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Preparation for Relocation – Wilmington Here We Come.

May 2nd, 2010

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When we moved 1,000 miles from Southeastern Wisconsin to Central Connecticut in the midst of the Summer of 2006, we were really clueless about WHERE we were going. And aside from one friend on my side and an Uncle on my wife’s side, the two of us were pretty much on our own in terms of social circles. Those of you who have lived in CT, and maybe some of you who have even visited, probably already have a good sense about the social challenges most residents of this state possess. It would be an oversimplification for me to refer to the entire state of Connecticut as a bedroom community to New York City, but I think that does apply to the greater southwest corner of this small state at least, and certainly includes the communities surrounding New Haven and Hartford as well. The bottom line is, unless you’re from here, it’s a challenge to get your bowling team together.

Just 10 days prior to our big move, after providing a 60 day notice at a company where I worked for over 13 years, my new east coast employer-to-be had a melt-down. I would learn later that this was, most likely, a power-play on his part. An attempt to establish himself as the boss, and the one in control, despite his clearly being clueless. He had provided no details on benefits, no employment agreement, nothing that would indicate that he was taking my start with his company seriously. So I called his bluff and told him I will not be going without those documents. I emailed the recruiter and told him the deal was off and good luck with his psycho client. My intention was to move to North Carolina, jobless, but happy. A day later, the crazy boss-man called and apologized for his behavior and placed blame on just about everyone and everything else, but himself. The documents came through and we spent our fourth of July weekend driving two cars full of our most important possessions east. Our first six days at an extended stay in Meriden, CT was a nightmare story by itself (which CraigsList rescued us from), but I’ll save that story for later.

All of this is simply a pretext to emphasize the fact that social media, way back in 2006, was fairly primitive. LinkedIn represented my entire professional social circle, as Twitter was still just a ‘flicker’ in someone’s eye and Facebook was purely for the current college kids. Today, social media has TRULY empowered everyone to travel and relocate more easily and I am excited about the prospect of not just relocating, but knowing something about the people and places where we might live. Especially since North Carolina never left our hearts during our years here in CT.

Late this past March, I scheduled a special lunch with my current CEO (not the boss outlined above – that gig lasted for eight months before I resigned and then he fired me the next day). I’m not the kind to schedule lunches or meetings unnecessarily, so I’m quite certain he was skeptical but finally in early April we met. I outlined to him my intentions to spend this Summer getting our house ready for sale for Spring of 2011 and that we would be relocating to the Wilmington NC area. I would be establishing my own business (from the dozens of business ideas I posses) and that if there were some possible business partnership for us, following our employee/employer relationship, that we might want to start discussing that. Or not - his call. It was, in essence, a very, very massive notice for him that our current working relationship would have an expiration date, most likely determined by the sale of my house, or determined by him and his response to my very early fair warning.

So far, his response has been very positive. He seems genuinely interested in my business ideas and how he can be involved without getting his existing company shareholders involved (per my specific request). He’s requested a once monthly meeting to talk about the “possibilities’ and how I will be transitioning myself out of his company. We’ll see what happens with my new business(es), but in the meantime, I’ve begun to Fan (or “Like” now) Wilmington businesses on Facebook and I’ve created a special list on Twitter that allows me to stay in the loop with what’s happening in the greater Wilmington / Cape Fear marketplace by following dozens of business, newspapers, magazines and people who tweet frequently about the happenings in this area.

While Twittering to a few of the Wilmington tour companies earlier this week about a scouting trip we are planning for June, a Wilmington Realtor began following me on Twitter. We’ve since messaged one another and I can assure you (and her) that when we start to get serious about buying real estate, she’ll be the first one I call. The Soap Box, a wonderfully strange combination of a Laundromat and Bar/Lounge with frequent live music (open till 2am every night) in Downtown Wilmington, not only has my email address for their newsletter, but their tweets are part of my daily consumption. The Cosmic Kitchen, owned by Chef Chris and his wife Kristin, are prolific tweeters and they frequently promote their food specials via Twitter, which nearly assures my on-going patronage, once we actually get to Wilmington (referred to as ILM by the locals, by the way). I’m also looking forward to spending many hours at Gravity Records and tuning in “The Penguin” (106.7 WUIN) on the radio again soon.

There are many more examples just like this, where it’s become clear to me that after following these people and companies on Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare and CraigsList and Meetup and Google Maps (does that city have a book store?), I have ZERO doubt that our involvement into this new community will be really very positive. We had already decided, four years ago, that North Carolina had the climate we would want, the ocean beaches near-by, the friendly people and the lower-cost of living that was so important to us in a place we would finally call home. Now, with social media as our conduit, we will know the people, places and faces too.

Can’t Hardly Wait!


Who Killed Your Downtown?

March 28th, 2010

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Yesterday a friend jokingly commended me for supporting a local business. As someone who has spent over 20 years developing franchise companies and replicable business systems, it probably would be shocking to most who care, just how much time I spend avoiding franchises. Especially food franchises.

While I would like to convince myself that I am doing my part to try and “discover” a mom & pop business that could be the next great thing, that could be turned into a national franchise, the vast majority of the time things are disappointing: the service, the food consistency, uncertain hours of operation,the experience (or lack thereof) and the list goes on.

I really wish this weren’t the case. I wonder why it is that independently owned business simply don’t get why a Wal-Mart can put them out and what to do about it. Why is it that a local Mexican restaurant is forced to close when a Chilis opens? Why are independent music and book stores are almost as common as phone booths these days?

