Recently in Culture Category

Hiatus from Facebook and Twitter

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Last week I closed my browser windows with Facebook and Twitter in them, and shut down the same apps on my iPhone.

I was fed up. I found myself staring aimlessly at the feeds, scrolling and scanning updates from friends and links to stuff somebody thought I should read. I would waste tens of minutes out of my day, just doing nothing but scanning.

Nice to see what my friends were doing, but I also realized that FB and Twitter also minimized the need to actually see them in real life. I felt like I knew what they were doing, so why bother to try to meet up and catch up when I already knew what they were up to?

The links being sent around were getting more and more purposeless - many were just linkbait, trying to get me to take a look at some fantastic thing, which once you dug deeper was pretty inane and really meant nothing for my knowledge, but only sucked up more of my valuable time to go take a look.

So I left. It's been a week and an interesting one. There is a bit of withdrawal symptoms there but nothing I can't handle. But now I find myself doing more real world stuff to fill my time. Stuff like just getting up from sitting in front of my Mac and moving around. Practicing my movement skills: posture, sitting, standing, squatting, sometimes doing some pull ups or push ups, maybe a few one legged squats. Being not confined to the chair is truly refreshing.

I get on the floor and mess around with my kids. They don't see me in front of the Mac or staring mindlessly at my phone any more. I interact with them, let them climb all over me. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the triumphant giggles of a child who has climbed from the floor all the way to sit on top of your head!

I read the stack of virtual books in my Kindle - stuff I wasn't reading because I was mindlessly staring at status updates. How nice to read real writing and not the quick stuff that people just pump out there to get you to click and then make money off your ads…and your valuable attention.

Still I find that while I have not been to either site, I think there is still some value that may make me return. These would be:

1. Friends still message me on FB and DM me on Twitter. If that happens, I should go back to answer.

2. On FB pages, there are the equivalent of groups where I am a member. I may still need to go back to ask a question or reply.

3. Asking for advice is helpful on either platform. I may need to do that from time to time.

4. If I blog, like this post, I can get readership by posting there - assuming that after this post people still want to hear from me even though I've largely forsaken these two sites. I have a Socialflow account and can use that to find the optimal time to post a link. So as a distribution mechanism for blog posts, FB and Twitter still work well.

5. The one thing I have not found a great solution for is real news recommender. I went back to Netvibes to see if that would work but so many of the feeds were dead. And there is no filtering there. I am hoping my friends at Digg will revive News.me and get better at news delivery...and not linkbait delivery.

Yes I may go back for some things, but largely, I will not be mindlessly staring at feeds any more, but instead going out there and doing things I really need to be doing, spending time with real people, and enjoying the real world.

Nexus One First Impressions

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About two weeks ago I managed to score a Nexus One. Having been an iPhone user now through 3 iterations, I was curious to see what Android was like and whether or not it would kill my iPhone love.

I started playing with my Nexus One without a SIM card. I just turned on WIFI because I was most curious about the app and operating system experience; I assumed that calling would be about the same as another mobile phone, which would probably mean that was better than my crappy AT&T iPhone experience.

Although I did not perform an exhaustive use of the phone, I did form some pretty quick impressions that I'd thought I'd share:

1. Their app store didn't connect when I tried to buy something while connected through WIFI. My expectations through 3G would have been much less as connectivity could have hampered a purchase, but through WIFI it shouldn't have had a problem. On my iPhone, I've purchased many things and it has never failed to connect.

2. Surfing through their app store, it is clearly early and the amount of apps available here is growing but nowhere near the breadth of Apple's app store. Until their app store catches up, this is going to be a huge hinderance in my adopting the Nexus One.

3. I couldn't figure out how to sync with anything on my Mac. IPhone shines here of course being an Apple product.

4. All Google related services were very nicely integrated. But annoyingly like the mail app on the iPhone, they don't cache messages. This is something I hate from the iPhone and they haven't fixed it here. This is also something I loved about my old Treo 680 where I could download and hold cached email and read/access it offline.

5. The Nexus One touch screen doesn't seem as responsive as the iPhone. Many times I have to multi-hit an icon to get it to respond. This is annoying.

