Bucket-List

Got a Bucket List? Take a quick survey.

Bucket-ListI’m conducting a survey about bucket lists (also known as a life list). This is a private research project and all responses will be kept confidential. The survey is very basic and should only take a few minutes. You can even choose to remain completely anonymous if you’d like.

What is a bucket list? According to Mirriam-Webster, a bucket list is “a list of things that someone has not done before but wants to do before dying.” A little macabre perhaps, which is why I prefer the term “life list.” (The idea of a bucket list was popularized in the 2007 Rob Reiner film, The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.)

Many people have bucket lists, some have them documented, and some have gone so far as to start tackling their bucket list one item at a time. No matter where you are on this spectrum I’d love to hear from you, so if you’re willing to answer a few questions please click here. When you’re done, please share it with friends and family. I’m trying to collect as many responses as possible.

Take the survey here.

America: The Violent?

Why are we so violent?

Is it because of pop culture, mass media? Turn on any major network television station during primetime hours and after the reality TV garbage there’s violence on nearly every channel. Cop shows, hospital shows, ESPs chasing down criminals before they act violently – all primetime fodder for our society. This is not an opinion, this is a fact. Turn on FX and watch American Horror Story, a program I confess to watching but a program that is perhaps the single most violent, gruesome, gory program I’ve ever seen on TV. The Walking Dead, a program where well-armed survivors roam a world dominated by flesh eating zombies, blasting through the zombies with everything from arrows, machetes, shotguns, pistols, revolvers, and what seems like a never ending supply of ammunition. The special effects are amazing: The shotgun slugs blast through weak and tender zombie skeleton like a baseball to a watermelon.

Or wait, is America violent because it’s part of who we are, it’s our history, our heritage? We have a right to bear arms don’t we? Don’t we have the right to take up arms against our government if we, The People, decide that’s what needs to happen? It’s revolution baby! Well-formed militias are our constitutional right. Our entire history is story after story of violence. Be it the explorers who landed on these shores, the colonists who ultimately took up arms and violently rebelled, or the north and the south waging horrific violence there’s a long heritage of firearms and violence in America. Today we use remote control airplanes to bomb anyone who is a threat to our national interests, with extreme precision, or so they tell us, and we turn a mostly blind eye to their collateral damage.

And we love it. We love the violence. We pay to watch it. But forget about television shows and movies, we love stories of World War II atrocities followed up America’s heroics, as we marched, as we drove, as we shot our way through Europe, freeing and liberating the poor people who couldn’t have done it without us. We convince ourselves that America’s heroics are solely responsible for the defeat of the Axis Powers and that Russia and the Eastern Front wasn’t a major factor. America, the heros, the honorable. And we love stories in the news of mobsters who live by their code, of gangsters who remain loyal, who because of omerta must uphold their way of life. We excuse violence if it’s honorable, or so we tell ourselves.

Or are we violent because we’re becoming, as data suggests, a more godless society?

Is it because we’re becoming, as some will inquire, void of family values? (How does one quantify this? Violence is not a direct corollary.)

Have we lost our way so much that the kind of violence we witnessed in Connecticut is, tragically, to be expected? Are we becoming even more desensitized?

Fact: Violent crime is down in America, pretty sharply too.

I was in Paris a couple weeks ago when I heard the news that New York City passed a day without a single report of a person being shot, stabbed or subject to other sorts of violent crime for the first time in recent memory. The irony being that I was an American in France, a very non-violent society.

Kieran Healy, a sociologist at Duke University, made this graph of “deaths due to assault” in the United States and other developed countries. While we are the clear outlier violence has dropped to its lowest point since what looks like roughly 1963.

As Healy writes,

America the ViolentThe most striking features of the data are (1) how much more violent the U.S. is than other OECD countries (except possibly Estonia and Mexico, not shown here), and (2) the degree of change—and recently, decline—there has been in the U.S. time series considered by itself.

Healy tweeted an interesting thought last night,

Assault Death Rates is one of the few topics where many Americans will rush to compare the USA to South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, or El Salvador.

Meanwhile 2nd Amendment advocates are stocking up on guns and ammunition in the wake of the election fearing an Obama administration crackdown. Some worry if they don’t do it now they won’t be able to get the weapons they want, or rather, they need. Their basis for this is almost nonexistent, especially given that the first four years of Obama’s presidency saw him signing legislation that allowed loaded firearms in some national parks and Amtrak trains. With that one exception both parties, both candidates, but especially democrats, have been largely mum on gun rights, barely touching it during the debates and gun control was the most unpopular issue during the campaign. But if gun rights advocates have mostly baselessly feared Obama over the last 4 years, the recent shootings will certainly change that. Not since George W. Bush let the assault weapons ban expire in 2004 has there been any serious public policy discussion on gun control.

Fact: gun stocks are sharply up

Fact: gun ownership is up

Fact: violent crime is down

This issue is already very complicated, and it stokes the passions of everyone. The roots of our society’s violent tendencies, people often argue, span a broad range of issues often starting with mental illness, a lack of social services, to a national identification system, to nuanced legislation on what kinds of guns people can buy, to family values, to a morally vapid America that’s increasing consumed with itself, with social media, with its own narcissism and self-importance, to an increasingly godless culture where fewer and fewer people go to their church, their synagogue, or their mosques. The public dialogue also includes opinions about immigration, about drug policy, about prisons overflowing with non-violent criminals while violent repeat offenders are parolled and allowed to walk the streets, yet pot dealers do twenty years hard time. The discussion includes zero-sum solutions ranging from arming everyone to arming no one.

One day after the senseless tragedy in Newtown Connecticut the conversation is already heating up, and one thing is certain, America is about to have the most intense and prolonged discussion on gun control that she’s ever seen.