Even more disturbing is the changing landscapes of our many cities and small towns. Most downtowns have now become ghost towns. Finding a thriving downtown community is truly something unusual – maybe one of the reasons I’m fixated on Middletown, CT so much. The name, the people, the restaurants and pubs, it’s a very unusual and a rare little microcosm. One that I appreciate highly.

Instead big boxes buy up cheap agricultural land on the outskirts of a town, have the town rezone (because where else will we be able to “park 400 cars and did we mention the sales tax revenue benefits?”). Let’s build a few strip centers right next door to the big boxes so people can get something to eat, drop off their dry cleaning and purchase a $4 coffee. Meanwhile the historic district downtown struggles to get businesses to stay and those who do are typical short-term mom & pop affairs: Locals, ‘mompreneurs’ and “Technicians suffering from entrepreneurial seizures” as business guru Michael Gerber so eloquently put it 20+ years ago (read The E-myth). The independent business 95% of the time can’t compete with the national franchises and so residents don’t bother to even drive through downtown, let alone shop there.

It’s all very disturbing and very sad. If we can’t get independent businesses to at least a competitive level with the national chains, then we need to start providing incentives to those franchises to use historic building and spaces. Off-set some of their build-out expenses so they use existing instead of building brand new. Doing what’s right is RARELY in alignment with what’s cost-effective or timely. We need to leave the farmland to farmers and get ourselves out of the strip center mentality that has ruled us for too long. This is less about nostalgia and more about the evolution of retail and business. Back to your roots, back to your towns and back to your local businesses, for better or worse.


Augmented Reality is not Virtual Reality

January 23rd, 2010

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This past week I took the train into NYC to attend my very first meetup for the Augmented Reality New York (ARNY). Due to a rain/traffic combo, I missed the earlier express train from New Haven and arrived at the Porter Novelli office on Varick Street just after the first presentation, a game demo, had ended.

I was happy to start things off with a new AR demo from the restaurant review company Zagat. Having just recently spent $10 on the full Zagat 2010 guide for my Droid, I was anxious to see what’s next. As opposed to just transforming their print guidebook to digital, Zagat is actually adopting some real AR “point and view” technologies that will be especially helpful in major metro markets (where Zagat is best known anyway). One interesting new function they had was the ability to zoom forward and back amongst the floating restaurant tags while still within the virtual browser. Other apps that I’ve seen require you to set the “visible” distance you want to reach out to BEFORE firing up the virtual browser. After the five minute demo, they allowed five minutes for Q&A from the audience (exactly like Video 2.0 NY Meetup Group does). During the questions, someone asked about a Zagat layer for Layar, to which Ryan Charles smiled and said that something was in the works with Layar but that he couldn’t talk about it. Hopefully my $10 investment will transfer! One feature they need to consider is launching restaurant websites in your default mobile browser of choice (Dolphin) instead of their built-in Zagat browser.

With kudos being foisted upon the Zagat representative for developing a very handy mobile phone rig that attached a video camera and a iphone to the same structure for demo purposes, the next company, Acrossair, was stepping up to the plate. Dana Farbo, president of the company provided a mediocre demonstration of their new AR browser. This is the company responsible for some very niche AR browsers – like subway finder and the Stella Artois finder app. Somehow they came to an epiphany that maybe people will not actually want to download a separate finder app for McDonalds and a separate app for Wendys and a separate app… You get the picture. So Mr. Farbo demonstrated a new ‘super” browser that began to combine these elements together. While I did record the demonstration, the interface was interesting but crowded and not very elegant; very reminiscent of something from the Idiocracy movie or this crazy new “hyper-reality” YouTube video that is both interesting and alarming at the same time. One unique feature I did note about this new browser from Acrossair was the ability to rotate the floating tags without actually having to spin yourself. It seems we are starting gain some real-world, “street” realities about walking around like idiots starring at tiny screens and spinning in circles while the rest of world stares in wonder. I didn’t record the Q&A part of this demo, but I didn’t get any real sense of excitement about what Mr. Farbo brought to the group.

While I thought I had killed a lot of time and resources just getting to this little hour long meet-up, Noora Guldemond, from Metaio, had just travelled from California (via Germany) to demonstrate a project her team is developing for Lego. While she had some difficulty (go full screen for best detail ) getting the webcam to engage because of lighting issues and a flash going off (no thanks to Tish Shute), she did get the demo to work well enough to where people could get the idea: Install a Lego kiosk/scanner in a store, a child walks up to the device, scans the cover of the box (image recognition) and then would see onscreen a working 3D rendering of that specific constructed lego set. The 3D model would have video motion and could be rotated so a child (or adult) could see what that particular set looked like compared to others.

