’s been in pretty regular rotation on my iPod and iTunes for the past 3-4 weeks.

***

I think I like reviewing two completely disparate albums next to each other. Looking at them back-to-back forces a glance from a wider perspective, opening angles to both albums previous undiscovered. I’ll try to have a couple each week. So until then, have a good week.

OpenID and mobile apps? Anyone? Bueller?

I first found out about OpenID through Basecamp as it accepts this relatively new authentication method, as do all of 37signals other properties (Backpack, Highrise, Campfire, etc.). Now, this is a fantastic system if you are working on a variety of computers, across different platforms, and/or if you just don’t want to keep track of every single user/pass combo you have. Of course, one of the greatest benefits of the OpenID method is the security aspect: no longer will you need to deliver a litany of account details just to sign up for a new service or site.

So, for months I flew along in love with this new system. And with Basecamp, Backpack, and Highrise, there’s a handy little 37signals bar (aptly dubbed the “Open Bar“) at the top of each of those respective pages if you’re logged into them all with OpenID.

And then a couple of weeks ago, everything came to a screeching halt. I have been working very hard to find mobile tools for all of the various applications I use on a regular basis, allowing me to work on planes, trains and automobiles, or wherever I might be without my computer. Lots of traveling lately, and also lots of time out of the office handling baby appointments, doctors’ visits, etc. But here’s the dilemma: none of these mobile applications support OpenID. And, if you have OpenID turned on as your authentication method, you no longer have a traditional user/pass combo with the site in question.

So, because I use Backpack Mobile edition, I can’t use OpenID. I hate having to choose, but there’s really no debate. If it’s mobile vs. OpenID, mobile wins every time. Unfortunately. I’m not sure whether it’s out of laziness that developers are neglecting to allow OpenID authentication on their mobile apps, or if there is an inherent hurdle in the mobile framework making it difficult/impossible to use OpenID.

As we move forward in developing our latest application over at Real Pie, I’m sure that we’ll run across this issue; in fact, I’ll make sure we do so that I have a more complete understanding of the system. As more people move away from their computers and onto Kinda SmartPhones and Truly SmartPhones (err, umm, there’s only one: the iPhone), we need to start paying much closer attention to seamless integration.

Here are some OpenID resources for you to make up your own mind: