Category Archives: Technology

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.)

Can Twitter Change the World?

The New Yorker has an interesting piece on the Twitter revolution by Malcolm Gladwell. Basically Gladwell says Twitter is not the glorious social revolution we think it is. He points to the incredible organizing ability of the civil rights movement that happened without social media and says that Twitter could never duplicate that effort.

He’s basically saying Twitter can’t change the world.

He argues that the civil rights movement was powered by strong connections and organized hierarchy, whereas Twitter relies on loose connections and no central authority. The resulting mob mentality results in chaos, not organized action of the type that overcame institutionalized racism.

I think Gladwell has a point.

But we miss the point if we think Twitter can’t make a difference. Twitter and other social media tools are not going to replace the hard work of revolutions. But they do enable different kinds of change.

For a simple example, look at Mark Horvath and the work he’s done with InvisiblePeople.tv. Or Shaun King’s work with TwitChange and aHomeInHaiti.org. Or my own  Bald Birthday Benefit or the recent well we funded in Ethiopia.  These were all projects powered in part by social media tools. While they’re not revolutionary, they are changing the world, one person at a time.

Twitter alone isn’t going to topple great social evils. But it can make a difference. And that’s something.

Sidebar: Reading Gladwell’s detailed stories of the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement makes me want to dive into that history. What a fascinating time.

Life Isn’t Always a New Baseball Stadium

Let’s blog about something that’s not my book, OK? Cool. (Wait, did I just ruin it?)

So there’s this guy I follow on Twitter, Karl Pearson-Cater. I know him as bigboxcar. I don’t know him personally and I don’t remember how or why I started following him. He was probably just one of the interesting local people that folks kept referencing or retweeting and eventually I just went to the source.

Anyway, last week Karl was making dinner with the family and boiling water spilled on his 2-year-old and 5-year-old sons. Major accident. 911 called. Ambulance. Screaming children. Second degree burns. Parent’s worst nightmare. This week the 5-year-old will need a skin graft. How do you explain that to a 5-year-old? Your feet hurt so now we’re going to cut your head to make it better.

Today this post came up and all I could think was “yeah!”:

“We gave my 5-year-old the choice to shave dad’s head to look like how his hair will look after surgery. Thusly, I am bald now.”

One of my favorite comments from Karl’s whole experience:

“If I could trade feet with my 5-year-old for 2 weeks, I would. Someone please research this and invent it.”

Maybe some of those scientists I know could get on that? Thanks.

Karl has reflected on how weird it is to tweet/blog about this mess (he’s usually funny quips and videos) and has apologized for it, but he finds it therapeutic. I think we all find it therapeutic. As someone else responded:

“No need to apologies. It is good people talk about things, and life isn’t always a new baseball stadium.”

Yes! Sometimes Facebook, Twitter and blogs are all funny stories, wonderful news and stadium openings, but life isn’t like that. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes we need to commiserate. We’re not all superheroes. I think the more we can be honest in these online forums the more healthy and beneficial they can be.

Go Geeks: Mark Horvath Wins $50K

So homeless advocate Mark Horvath won the SXSW Pepsi Challenge. I stayed up until midnight on Monday night sending out tweets, bugging people to tweet and watching the parade of #RefreshGary hashtags come in. We went to sleep pretty sure we’d done it, and Tuesday at noon Pepsi confirmed it and announced InvisiblePeople.tv the winner of the $50,000.

I’m so happy for Mark. I’m shocked at what the guy has been able to accomplish with such minimal support. Most of us need a paycheck to do good work, either being employed by a nonprofit or having a real job so we can do volunteer work on the side. But Mark doesn’t have either (OK, he has the case manager job, but it barely covers his rent). He’s got nothing in his fridge and yet he still champions the cause of the homeless. He’s an incredible inspiration.

That’s why I didn’t mind spamming my friends. Heck, I can hardly call it spamming them when I’m telling them why Mark is so deserving of this grant. I don’t like these spammy tell all your friends contests. I don’t like that they pit good ideas against each other. I don’t like that somebody wins and somebody loses. I hope folks learn from that and do something different next time. But it was Mark Horvath and he needed the help. He didn’t ask for it, but this was offered to him I’ll be damned if I was going to standby and watch him miss an easy opportunity for funding.

$50,000 is huge, but it’s also not. It’s not an unreasonable salary for a person of Mark’s position in a nonprofit (that position being everything from CEO to camera guy to janitor). He could give himself an actual salary and restock the fridge and he’d be just fine in my book. But knowing Mark, he’s not going to be sitting back with this money. That’s part of why my little InvisiblePeople.tv book project is so important to me. As huge as this grant is, Mark needs the on-going support.

