Category Archives: Technology

Help Launch West St. Paul Reader

I’ve been blogging about West St. Paul since 2014. I’ve shared a lot of interesting things and met a lot of amazing people.

I like to be informed about my community. When you know what’s going on, you feel like you belong.

Now it’s time to take it to another level.

New West St. Paul Site

I’m launching a West St. Paul blog to help busy people know what’s going on. It will be called the West St. Paul Reader, and it will allow me to do a lot more:

  • Hear from new voices.
  • Tell new stories.
  • Build a community to sustain this effort.

I’ve thought about doing this for a while, but I kept resisting it. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. This personal blog is pretty limiting, and a focused site opens up a lot of doors.

Because I can’t do this by myself.

The Experiment

So I’m starting an experiment to launch this blog and see what works.

I’m launching a Kickstarter project to invite people to help make this idea a reality. There are a ton of fun, West St. Paul-centric rewards at various levels:

People often come up and talk to me about the things I write about West St. Paul. I know there’s a lot of interest out there, so let’s see if we can make writing about West St. Paul a more regular and consistent thing.

My goal is to create a dedicated source of info for what’s happening in West St. Paul. I want people to know what’s happening in their community and feel like they belong.

Thanks

I’ll be talking more about this (of course), as the project moves forward. I’ve got 30 days to hit that initial goal of $1,000, and then there are a bunch of stretch goals I’m excited to reach. This project opens the door to so many fun things—honestly, I’m a little giddy to see how it unfolds.

I hope you’ll consider supporting it.

And thank you. Seriously, thank you. There are so many people who have been gracious and encouraging and excited. People talk about how scary it is to chase a dream—to step out and make it happen. I’m a freelancer, so I know that feeling pretty well. But this dream was a new kind of scary. I couldn’t have done it without support.

I’m incredibly grateful. Thank you.

Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

Dear People on the Internet,

Do what you say you’re going to do.

Especially when you take people’s money and promise to do something.

(Neglected Kickstarter projects, I’m looking at you.)

Because people are watching. We’re asking questions. We’re gauging your reputation.

Now we can be reasonable. We understand when things don’t work out or stuff falls apart. Sometimes a project doesn’t go the way you think it’s going to go. That’s OK. But don’t just disappear. Tell us what happened. Own it. That strengthens your reputation. We’ll give you some slack.

But when you just drop the ball? When you move on and you’re afraid to talk about it because you know you screwed up? That’s a problem. You’re tanking your reputation and the next time you ask for something, we’re going to say no.

Ownership vs. Subscription Economy

I’ve realized lately the entertainment industry is undergoing a pretty radical shift.

Duh.

OK, so this isn’t ground-breaking territory. But I’m seeing the implications in my daily life much more than I have before.

So there are a few ways to get entertainment content, which vary slightly depending on medium:

  • Experience – You go somewhere and you experience your entertainment. This happens primarily with music and movies. You go somewhere and either watch a movie or see a concert. You’re paying for a one-time experience. I suppose this method has pre-dated all technology.
  • Broadcast – The entertainment is free, but you have to watch ads. This is the commercial-supported model of TV and radio. Again, you’re only getting a one-time experience.
  • Ownership – As media has become cheaper and smaller, ownership has become a relatively recent option. You can purchase your entertainment in your preferred medium and enjoy it as long as you like.
  • Subscription – This is the newest model championed by Netflix and Hulu Plus for movies/TV and Spotify for music, among others. You pay a monthly fee and get access to a nearly endless archive of on-demand music, TV and movies.

Continue reading Ownership vs. Subscription Economy

Kid President: Broken But Still Dancing

I’ve been enamored lately with Kid President. Surely you’ve seen or heard about his “Pep Talk” video that’s garnered 12 million views and counting. His whole schtick is encouraging people to be more awesome. And dance.

“It’s like that dude Journey says, ‘Don’t stop believing.’ Unless your dream is stupid. Then you should get a better dream.”