;

Enhanced by Zemanta

Point Counterpoint: Entrepreneurship

There are a lot of gainfully employed people out there who are considering the entrepreneurial path. I meet them all the time. Some are nascent entrepreneurs who have the idea but they lack the courage to just do it. They point to many things as reasons, excuses, rationalizations, what have you. Oftentimes these folks are listening to their gut – which is a good thing. They’re afraid of something, and they don’t quite know what it is. Having been on both sides of the equation, I thought I’d present my own version of Point Counterpoint based on some of the things I’ve heard wannabe entrepreneurs say to me. But first, a little history to create some context.

After futzing around in sales for a bit, I jumped into the high tech industry in the mid 1990’s and worked in a wide range of roles for Fortune 500 companies like DEC, GE Capital, Bell Atlantic, among others up until late 1998 when I joined a Cambridge, MA based dot com. That variety of work in the high tech and Internet industries provided me with incredibly valuable exposure, experience, and skills. It also fanned the flames of an entrepreneurial spirit that I think I’ve had all my life. After surviving several rounds of layoffs at the dot-com, my day came on January 4, 2001. The next morning, I woke up and told myself I was done being “an employee” and decided to start my own company, using the skills, experience, passion, gusto, and entrepreneurial energy that was now almost uncontainable. Hindsight being 20/20 of course, I started that company for a mix of the right and wrong reasons. The second company, CitySquares, I started for all the right reasons. I don’t need to walk you through my next 10 years, so I’ll jump ahead.

On January 4, 2011 (10 years to the day), I became “an employee” once again, not at a company of my own founding, but as Litle & Co.‘s new Vice President of Marketing. It’s been six months in this new role; at a successful, profitable, 200 person company, with a 12 person Marketing team, and I can say with both pride and joy that I’m very happy.

Having a solid decade of hard-nosed, scrappy, sometimes bloody, mostly enjoyable, and relatively fruitful entrepreneurial experience has given me an entirely new perspective and approach to being “an employee.” The kind of professional maturity, growth, and development that being an entrepreneur provides simply can’t be gained with any schooling or, I believe, traditional employment.

Point 1: I just can’t work my ass off, put in long days, week after week, month after month, year after year, all while putting up with someone else’s bullshit, stupidity, and politics with no real upside and payout at the end. So, being an entrepreneur puts me closer to the end-game, puts me in the drivers seat, and because I’m in charge, my success or failure is almost entirely up to me.

Counterpoint: That sounds really nice, and I said the same thing 10 years ago. The reality is that while, yes, you do end up in the drivers seat, you are in charge, your success or failure is almost entirely up to you, you still need others to get there. Unless your Tim Ferris, you’re going to need some partners (of some form), some staff, legal and financial services, and if you have half a brain you’ll leverage an advisory board. You might even need capital, and hence you’ll end up with interested shareholders, perhaps a board of directors. So yeah, now you’re the one creating the bullshit, the stupidity, and politicking. While you’re the one in charge of your success or failure, you’re also the one in charge of everyone else’s success or failure too. How’s that for pressure? How’s that for long days, weeks, months, years? The likelihood of “success” is no greater or lesser because you are in charge, if anything you just created more obstacles for yourself. It really boils down to one thing: how you define your success. Success means different things to different people, I’ve opined on this quite a bit here on this blog. So think about what you really expect out of this move you want to make, and sit on it for a while.

Point 2: I’ve got a killer product and I don’t want my employer to have a piece of it – it’s my idea, so I’m going to start my own company.

Counterpoint: Really? The only way is by yourself? I’m glad Christopher Columbus didn’t say that, or Neil Armstrong. Even Leonardo DaVinci had help from the Catholic Church. So OK, you’re the genius with the killer product, but you need to do product stuff right? Cool, and congrats on that title by the way, it’ll come in handy when the going gets tough, or when real business matters need attention – cuz you’re pretty much off the hook. Oftentimes you hear the “product entrepreneur” say, “I just need a partner, someone who can help me raise the money, move some product (aka ‘sell’ the product) while I build it.” There is nothing more annoying to me. If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to do that stuff too, jerk! So, because you’re the nerd with the new gadget you get to scurry off into a corner somewhere while everyone else protects you from the bad people who want to make money off it? How dare they! Maybe you should go start a non-profit then, or build it and give it to a third world country – all so you can sleep better at night and keep your moral high-ground. Face facts Wozniak, you need to get some skin in the game too. Being an entrepreneur is about making business decisions, not product decisions. You don’t get to bake your cake and eat it too, while others sell the cakes, clean the bakery, and stock the shelves. You need to develop some real business skills, skills that will pay off for you in the end. If you don’t develop those business skills, everyone else will figure out a way to take your toy from you while you’re picking your nose. Trust me on this, those bad people who want to take your toy and get rich, they got skills – they’re trickier than you are. You might be a genius, but they’re snakes. Smarten up, and think twice before you hit the streets with your fancy new toy. In fact, given all this, if you really don’t have the chops, really don’t have what it takes, maybe you wanna reconsider talking to your employer about it – but talk to a lawyer first (you know, the bad people who do law stuff).

Point 3: I have big dreams, man. I wanna live this life, I wanna go places and see things, but I wanna do it in style – like on my own yacht, with my friends. You know, I wanna be a pimp!

Counterpoint 3: Playa please! I can’t even respond to you without wanting to punch your mouth. Ya know what – you’re right. Go out there, baller, get that money. I’ll be right here when that album you were gonna drop falls through the cracks, or when your steroids website costs more to build than it ever generates in cashflow, or that “super connected” club promoter ends up being shady and stops returning your calls. Yes, lightning does strike and some people in this world (out of 6 billion) do get rich quick. But if you get struck by lightning, it ain’t gonna make you rich, it might make you a bit brighter though… we can only hope.