While I have seen this kind of 3D “pop-up” book kind of thing from other recent AR projects, I don’t understand the practical application. Couldn’t we do the EXACT same kind of functionality with a cheaper and more highly evolved (50 years old) barcode scanner (since every Lego box already has a barcode) and the same pre-packaged 3D renderings saved to a SD card and displayed on a 10” OLED? Why is it important that I rotate the box I’m holding as a virtual display platform? The same is true of the recent hype around the Esquire magazine AR issue: Who cares? It’s seems to be the same level of hype as when the CueCat came out in the 90s and was going to “revolutionize” publishing by allowing people to scan an icon in a magazine and get more details about products from advertisers. We have that already – it’s called a website! If Esquire wants to show me more pictures of some nearly naked model in their magazine or the uncensored video interview with Robert Downey Jr., why not just put a note in the magazine that encourages me to go visit a unique URL for that content? Why do I need to set up a webcam and install software to make CG pop-ups jump out of the magazine and videos play stupid messages? I’m not getting it yet – but I am still open to the possibilities. It simply seems we are confusing the 3D models and virtual reality worlds with legitimate uses for augmented reality with no real quantifiable benefit. Noora concluded her five minutes of fame by demonstrating that this new image recognition tool with 3D pop-up book would also work on a portable device. A powerful demonstration, but again, someone could take any of a dozen barcode scanner apps for any portable device and tie it back to a specific 3D model, video, digital coupon, etc. all driven by Lego or Stella Artois or Proctor & Gamble and so forth. Maybe what Lego could focus on instead is something of an AR instruction book, like this demo, that would allow kids to actually construct the theme pictured on the box!

The last demo of the night I was most excited about because it was identified in the AR NY Meetup agenda as the Whisper Deck. Given my recent rants about the need for mobile AR to deliver more audible cues to people and allow them to give verbal commands as opposed to pointing and spinning, I was looking forward to this demonstration. The demo provided by Craig Kapp, an NYU student, was indeed powerful and impressive, as you can see from his own website. One of the factors I didn’t comprehend was his desire to be away from his computer, yet his solution required both of his eyes to be covered with display goggles (HMD) and both ears would be covered with a headset/microphone. What good is it to be disconnected from your desktop if you are still tethered to it anyway and can’t walk because your most important senses are being blocked? I really don’t want to take anything away from what was shown because it was indeed very cool. Everything he built was using off-the-shelf hardware brought together with existing websites (Google (why not Bing visual search?), Google Trends and Wikipedia mostly), a lot of ingenuity and brain power from Mr. Kapp. Clearly the best demo of the night!

While I spent nearly five hours of my life getting to and from this event, I think it was very powerful because it shows some very early stages of what will clearly be a fundamental change in how we see and experience our future world. And, as an entrepreneur, I certainly came away with some solid business ideas that could change industries entirely. I look forward to attending more ARNY meetups in the future and may even make an attempt to attend the national AR event in California in June (with Bruce Sterling as keynote!).

UPDATE: ARNY co-founder, Chris Grayson, posted a much better quality video of the entire demo + Q&A session on Ustream!


PS: I certainly realize that many of my recent posts have had little to do with 80s Music, Media, etc., so I have started to develop a separate site/page/brand for Superempower. This may be the last tech/super-empowerment type post I’ll put here on 80sAirwaves. While its not quite ready, if you’re prone to this kind of subject, please fan me at the new Superempower Facebook page or follow my new Superempower alter-ego on Twitter.

We Could Be Heroes

January 10th, 2010

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Over the past 30 days I’ve been watching repeatedly the recent Ironman movie as well as Batman Begins and the Dark Knight. As I’ve written in the past, I am very intrigued by the idea of singular super-empowerment: the idea that one person can transform themselves into something greater, for good or for evil, that is significantly more advanced than the “common” person. Both the Ironman and Batman characters utilize technology to achieve this superior advantage, but at the core of this pop-culture idea is a simple human, born just like the rest, with no inherit physical advantages or superpowers. And that is the key – there is a difference between superpowers and super-empowered; one is fictional and the other has already become a reality within our world today.

While I’ve used a David Bowie/Brian Eno lyric to title this post, there is actually another song, also called “Heroes,” that more accurately reflects this idea of moving beyond “common” from a 1986 duo called David & David, here’s a quote from their song “Heroes”;

…and there comes a time when you cannot turn the other cheek
you have got to ride the ferry
past the battered old bodies of dead, dead dreamers
past the tethered and fettered and desk-bound schemers
past the punks and the drunks and the bad guitar players
and the dewy eyed teenage dragon slayers
- you come to this place where you can say I just want to work with you
as we do the things that we know we have to do
ever hopeful and ever blue,
we do the things that we know we have to do
and though we all know deep down in our hearts
that someday this will all fall apart
for right now
let’s just be heroes

The bar is set low – do what you know you have to do despite the likely result, that it may mean nothing in the end. Because, ultimately, most people do not do the things that they know “deep down in our hearts” are the right things. The average person knows that eating healthy and exercise are the right things to do, but the adult obesity rate in many “developed” countries trends beyond 50%. When was the last time you saw a really fat 80 year old? The average person understands the idea of compound interest and the importance of dollar-cost averaging investments for financial security, yet the vast majority spend more time (and money) on their summer vacation than they do on any kind of long-term investment plans. Did you know that the average US adult reads ONE book per year? The “common” person, as frequently outlined by Confucius, are typically those who lack morality and virtues, something that is certainly not a hot commodity these days. This post isn’t about super-enlightenment, but when was the last time you did something really nice, completely unexpected and completely without the possibility for repayment for someone? Anyone? It seems that here on the east coast, when someone does something nice for you, it’s viewed as a possible ploy for future gain or a sign of weakness. Or both.

Somewhere, in the realm of metrics that measures humans (think of psychometric profiling to the 10th power) in a vast number of ways (Intelligence, Fitness, Memory, Health, Speed, Agility, Social Graph, Net Worth, Morality, Languages, Reputation, Cash Flow, etc.), somewhere, there exists an average. The average person has varying degrees of each of these, but when combined we see a profile of what could represent a “common” or median or average person. My idea is that being not just slightly above that average metric, but multiples of that metric should be our individual goal. We should be pushing the bounds of our human capabilities, instead of watching reruns of “Heroes”.

