The moments between moments

I’m sitting in the doctor’s office right now. Around the room, a dozen people are quietly waiting.

Waiting and tapping.

Everyone is silently tapping away on a phone. Reading. Sending email. Hurling ill-tempered birds to their death. I’m even writing this on my phone.

What did we ever do before our brains could be constantly engaged? What did we do in those moments between moments? Waiting in the doctor’s office. Waiting on food to arrive. What happened back when our brains were forced to just relax for a moment or focus on something other than this glowing thing in our hands?

I wonder about the effect these things have on our brain because much of what I do comes from some deep recess of my mind, and it’s kind of mysterious. I’d hate to do anything that would mess with that. Creativity is not math. It is not this quantifiable thing that is easy to understand on paper. People present me with problems and I design solutions. Most of the solutions come to me at odd times in odd places. Usually it’s not while I’m sitting and thinking about the problem.

How many things am I missing by not letting my brain just rest and disengage in those moments between moments? Could my phone, this vaunted scion of productivity, actually be hurting my creative output?

To upgrade or not to upgrade

We have an iPad but not an iPad 2. Do you recommend upgrading or do the new features not justify the cost? — Sarah

For me, the answer is no.* We own an original iPad. I’ve been contemplating getting another for my own personal use. Ours is for the family, which means every time I pick it up, I find jelly or some such on it. I’d really rather have my own. That being said, I’m holding out for an iPad 3.

I’ve spent time with the iPad 2 and it’s a very impressive device. Much lighter than the original, and noticeably snappier. Unfortunately other than that, there wasn’t much that I’d place in the “have to have” category if we’re talking upgrade. I’m sure FaceTime is nice, but I have it on my phone and have used it maybe twice.

Now, if you don’t have a tablet at all, of course, go iPad 2. As far as an upgrade though, it just wasn’t compelling enough for me.

*I guess it also depends on what kind of person you are when it comes to technology. You wouldn’t know it by the amount of Apple techno-crap I own, but I’m not usually the “gotta-have-it-on-launch-day guy.” I usually buy the most expensive computer I can and then use it for four or five years. I never upgrade software if I don’t have to. I get a new iPhone every couple of years, but usually don’t feel the itch to upgrade yearly. Overall, I’d say I’m very patient when it comes to buying new technology. Some people aren’t like that, so factor your personality into your upgrade decision.

The iPad category

When the iPad was released most people were skeptical about it (myself included). “It’s just a big iPhone” was a common quote. Also, “Why not just use a laptop?”

The Bucs’ linebacker coach, Joe Baker, admitted he was “a little skeptical” when the team started using iPads. His concerns were rooted in a past experience, when another team he worked for started using laptops. At the time, he said, it was a poor integration of technology and the team’s needs. Today, he admits things have changed.

“To have all that information at your fingertips accessible and convenient,” said Baker. “It’s a godsend.”

The form factor and user interface of the iPad are just so intuitive it has opened doors and is being used in ways a laptop never could. The ease-of-use on an iPad can never be discounted. The information the team needs is literally at their fingertips.

Quote via CNN.

Netflix causes virtual riot (flip a DVD over and set it on fire!)

I received an e-mail from Netflix notifying me that my current subscription plan was going away. In its place will be two separate plans. Both of these together would cost me roughly 60% more than my current rate. Of course, I wasn’t the only one. The rest of their subscriber base received the same e-mail, causing the internet’s collective head to explode (for some free fun, check out the 5,000+ comments on the Netflix blog post; most of the “burn in Hell, Netflix” variety).

While it’s always annoying to have prices hiked so drastically, and my first instinct is always to just cancel, I’ll probably stay with them. We watch a ridiculous amount of movies and t.v. shows via Netflix streaming. There is honestly no other way we could get that much entertainment for $7.99. And while we’re being honest, I’ve had the same DVD sitting on my desk for about four months. Obviously I’m not really going to miss that part of the service.

So they’ll continue to get my money. What they won’t get is my unadulterated love. They had it before. If you provide me with an incredible service at an incredible price, I’ll tell everyone about it: Why hello, Mr. Postman, do you have Netflix?

If, however, you try to hit me with a 60% rate hike out of the blue, well that puts you squarely in the category with other services I must have but who’s providers I vehemently detest (I’m looking at you telephone and health care industries).

While this may be a net positive for Netflix’s balance sheet, I think in the long term they burned a lot of goodwill. Maybe they had it in spades to burn, but it’s not easily earned and certainly not something to be wasted.