Point 4: I just can’t work for someone else. I need to work at my own pace, in my way, with my style.

Counterpoint 4: You must be a millenial. I bet you went to a Charter school too. Hey, I mean that with respect – you are indeed one of god’s special creatures. This world is going to be a much better place once those baby boomers and gen-x’rs are outta the way. I honestly don’t know what to tell you, Moonbeam. I think you have some really really hard lessons ahead of you, and you’re going to find out that mommy and daddy learned the hard way too. They tried to protect you, they really did, but they were kidding themselves and actually doing you quite the disservice. Where’s Tiger Mom? Can you spend a couple days with her? I think she’s onto something. No one appreciates the beauty with which you see the world, and no one quite understands that the world can be a better place if they’d only _____. I think you should lead the way. The fact of the matter here is that no matter what I tell you, no matter what anyone tells you, you are a special creature that needs to experience real pain and suffering before you will listen to anyone. Sorry, that was advice.

Point 5: Life is short, I don’t want to spend it working in a cubicle, or on a construction site.

Counterpoint 5: See above. Also, what’s wrong with work? You know, that’s just a part of life right? You realize that Julius Caesar worked hard, right? You realize that Bill Gates still works his ass off right? You know those special ops guys who killed Bin Laden, Team 6? Yeah, those guys work their effing asses off. Are you better than them? If you don’t want to work, drop out of society and backpack around the world. Or better yet, find something you’re truly passionate about, and find a way to make a living doing it. It’s simple. Now stop whining and get back to work.

I’ll stop there. I hope I’ve made my point. Entrepreneurship is really effing hard, and when people go into business for themselves (be it their own bakery, their own manufacturing company, their own high tech company, ad agency, whatever) – it’s work, it’s hard work. Entrepreneurship is no yellow brick road, Dorothy. It can be, yes, it has the potential to yield wonderful results. You really need to consider the reasons for becoming an entrepreneur. That’s what needs assessment, not how you’ll do it, but why you’re doing it.

Am I better off now than I was when I started? Oh hell yeah. Did I fulfill the dream I had when I started? Oh hell no. But that dream changed with time. I started down the entrepreneurial path when I was 25. I’m 35 now – I’m a different person, with different values, different perspectives, different dreams and goals.

After 10 years of entrepreneurship, personally speaking, I’m a much happier and healthier person, no doubt, and I’m a better member of society. Professionally speaking, I feel like I’m just getting started.

Enhanced by Zemanta
wall-e-axiom-passengers

This American Pendulum

The older I get the more I find myself interested in politics and economics. However, among my peers I’m one of the only ones. I wouldn’t consider myself passionate about politics and economics, just aware and well informed. I try to get all sides of the stories I’m interested in, from niche blogs, political comedians, pundits, national news sources, and the like. Again, though, I seem to be alone amongst my peers. I’m not sure if that says something about my peers, or my generation, or America at large, but I tend to think it’s the later.

What amazes and shocks me no less than ever before is how little people know about our country, about current events, the political climate, economic realities, America’s place in the global community, etc. Now look, I don’t want to come across all high and mighty, but I think that be being well informed, learned about these things is a responsibility that we have as citizens and members of our community. For me, it’s no different than being an informed consumer, or an informed driver, or an informed employee. Yet ask the average American to name the three branches of the US government, and they struggle – and I mean, they really struggle. Ask the average American to name the leaders in government, or where Libya is on a map (heck, even it’s continent), or what the hot topics in politics are, and you’d be shocked (or maybe not) at the lack of awareness.

Here’s where it get’s shameful for me. Ask the average American about Charlie Sheen, and they have answers. Not only do they have answers, they’ve got a scoop. Ask them about American Idol, about Ashley Judd’s memoir, about all sorts of (in my opinion) useless pop culture news, and you’ll find them to be very well informed. Ask them about what it really means to buy locally, to participate in public service, to be charitable, to really be active (if not well informed) in their community, and yet again you’ll get blank stares.

The state of America’s society is in a shameful, embarrassing, arrogant, naive, and simply sad place. I wonder, though, how long we can keep this up? Is it just where the pendulum happens to be right now? Am I not being fair, not seeing the full picture, looking in the wrong places? I’m sure I am, to a small degree. I’m generalizing, I know that, but I’m not far from the mark.

Is the media to blame? Entirely? Really? It’s totally the media’s fault? Is it also the fault of the media that teachers make a small fraction of what the average white collar worker makes? Who’s fault is it that firemen and women aren’t getting their pensions? Who’s fault is it that celebrities and professional athletes are who our children look up to, instead of astronauts, scientists, the First Lady, or Army Generals?

I think I know who’s fault it is. It’s my fault. It’s your fault. It’s your neigbors fault, your brothers, your sisters, your parents, your friends, colleagues. We are to blame for the state of America’s society, political climate, economic condition, joblessness. We are to blame for the disgusting behavior of people like Charlie Sheen. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. The more bullshit we consume, the more bullshit we produce. If you eat shitty food, you shit stinks to the heavens (pardon the crude analogy). If we, Americans, spent even one hour per day consuming less of the things that do not matter, and consume things that do, imagine how many hours of importance it’d produce?

The empire that is America is about to come crashing down. I mean that, truly. I don’t think I’m overreacting at all (and rest assured that America is an empire), I think I’m stating what informed people know. When it comes crashing down on us, we’ll be so fat, stupid, hopped up on sugar, porn, celebrity gossip, and mindless entertainment that we’ll end up looking like the movie Wall-E. No, seriously. Fat, dumb, deaf, and blind – staring at, consuming, eating, injecting whatever orgasm is put in front of us by each other, by the media, the corporate giants producing it, the greedy vampires orchestrating it and banking on it.

