Strap Yourself In. The New Apple Watch.

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A while ago I wrote a post called “The KISS Principle. Why Dumb Devices are the Smart Choice“. In this article I talked a lot about the iPhone and how sometimes a device with so many features and internet connectivity can be very distracting. I contrasted the iPhone with ‘single function’ devices and how overall I seem to enjoy these more.

Last week Apple introduced the world to it’s new Apple Watch and, like the iPhone, I have a few reservations. On the one hand (no pun intended), it’s not surprising that wearable tech is becoming the next big thing. An internet enabled device that you can strap to your wrist seems like the next logical step in a connectivity-obsessed culture. The iPhone has allowed us to do this for years. Now the Watch is taking it one step further. Now you don’t even have to take it out of your pocket. This is similar to what Google is trying to do with Google Glass (internet glasses). But here, instead of a Google head’s up display, you’re getting an Apple head’s down display. You wear them on different parts of your body but it’s the same concept really- making the internet available on a moment’s glance.

But I have issues with this sort of technology. Call me old-fashioned, or a traditionalist, or just simply slow to adopt new things. But I’m of a very different philosophy. The simple fact of the matter is that the one thing that these devices promise to do, namely bring the internet to you fast and NOW, is the one thing I actively try to avoid in my life. Constant internet, accessibility, is not something I want in my life. I like my space. I like room to breathe. And being strapped to the internet, which is what the Apple Watch allows you to do, is not something I want to add to my lifestyle. Whether you realize it or not, in subtle ways it creates a dependence. The connection becomes more than just an enhancement. It becomes a lifeline. I think it’s worthwhile to fight this dependency. One way to do this is to keep the internet in it’s place. To me the internet is and always will be compartmentalized. It fits into a little box in my life. I go to it when I need it, and turn it off and put it away when I’m done. It’s not something I want to keep ON at all times, and heaven forbid strap to my body. Like I said, I like my personal space and freedom.

So my initial reaction to the Apple Watch, like the iPhone itself, is one of caution. I won’t be surprised if in a couple years wearable tech really catches on. But for me I will always choose personal space and freedom over a constant barrage of information and connectivity. That to me is the smart choice.

Bye bye Zenphoto.

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I’m trying out a new photo gallery on my website. You may have noticed a few subtle changes to the way I display photos on my site. After several years of using Zenphoto, a stand alone product for displaying photos, I’ve decided to just bite the bullet and use WordPress’ photo management instead. This was not a light decision. I’ve put in quite a bit of time tinkering with Zenphoto over the years and getting it to work more or less the way I want. But it’s just become more of a burden now than useful and I’ve decided to use WordPress instead. The nice thing about WordPress is that even though it’s still mostly a blog platform there are actually quite a few themes that help you showcase your photos or artwork. I found a few that get me pretty close to the result I want. I’ll just have to tweak/modify to take it the rest of the way.

In addition to themes, WordPress is just so easy to work with, whether you have a blog or photo gallery or full website. It’s just numbingly easy to update your site, to add extra features (called plugins), and change the appearance. After working with something like Drupal, WordPress is the king for ease of use. And my other photo software just wasnt’ cutting it in this area anymore. It was such a pain to update, the interface was clunky, and it didn’t always work right. And there were only a few themes to choose from. This is surprising given that it’s sole purpose is to display photos. You’d think they’d spend more time perfecting the visual presentation. But alas, all things must come to an end. So for now I say ado to Zenphoto and look forward to seeing what I can do with WordPress.

And in case you’re wondering where all my photos and videos went, just hold on! I’m reworking a few things and will bring stuff back up as they’re ready.

Drupal Camp for Nerds

I attended my first ‘Drupal Camp’ last week at the UW campus. It was a lot of fun. And the price was right- free! For those that are unaware (and I don’t blame you if you are) Drupal is an open source (meaning free) piece of software that you can install and set up on a webserver that allows you to customize and make really awesome websites. I’ve been using it for quite and it’s been a great learning curve for me. But this was the first time that I’ve gotten involved in the ‘community’.