Below I’ve started to outline what I perceive to be the basic means for categorizing these ideas and the related data streams: What I’m referring to as the Super-Empower Centers. I only know that it’s not complete, and would appreciate collaborating with others who were focused on similar attributes for themselves:

Super-Empower Centers (v2)

• Health, Wealth & Fitness

• Education, Knowledge & Intelligence

• Media, Information & Technology

• Politics, Social Engineering & Laws of Influence/Attraction

If you’ve seen something similar to this, I would like to know about it. I am certain I am reinventing a wheel here when one book recommendation could save me significant time and effort. But the other request I have is if anyone else has an interest in these various topics, collectively? With over 400 visitors each month, people are clearly coming to this website for something – not to mention over 1,300 followers on Twitter as well. My current strategy is to take super-empowerment topics like this and create a blog/podcast to further my understanding of the subject, while educating readers/listener at the same time. The only remaining question is if I should even bother to share my journey towards super-empowerment with others. I would like to think there is a likely community here - but I’ve been wrong before. Once.

Please reach me via facebook and Twitter if so.


Dear AR Community, “We Don’t Walk Anymore”

December 31st, 2009

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Pardon my take on an old Todd Rundgren song, but this past week I saw a lot discussion within Augmented Reality tweet-streams about the possibility of Apple making a head mounted display (HMD) that really looked dated. Five years ago, or so, Oakley began manufacturing a sunglasses/audio playback device, called Thump. I wrote them at that time and told them they needed to get out of the audio device game and into the Bluetooth wireless game. This was during the boom of iPod popularity and people didn’t want another device to contain their music, but they might appreciate a sunglass/wireless headphone combo that when linked to their new iPod, would allow them to swoosh the slopes or mountain bike in a more wireless way. HMD’s are for MIT students, not real people.

Ultimately, what I’ve been disappointed by is the utter lack of attention to the audio / verbal clues that should be at the CORE of augmented reality and our latest AR apps. Nearly every single augmented reality app shows someone walking the streets holding up their Nokiphoid device and looking at buildings to see what is around them with colorful dots that represents little pockets of information. If we all lived in Amsterdam or Madison or some other pleasant low-crime metro area, where we biked to work and took two hour lunch breaks at five star restaurants, this would be helpful. But most people I know DRIVE to work and then drive to lunch, usually at the same places every week and then we hope like hell that the highway isn’t packed so we can get home in less than an hour. Are we really expected to wear a device like this while driving? I try not to even distract myself with talking on the phone let alone, texting or interacting much with navigation.

During my last trip to New York city, as I was standing in between Little Italy and China Town, trying to let the five different AR apps on my Droid tell us where to have dinner, I recognized that, I’m standing and walking the dirty street of New York flaunting a $200 device. It’s not uncommon for me to pocket my wedding band when traveling within NYC, but here I was, Mr. Tourist, holding up my new prized possession just waiting for someone to come knock me over the head and take it.

What’s the ideal scenario? A combination of Augmented Reality and Augmented Intelligence using AUDIO. Picture this; my droid is tucked safe and warm in my pocket and connected magically to my Bluetooth earpiece of choice:

ME: “Droid – Find Best Italian Restaurants within a .5 mile radius”
DROID Audio: “According to Zagat the top three are Pino’s, Little Sicily and Meatball’s for All.”
DROID Audio: “According to Yelp the top three are Joey’s Place, Little Sicily and Grandma Bellini’s.”
DROID Audio: “According to Google the top three are Little Sicily, The Three Sisters and Dave’s Not Here.”
ME: “Droid – Read Zagat Ratings of Little Sicily.”
DROID Audio: “2010 Zagat Ratings for Little Sicily: Décor 18, Food; 26, Service 23…”
ME: “Droid – Walking Directions to Little Sicily.”

The Droid guides me and I make my way to a restaurant called Little Sicily. When we arrive, the host greets me and begins to ask me questions in Italian.

ME: “Droid – Translate please” (using the microphone on my Bluetooth headset, the droid listens for me)
Droid Audio: “Do you have reservations you stupid tourist?”

Clearly, this scenario could play out with existing technologies now that smart phones have the processing power for voice recognition, the GPS connectivity and portability. Probably the only thing we haven’t seen is a wireless earpiece that would have a second, more omnidirectional microphone, that was listening to what was going on outside me (though it seems to me that noise reduction earpieces may already have this). And, so long as we’re changing these little ear jewelry thingys, let’s add a simple camera to them as well so my device knows where I’m looking, will recognize that guy I met at the conference two years ago and remind me that he owes me a dinner.

Plus, if my Bluetooth earpiece could see, I wouldn’t have to walk around Little Italy in New York looking like tourist waiting to be robbed!

But back to the car; Also this week Chris Brogan posted a link to a new social service, CarPong, that let us complain about other people’s poor driving, parking, etc. By basically tagging them online based on their license plate, a new service will let you virtually bitch about someone else. Really? We are actually encouraging people who were just cut-off by someone, to pick up their Nokiphoid device, while driving mind you, and post some negative words about them. So we now have two bad drivers; one that’s was bad to begin with and a new bad driver who is attempting to tattle on his neighbor for being that bad driver. “Oh no!” Here’s an idea - honk your horn and flip him/her/it off. If that escalates, get into a god-damned street fight for fuck’s sake. Your face needs a few more scars anyway - gives you character and is known to make men more attractive.