I do have hope though. I have hope that America is suffering from a momentary lapse in reason, good judgement, common sense, and that the medicine is coming – in some form, some shape, some place. Maybe America like a man suffering a mid-life crisis, rejecting his old ways, leaving his family, breaking his own rules, driving a red sports car, carelessly getting laid, recklessly imbibing, and avoiding the reality check that is coming, the reality that his kids now hate him, his dog doesn’t know who he is, his wife loved him and still does, he was lucky to even have the job he had, etc etc. I have hope that this pendulum is reaching that moment where it pauses and changes direction.

The pendulum will swing. It will reach the center, and find another extreme.

I feel better now. Thanks for reading and please, take what I write with just a small grain of salt.

Enhanced by Zemanta

I’m a Happier Person, Thanks to My Mac

mac-pcNo, seriously. I can honestly say that I’m a happier human being because of my MacBook Pro. My entire life I’ve been very into art, music, and especially the digital forms of those things. So I guess in some respects I’ve always been somewhat of a closet artist, but hadn’t really found my medium yet. With a knack for computers and technology those two things (computers and art) never converged for me. Why? Now I know. Because I was stuck in Microsoft land. And let’s face it  – there’s nothing artistic or creative about being a Windows user. Being a Windows user does not inspire creativity. And lets face something else  – something that took me years to admit – doing visual arts or music on a Windows computer is extremely difficult.

Case and point: A good friend of mine, Aaron, is a brilliant musician. He’s not only multi-instrumental, but he’s a brilliant song writer. In the 1990s he and I used to dabble with MIDI instruments, synths and a variety of other music technologies, all at his house or in one of his studios. All the while he had a Windows computer. Yet he’d always complain about how difficult Windows made things for him. He’d frequently ponder getting a Mac, and for some ignorant reason I’d convince him not to bother with a Mac. I look back now and I regret being so stinking ignorant!

There’s so many other stories I could tell similar to that one. One about a friend Liz who was a talented graphic designer. She used a Mac and I used to pick on her for it. Why? Cuz I was an ignorant Windows guy.

For enterprise purposes, a Windows machine is a great machine, always has been. But once Apple stopped building their own processors and finally started using Intel processors, all that changed. That’s when I got myself a Mac, well, a little later.

I got my MacBook Pro after having a fit of rage (a silent one) on a train to/from NY in March of ’08 years ago (read this for the story). I’ve never looked back! I feel like some once-pious Christian missionary who’d preach all about the ways of Christianity, to only find himself miserable and converting to, I don’t know, Buddhism. What I mean by that is, I regret being so ignorant for so long. I’m sorry to all those Mac people who I dissed so many times! I’m sorry to any Windows people who I steared wrong.

Today, I find myself a healthier person – and I mean that. I’m healthier because I have those creative mediums at my fingertips like never before. I have a small home studio that I use to make music. I have a synth (thanks Aaron!), and some killer studio monitors, a crappy little electric guitar, and dual monitors – and I use a bunch of professional grade studio software apps for this. I’m learning, and I’m having a blast. I’m learning to use Final Cut Pro. Holy crap that’s a beast. But I’m lovin it! I’m also a semi-pro photographer using Lightroom and Photoshop and a bunch of plugins. For the first time in a long long time I’m once again a closet artist. I have a bunch of little projects I’m working on and I’ve never felt more inspired and creative. And I would not be doing any of these things if it weren’t for that fateful day on the Acella Express when I finally had enough of Windows and made the switch.

If you’re like I once was, an ignorant Windows jerk who for some stubborn reason would “never” switch to a Mac – well, good luck to you. You don’t have to be ignorant, or a jerk either. But if you are looking to really have fun with technology, fun with a computer, and create and inspired – get yourself a Mac.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sixth Photo Meme

My friend Sooz tagged me in a little Interweb game called Sixth Photo Meme. Basically, Sooz went to her Flickr account, to her 6th page of pictures, and to the 6th picture on that page and then tagged me in the picture. Now although I’m not actually in the picture isn’t the point – the point is that this viral game spreads like wildfire. It’s fun! The one caveat is that you need to have a Flickr account to participate, but even still you need to have at least 6 pages of photos.

So here’s my Sixth Photo Meme! This is a picture of the best game of baseball I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend – October 17, 2004. It was the 2004 American League Championship Series, game 4 at Fenway Park – Boston vs New York. This was the game 4. The one that resulted in the best comeback in sports history, the comeback that ended the Red Sox’s 86 year championship drought. I had the great fortune of attending this pivotal game, this pivotal moment in baseball history. I watched Dave Roberts steal second base – the single moment, the single play that changed it all. This is a picture of Mariano Rivera, perhaps the best closer in baseball history, on the mound in the midst of this game as it unravelled for the Bombers. Anyway, here’s my 6th photo from page 6:
IMG_0947

So it’s my turn to pick 6 people to play this game. Here we go:

Ryan Sarver, Sean Coon, Nate Aune, Tara Hunt, Dana Zemack, CitySquares

Got Five Minutes? Check out Baracky III

My buddy Sean Coon posted this on his blog and after watching it I just had to post it up on mine too. I try to stay away from politics on my blog and on my Twitter feed, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. Anywhere, here it is, for your viewing pleasure.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnxzVXUvwt4]

iPhone 3G: One Month Later

So now that I’m a proud, card-carrying Mac dude, although a little embarrassed that it took me this long to see the light, it was inevitable that I was going to get the iPhone 3G. Last year when the first generation iPhone came out I was using a Blackberry Pearl, which I absolutely loved after overcoming some strange geek fears. I was skeptical of the iPhone for a few reasons and even swore that I’d never buy an iPhone. Goes to show you – never say “never.” And if you’re wondering, yes, my foot is deep in my mouth, thanks.