At first this idea of community was kind of strange. I mean, how can you call a group of people connected remotely from all over the world, gathered around a piece of software, a community? But it really is, and it’s pretty remarkable. I’m not sure how many millions, but there are  a LOT of developers and users, and the number is growing.

So I thought I’d give this meetup a try and meet some local people who are using Drupal. I’d say there were two extremes at the camp. There were the hard core developer types who have used Drupal for years and are making a living off of it. And then there were the complete newbies, people who were curious and interested in Drupal but didn’t really have much experience with it. I must’ve been somewhere in the middle. From my experience I was able to point several of the newbies in the right direction by recommending books, offering guidance, and talking about what I have learned. But I was also there to learn myself and I didn’t hesitate to grab one of the more experienced developers to give me a few pointers. They’ve been doing this for years. I wanted to know how they got involved, the steps they took, and what they’re doing now. I’m curious how people are using the platform, and what options exist for developers and site builders. So it was really beneficial to talk to people.

So anyway, I’m glad I went to Drupal Camp. Yes, it was nerdy. Yes, we talked about software for two days. But hey, you can’t argue with free pizza and coffee. And I met some pretty cool people who obviously have great taste in content management systems. Just the kind of people I like to be around!

Spotify. Love music more.

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I’ve been trying out and enjoying this new service called Spotify lately. “What?” you say. “New service. . . Spotify? Hasn’t that been around for. . . ?” Yeah, it has been around for a while. But I haven’t been. Travel outside the US and you’ll find that many internet services and websites are blocked. Something about copyright infringement and rampant piracy. Can’t see why that would matter. . . But anyway, it’s been blocked and now that I’m back in the States this is the first time I’ve getting my hands (I mean ears) on it. And let me just say, Spotify rocks!

I’m using the free plan and from what I can tell this is all I’ll ever really need. Spotify’s free service lets you listen to ANY song, artist or album for free. And when I say any, that’s just about true. The other day I tried searching for ‘Miles Davis’ and the list of albums and songs that came up was nearly endless. It took me ten minutes of scrolling just to get to the bottom of stuff I could listen to . That’s a lot of Miles!

Not only do they have virtually anything you want to listen to, but you can bookmark and listen entire albums at a time. This is where Spotify stands above the rest. I’ve tried other music services like Pandora, Jango, and iTunes radio and they all do about the same thing- namely, they generate playlists from music you like. That’s nice if you want to listen to a bunch of random artists you may or may not like. But with Spotify you can listen to ENTIRE albums of your favorite artists. No guessing around. No random tracks. Because the thing is I already KNOW who I like. I don’t need some service to spit a bunch of random bands at me. What I haven’t had is access to the complete collection. Spotify gives you the whole thing, not just bits and pieces.

It kind of makes me think how all this can be free? They do have a paid service which lets you download music to your computer/phone but I haven’t had a need for that. In fact I kind of like the online streaming aspect of it. Keep it in the cloud. No need to download or manage digital music files anymore. Clear up space on your hard drive while listening to great music.

I’ll probably still buy albums I like. But with Spotify I can preview anything before I make the jump. Now I just have to find the time to listen to everything I find. Unlimited free access to bands and albums. That’s music to my ears.

It’s a faceblog world.

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I’ve noticed that the internet has changed a lot over the years. When I first started this website ten years ago it was kind of a novelty. The idea of a personal blog hadn’t really caught on yet and back then blogs weren’t so easy to create. There were no such things as WordPress or Tumblr to make it easy on you so when someone got online it really was a significant achievement. Getting a site up and running required some technical know-how and most people didn’t bother.