6. As far as the UI is concerned, I don't see anything that stands out so much that would make it more or less usable. It is elegant in its own way, and I think that while the differences are a bit disconcerting now due to my unfamiliarity with it, I think that I would get used to the small differences between the iPhone and Android and be OK with it.

This is not like Windows and OS X where the differences and issues are so glaring despite the similarities that I find myself constantly wondering why Windows sucks and OS X is just better.

The back button is pretty cool though. Sometimes I wish the iPhone had one.

However, I think my biggest issues are the lack of integration with a desktop platform and the brand value of owning Apple.

The iPhone's easy integration with my Mac and OS X is of tremendous value to me. I remember spending an incredible amount of time figuring out how to sync my Treo 680 to whatever I was using. It sort of worked eventually, but it also just seemed very Borg-like and not an elegant integration. I suppose if I lived completely in the cloud, maybe Android might be OK. But, being a stodgy old timer in the computing space, I don't trust the cloud and like backing up to my desktop, which is further backed up elsewhere.

The other big thing is brand value. It's about owning a device that is beautiful and calls attention to not only it, but me also. Apple has done an amazing job creating products that are not only usable and useful, but beautiful and objects of desire. Somehow the Nexus One just falls short in this area in a big way. I don't feel brand connected to anything with this device. Should I be connected to Google in that way? But Google doesn't have that kind of brand that Apple has, which is fashionable, sexy, techie but easy and elegant to use. Google is pure tech and geek to me, which is fine but I think getting geek and high fashion is better.

I expect the Nexus One and their app store to catch up to the iPhone in many ways, but the brand value is something that Apple owns and that Steve Jobs and his team have done an amazing job of cultivating, and is one that unfortunately I can't see Google matching in the same way, assuming they even want to.

In the world of feature parity for any kind of product, what else is left to compete on? Style and brand.

The Rise of Small Business on the Net

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A few years back I worked on a tiny startup that was attempting to jump on the affiliate marketing/blogging bandwagon. It was all the rage that people were making $100Ks per year just writing articles and doing a good job on driving traffic and purchases to marketers. It was a site about how geeks were cool because they were buying cool products, and so we would write about these really cool products and then drive affiliate traffic to places where you could buy them.

Our venture didn't get that far, but so many others' did. And the list is growing.

As everyone working on projects on the Net knows, the cost of building a business has dropped dramatically over the years. It started with blogging software which would could install on our own servers or use the hosted versions. Now, you can go out and find shareware for just about anything; stuff that would have cost a big company millions of dollars and a team of 100 to build in the past could now be found and deployed for a tiny fraction of that cost.

It's also easier to deploy web applications now. Previously you had to be a computer scientist to do so; now just about anyone can figure out how to deploy it, or using hosted versions just fill out a signup form and point your domain at it and you're off and running.

So now, just about anyone can throw up a website which has some advanced functionality. And people are doing it too. In the startup world, we see the internet has gotten super crowded over the last few years. Very few truly unique business/product ideas have emerged, and many are just clones of each other. Or once someone puts up a good idea, the clones emerge quickly because it's so easy and fast to put up a website. Thus, it's now less about the idea but rather how many customers you can grab and whether you can monetize that traffic to balance out your burn.

Thankfully, the internet crowd is enormous. Grabbing a small slice of that traffic and monetizing it effectively can mean a sustainable business that pays its employees a decent salary. In the past, we called these businesses microbusinesses or lifestyle businesses where a single person could make a decent living managing a website. However, in today's world, I call this phenomenon the rise of small business on the net.

Many startups we encounter have plans that we know can reach this stage. With great execution and effort, we can easily see many businesses growing to great small businesses. They will have revenue from several $100Ks a year to small millions. They have a small teams and all of them are well compensated for their work. All the employees will have great lives supported by this business.

The effort is comparable to opening up a storefront on your favorite street. In the old days, you'd go find a great physical location with lots of foot traffic. You go get a small business loan from your local bank and open up shop. Then you go and acquire customers and build your business from there. In today's world, you can do it on the internet without a physical location and tap into customers from around the globe.