You might as well stop and watch the video now. It’s that awesome:

But the real story behind Kid President is even more awesome. Kid President is 9-year-old Robby Novak of Henderson, Tenn. He has osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes his bones brittle and break easily. The move-busting Kid President has had more than 70 broken bones in his life, 13 surgeries and steel rods inserted in his legs.

“I’m broken right now, but I can still dance,” he says in his “True Story” video.

Robby’s positive attitude has always been infectious and he started creating videos with his older brother-in-law, Bradley Montague, just to goof around. They started just sharing the videos with family. But in July of 2012 they started posting the videos online and tweeting at @IAmKidPresident (the Twitter bio describes it as a “family project”). Three months later the videos were noticed by Rainn Wilson of The Office and became a part of his online venture and YouTube channel Soul Pancake.

Kid President is well loved in our house. Not only have we picked up on one of his best catch phrases (“Not cool Robert Frost!”), but there are some awesome similarities: Robby is adopted and has a sister named Lexi. Every time I get another glimpse of his real life, it’s as good as another Kid President video.

It’s fun to see kids doing this kind of online awesomeness. It’s this kind of thing I was hoping for (but couldn’t possibly imagine something like this) when I was working on the Kids Creating Stuff Online ebook.

Update: This is how the kids spent today’s snow day:

Reading on an iPhone

Reading Fat Vampire on an iPhoneI’ve never been big on digital reading, but I might be converting.

My experience with digital reading usually involves borrowing my wife’s iPad. That’s problematic because it’s hers so she gets dibs. That makes it hard to read a book whenever I have an idle moment (yes, one of the many lessons in my how to read more book). I did read the entire Hunger Games series on her iPad, but in general I don’t like having to share the device.

Then last week I noticed the book Fat Vampire by Johnny B. Truant was free for the Kindle, so I grabbed it. This was potentially problematic because I wasn’t sure how to get the book from my account on my iPhone to my wife’s account on her iPad (I don’t even know if it’s possible or not—I imagine there’s a way, but this just shows you how little I’ve experimented with digital books).

I never considered just reading it on my iPhone, but the prospect of figuring out how to transfer the book and having to share my wife’s device made me give it a try.

So I read Fat Vampire on my iPhone.

iPhone Reading Verdict?
Good book. And I loved the reading experience.

I thought the small screen would be irritating. I thought flipping pages more often would get old. I thought having so many other distractions on my iPhone would pull me away from the book. Nope, nope and nope.

The screen displayed the right amount of text and a comfortable size. Flipping pages more often was no big deal. If anything, having less text visible at a time made it faster to read because I didn’t keep losing my place when there were a lot of distractions. I also found it super convenient to have a book in my pocket. I take my phone everywhere, so I had a book everywhere (another lesson from 137 Books in One Year).

I’m curious how it would go reading a longer book. Fat Vampire was pretty short and that seemed to help. I might yearn for the printed page with a longer book. My only real complaint with digital reading is not having an immediate sense of how much of the book I have to go. There’s a progress bar that shows your percent read, but you don’t always see that. A physical book you can just feel how much you have to go. I like the reality of a printed book, especially that it’s easy to share and it retains value. But the experience itself is just as good, if not better for some things.

So I might be doing more digital reading now.

I guess iPhone reading shouldn’t come as a surprise. According to Jim Kukral, 62% of people said they’d read a book on their iPhone.

Fat Vampire?
OK, I know you’re wondering: Fat Vampire? I first heard about the book when researching how to create Kindle books and came across Truant’s post about taking only 29 days to go from idea to Kindle publication. That’s impressive, but it’s not enough to get me to read your book. What got me to read his book was the idea: If vampires never grow old and always heal, then what if a fat person is turned into a vampire? Will they always be fat? Fat Vampire turns the normal vampire story upside down by exploring this funny angle. The 29 days thing is cool, but the idea sold the book.