When I first launched this website it got a lot of traffic. Because it was rather unique, friends and classmates posted thoughts, comments, and left me feedback. Yay! But that personal interaction has steadily decreased with the advent of Facebook and the other social networks. Conversations and posts that back then would have appeared on a blog are now exclusively reserved for the big social networks. It’s really all about connectivity and attention span. Someone who posts on Facebook will have lots more EXPOSURE than posting on a blog. And really, when you have to manage three, four, or more online accounts + email, there’s not much incentive or attention span left to ALSO view Joe Schmo’s blog. So I would say it’s been disappointing to see that conversation disappear from my site. I’ve enjoyed all the latest technology trends and tools that have made it easier and more fun to get a website online. But getting people to interact with your particular site is the hard part.

I think the key is adapting to the times. Instead of competing with the big social networks it’s better to USE them to your advantage. That’s why I post links to Facebook. That’s why people can comment on this site via Facebook. I won’t ever steal or capture the conversation that is happening on Facebook, but the more Facebook friendly my site is the more likely people are to interact with it. The rules have changed and you have to adapt to stay in the game.

But I hope that there will always be room for personal websites and blogs. More and more people are online because of Facebook and the like so that’s a good thing. Those who WANT to create a personal and unique blog still can. The big social networks may have taken over, but there will always be room for us creative types. Here’s to the little guys!

The Bible is about to threaten your smartphone focus.

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I really appreciate this blog post and reminder from Pastor John Piper about how smartphones and the internet can threaten our focus on God. I think this is a message that needs to be repeated again and again as it is an increasingly relevant struggle in our high tech, busy society. This is one of the reasons why I’m starting to prefer what I call ‘dumb devices’ laying around instead of smart ones. I find that the less complicated a device is, the less connected, the more I’ll be able to enjoy it. See my blog post: The KISS principle. Why dumb devices are the smart choice.

I’ll try to take Piper’s advice. I don’t want to be distracted by technology. Instead of firing up some app on my iPod I’ll resolve today to fire up my Bible app, or better yet, grab my good ole fashioned Bible. The Bible is still the best.

Web Development Soup. Learning How to Make the Web Extra Spicy.

I’ve been learning some new and fun computer tech lately, mostly related to web development. I’m glad that my job allows me the time and even the motivation to dive in and learn some of this. Here’s a look at some of the things I’m trying to get my brain around lately:

Command Line and SSH: Command line is probably old hat to all the Linux and Dos people out there but pretty new to me. Command line lets you execute things on a computer (or server) by typing in commands to a terminal. Mac and Linux users get a terminal built right into the OS, as Unix (a command line OS) is built into the core of these. The benefit of typing in commands to a computer instead of navigating around a GUI (graphical user interface) is efficiency and speed. From what I’ve learned this is a much quicker way to run things and make changes. I’m still learning some of the basics, so we’ll see, but I’m eager to learn if it’ll speed up a lot of routine tasks. SSH (secure shell) lets you execute command lines to a remote server.

Drupal: This is a big one with a fairly steep learning curve. Drupal is a free, open-source, content management system (CMS). In other words, it’s free software that helps you build websites. It sits alongside the other two big CMS’s on the market, namely Joomla and WordPress. Drupal is considered to be the most powerful and flexible of the three, yet also arguably the hardest to learn. According to it’s website it has 24,000 modules (plugins), 1,800 themes, and over a million users. So it’s fairly big. =) I’m learning Drupal because I’m getting serious about making websites and want something that’ll help me take my abilities to the next level. I don’t expect to master this anytime soon, but it will set me up to make some fairly large sites without too much trouble. It’s very flexible and you can build just about anything you want with it. It’s a lot like Lego’s. Drupal gives you the building blocks and you just have to snap it all together in whatever shape you want. The sky’s the limit. Just have to get over that learning curve first.

Drush: What do you get when you put Drupal and command line together? You get Drush (Drupal shell). Drush is a command line tool used to modify, edit and maintain a Drupal website. It has all the benefits of command line plus the ability to work with Drupal. From what I’ve read if you’re going to use Drupal, Drush is a must.

Virtual Machines: This is also sorta tied with the command line, but it also relates to development. I’ve been getting some practice setting up and configuring virtual servers using something called Virtualbox. Basically virtual box allows you to create a virtual computer, or in my case a virtual server, on your home computer. This is useful for creating websites because I don’t have to upload stuff to a remote server to test things out. I can test things out on my laptop. Very handy.