Here was my list at that time in order of importance:

  1. No enterprise email support. At CitySquares, we use a hosted MS Exchange service by a Canadian company called Sherweb (who’s fantastic by the way). If I can’t seamlessly sync my mobile device with my Exchange inbox, contacts, and calendar, than I’ve already lost total interest in the device.
  2. Battery. Early reports of the iPhone, even before it was officially released, were that its battery-life stunk. At the time I could get about 2 full days out of my Pearl, which was pretty good for all the abuse it took. Also, the fact that the iPhone’s battery is fixed (i.e., cannot replace/swap it when necessary) was just a philosophical thing for me. That level of proprietary hardware really annoys me. Sony does the same kind of thing with their hardware and that’s kept me from buying Sony products for the past 15 years or so.
  3. Keyboard: When I first saw the keyboard demo’d last year, I thought the iPhone would be a bust for sure. I just figured that no matter how intuitive the keyboard was people would still prefer buttons, something tactile. For example, when I’d drive around with my Pearl, I could actually type on it with one hand, using just my thumb, without looking at it, well, mostly (not recommended). But over time the critics were mostly silenced by the computer’s ability to interpret and correct your typing as well as the spacing of the virtual buttons.
  4. AT&T: I just had a religious epiphony when I switched from Verizon Wireless to T-Mobile. Was I supposed to just jump ship again? Where are my loyalties? Also, AT&T long had a bad reputation. Cingular stunk in many ways, then AT&T bought them. To me that seemed like buying rotten meat, not young and healthy cattle. I just wasn’t willing to switch providers again, especially AT&T. Ew!
  5. Bulk: The size of the Blackberry Pearl was just superior, and still is, naturally. It’s just tiny, but it packs quite a punch. The iPhone just seemed like a step backwards for me.
  6. Wow factor: OK, the iPhone had a cool touch screen but aside from that it just didn’t excite me. I really enjoy playing stupid little games on my pearl, like Blackjack, poker, tetris. I also liked some of the apps I could run like the twitter app, the Facebook app. It didn’t seem that I could do those things with the iPhone, unless I unlocked it.

Well, here I am, well over a year later, with an iPhone 3G. What got me excited about this generation of the iPhone? All of this, in order of importance:

  1. Enterprise email support: DONE! Totally solved in the new firmware. So whether you had the first gen iPhone or the new iPhone 3G, you could sync with your Exchange mailbox. It still needs a little work, like I can’t sync tasks, and I can’t contract folders when in my folder view, but those are very minor things. In fact, I get emails on my iPhone 3G quicker than I get them on my Microsoft Entourage email client. It works, and it syncs, wirelessly and seamlessly. Setting it up was no more than a couple minutes.
  2. Browser: It’s just so sexy. When I first really used the browser, in conjunction with the keyboard, at Gaslight next door on a colleagues iPhone, I was hooked. It worked so intuitively and so intelligently.
  3. 3G: What’s the use of a slick, sexy, and intuitive web browser if the network is slow? AT&T’s 3G network is fantastic. It’s actually 3.5G and it’s only going to get better and broader.
  4. Location Based Services: With the baked-in hybrid LBS technologies, using GPS, WiFi, or cellular triangulation, the iPhone is really the first device to be able to provide truly mobile applications, like its built-in Google Maps app, or the various location-aware social networking apps, or the geotagging photo features, and even local search – CitySquares bread and butter.
  5. App Store: This was really just the icing on the cake, especially once I saw the Monkey Ball demo on the WWDC 2008 broadcast. That was wild! So far I’ve downloaded (and removed) several apps. This was a pretty big reason for buying the iPhone 3G, availability of software to maximize my use and enjoyment.

On Saturday, July 12th, the day after the iPhone came out, Ali and I went to the Cambridgeside Galleria Apple store, stood in line and waited for about an hour. We walked out about an hour later with two 8GB iPhone 3Gs. I knew that if Ali wanted an iPhone something big, something revolutionary was taking place. I mean that too. Ali doesn’t like complication in her technology. She’s the typical user – neither a neophyte nor a geek. Just uses technology as it’s mean to be used – as tools to getting things done better and more efficiently. If her previous cell phone could place and receive phone calls from just about anywhere, than that’s just good enough. Ironically, though, what really got her excited about the iPhone was Monkey Ball. It was a silly game. That opened her mind up to consider it. Then once she realized she could use her gmail account on it, work email, browse the web, feed her zombie on Facebook, she suddenly leapfrogged the smartphone learning curve that I had to go through and just became an iPhone fanatic and expert!

When we brought the iPhone home, I was excited but hesitant. I was hesitant about the remaining concerns: battery, AT&T, and the keyboard. I actually kept my Blackberry Pearl activated for a few days before making the switch just to be on the safe side. My first couple of days with the device weren’t as amazing as I’d expected. It took me a little time to figure things out, customize things – I like customization. I want my own sounds, I want my own pictures, I want to fine-tune my devices. And after a few hours, I was doing just that.

30 days later…

KeyboardGrade: A.: In those first few days I was careful not to become so enchanted with some of the iPhone’s bells and whistles that with the keyboard I just settled for less. It definitely took me a couple days to get used to it. I don’t want to be a one-finger smartphone typist – I want to type with my thumbs, and fast. Now, one month later, I’m nearly as fast with the iPhone keyboard as I ever was with the Pearl. Furthermore, the intelligence of the iPhone computer, and its ability to guess what I’m spelling and correct frequent typos is unparalleled in any device I’ve ever used. It’s far superior to the RIM’s proprietary SureType (which I grew more annoyed with over time). In some ways the keyboard is actually better than other kinds, just because its a software keyboard and the available keys are much more easily accessible and there are more of them.