Ultimately, AR could see more success faster by using audio more and provide verbal commands: Whispers within your ear that give you more information and intelligence. Whether it’s telling you what traffic on I94 is like 20 minutes before leaving work, helping you with the conversion rate from dollars to pesos while you are negotiating with street vendors in Mexico or giving you the home address for that Masshole that just cut you off. More audio whispers please!

PS: I could use your help; I want to create a podcast next year (tomorrow) but am really struggling with a straight AR show or a show dedicated to the superempowerment of people (which could mix in AR elements as well). Hit me on Twitter and let me know what you’re interested in. And what you feel is missing in your weekly audio information diet.

When Hyper-Consumerism collides with Super-Criticism

December 26th, 2009

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Yesterday, Christmas Day, I read about Jason Calacanis‘ excitement about Blippy, a new social way for people to share what you’re buying with others. YIKES. I signed up for the beta waiting list of course, but started to think about the ramification of monitoring everything that I buy over time. Everything from eBay, Amazon, Borders, Oldies.com, DeepDiscount, Newbury Comics, Woot, BensBargains, GoDaddy and MANY, MANY more. Blippy steals a tagline similar to Twitter’s, which is, “What are your friends buying?” Double YIKES.

If there’s anything that I’m REALLY good at it, it’s buying stuff. If selling things online were as easy and as fun as buying stuff online, I’d be retired by now - if I believed in retirement, that is. I’m quite certain that my mailman is probably suspicious of all the packages I receive on an almost daily basis. At one point in my life I had such disdain for a co-worker who seemed to derive her entire identity from buying things. When a package would arrive she would announce it widely about what it was she bought and why it was the greatest thing in the world. My consumption is much more private, with only my wife and postman having any real clues as to what kind of dollars I drop on a monthly basis for my obsessions (mostly music CDs, music DVDs and music books (biographies - not the sheet music stuff - being a musician is way too difficult)). Here’s a “partial” list of what I received from my wife for Christmas yesterday - most of which came right from my convenient Amazon wishlist:

Toots & The Maytals - Roots Reggae CD Box Set
Say Anything - Blu-Ray
Wall Street - Blu-Ray
Spectacle (Season 1)- The Elvis Costello music TV show - Blu-Ray
Wlid Years - The Myth and Music of Tom Waits - book
Devo - Limited Ed CD/DVD/Vinyl box
Sting - Bring on the Night - Blu-Ray

There was more, but I’m already embarrassed by how much stuff I get, and how much stuff I’ve already bought during the month of December. If I documented it all here, I would probably need to sign myself up for some kind of 12 step program for obsessives. Maybe that’s how blippy will help me. We’ll see.

But what will happen when we can view each others consumptive habits? If you go out to eat three times more often than I do, will that create a rift between us? If I buy new clothes twice a year and you buy new clothes twice a month, will that change my shopping habits? Plus, what about the idea that we are all critics? There was a quote I barely recall about the power of blogging and what a massively powerful tool it could be for communication, but instead all we want to use it for is to write our own music and movie reviews.

If our new reality will be being aware of all our friends purchases, and then our friends are providing feedback and criticism about the things they buy, the shows they see, the places they eat, maybe their feedback would actually reduce my consumption? Soon someone will mashup consumption objectives with an augmented reality app like FourSquare and we will actually become the Pacman eating our way through life at a series of local restaurants and pubs, chasing incentive coupon ghosts that we never really seem to catch. Or maybe it will change crime; Maybe I’ll just wait for someone to post that they’ve just purchased a new Mercedes or a new 5 carat diamond and then pay them a visit… while they are away on vacation, tweeting live from Amsterdam.

Finally, blogging has been a mostly word-based communication vehicle for 10 years. Podcasts have allowed me to hear people’s thoughts and ideas, but now Nokia phones, iPhones and Droids are able to stream video in real-time and capture video forever, so establishing your opinions on a restaurant could happen while you’re still in the restaurant! Maybe that kind of reality would be better since we know for certain that the person providing the review was actually there. (Just reserved OneTakeReviews.com for this idea). Maybe we even begin to review the wait-staff within the restaurants as well. Maybe I’ll follow a waitperson on Twitter first to make sure they are happy with their career (and less likely to spit in my pasta). Things are getting really crazy.

But I need to go now - I’ve got an ebay auction ending soon and another opportunity to spend $80 before lunch. Not to mention a haircut.


Radio Silence – Building Resilient Local Media Centers

December 13th, 2009

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Here we are on the cusp of 2010 – less than three weeks away. Yet this week my attention was drawn to the fact that both the House and the Senate may be passing an expansion of the Low-Power FM (LPFM) Radio Service Act (Local Community Radio Act, HR1147 and S592) before returning home for the holidays. You know “radio”, that 100 year old technology that seems so quaint in these days of satellite connected, geographically aware, supercomputer like devices that we can carry in our pockets (see my Droid review from Friday). It is feasible that we should still care about radio, and local community radio at that? Not only should we care, but we need to take action by contacting various representatives to support the expansion of the LPFM act for the following reasons:

1. The Mega-Media Conglomerates that purchased your local radio station back in the 90’s are failing hard today. It didn’t take long to see that the Clear Channels of the world, in tandem with a few religious syndicates, were buying up thousands of radio stations across the country and in essence eliminating any local radio personalities, engineers and journalists. They would install software that would in essence make your local station a relay for their content as determined by someone in Texas or California, while still being able to insert your “local” ads for revenues. The problem is that most local radio stations are not really very “local” any longer – with the exception of the ads. It no longer cares about your local community, your local weather, high school sports scores, elections or public service events because that stuff is hard to do over a network of 1,000 radio stations. So “local” went away, right around the time same time that the two major satellite radio options launched. People were already not getting local news/events/sports, so why not switch to something with better programming and no commercials? And pay monthly for that privilege.