LAMP: Lamp is an acronym for the four magic ingredients on a server. L-Linux, the operating system, A-Apache, the web server component (the part responsible for serving up pages), M-mySQL, the database that stores everything, and P-PHP, the server side programming language. You see these four together a lot on web hosts and I figured it was about time I tried to learn and configure this myself. I plan on installing Drupal on a Lamp stack for development purposes. So far so good.

PHP: As noted above this is a programming language found on a vast majority of websites. You pretty much can’t work with anything on the web and not run into PHP in one way or another. All the major CMS’s use PHP. I’ve been fiddling with PHP for years and although I have a programming background I haven’t bitten the bullet to actually sit down and learn it. It’s about time I bit the bullet.

So as you can see I have quite a lot on my plate. But it’s sorta neat to see how all the different parts fit together. It makes the web a little less mystical when you open up the hood and see all the moving parts. Websites have been a hobby of mine for several years. It’s fun to take it to the next level. This will also help me do a better job with the projects we’re working on, as well as anything else that might come along in the future. Bring it on!

Try Out My Slick New Comment System.

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Just wanted to say sorry to those who have written comments or messages on my site recently. I’m in the process of installing a new comment system and most of the old comments are not displaying anymore. If you’ve written something, thanks, and keep on commenting. I think you’ll find this new system better and easier to use.

So what’s new about it? Well, I’ve been able to integrate comments between my photo site and blog. This means that comments that are posted on my photography site will show up on the blog, and comments from the blog show up on the photo site. Previously there were two, but now it’s just one system. Pretty slick eh? This is done with a little service called Disqus. Even though I use two different platforms on my website (WordPress for the blog, and Zenphoto for the photography), they both can use the Disqus service, which is awesome!

So what else can you do? Well, you can login with your Facebook, Google, etc. username and password. You don’t have to create a username JUST for my site. You can use one you already have. That’s handy. (Note: you can still post anonymously if you want) Also, it can display some advanced lists like MOST POPULAR, and TOP COMMENTERS.  At a glance I can see which posts/photos are getting the most interaction. You can see these at work in the sidebar.

Hopefully with these new features and by integrating the two together it will be easier for people to comment. That’s sorta the point. So thanks for reading and oh, by the way, how about leaving a comment now. . . =)

The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook

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I recently finished the book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook. It was a pretty easy read and for the most part I enjoyed it. If you’ve seen or are familiar with the movie “The Social Network” than you might not have to read the book as the movie follows the book pretty closely. You get a better sense of timing and locations in the book, but the plot and content is essentially the same. I checked out the book as it was a free download for our Kindle and thought I’d give it a try.

I’ve been into business books quite a bit lately. I’ve read about Google, Apple, and now I can add Facebook to the list. While this book shared some things in common with the others, this one was unique. The subtitle of the book gives you a clue as to it’s uniqueness: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. Really those four points are a good summary of the book (and a synopsis of what Facebook was like in the beginning). The book goes into much greater depth on these themes but I can summarize them here.

Sex– Facebook originally was a platform to meet and hook up with members of the opposite sex. The story took place at Harvard and talked in great deal about what college life is like there. It seemed every other page was referencing male/female relationship pressures and how the overarching goal of every student was to get hooked up with someone of the opposite sex. That’s where Facebook came in- a platform to meet and hook up with others of campus. Mark Zuckerberg thought he’d get noticed by girls if he created a social website. That’s why originally his name appeared at the bottom of every page- he wanted to be noticed.

Money– the book describes how Mark Zuckerberg and friends got insanely wealthy overnight from their work and the funding of venture capitalists. Here’s where the book shared quite a few things in common with, say, Apple or Google- take an original idea, something that’s never been done before, work your tail off to program/create it, and release it to the right audience. This has paid off big time for those with the right skills, with the right ideas, at the right time. Facebook is one of these success stories.