BatteryGrade: B.: The battery isn’t great. And in those first few days I was actually really pissed off with the poor battery performance. One day I left the office at about 2pm for a string of meetings and networking events. When I left the office my battery was about 80%. When I got home that evening around 9:30 it was completely dead. I was really frustrated. How was I supposed to be truly mobile if I had to babysit this thing? Then I started researching how to optimize it. I figured out the following:

  1. Turn off WiFi scanning. I only use the iPhone’s WiFi at work and at home so why have it scan everywhere I am? Sometimes I’d be driving down the street and I’d look at my iPhone screen and it’d ask me if I want to connect to a network, and it’d list out a bunch of WiFi networks within range. What an annoyance but more importantly, what a drain on the battery! Turning that off boosted performance quite a bit.
  2. Lower the screen’s brightness. Out of the box the screen is quite bright, too bright IMHO, especially at night. So I took the brightness down quite a bit. Most devices like mobile phones and laptops can get a lot more juice from the battery if you just lower the brightness. It saves quite a bit of power. I believe the screen is the most battery intensive part of a device actually, but I could be wrong.
  3. Limit Email Pull/Push: I don’t need my gmail account checked every 15 minutes. In fact, I don’t need it checked unless I tell it to check. So turning that off helps too. Same with my MobileMe email, which I just don’t use.
  4. Turn off Location Services: You can turn it on from within an app, like Google Maps. Then turn it off later. If you don’t need it, turn it off. I don’t need it constantly, not at all, only on-demand.
  5. Turn off Bluetooth: If you don’t need it, turn it off. I use it in my car, but if I know I’m not going to be in my car for a couple days, then I just turn it off.

There are other things you can do to optimize the battery too, like turning off 3G if you don’t need it, among other things. But the above steps are the ones I took, and now I can get more than a full day out of the battery, which is all I need anyway. I just charge it overnight, like I did any phone prior to having the iPhone. I also have a car charger too, which helps when on the road for a while.

AT&TGrade: C. Verizon and T-Mobile are much better, no question about it, at least here in the northeast. At my house in Somerville where I’d typically have 4-5 bars on either of those providers, I only get 2-3 bars. If the weather is bad, like it was this weekend, I find myself with one bar, at times no bars, even on my porch. Then I experience dropped calls. Dropped calls has definitely been a theme with my new iPhone in the past month. In fact, one of my colleagues decided to opt out of her iPhone 3G and go back to her first gen iPhone because when she went home to the north shore she had no service at all! So I’m definitely disappointed. It’s not like that everywhere. I’ve driven quite a bit around New England in the past month and have largely been fine with the cellular service and mostly happy with the 3G service. When I’m not in 3G coverage, not terribly often, I’m on EDGE which is just fine for email and light browsing. So as it pertains AT&T’s cell network, I’m disappointed but I’m trying to be optimistic and I’m hopeful that it improves.

BulkGrade: B. I’m happy with the size of the iPhone 3G. I think the new curved backside helps too, as opposed to the more flat back in the first gen. I don’t find it a nuisance at all, like I did with all my prior smartphones, with the exception of the Pearl. I used to put my Pearl in the ashtray in my car when driving. It fit nicely in there and was easily accessible. My iPhone, however, does not. So I end up putting it in my cup holder, so it rattles around a bit more. Or I put it in a slot in the door handle, which I don’t like doing. I got myself a cigarette holder cradle for the iPhone but it’s far too tight and I can barely get it in/out of the cradle. Aside from those complaints, the size is not really an issue, especially because this device just packs such a punch. If it was just a regular, middle of the road smartphone, that’d be a different story.

Wow FactorGrade: A. It’s simple really – I love my iPhone! I’m totally blown away by the stuff you can do with it. This device is not a phone, it’s not a smartphone either, it’s a mobile computer. OK OK, I can’t create and save MS Word or Excel documents, but I wouldn’t do that on a device like this anyway. In fact I don’t know anyone that edits or creates documents on their smartphone. For those that do, well, my hat’s off to you. I can still review a document on the iPhone, no problem. I can even make changes to it and send it back, I just can’t save it to a local file system.

Aside from that, I’ve fallen in love with the iPod and the storage capacity that I still haven’t used up with all my media. I’ve got about 4 GB of tunes, a handful of CitySquares and family movies, and a good portion of my Aperture photo library on this baby! That’s a lot of media and I’m still not using 8 GB. In fact, I don’t think I’m using half of it.

The user interface is stupid. No really, it’s stupid. It’s elementary. It’s so intuitive that if you can’t figure it out, than something is wrong with you. It’s that easy. It just makes sense. Flicking your finger across an app scrolls it left, right, up, down. Double tapping fits something to your screen, in most apps. Pinching your fingers together zooms in, and the opposite zooms out.

Customizing the iPhone 3G leaves little to be desired, although I still wish I could change some of the native sounds, like for new emails. I found a cool piece of software that allows me to create my own ringtones outside of iTunes, which is great. It’s called iToner (Mac only). I mean, screw you Apple if you think I’m going to pay a buck everytime I want to make a ringtone out of a song I purchased! Just, screw you!