Welcome to the third dimension. Watch your step.

After hating 3D movies since they started their resurgence, I finally saw one last week with Transformers 3. Whether you thought the movie was great or terrible, the general consensus was it contained some of the best 3D work ever.

Having never see other films in 3D, I can’t say how it compares. That being said, I give it a solid “meh”. There were a handful of shots that I thought looked spectacular. For the other 95% of the running time, it was just kind of there. It didn’t seem to add anything to the film. Knowing this is about as good as it gets with this gimmick, I’m not inclined to pay the higher ticket price ever again. I guess if you’ve seen a few movies that had terrible 3D conversions, it might allow for more enjoyment of the format in Transformers. I just wasn’t blown away by it.

Could it be my utter hatred of the film itself or my previous dislike of the format contributing to my overall negative thoughts on the gimmick that is 3D? Probably. But I’m okay with that.

3D needs to go the way of the dodo

I’ve about had it with this resurgence of 3D movies.

Have I actually watched a 3D movie at the theater?

Well, no, and yet it manages to annoy me all the same. This last weekend’s release, Thor, is a prime example. First of all, about half the showings of the film were in 3D. I’m taking at least four people. That would be an extra $20 to experience the joy of the third dimension which, if all the reviews I read are to be believed, added little to the film. This means it severely limited the times available for us to go see the movie. That led to us seeing it later in the week rather than opening weekend. Not a big deal, I know, but in a world where opening weekend grosses make or break a film, I’m sure they would have rather had my cash on Saturday instead of Wednesday.

The real reason for my deep hatred of the format, however, is how much it stinks up a traditional showing of the film. Thor was originally shot for 3D, and it shows. Multiple times, while thoroughly enjoying the film, I was ripped out of it when a shot would come up that was so obviously made for 3D but doesn’t work as well in 2D. “This is a really cool sequence,” I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, wait, look at that crappy shot there. I bet if I were wearing those vaunted 3D glasses that fake looking guy falling through the air would feel like he was going to land on me.”

3D is expensive, doesn’t seem to add a lot to most films* and looks really bad when viewed traditionally. 3D needs to go the way of the dodo.

*I suppose I should add a disclaimer excluding James Cameron from this blanket statement. Judging by the number of people that lost their minds over Avatar**, he did something right with 3D.

**I am not one of said people who lost their minds over Avatar. I gave it a review of “meh,” and continue to wonder why people go nuts over it.

Cell phones are the new He-Man

Am I insane for thinking it’s insane to give a fifth grader a cell phone? I realize there might be a few fifth graders out there who have legitimate need of a cell phone. I get that. However, you can’t convince me that the majority of my son’s fifth grade class needs a cell phone.

This comes up because Colton was being made fun of because he didn’t have a cell phone. Back in my day it was He-Man. My mom thought He-Man was scary so I didn’t have any of the toys or watch the cartoon. Then one of my friends wouldn’t come to my house because I didn’t have any He-Man toys. My mom, being awesome, quickly bought me some He-Man toys so that my friend (who I realize now probably wasn’t a great friend) would come play.

But a cell phone?

I’m sorry, I can’t justify buying my 10-year-old a cell phone and a plan. It’s for emergencies, some will say. Sure. But you know what the boys were using their’s for when they made fun of Colton? Playing tag. He had to try to find them and they all coordinated with their cell phones so he couldn’t win. Yeah. Big emergency there.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being a cranky old man, but the very idea seems goofy to me. Am I wrong?

January 2011 habits

At the beginning of the year I wrote a review of an iPhone app, Streaks. I used it to track some of my habits through the month just to see how I was doing on some things I wanted to accomplish.

In Bed by 11: I have a very bad habit of staying up past midnight at any given opportunity. The thing is, I fully understand that my day goes significantly better if I’m in bed by at least 11. I didn’t do a good job of that in January. It was a great month but imagine how good it would have been if I wasn’t so tired through most of it.

Bible Reading Plan: Every year I start a new one-year reading plan on January 1st. Every year I make it less than a month. I’ll miss a few days, get behind and give up on it. Then the rest of the year is just whatever I want to read with no real plan. It also doesn’t happen as regularly as I’d like. So what’s different this year? I’ve given up on the idea that I have to read it in the mornings. I’m wired in a way that once I’m awake, I want to dive straight into work. I’m much more productive like that. So now I wake up, spend a few minutes praying through the day and then tackle my to-do list. Throughout the day, as I get a few minutes, I’ll read through part of my daily plan. Obviously it’s lasted 31 straight days, so maybe I’ve stumbled on something that works for me and the way I’m designed.