Kids Creating Stuff Online

Kids Creating Stuff Online: Inspiring the Innovators of the FutureI’m a big fan of the Internet. I’m also a big fan of kids doing stuff online. That should come as no surprise—I did publish a book with my daughter (The Stephanies!) and helped her turn her drawings into $675 for Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

The Internet enables a lot of cool things and age is not a problem. In fact, kids often come up with the best ideas.

That’s why it’s important that we help our kids understand the Internet and make the most of it. There’s a lot of potential online, both for harm and for good. Frankly, I’m tired of the sad stories of pathetic things people have done online. I don’t want to read another story about students being expelled over something posted on Facebook. I’d much rather hear about the cool things kids are doing online:

  • Like coding and selling their own Justin Bieber whack-a-mole app, Bustin Jieber.
  • Or launching a fashion magazine that would make Oprah jealous.
  • Or creating an artificial intelligence to better diagnose breast cancer (I don’t even understand that one).

Every example above is a project launched by someone under 18. How cool is that?

And they’re all in the free ebook, Kids Creating Stuff Online: Inspiring the Innovators of the Future.

It’s a project I put together for WordPress theme and plugin developer iThemes that explores how kids can create stuff online. Initially we were going to explore kids coding, but as I got into the topic it seemed so much more interesting to explore kids creating all kinds of stuff online. So we talk about coding, design, writing, music, causes and so much more.

The book explores the benefits kids get from creating stuff online, from becoming better thinkers to improving their relational skills.

Then it explores how kids can create stuff online, practical strategies and tips to make things easier.

There’s a section about being safe and smart online, how educators can help kids create stuff online and a slew of resources and tools to help kids. All throughout the book are examples of kids creating cool stuff.

It’s a fun project and I hope you’ll check it out and pass it along to your friends. After all, it’s free. Grab a copy: Kids Creating Stuff Online: Inspiring the Innovators of the Future.

Eat My Own Words: Got an iPhone

Guess it’s time to eat my own words. Didn’t even make it a year.

As much as I loved having a cheapskate cell phone plan, I’ve graduated to an iPhone.

It’s an early birthday present from Abby, and I love it. My favorite part is actually the way it mashes multiple things together and simplifies my life. I’m still not much of a cell phone talker, but I take way too many pictures, I need my calendar and address book, and while I don’t always get lost, having directions and maps handy is a huge plus.

So being able to call for help when the car dies (one of these days it will) is nice, but having my computer in my pocket is what’s worthwhile.

I’m Not Blogging Right

I don’t think I’m blogging right. There’s lots of advice out there about how writers are supposed to blog and the importance of having a web presence and putting yourself out there and all that. And I think I’m doing it wrong.

And I don’t care.

They tell you you’re supposed to blog a lot. I don’t. I only posted once in January.

They tell you you’re supposed to at least blog consistently. I don’t. I posted once in January and now I’m going two days straight.

They tell you you’re supposed to have a personal brand, a niche, a specialty that you’re known for. I don’t. I write about whatever I feel like here, which means I’m all over the map. For goodness sake, I blog about when I turn on the heat every year.

They tell you you’re supposed to polish everything and put your best work forward. I don’t. I spend all day writing polished copy for clients and when it comes to my blog, some days I want to wing it.

They tell you to post at the same time and not post multiple posts at once. OK, I follow that bit of advice. But not because it builds a consistent audience with consistent content. I do it because I hate it when my RSS feed gets clogged with multiple posts from the same site. Too many posts in one day and I feel overwhelmed, like I can’t catch up. So I like to spread my posts out a bit if  I can.

They tell you you’re supposed to keep your site current, up to date and well designed. I don’t. Let’s face it, this site has no design. I haven’t even updated my company site in over a year. It doesn’t even list one of my newest and biggest clients.