From an investor's standpoint, we're finding that this creates a number of problems. Our model is dependent on finding those startups which will go big, much bigger than small business size, and find a way to return our investment with large gain through some mechanism like M&A or IPO. However, the ease at which startups can reach small business stage makes our job harder; we're seeing many businesses reach a certain level of growth and then breaking through that level is tough due to how easy it is for competitors to enter your market, and how hard it is to acquire the attention of users.

Some of us are thinking about change in the way we support some startups. I find parallels in the area of restaurant investing, where the investment is all about cash return and not ownership. What kind of restaurant would go IPO? Highly unlikely. But could we make 10-20% on our investment? Infinitely possible.

I wonder about how the structure of deals we do for internet startups might mimic restaurant investing. Instead of caring so much about ownership, perhaps we should find a way to get a healthy return on capital invested through cash flow, if the startup monetizes efficiently and does it well.

The problem with traditional investing in startups here is that these small businesses may never attract an acquirer and certainly the chance of an IPO is even more remote. Driving these small businesses to activities to return an investors' capital in that manner may take a healthy sustainable operation and turn it into something unsustainable and problematic as it reinvents itself to attract an M&A event or IPO. That seems dumb; the business is thriving and its employees well paid and happy - why destroy this?

I think the world of investing should think more about the rise of small business on the net. Many more businesses each day are showing up that are great sustainable operations supporting employees and their customers. They are never going to be superstar Googlesque success stories and we should not attempt to turn them into one. In today's crappy economy, the world needs more small businesses to show up to employ the masses and make them money. We as investors should find a way to invest in and help these companies to grow, and just be comfortable in the fact that they will never be Google but still can help us make a healthy return on our money.

Are You Evil or Are You Just Lucky?

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Last night I attended the Startup2Startup"s CeWebrity DeathMatch: Jason Calacanis vs Guy Kawasaki on "Is Apple Becoming Big Brother?" and it was a hoot. Watching Guy and Jason rag on each other was pretty hilarious and Dave McClure did a great job keeping the action going all night.

After the main feature, Startup2Startup dinners have a discussion at our dinner tables around a topic, which, tonight, was based on the concept of being evil and whether it was necessary or not. One question that circulated around the table was whether or not doing evil things in our lives was justifiable or not. In a funny way, I was glad that we did not get around to me answering this question because I really didn't have an evil example in my work past to give.

How can that be? Well I'll tell you. I thought back through my work history and could not think of a single evil event I've ever done. Not in business, not in politics of corporation, not in management. Now perhaps some of my former team may think of evil things I've done, especially like during layoffs, but that wasn't really self orchestrated but rather forced on me by the corporation.

I've always tried to live my life to a higher moral standard and in dealing with people as human beings. I've never been great at lying, and thus corporate politics totally are out of my realm and I have seen many instances where I would have been totally outclassed in dealing with manipulation and backstabbing of others. I'm also not very talkative during meetings, which I believe has sunk my career because I've always let others take the limelight and not myself. The unfortunate by product of this is that if you don't say something in meetings, people tend to view you as having nothing to contribute and thus are not worthy of attending further meetings or advancement in the company.

This, my readers, is the reason why I got about as high as I could up the corporate ladder and then could go no further. Because I'm an honest guy, don't play corporate politics well, and just do my job well, that's unfortunately not a formula for success in organizations.

I thought back to this lack of evil and wondered how I came to be at this point in my life. And I came on one big factor which has carried me to this day - that is LUCK.

In looking back to people I've worked for, the companies I've been at, the people who took a chance on me when I was just a dumb out of college guy, and then somehow being buddies with right two guys at Stanford leading to me joining the right internet startup at the right time - these coincidences were incredible instances in chance.

Looking back at this path I've taken through my career, I could have just taken the wrong step in a multitude of places and gone off totally into another place. But yet I ended up here.

Intelligence had an effect? Perhaps, but a lot of smart people do some smart things, or what they think is smart and don't get anywhere. And I'm not particularly a genius either. I don't think I went around and did anything special but just happened on these people as I walked through life. So that couldn't be it.