2. The FCC still rules the Airwaves: Despite the issue of airwaves being freely available to the “public interest”, the FCC still has a tight grasp on who can actually (legally) broadcast over the air. Just this week I read about Pirate Cat Radio receiving a fine for $10,000 their “extra-legal” FM broadcasting that’s been happening for 13 years in San Francisco. While the station is no longer available via FM frequencies within their local geography, they continue to broadcast using an audio stream available anywhere on the web, as well as having the majority of their shows available as podcasts. This completely volunteer run radio station has lost its voice among the local citizens and the true public service it provided to local FM listeners, because of the FCC. And “true” public service is at the core of what I’m getting at here. We don’t need more reality/celebrity news or another Tiger Woods Whore-board. We need volunteers and journalists covering local politicians, school board meetings, fund-raising efforts, interviews with local entrepreneurs and teachers, coverage of the local arts and local music, broadcasts from Sunday church services as well as the Friday night high school games. And not just audio (radio) either, we need video channels and writers as well to provide a digital replacement for the local papers that didn’t shift with technology trends. We live in a world now where my home is in one community and my work is in another, and I travel frequently, but I still want to use web technologies to keep me informed of what’s happening locally back at home.

3. Increase your local community resilience: As we continue to develop more and more sophisticated means for communications, we continue to push the bounds and leave ourselves exposed for potential failures of infrastructure. Whether this means an outage from your cable company, or bandwidth provider or your power, water or worse; one thing that should be at the core of every community is a simple communications channel. Communications could mean the difference between anarchy and true community, especially during severe weather conditions or other unforeseen changes to food/water/power delivery infrastructure. Having the ability to turn on a battery-powered or hand-crank powered radio in order to understand and comprehend what’s going on, is critical. Relying on a national emergency system or, worse, a national media giant who’s eliminated that majority of staff at your local radio station seems like a bad bet for your future. The time is now to do something about it.

So, after you call and urge your representatives and senators to take action and expand the LPFM act NOW, then what? I’ll post a follow-up soon on creating a local media group within your community once we all receive this important Christmas gift.


Love for my new Motorola Droid

December 11th, 2009

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A friend of mine just sent me a text message, asking about my satisfaction with the new Motorola Droid that I just picked up a few weeks back. My satisfaction with this little device, and continued excitement still today, can’t be emphasized enough. The last time I was this excited about a digital device was probably when I got my first computer back around 1983. The only difference is that my Vic-20 had 4k of memory and used cassettes to capture programs and my little TV for video display (all for $299). And the modem that I added later ($99), communicated at a patience-inducing trot of 300kbps. My new Droid has 32GB of storage (that would be about 33.5 MILLION more kilobytes than the Vic – if I did my math right) with a built-in 3G satellite connection for bandwidth (averaging about 1MB download connection (and half that up) still slightly faster than my old dialup). And it also taps into my local 802.11 wireless points at home and at work. Did I mention Bluetooth too? Yeah – wireless headsets, etc. and so forth. After my $50 good puppy rebate from Verizon, my cost was HALF what my original Vic cost me - $150 (plus the monthly fees of course – but I use to have monthly CompuServe bills as well – not to mention occasional $300 phone bills thanks to said online service).

The power of the Droid is simple amazing to me. I have no idea why more people aren’t donating organs and bodily fluids to score one of these little machines. Yes, I am aware of the iPhone: I had been an Apple fanboy for the past 20+ years of my life. But for some reason I affiliate iPhones with the kind of people who drive foreign cars, wear designer clothing and talk too loud, while they are on the train, about shit that just doesn’t seem all the important. Where the iPhone seems to be about style, the Droid is more about function: For people who might drive Jeeps (like me) or trucks (like him). The Droid is not as elegant as the Apple option, and it weighs several ounces more, but I honestly like the heft of the Droid. It feels substantial and sturdy, like a power tool: Like it would probably survive if I dropped it out of the car and onto a parking lot, as I’ve done once already. Hell, my last phone slide across my dashboard and out the door opening of my Jeep, hit the pavement and I luckily got to it before anyone had the chance to run it over. After some reassembly it worked… mostly. But as usual, I digress.
Some of the most amazing features and applications I’m excited about:

1. Navigation: While I never owned a GPS unit, I now know that I never will. We used the Droids turn-by-turn guidance during our trip back to the Midwest last month and were simply amazed at how helpful and accurate it was. And yet, I have no idea why people would consider paying $100 or more from a GPS unit that does just ONE thing, when the Droid can do this and more.

2. Qik: The still/video camera built-into the Droid is pretty decent quality. They claim it to be 5 megapixel, but to my eye, the iPhone pix are clearer. I do like the fact that after I take the picture I can click “Share” and push it out to Facebook, Flickr, Gmail, Picassa, or send it direct to one of my Contacts. Regardless, the free Qik video app allows me to live video stream from anywhere I have a connection (wireless or 3G). The video stream can be viewed live from the Qik website and the video is also captured there (and on the camera) for future viewing by me and others (or it can be private if I so desire). Having run an online streaming radio station for 18 months, it blows me away that one device and one little application can become a small live video stream, for free.