(OK, not updating my company site is actually dumb. I’ve been meaning to do something about that, but it needs a complete redesign and I don’t have time [or energy] for that. Though every time I redesign that site I try to make it require less and less maintenance. At this rate I should just make a single page that requires zero updating. Ever. Hmm… tempting.)

They tell you you’re supposed to build a fan base. I don’t. I mean, I have Twitter followers and Facebook friends and RSS subscribers. I even have an email newsletter, but updates are rare. But I’m not trying to marshal this crowd of ‘Go Kevin’ people. I figure if people like my stuff they’ll follow somehow. I don’t need to constantly flood them with a steady barrage of ‘I’m So Awesome’ updates.

Maybe all that is naive. Maybe I’m squandering my potential. But I don’t care. I started my blog way back in 1998 for me. I still do it for me. I’ve learned that I can’t follow all that advice and still do it for me. If I start following all that advice then I’m doing it for someone else, and that doesn’t work. I mean, I love you folks who keep reading this crazy blog, but I think you understand that I’m not here to sing and dance for you.

This is my blog, my journal, my place to scratch out my thoughts, to try stuff, to rant, to yell, to piss and moan, to remember things and to fail. I’m not one of those people who’s all about me, but this place is all for me. And if that flies in the face of conventional social media guru wisdom, oh well.

The Innovation that Made the iPod

The death of Apple founder Steve Jobs today has everyone talking about his many accomplishments, especially in the last decade: the iPod (2001), the iTunes store (2003), the iPhone (2007) the iPad (2010). Each one was an incredible leap forward (iTunes alone ushered in an era of legal digital music).

But what I find so interesting is the innovation Jobs brought to Apple when he returned in 1996 that made all those other accomplishments possible. It started, perhaps, with 1997’s Think Different campaign. It was just an ad campaign (and not developed by Jobs), but the idea soon became a reality as Apple introduced the iMac in 1998. The iMac literally re-thought computers with an emphasis on out-of-the-box ease-of-use (“There is no step three!”) and, of all things, style. Later the same philosophy came to laptops with the iBook in 1999 and delicious color choices like tangerine.

And Apple Computers became cool again.

All of that innovation to their core product brought the company back from the brink and laid the groundwork for what was to come. Without the success of the iMac, there would be no iPod.

Unicorns and wheels, as Jason Kottke describes it. The lesson here is that if you want to create unicorns, you have to learn how to create wheels first.

(If you’re unfamiliar with Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address, “How to Live Before You Die,” you should read or watch it. Good stuff.)

Cell Phone Cheapness: Pay-As-You-Go vs. iPhone

Last year we gave up our monthly minute cell phone plan and went the pay as you go route. We went from 700 minutes per month to about 2,000 minutes per year. And we went from paying roughly $800 a year to about $300.

It helps that we don’t text that often, have a phone at home (VOIP actually) and I just don’t use a cell phone much. The savings seem like a no-brainer.

But now the iPhone is looking more and more tempting. I may not use a cell phone much, but the idea of having the Internet at my fingertips is pretty tempting. I refuse to become one of those obnoxious people who checks Twitter in the middle of a real life conversation, but I still think I could make good use of an iPhone. Even more so now that the Table Project has released their iPhone app.

Yet every time I’m tempted by an iPhone I crunch the numbers and try not to choke. Two-year cost for my current, cheapo, pay-as-you-go plan? About $600. Two-year cost for an iPhone with minimal minutes and middle-of-the-road data? About $3,000. (That’s two phones, by the way. My wife would kill me if I got an iPhone and left her with the cheapo phone.) That’s a $2,400 difference.

Whoa.

Now when I’m tempted I think about what I could do with $2,400.

(The funny thing is I’ll probably find some work-related reason why I need an iPhone and I’ll look back at this post and feel embarrassed. Kind of like when I blogged about returning my Wii in 2008, only to buy one in 2011 and play it nearly every day. Or like when I blogged about how much I hate public speaking, only to agree to more public speaking.)