While a lot of people poo-poo luck, I'm a big believer in it. The big problem is, how the heck do you find luck? I also think that some people are naturally lucky, and there are people who seem to have no luck at all. To that end, I have some suggestions as to how to increase your luck:

1. If you're a lucky person, you've made it!

2. If you're totally unlucky, I don't think you'll instantly be lucky. However, there could be hope for you. Read on.

3. Hang out with lucky people. Don't you hate it when some of these people always seem to have great things happen to them and it doesn't seem like they do anything? These are the people you need to find and become BFFs with. The downside is that lucky people want to also increase their luck, so they will try to find luckier people to hang out with. So you may not be successful in becoming BFFs with these people because they may spot your lucklessness.

4. Get rid of unlucky people around you. These people will be a drag on your life. Don't hang out with them. Something bad that happens to them may also happen to you despite your luckiness. Increase your luck by hanging out with lucky people.

5. Generally, lucky people are happy, and unlucky people are not. I think that your general outlook in life can help add lucky points to your life, or at least fake it.

6. Don't go putting yourself in risky situations. Why walk around in the middle of the night wearing expensive jewelry in the bad part of town? Duh. Reduce the chance that your unluckiness might manifest itself. Or don't use up your lucky quotient for the day by doing inherently risky and stupid things.

7. Place yourself in situations where you can shine. So instead of walking around in the middle of the night wearing expensive jewelry in the bad part of town, go to Startup2Startup and meet some smart people, maybe some VC who takes a liking to you and funds you.

As an entrepreneur or investor, I cannot under emphasize the importance of luck. Meeting the right founder at the right time, being in the marketplace and finding some product that consumers love and it takes off, finding the right business partner who ultimately buys your company, or discovering that in a crowded marketplace that you backed the right entrepreneur (like me joining Yahoo, instead of Excite, Infoseek, or Lycos).

Luck is one of those unexplainable forces in the universe. All I can say is do things to increase your luck as one of those things you can do to help you be successful in life or business....and be very wary of when your luck runs out.

The Promise of Broadband is Muddied by Complexity

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The other day I met with a startup who was doing work in the real time video streaming space. We were at a restaurant with WIFI attempting to demo the application but saw many of the difficulties in running an application that depended on the availability of high speed internet. We were able to test the broadband connection at Speakeasy.net which provided some of its own servers to do speed tests and found it was ok, but also talked about the other touchpoints which slowed the application down, such as the distance one was from the server on Earth.

I went home and thought to test my own connection and...found it was unbelievably slow. Geez. What was wrong? I had seen problems before with the wireless connection and thought that maybe it was the building, or electromagnetic waves interfering. The walls were definitely a problem as they were thick concrete, and I think there was a lot of sheet metal in there too.

A few months before I had called the company who supported the internet into my building. Supposedly the pipe into my building is a dedicated fiber optic connection; tons of bandwidth for everyone here, even those who were running businesses out of their apartment and all of those hungry iTunes downloaders, or Youtube/Hulu consumers (one of which was me). They tested the connection on their end and found that to my condo, there was no blockage or lessening of bandwidth. I just wrote it off as the weirdness of my condo and its walls and electromagnetic makeup.

But then I saw problems in my other systems. My AppleTV was unbelievably slow in syncing. Downloading from iTunes was super slow. The connection to my Time Capsule was constantly interrupted. Something else was amiss.

So not wanting to waste time diagnosing, I went and bought a new wireless N router and some 10/100 switches to replace all my equipment, which was probably around 2 years old now. All of a sudden, the network jumped in performance. Somewhere between my old wireless G router and the ethernet switches, it had crapped out and caused the wireless and the internal network to slow to a trickle of what it was supposed to be. Now I was back up to speeds that matched the claims of the fiber optic internet connection running to the building!

These experiences have taught me how to spot troubles and diagnose problems in my home network by myself and fix problems. But there are way too many points at which the system can fail. Over time, age, power surges, whatever - all can toast my equipment one by one, robbing my internet enabled equipment to crawl to a stop. I can't imagine the layperson being able to spot, diagnose, and fix their internet problems by themselves. It's an incredibly complex system from where the internet enters my condo and gets to all my internet enabled equipment.