Genius– like I mentioned several ideas came together at just the right time. It was brilliant really to restrict Facebook to college campuses at first. That created an ‘exclusive’ private feel. People didn’t have to worry (at first) about what they posted because it was just for their friends, and just for those on their campus. It also was brilliant for Mark to notice a powerful force at work on his campus, namely social clubs and social interaction. He took something that was already happening in the real world and transferred that energy to a web platform.

And Betrayal– the story reveals Mark Zuckerberg’s character and how he broke alliances and friendships that got ‘in the way’ of Facebook. Facebook was his consuming passion and he was not willing to accommodate others in his race to the top. All in all, he was a pretty ruthless guy.

Besides being pretty ruthless, I find it really ironic that somebody so socially awkward created the biggest social network on the planet. It kind of begs the questions- do people who aren’t socially awkward need Facebook? Certainly today Facebook has been useful for all kinds of people, not just the socially awkward ones. But from the beginning Facebook was meant to be a bridge in relationships- a shortcut. It gives you all the info and status updates you want without any of the pressures or inhibitions of real face-to-face conversation. This idea has caught on big. And while being connected to so many people seems like a novel thing, the fact of the matter is that relationships take time. There’s something to them. Relationships have substance and depth, and that is something that an online medium will never quite capture. But for what it is Facebook has been a huge success. Just recently it crossed the 1 billion mark of subscribed users.

If you’re an avid Facebook user I would recommend reading The Accidental Billionares. And for those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie it’s still an interesting modern day story. Facebook is a reminder that hard work and a good idea (whatever your motives may be) can be a huge success.

‘Alone Together’. The Cost of Always Being Connected.

Here’s a quote from a recent podcast:

When we are face to face we are inhibited by the presence of the other. We are inhibited from aggression by the presence of another face. . . On the internet we are dis-inhibited from taking into full account that we are in the presence of another human being.

I pulled that quote from the NPR podcast “In Constant Digital Contact We Feel Alone Together” (posted in the audio section). It’s a podcast I want to hang onto as I found it very interesting and relevant. The guest has done a lot of research on the use of cell phones, text messaging, and Facebook. The discussion (and her research) was geared at making us think about technology and how these devices have changed the way we interact with other people, and what we’re giving up to use them.

Are we communicating better or just faster?

I think these are very relevant questions. I find it remarkable that people so readily embrace technology and gadgets without first evaluating the cost. What are the costs to using Facebook? What is the cost of the text message revolution? I suspect that there are hidden costs in these. Are we communicating better or just faster? I’m glad research is being down to examine this.

But the reason I collect and repost podcasts like the one above is because I feel like I’m a minority. I feel there aren’t enough voices out there talking about these things. In fact even just the idea that there ARE consequences is a rare thing. Nobody talks about the downside of text messages. Nobody talks about why being in constant contact might not be a healthy thing for us. This is a discussion we should be having. We are not slaves to technology. At anytime we have the option not to use it. I just wonder how many people make that conscious choice.

These are questions we all need to ask. As they talk about in the podcast these are issues that effect both kids and adults. Both kids and adults are distracted by devices. Both kids and adults are increasingly uncomfortable being alone. Both kids and adults are getting their sense of worth by the number of texts they receive in a day. If we’re aware of these thing this can change. We need to be smart about what we’re looking at. Especially for parents (which I am now one), we need to be smart about what our kids have access to.

Tech and entertainment always REPLACE something that previously existed. They move into and take the place of something else. I wonder how often we’re aware of what we’re giving up.

I believe that every form of entertainment or tech we bring into our home has a hidden cost to it. There’s a hidden cost in time, a hidden cost in distraction, a hidden cost in loss of margin in our life. These things change us whether we realize it or not. Tech and entertainment always REPLACE something that previously existed. They move into and take the place of something else. I wonder how often we’re aware of what we’re giving up. I’ll definitely continue to monitor these discussions. Hopefully more and more of them will be happening.