Anyway, we won. Geeks doing good. Awesome. Thank you Pepsi. Thank you Gary Vaynerchuk. Thank you everybody who tweeted. And thank you, Mark. This was the least we could do.

The video announcement and Mark’s “acceptance speech”:

Other cool folks blogging about the victory:

Geeks Doing Good: Help Mark Horvath Win $50,000

The SXSW Interactive Festival is going on this weekend in Austin, Texas. It’s a bigtime collection of web geeks (and yes, I so wish I could be there). The cool thing about web geeks is that they care about causes. There are a lot of online competitions happening this weekend to raise money for various causes, all in geeky fun.

There are probably others I’ve missed, but I’m most excited about Mark Horvath and the Pepsi Challenge. Here’s how it works: He’s competing against two others to see who can get the most votes by midnight on Monday. Winner gets a $50,000 grant from Pepsi. You vote by tweeting “#RefreshGary” and you can vote every two hours. All the details are on Pepsi’s Facebook page (vote on Twitter, details on Facebook?).

I’ve talked about Mark before. He’s a tireless advocate for the homeless. When he lost his job in the fall of 2008 he was only seven weeks away from being homeless. Again. He spent a year in the 1990s living on the streets of Hollywood. But instead of worrying about being homeless himself, he went out and started InvisiblePeople.tv to tell the story of other homeless people. He’s been doing that since, and the entire time he’s been on the verge of homelessness.

He lives in a cockroach apartment in Los Angeles. I interviewed him for an article a few months back and the contents of his fridge was a bottle of water, milk and a discount veggie tray. He was eating dinner at the homeless shelter, not because he wanted to, but because he had to.

If anybody could use $50,000 from Pepsi, it’s Mark.

Mark started InvisiblePeople.tv with next to nothing. Yet he’s shared the uncensored stories of over 100 homeless people, from Los Angeles to New York, Florida to Seattle, New Orleans to St. Paul. He’s done incredible things with no resources. Imagine what he could do with $50,000.

I get kind of tired of these social network voting things where we spam our friends and the most popular person wins. But I can hardly consider telling my friends about Mark Horvath to be spam. If you get tired of it, you can ignore me. If it makes you mad, stop following me. If I lose a bunch of followers because I tried to help my friend, so be it. If you don’t like it then you can give Mark $50,000 and I’ll be quiet. I just want to help my friend.

So I’m asking you to help Mark out. We only have until midnight tomorrow. So hop on your Twitter account and slap a “#RefreshGary” tag on your tweets every two hours. If you don’t have a Twitter account, set one up just for today. Why not?

Geeks doing good. What’s not to love?

Update: Here’s a story Mark shared from my own backyard. Pearl calls a shelter in St. Paul her home. She wants to know if you’re kind or cold-hearted? This why Mark deserves this grant from Pepsi, so he can continue to share these stories and make us realize the reality of homelessness in our own cities.

Pearl from InvisiblePeople.tv on Vimeo.

One More E-mail Newsletter Plug

OK, one more e-mail newsletter plug. I just set up a fancy new e-mail newsletter (using MailChimp!) and you can subscribe here.

Why should you sign up? Good question.

1) I’m a firm believer that e-mail newsletters should offer something valuable. At the very least e-mail subscribers should get the inside scoop on what’s happening, before you splash it all over the YouTwitFaces of the world. I plan to give my e-mail subscribers the breaking news first. And I’ve got some news ready to break. I wouldn’t be opposed to throwing out a discount or two either.

2) You get a free prize for signing up. Now, I’ll be honest. It’s a free prize that’s publicly available on this site, so it’s not like it’s exclusive or anything. But I imagine a lot of folks have missed it. Here are a few unprompted responses from people who checked out the free prize:

  • “That is just awesome.  Thanks for sharing it.”
  • “This [free prize] is genius. Pure hilarious genius.”
  • “I just have to say…what a prize! Very cool idea. I’d elaborate, but I don’t want to post any spoilers for those who haven’t signed up yet.”

So there you go, a few real live responses from people who enjoyed their free prize for subscribing to the new e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe now.

Why Haiti Matters: Compassion by Connection

As the Haiti earthquake has come and gone I still find myself transfixed by the coverage. Short bursts of 140 characters, video clips, pictures, news articles. As stories come in it’s hard to ignore. And it’s not the bird’s eye view of CNN that’s so engaging, it’s the people I know, the friend of a friend, or the city or village where I know people. I’ve wondered why Haiti is different, different from other tragedies of late. I do think part of it has to do with the spread of social media. But there’s something else.