I can only hope that someday all this will become simpler and more stable....

Party Like Its 1999

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Every Monday, I have jazz piano lessons. Today, I went to my lessons and asked my piano teacher whether or not he was feeling the bad economy's effects.

He said it was exactly the opposite. Over the last few weeks, he's been overbooked on playing private parties all over LA. He's had to turn away business and refer people to friends. It's been almost too much to handle but he takes the work when he can get it. It's cash in the bank and you can't ignore that.

We talked about the fact that there was a glut of private parties happening all over LA. It seemed to him that people were partying in the middle of all this bad news, and the fact that many a rich LA person was down millions of dollars in their portfolios. So in the midst of all this gloom, they have started throwing big ass parties - we guessed it was to drown their sorrows in big happy, drunken, piano playing filled moments.

Boy.

We watch our portfolios drop in big ways. We get depressed. So we throw a big party and live it up. Party like its 1999 - don't know what happens when the clock turns to 2000. World might explode. Better drink up and have a great time now before it's too late.

Maybe You Should Vote

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Yes the country is fucked up. Go register to vote. Thanks for listening. And oh by the way:

...some women love men who vote.

Brought to you by our friends from Someecards and by betaworks.

Deciphering iPhone Emails

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With all of my buddies on iPhones and also seeing them being way too busy and typing at lightspeed, I've seen a plethora of emails with what seems to be...gibberish words...in between readable text.

It took me a minute, but I figured out that it was the fact that the senders were super busy iPhone users and trying to type emails super fast, but unfortunately typing too fast to react to the iPhone's auto-correct dictionary, or even caring what the auto-correct comes up with.

The auto-correct function is cool in some ways, but it takes some getting used to, and especially if you have big fingers, you tend to blur over to the adjacent keys more often.

To me, it's an interesting solution to typing on tiny keys on a flat touchscreen. However, I find it's hard to adjust to, even when I'm consciously looking for it. I hope the rumors of a foldout keyboard are true, as I think that learning this new style may not be quick enough for even the most impatient, quick typers.

But it does generate sometimes amusing emails which produce a WTF from me as I read them!

Guitar Hero III, Physical Therapy for Video Game Ailments

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I just bought Guitar Hero III for my XBox 360. Wow, I was supremely impressed especially as a user interface person, having worked on physical products back in my Apple and frogdesign days.

The controller really gives the feeling of being a true head banger rocker with distortion guitar (since it's shaped like a guitar). You hit keys which simulate the fingering on strings, and then you strum on this switch. I am barely through the tutorial now but can't wait to get into Rock and Roll All Nite and Barracuda.

It's an interesting device from the perspective of an user interface person. How novel is it to create controllers which mimic real life devices - we already have driving games where you can buy a whole steering wheel console plus accelerator pedals. The experience is that more enhanced when we change out the generic controller for something whose physical makeup enhances the whole playing experience. I love the fact that there are games like Rock Band out, and the impossible to get Wii with its wireless controller that you can use to simulate all sorts of real life objects.

One thing stood out. As I went through the tutorial, I felt some pain in my left thumb. Gripping the guitar and trying to hit the buttons was cramping it up! I had to constantly take breaks and stretch it out. Wow, I need training to play Guitar Hero III!

I went to my physical therapist last night for my usual triathlon fixup and remarked to him that Guitar Hero III was bugging my thumb. He then told me that he has seen an increase in patients with injuries caused by the Nintendo Wii, especially bowling and tennis!

How funny that people are now trying sports in the virtual sense, and getting injured because of that. Couch potatoes now have similar ailments as real athletes!

The Early Adopter's Dilemma

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I've been cleaning house and I just found this in one of my closets:

Sometime around year 2000, this service came into being by Motient, who used one of the first RIM Blackberrys to allow users to connect to Yahoo! Messenger IM via this device. It also allowed me to read/write Yahoo! Mail.

I bought one as soon as it came out. It was fantastic. We Yahoos depended on IM so much in our work day and I was now connected wherever I was. It was at a time when SMS wasn't so prevalent in the US and there was no connection between a computer based IM product and a device. So now I could be pinged on Yahoo! IM anytime and anywhere! This percursor to SMS was a fantastic breakthrough in showing how being connected in real time could be an incredibly useful thing.