Write 1,000 Words: “Well, Chad, you really didn’t write a lot this month.” Actually, this was a pretty good month for me. The 1,000 words only includes writing for personal projects. Almost every day I write advertising copy and scripts. This is just things I want to write. In January I finished and released a short story and wrapped up the third draft on a 20,000-word short story. I also wrote up the outlines on a few others. Fiction-wise, it was a pretty productive month.

Walk 1 Mile: Shut up. It was cold.

For my fellow grocery shopping nerds


I’m not sure if I’ve ever written about it before but I do all the grocery shopping for my family. Rebecca has always hated it and I like getting out of the house and having some peace and quiet. You’ll usually find me wandering the aisles of my local HEB Plus (which happens to be the greatest store on Earth), headphones in, listening to an audiobook.

To assist in my grocery shopping duties, I downloaded the Grocery IQ app for my iPhone. It’s a convenient grocery list that is organized by aisle, which has all but eliminated the fifteen trips around the store it normally takes me to get everything. While I enjoy grocery shopping, I don’t want it to be the only thing I do in a day.

To make it even better, they launched a website that allows you to create your lists online and then sync them with your iPhone or iPad. The site is incredibly easy to use and makes entering long lists a snap. There’s even a nice “favorites” section where you can save items you purchase frequently.

For people without any iDevices, you can still build lists online and email them to yourself or print them and check things off the old-fashioned way.

I realize you have to be a pretty big grocery shopping nerd to care at all about an app like this, but I can’t be the only one out there. Right? Right?

The new Highrise review

Highrise, by 37signals, is easily my most used app. It’s the command center of my day. Notes from every conversation I have end up stored there along with every email. All that information is then turned into tasks which dictate the direction my day takes me.

Today, 37signals introduced a design update. Overall I think it’s a wonderful update to a design that was now several years old. It’s a good reorganization of the information along with a few nice additions.

Go Anywhere

One of the best new features addresses one of the big shortcomings of the old design. You sometimes had to back out of pages to be able to search for another contact. For someone like me who spends a good chunk of the day jumping between contacts, making notes, this was a huge hassle. Now the bar above stays on every page allowing me to quickly find other contacts or add tasks and new contacts.

Contact File Info

When you click an individual contact’s page, the bar above is at the top of the information stack. This gives a really clear way to instantly see their contact information and photo.

How’s the Weather?

One of the cleverest new features is a weather report and time (for clients in different time zones) on each person’s page based on the address you have on file for them. It makes for a nice conversation starter if you can ask about the rain or snow in their area when you have a phone call.

Situation Report

The new left-hand bar gives a nice overview of Highrise along with links to the different sections. At a glance I can see how many tasks I have remaining for the day along with how many cases and deals I’m working on.

A Few Gripes
So what’s not to like about the new design? Really just a few minor quibbles. The first is that the task bar to the right is just too narrow. As you can see in the first screenshot, when I have a lot of tasks it can stretch on forever. A few more pixels please.

The other oddity is that the photo of a person when I click on their file is sometime tilted slightly. It’s at different angles each time or sometimes just straight. I’m sure that design decision has to have a reason, but I don’t particularly like it. In a design that is all straight, beautiful lines, it is off-putting to suddenly see a crooked photo. My thought when I see it is “hey, that picture is crooked,” which is not really what I want to spend my time thinking while using productivity software.

My only other complaint would be the lack of ability to change the order of tasks. This has been a functionality complaint I’ve had since the day Highrise launched.

Other than those few very minor gripes, I think this is a great new design. I’ve used Highrise since day one and it remains my most valuable tool to run my business.

They have a great free plan for anyone who’d like to try Highrise out.

Streaks

My friend, John, recommended an iPhone app called Streaks (iTunes link) for tracking repeating tasks. John seems to be just as obsessive as I am about organizing information and tracking results.

Streaks is a very simple app designed to let you set up calendars for any number of activities. Then you just check off the days when you actually accomplish an activity and it tracks it all for you. If your brain works anything like mine (and for that, I’m truly sorry) then seeing those Xs stack up actually provides a nice motivation to keep a streak alive.

UPDATE:
I just discovered the perfect use for Streaks. It’s is a great mileage tracker. Just click the calendar anytime you go somewhere so that day is checked off. Then touch and hold down on a day and it gives you a place to leave a note. Just put in the mileage and who you saw and you’re set.