AppstoreGrade A+. The Appstore is just terrific, especially if you’re not a dickhead who spends $1000 on an app that does nothing. I’ve spent less than $40 on apps and that alone is a good thing. I remember with my Handspring device, or any of the smartphones I’ve had in the past, I could easily spend $40 on a piece of software that helped me track my travel expenses. The Appstore has seemingly commoditized mobile software. Most apps are free, some you pay for. Here are the apps I’ve installed and my rating and review of them:

  • NetNewsWire – Free RSS reader that syncs with your subscription. What that means is this: I have the desktop version of NetNewsWire that syncs with my NNW account and hence my iPhone app. This way the two are always in sync, which is very nice. The UI is OK, could use some work, but it’s an iPhone app and I’m really not complaining – it’s better than any other mobile RSS reader I’ve seen on any other device, by a mile. Grade: A
  • NYTimes – Call me old fashioned but I still read the paper, specifically on Sunday mornings, the New York Times. I love it. I also love the NYT website. It’s my homepage. The app is OK, the UI could definitely use some work, and it doesn’t seem too stable. It crashes sometimes when I’m just scrolling through an article – the most basic function of the app. That’s really annoying. Also, I don’t understand why I don’t have an “Email this article” button or anything similar. There’s nothing – no calls to action. I hope this improves. Grade: D
  • Bloomberg – It does what it’s supposed to – shows me domestic and international stock exchange updates, and shows me my own portfolio updates, as well as finance news. It crashes once in a while, but it’s slick and I use it often. Grade: B
  • Twinkle – I just started using Twinkle after my friend Ryan Sarver at Skyhook Wireless showed it to me. I quickly moved from Twitterific, which I liked, to Twinkle. It’s just got a better UI and the location stuff might come in handy. Grade: A
  • WordPress – Pretty lame. I’m able to review posts on this blog as well as the CitySquares blog (both use WordPress.com), but it shows my content in HTML, which stinks. I can’t review drafts that are on the server either, so that also stinks. But I can create local drafts and publish them. It needs a lot of work and I’m optimistic cuz WordPress rocks. Grade: C
  • Mobile Fotos (previously Mobile Flickr) – It’s a good solid app that runs well. Yet to crash on me. I can upload/download to/from my Flickr account. It’s got some nice little bells and whistles and it keeps improving. I dig it but I’m hearing good buzz about Exposure and I may give that a try. Grade: A
  • Facebook – Frankly it’s pretty lame. It’s exactly like the Blackberry version – just allows me to see status updates, view messages, profiles, and that’s mostly it. I can’t see any of my Facebook apps or do much more than communicate with friends. I’m already growing tired of Facebook, and it’s becoming nothing more than a way for me to keep in touch with long distance friends. They need to release a better iPhone app soon, especially if they’re worth that $15 billion valuation. Grade: F
  • Pandora – This rocks. My friend Randy Parker tuned me into Pandora and I’m hooked! Great app! Listen to Internet radio from where ever you are. Create your own stations based on your favorite music and just listen. I love plugging my iPhone into my car stereo and driving around town listening to Internet radio – very cool! It does drain that battery though, but that’s what the car charger is for. Grade: B
  • Salesforce – I have a big problem with this app – I’m paying a monthly fee for the salesforce training experts information in this app and I can’t view the company dashboard! All I can see is my own account. I don’t have much of an active Salesforce account but I’m constantly checking in on the company dashboard. I should have access to that through the iPhone app. Grade: D
  • Google – It’s installed but I’ve yet to use it. I suppose I should just remove it. I just end up going to Google.com directly in Safari. Grade: N/A
  • BofA – Bank of America app. It’s OK. All it really lets me do is check balances, make transfers and find locations. Once you’re signed in to the BofA app all it really does is take you to its mobile banking website, which is pretty basic. I suppose that’s a very good thing though, for security, so I appreciate that. I will say that the ‘find locations’ came in really handy a couple weeks ago with a friend. He needed a BofA banking center and I was able to quickly find one with the BofA iPhone app and then map ourselves to it with the iPhone Google Maps app. That was a nice surprise! Just handy stuff that you don’t realize how useful it is until you actually need it and use it. Grade: A
  • Monkey Ball – I’ve played it like twice. I suck. I thought I’d like it better but when you suck you suck! I like to show it to people who’ve never seen it though. Grade: A
  • HoldEm – Just a great app if you like poker. I wish I could play other poker games, but HoldEm seems to be such a big deal this decade that ya can’t get around it. The graphics are absolutely stunning! If you like poker as much as me, you’ll love this iPhone app! Grade: A
  • BrainChallenge – I think this is my favorite iPhone app. It’s a nice little program that’s packs quite a punch. It’s got all sorts of brain tests you can take the help you stay sharp. I don’t know if it’s doing that for me, but it’s fun to take the daily brain tests in the morning and see how I progress in certain areas. I’m not very strong in logic and math, but I’m very strong in memory, vision and focus. So I can train in my weaker areas and hone my others. It’s actually a very intelligent little app and I use it daily. Grade: A
  • MLB At Bat – Handy, but not overly impressive. I can see realtime boxscores and so forth. It updates at any frequency I specify (1 minute) automatically. I can even see video replays. But that’s about it. I expected more for $10. Grade: C
  • Units – Helps me convert liters to pints, or miles to kilometers, dollars to yen, etc. But I don’t do that often. I look forward to needing it, cuz it looks promising. Grade: N/A
  • Morocco – I grew up playing this game in school and I loved it. I’m on the expert level and I’m close to beating the computer. It’s a fun game, great for killing time at a doctors office or just for relaxing. Grade: A
  • FiatLux – Silly, just a blank white screen (or whatever color you choose) in the event you need a light. This actually came in really handy a couple weeks ago in the dark while trying to unlock a bike. Grade: A?
  • PhoneSaber – Silly, fun, dorky, fun, nerdy, fun, dweeby, fun, pointless, fun. Grade: A
  • eBay – I don’t use eBay often, but when I do I’m all-in. I’ve yet to use the app. Grade: N/A
  • iBeer – Silly, fun, sad, fun, signs of a problem, fun, obnoxious, fun, pointless, fun. Grade: A
  • Bubblewrap – a screen of bubblewrap, pop them. Stupid. Removed it.
  • Loopt – I want to use it, I really do, but no one does and it’s buggy and cumbersome. Gave up, removed it.
  • More Cowbell – A cowbell you tap on. If it wasn’t for the guys voice I’d still have it installed. If it was Will Ferrel especially. Removed.