3. Mobile Augmented Reality (AR): This isn’t just an application but an entire computer culture category that has nearly all my attention these days. The most recent smart phones being released (like the Droid and the iPhone 3gS) have digital compasses built in. While GPS functionality can tell where you are, a compass can tell which direction you’re facing. Those two coordinates, when teamed with an ass-load of data make it possible for you to hold your phone and basically say “Me Want Mexican” and it finds you all the Mexican restaurants within a reasonable radius of where you are, and then the Droid can give you turn by turn directions to get you there. But it’s more than that – your list of nearby Mexican restaurants will likely contain consumer reviews and ratings, and it might also tell you that two of your friends are already at one of the restaurants near-by (the free Foursquare app). Another Mobile AR app, Wikitude will tell me what I need to know about the special points of interest along the way or the history of the town I happen to be in. The Layar app is probably the most advanced in that I basically select the “layer” your most interested in at the time (a few options include”Eat”, “Apartments for Rent”, “Beaches”, “MrMovie”, “Hotels”, “Golf” , “Bands in Town” and even a damned “Flu-Shot Finder” layer. Regardless of what you’re seeking odds are good one of several Augmented Reality apps will help you find your way. Apps I’ve downloaded in support of this new terrain include Wikitude, Layar, Superpages Mobile and to some degree Foursquare. And Google just threw their spin on things this past week with their new “visual search” option called Google Goggles. I am so excited about this new aspect of computing power combined with navigation that I reserved MobileAR.info for future development.

4. Facebook/Twitter/Craigslist/YouTube: If I want to maintain my social status online, not being especially social, I can with some very specialized apps. Just like the iPhone, the Droid has thousands of social apps to choose from, most designed to keep you engaged and communicating with your network of friends, fans and followers. I’ve also added in a few different apps to get a podcast program working that I’m happy with (like Google Listen), including Stitcher which is streams audio programs as opposed to downloading them. And I installed Shazam (song recognizer) as well, in case there comes a time when I hear a new song and actually want to know who sings it. The lyrics were something about a “beautiful hot mess…”

I’ve really had very few disappointments with my new device, some of which were just a matter of me doing a bit of detective work (like why the battery was draining so quickly). One new app that I was really excited about was the Talking RSS Reader, which unfortunately didn’t actually work with the newest version of the Android operating system. But I have started a dialog with the developer and have volunteered to help him beta test on the new OS. Another disappointment has been Twidroid – a Twitter app that seems to launch itself without my involvement – just haven’t got around to uninstalling and switching to something else. DroidRecord was the only app I’ve actually paid for (.99c) but does not have the sound quality I was expecting for a simple dictation kind of app – but it does work and it is simple to use. Maybe I need to connect up a Bluetooth headset of some sort to improve the quality. I’ve also been looking for MAME (arcade machine emulator) app so that I can play my old Vic-20 and Commodore 64 games, but nothing great so far.

Bottom line – I really couldn’t be happier with my new Droid. It has me excited about technology again for the first time in way too many years.


Are You Superempowered?

October 27th, 2009

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It’s not yet 5:30am, but since late last night I’ve been really focused on this idea of an individual as superempowered - thanks in most part to author John Robb and a few other sequence of events. While I’m certain that when I was younger I felt like I could do anything, even here at the age of 42, I feel the exact same way. If anything, I’m more confident now, in this belief that certain people can accomplish immense tasks. Certain people are Superempowered - are you?

The traits as I see them:

Narrow, highly determined focus on Execution and Engagement at all Levels
- Super Effective - Anything is possible. ANY -THING. Be/Know/Do. Think of “The Seven Habits…” to the seventh power.

Highly Networked, Socially Connected and Technologically Proficient with a knowledge of Psychology
- Supremely Capable Influencer - from social engineering people to mass media manipulation

Habitually fit physically, well groomed, cognizant of Life Extension practices, proper food consumption habits, Cosmetic Improvements, Technological Enhancements

- Supremely Healthy; mentally and physically

Highly Analytical with Pattern Recognition and Awareness for Fear Mongering
- Highly aware of extreme positions presented within religion, politics, debates and news media

Broadly Educated with Constant focus on Continued Learning at every Opportunity
- Above average Intelligence, yet Street Smart - realizing that even I.Q. reaches diminishing returns

Highly Entrepreneurial and Business Savvy with Emphasis on Sales & Marketing
- Super Adept at Developing Revenue Opportunities - Recognizing Markets for Products/Services Everywhere - Negotiator

Highly Prepared, Well Coached and Constantly Practicing
- Super Survivalist Regardless of Conditions Presented or Developed - As comfortable with Bit Torrents as you are with Torx Bits.

Highly Open Source - Use the people-proven, free tools when and where possible; learning from mistakes of others
- Very flexible with platforms, systems development, security of information, the communication of ideas and deep interest in evolving systems quickly

Well Developed Leadership and Management Skills for People, Resources and Capital

- Already evolving your personal leadership style by studying, experimenting, documenting and quantifying concisely.

I’ll flesh this out more later, but wanted to get these ideas down before the day begins.

For those of you who identify yourself within some of these criteria - welcome. I’ve reserved Superempowerment.com recently and look forward to building a community of unique individuals there.