But alas, about a year or so later, Motient closed down and the money I paid for the device and steep monthly charges were all down the tube. It would be many years before SMS really gained traction in the US enough to where enough people would be contact-able via SMS, and this would have supplanted the Motient product and service.

It's the dilemma of the early adopter. You see a real cool product and/or service from a brand new company, and you see enough value in it to actually buy one and use it. It's so useful, so typically expensive, and so freakin' cool; all of these factors drive the early adopter to get one simply to have one before everyone else does. But the risk of having the company, product, or service close down is super-high.

I bought an iPhone on the first day it came out. But it could have been a dud. Luckily it was not. I also bought an Apple TV and sweated through about 8+ months of whether Apple would close down that product line or not, despite its incredibly utility. Thankfully, that product has been rejuvenated as well.

Last winter, I bought myself an Amazon Kindle. It's definitely on that high risk list of products that could just disappear by the end of the year if its business model doesn't prove out. I've grown to love it thoroughly but keep wondering if Amazon will just close it down at some point.

Sony is probably the worst early adopter product creator. They keep products going for years and years before they really should be shut down. Their strategy is to brute force a new technology into the marketplace and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At least you might enjoy it for a few years though, as it dies a slow, unpopular death.

It's the dilemma of an early adopter. You can't resist taking the leap of getting one but you also take the risk of wasting tons of money if it shuts down. All that to be the first one on the block and maintain that early adopter mystique...

Airline Security and the Gadget Freak

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Last week I passed through airline security at SFO and had an unpleasant surprise. They were making people take out EVERYTHING electronic. Cables, iPods, mobile phones, everything - in addition to your laptop. As I put my stuff on the security table and sliding towards the x-ray machine, I hurriedly took out as much as possible and prayed as I put my things through the x-ray that I would make it through. On the other side of the x-ray, I was gathered my things and was not required to go through extra screening. I also realized that I had forgotten to take out my iPod and cables but they let me through.

I thought that maybe it was because we were at Threat Level Orange (whatever that means - I guess Orange must be close to Red which I would assume is the highest threat level so Orange must be pretty high) and it was Martin Luther King's Day weekend so I thought that perhaps they were doing a bit more security. But it seems like it's a permanent policy now. This week I also had to take out everything.

Once again I feverishly dug out everything in my bag that was electronic, but of course in my haste I forgot a few things like my digital camera and Kindle cable but managed to make it through.

So I wonder about this policy. They say you need to take out everything, but twice I did not. I was entirely willing although not immensely overjoyed at the prospect of taking everything out, but at least they should say what they mean. If they say they want everything out but let you pass anyways when you don't have everything out, then what's the point?

This also has implications for the gadget freak traveler guy like me. I have more gadgets on me now than ever before. It's my life. But yet traveling so much, it seems like it's going to become a huge hassle to bring all my gadgets. Reduction is a possibility; I could consolidate some things, but not others. On the other hand, I did buy some Eagle Creek zippered packing bags in which I put a lot of my electronics and support cables. I was able to just take out that bag and put it in a tray for inspection. Faster, but still not ideal.

It's like that cartoon I saw in some magazine once. They have a shot of two guys who stripped down naked to walk through airline security. The caption underneath read, "It's just easier this way."

One MEEEELLEEEEE-UN Miles

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About a month or so back, I get this message that I just joined the Million Mile Club for American Airlines.

ONE FRICKIN' MILLION MILES!

My butt has sat in AA plane seats for one million miles since I started flying AA as a kid to today.

On one level, I'm happy about it. I got this little icon on my Exec Platinum card that says 1 Million Miles, and I get lifetime Gold status.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure.

ONE FRICKIN' MILLION MILES!!!!

One million miles of sitting in back wrenching, trapezoid tightening, swollen leg plane seats whose failing cushions and poor ergonomics challenge any sane person while propping up the chiropractic and inflatable pillow business. One million miles of sitting in seats designed twenty years ago when humans were of smaller stature and now through trans-fat fast food and working out humans are just that much bigger. One million miles of watching security getting beefed up to the point where we'll have to strip naked soon to get on the plane.