Sure, I’ve had some issues with the iPhone too, but they’re small, nothing that’s ever caused me to curse loudly or feel my blood pressure rise. Mainly that includes the occasional app crash. I’ll be in Bloomberg looking at my stock prices, or in Facebook looking at status updates, or in MLB looking at scores, and bang – it just crashes. But starting up the app again and going through the same process doesn’t result in a crash, so it’s sporadic. I tolerate it because, well, it’s tolerable.

I’m impressed with the push services built into the iPhone too. I can see when I get Facebook messages even though I’m not in the App. I can get emails and SMS when I’m on the phone. But I can’t swap from one app to another without killing one to get there. That’s a little annoying, but it helps a lot with the performance of the device. On a typical Windows Mobile smartphone you could have 10 programs open, and when you do that the device just slows to a halt. The iPhone doesn’t allow you to get there. Still, though, I wish I had some flexibility with being able to run more than one app at the same time.

Well, this was a very long post but I needed to get all that up here! I feel much better now!

Do you know of any other iPhone apps I should look at? Am I missing anything?

Do you have an iPhone? What do you think?

What about AT&T?

Social Media is Mostly Noise

I’m a fan of social media, I am, but it’s noise. Like too much time in the subway, or at the airport, it’s just loud and mostly unpleasant noise. Yet somehow many of us us can’t help but get lured into some of it, like a drunk at a bar fight (I know, odd parallel but I like it).

A long while back I declared myself done with Myspace and for good reasons. I even went so far as to state that when I saw others hunched over their keyboards pecking away on Myspace, I found myself repulsed by them. I still feel that way about Myspace, and without quite as much disdain I’m starting to feel that way about Facebook and twitter. I’m quite active on both, however, which makes this a bit of a catch-22. Or rather, am I just the pot calling the kettle black? I don’t know, and I frankly I don’t care. I’m an opinionated SOB and that’s just that. (If you’re repulsed by me it might be for reasons that far exceed my participation in the social web.)

I do find some guilty pleasure in social media participation. It even has some SEO value. That can be detailed by my participation on YouTube where I’ll find videos that I enjoy for one reason or another and mark them as Favorites, or I might post a video, typically something that relates to CitySquares somehow. But you definitely won’t find me on YouTube uploading my friend skateboarding off of his 3rd floor balcony, or of my cat fighting his own shadow. Maybe that sort of thing isn’t my generation – the “me” generation seems to be doing much more of that stuff. I think it’s noise and a waste of time. I try to sift through it all quickly and with my eyes closed.

Facebook is another guilty pleasure. Interestingly enough, the three things I use the most in Facebook are 1) status updates, and I use the twitter app for that; 2) Zombie app/game and that’s mainly because my wife uses it and really has fun with it, so I play along and honestly I just want to be the baddest zombie there is and bite chumps (again, stupid guilty pleasure);  and 3) keeping in touch with some friends. Many of my friends don’t do email very well and some of them don’t do phone well either, but they do Facebook well, so I meet them there and we message each other. I actually find myself more in touch with some of my friends, especially long distance friends, through Facebook more than any other medium in a long time. It’s kind of like the new pen-pal? Oh, I also use Facebook for the CitySquares Page. We use it to upload pictures, events, videos, and other random updates and also our blog gets fed to the CitySquares Page. I like to see us rack up more fans of CitySquares, especially total strangers – that’s cool!

twitter is just a phenomenon isn’t it? Who can really articulate what the hell twitter is all about. OK OK yeah I get micro-blogging, and I get character-limited streams of consciousness from a community of like-minded people. Sure, fine. But I equate it to sitting in a room with a bunch of people I hardly know, with a few friends, who are all just blurting out whatever stupid thing comes across their mind. Hey, I’m no exception. Twitter is probably the loneliest social media there is. I’d be willing to bet that twitter users mostly tweet when a) they’re alone and wish someone was there with them to talk to (loneliness – a human thing) or b) when they’re bored and in bad company. And that’s twitter. Yet I use it. Cuz it’s so easy, so available. It’s on my iPhone and it’s on my Mac.

I love Flickr, on the other hand. Love flickr a lot, and I think it’s because unlike Facebook or twitter, it’s totally passive content. I use Flickr to share pictures with the world, or with just my friends, or just my family. I can put them up there and if/when they want to look, they can. I don’t care much more than that. I like the web 2.0 components there like tagging etc, and sure comments are nice. I also like how easy it is to use Flickr through the uploadr, and certainly the site is powerful and more intuitive the more you use it. YouTube is in a similar category.

There are a few others I use too, like ma.gnolia, or LinkedIn, or Last.fm (which I am still not quite sure of) but I think I’ve made my point. Actually, maybe not…

Here’s the thing: I found myself so distracted by this stuff in the recent weeks that I was becoming more and more afflicted with a self-induced Attention Deficit Disorder. And even though it wasn’t because of my own content publishing, it was simply because it was there and I just had to watch. Again, like a drunk at a bar fight, or like watching a car accident, or like a fly to a light, I was drowning in it. So I hinted at taking a sabbatical. Well, that was too extreme. I don’t need a methadone clinic, I just need to do less dope! Well that’s one way of looking at it right? So I took a break last week – a total break. I didn’t tweet, I didn’t login to Facebook, I didn’t do anything that related to social media. I even instant messages less. I used less email, more phone, and I didn’t even cheat once. I just stayed away from it. For the first day or two it was hard, and then was a piece of cake. I could totally do without it! And last week was just down-right productive! It was me doing what I do best – getting shit done, knockin’ em down.

The lesson here is that in a society where there’s already far too much noise, be it TV, be it advertising, the city, those flourescent lights above your desk, be it your family, be it your own neurosys, there’s just too much noise already. Social media is just one more awkward minor chord in the symphony of day-to-day life that I, for one, can do with less of.