It hit me last week when I read the story of Aaron Ivey and his adopted son still in Haiti. Aaron blogged about the earthquake:

I remember seeing images of the tsunami that hit southeast Asia in 2004.  They were on the news constantly, and I was saddened by the footage of loss and sorrow.  But, I didn’t know anyone there.  I didn’t have friends, muchless family members that were affected by the tragedy.  Everything changes when your friends and family are directly connected to something so tragic.  I feel the weight of this Haitian burden in an unexplainable way.  For my son, Amos, who slept on a mattress outside last night.  For my friends Licia, Lori & Zach who no doubt began stitching wounds in the early hours of sunlight.  For my friends Troy & Tara and their beautiful kids, who are anxious and worried about food and fuel supplies to run generators.  For all the kids that I’ve held and kissed and played with at Real Hope For Haiti and Heartline.  For my Compassion kid, Wonsli, his grandmother, and all ther kids in his project.  The list goes on…faces I’ve memorized…names I’ve learned.  Real people, because I’ve been there.  Not just images or footage this time.

Continue reading Why Haiti Matters: Compassion by Connection

I Have an E-mail Newsletter?

I’ve been toying with this idea for a while, but I finally got it together and started an e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe here! I plan to send infrequent updates about some of my crazy projects. I promise you won’t get inundated with garbage and I won’t send you forwards from Nigeria. Unless they’re really good.

I have several methods of keeping people updated, from the very frequent (Twitter) to the kind of frequent (blog posts here, you can subscribe via RSS or e-mail). But for infrequent updates, I’ve usually just had to cobble together whatever e-mail addresses I have lying around and send out an update. It’s usually haphazard, it takes me forever, I get lots of failed addresses and its borderline spam (literally: I have to use my Gmail account because my provider won’t let me send a mass e-mail to that many people). So I thought for those rare times when I need to update the folks who don’t follow my updates religiously (so everyone but my wife and mom), I need a better system. Hence, my own e-mail newsletter. Wacky, I know. Plus it’s powered by MailChimp, so it’s got that going for it.

I’m hoping to put a little more creativity into this e-mail so it’s not just another medium to blast updates. I’d like to call it something better than “e-mail newsletter,” but so far setting it up has sapped my time and not left me with much creativity. But we’ll get there.

And what are these crazy projects I’m working on that I need to infrequently spread the word about? Oh, you’ll see. You’ll see. (But only if you subscribe, so you better do that.)

My Blogging Highlights from 2009

I’m a little bit slow with the 2009 recap, but it’s always fun to look back on the year and remember what happened. Here are a few highlights from 2009:

  • Philosophy of Profanity – I shared my philosophy of profanity, something I’ve formulated over the years and finally tried to express in blog form.
  • Nothing is Secret – Although it’s always been true, the Internet makes this painfully obvious. Integrity is the only response that makes sense.
  • You Can Change the World: Help People Find a Job – This has been a tough year and I’ve seen a lot of friends and family lose jobs. It underlines the importance of helping one another.
  • 25 Things About Billy Graham – I launched a blog about Billy Graham this year (and then promptly ignored it). These are the kinds of random, goofy posts I love to write.
  • Surviving the First Week – I sound pretty optimistic about surviving that first week with both kids all by myself. Silly me. I didn’t realize that survival mode would be my life for the foreseeable future.
  • Dependence Day – I’ve never been entirely comfortable with over-the-top displays of patriotism (especially in church), and this post is perhaps my best stab at explaining why.
  • Family Photo Shoot – This spring we ventured out to a farm in Western Wisconsin for a family photo shoot. That’s where the current image at the top of my blog came from.
  • Conference Week: Story & Cultivate – For the first time in five years of working in church marketing I actually attended not one but two church marketing conferences.
  • Homeless Advocate Mark Horvath – We were able to spend some time with the founder of InvisiblePeople.tv when he came through the Twin Cities on his 2009 road trip.
  • Lexi Does Johnny Cash: The Devil’s Right Hand – Best Lexi video of 2009.
  • Now That’s Funny: Christian Chirp – I explored the phenomenon of a Christian alternative to Twitter, with hilarious results.
  • Christians Demand Retailer Lip Service – I bemoaned the Christians who demand retailers pay our faith lip service.
  • The Yo-Yo Anniversary – My company gave away yo-yo’s to celebrate our five-year anniversary.

Two of the biggest highlights this year were traveling to Ethiopia to bring home Milo and celebrating my 30th birthday with clean water. Those two events deserve their own list of highlights.

Continue reading My Blogging Highlights from 2009