Fear for the Music

October 4th, 2009

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This past week in my musical life has been interesting. Early in the week, I read a post on a great 80s Music blog – Slicing Eyeballs – about the release schedule for John Peel sessions featuring literally dozens of artists performing within the BBC studios at the height of their musical creativity. To my mind, there is an unspoken rule that rock and roll is certainly a young man’s (and woman’s) game. While there are still dozens of bands from the 80’s still creating and still performing live, only a very small percentage are at the same level they were at 20 years ago. But I digress – my point is that while I was already imagining new limited edition deluxe CD releases (anyone remember ROIR Cassettes?) and special paper booklets, all of these new John Peel BBC “releases” were digital only – MP3’s my friends. No precious CDs to be found.

Around Wednesday, this past week, I was on Facebook (an increasing habit, I will confess – not nearly as fun as music, alcohol or drugs, but sill fun nonetheless) and digging through these wonderful Polaroids posted by singer/songstress Kate Schutt. I discovered Kate’s music during our recent trip to NC when a great over the air radio station – called the Penguin – played one of her tracks. Now I was on her Facebook and saw a polaroid of Kate with another singer named Kat Edmonson. Kate and Kat, sounds like a 90’s TV sitcom, but as I soon discovered, Kat is really very talented in her own right. My preliminary digging brought me to a Youtube clip of her performing “Lucky” on a TX television program. Simply amazing – it was just Kat and a trumpet player; no drums, no electric guitar, and I was just stunned by her tiny precious voice. As I set out to purchase her CD with “Lucky” on it, I quickly discovered that was not going to be an option. The only possible way I could own “Lucky” was by purchasing the MP3, through Amazon, which is exactly what I did. My first ever mp3 purchase through Amazon.

Then driving home later in the week, backed up traffic had me driving new back roads and seeing new cities while I was catching up on some podcasts that had become lodged in my iPod. My rule for podcast auto-downloads within iTunes apparently prevents me from getting far behind because I had five IndieFeed podcasts from June and July. If you don’t subscribe or haven’t listened to at least one of the IndieFeed genres, their stream can basically feed your iPod one song a day – roughly one great song per week: Heaven for a new music geek like me. The best of this bunch was a band from the UK, called Schizoid Club, and the song was “Theme from End Games”. A wonderful soundtrack for our life during wartime. When I returned home that night, I checked all the usual sources for the physical atoms that represent this band – Amazon, eBay, CDBaby and more. Even their label’s website. Everything was bits – no shiny aluminum CDs to appease me.

All of this wraps up nicely as yesterday I spent 16 hours of my life getting to, from, and attending the first day of the Singularity Summit in NYC. Spend just an hour or two with some of these presenters and attendees and you quickly get the sense that technology is changing so rapidly that it’s not a matter of IF we will have artificial general intelligence within machines that surpasses our collective intelligence – but when. And I have been a “computer person” since the age of 13 – if anyone should embracing a digital music future, it should be me, but I’m not, yet. I was at the 1998 MP3.com conference in La Jolla and got to meet all of those important players of the day. But because I know computers, I know computers FAIL. Hard drives fail – again not IF but when. And power supplies fail. Computers get stolen, computers get broken and computers burn easily and are high susceptible to water and other extreme conditions. What happens then? Your memories can’t wait and they may not be recoverable. Are you going to buy back your songs or will Apple and Amazon just hand them over upon request? If so, for how long? What’s the statute of limitations on my 99 cent purchase this week? Knowing these things has me being REALLY resistant to the idea that some of the music I will own (or now own) will only ever exist in a digital form. When I walk into my “library” I feel warm and comfy being surrounded by my CDs, books, artwork and DVDs. I don’t get that same fuzzy feeling from the 1.5TB external hard drive I just bought.

And that’s not even touching upon QUALITY of the music. I started creating MP3’s and ACC’s because I didn’t want to take my original CDs with me in my fairly unsecure / easily accessible Jeep. I Zimbra, it spends half the Summer’s with no doors and usually no top, so my iPod is ideally suited to be my portable music library that fits in my pocket when I park. But I can easily hear a difference in quality between when I’m playing a song off the iPod and playing it off a CD – the bass response is better and the highs are cleaner and clearer with CDs. Even in a soft-top Jeep, you can hear the difference.

I may have made this point in a prior post, but I believe the music industry missed an important strategic opportunity during the mp3 boom at the turn of the century. They could have easily been getting people to focus on the QUALITY of sound that comes from CDs, DVDs, DVD-Audio discs , Super CDs or even heavy weight vinyl. Let the people have their mp3’s as a way to sample artists and get the word spread, but when it’s time to sit back and enjoy, don’t you want the best sound quality options available? Quality speakers, well-printed gatefold graphics, artwork & text to enhance your listening pleasure?

All of this might sound like a very 70’s or 80’s audiophile’s fantasy. Maybe my ways need to change. Maybe the hounds aren’t at the door, but I think it may be some other animals. Today, the average selling price of a CD on eBay is likely less than $2US. I can easily see a future point in time when they might wheel me to my new room at the home; when all I will have is a small 8×10” OLED digital picture frame with 10TB of flash storage that contains every picture I’ve ever taken or owned, all my favorite movies, all my family videos and every email I’ve ever received, each and every one of these damned posts and all the CDs, nay, all the MUSIC that I’ve owned will all be held in my two wrinkled and frail hands. All will be good and fine – until I drool on it and short circuit the damned thing.

Welcome to the future.


PS: Since I borrowed the Talking Heads album name “Fear of Music” for this post, I took some creative means with that album and used the titles of all 11 tracks within this post. Was it obvious? Did anyone notice? Hello – David Byrne – are you there?