And how many hours spent just sitting in airports waiting...and waiting...and waiting....

But yet, the world is truly smaller. Decades ago, the expense and difficulty of flying made the world seem so much less accessible. Today, I think nothing of hopping on a plane to go to another country, or just cross-US to do some business or visit family or friends. So one million miles of growing, mounting discomfort for one million miles of watching the world grow smaller, more accessible, and less lonely.

To me, this is a potential positive balancing act turned a zero sum game. If we improve all the crappy things about flying, the positives are actually pretty compelling. But no, we get benefits and sacrifice other things for it. It's really a shame.

Increasing Site and Social Engagement in Detail

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Over the last few years, social media has really become a popular buzzword. People talk about social networks and the importance of implementing them, as well as the drawbacks and potential dangers. Rather than talk about social media as a strategy, I wanted to point out some actual detail level things to try rather than stay at the 10,000 foot level of discussion. Based on working on social media projects over the last year, I have found the following techniques to be effective at creating and maintaining a vibrant social environment that produces results:

Voyeurism
Related to: Dating/Hooking Up, Expression (receiving end of)

People love to follow other people for a variety of reasons. From telescopes in apartments buildings to eavesdropping on a nearby conversation to hearing and passing on gossip, the lives of others around us seem infinitely more interesting than our own. We follow other people for many reasons: to keep up with what our friends are doing, to check out hot women, to see what trouble celebrities get into - we are always curious, sometimes to the point of obsession, about what other people do day to day. Successful social networks allow people to post and describe their daily lives so that others can take a look.

Communication
Related to: Dating/Hooking Up, Connecting with Context, Entertainment, Validation

It is human to want to contact someone else. We are social creatures and we want to talk to others. Providing a way for people to contact and maintain communication with others is crucial to the lifeblood of a good social network. Just as important is the ability to shut people out, and give people ways of *not* talking to everyone or only certain people (ie. annoying people, spam, ex-boyfriend).

Dating/Hooking Up
Related to: Voyeurism, Communication, Masquerade, Entertainment

Let's face it. Lots of guys surf pictures just to check out hot women. But then sometimes you'll want to make contact and see if you can get a date. Simply providing a means for surfing photos in profiles and a system for communication can enable this activity, but providing additional functionality to facilitate this activity can make the experience more enticing and fun. Think HotOrNot.com and the ability to rate people, and then pick out only the HOT rated people to contact, or show interest by sending someone a virtual flower. Or I'm In Like With You where auctions meets dating and you bid on the ability to meet someone.

Entertainment
Related to: Communication, Dating/Hooking Up, Competition, Fame

Having a good time on a site increases engagement. Providing ways of having fun keeps people coming back to have more fun. Games are the obvious one, and playing by yourself is good but playing against others is often better. Sometimes it's the content posted by users, like funny videos of themselves posted on YouTube or pictures on Flickr to be watched on their Flickr streams. Or if a fun spin can be put on mundane activities, then the unique fun that activity brings will draw people in and keep them interested.

Fame
Related to: Competition, Expression, Entertainment, Showing Off/Vanity, Validation

It's fun to do an activity and play a game, but enabling a way for people to get acknowledged and recognized for their skill rewards people by the notoriety they get for being good at something. Leaderboards on gaming sites allow users to show the world that they are #1 in a game, and they'll screen shot that and put it on their blog. It also means that they'll keep coming back to keep achieving or maintain their #1 position on the leaderboard for bragging rights.

Competition
Related to: Fame, Entertainment

There is something in the act of striving against other humans that people love. They want to test their ablities and measure themselves against others and be measured and will keep coming back to try. They like to see continual improvement and enjoy a rise in skill. There is also competition against themselves so it's not always about other people. And, there is the ultimate prize of being number ONE. Perhaps we'll never get there, but maybe we will. No matter what, we love the struggle and the journey to number ONE. In games and sports is where we most often see competition, but it can also be other things like getting the most views on posted content like a video. Great games and activities constantly provide the ability to raise the bar just a little more each time to keep people competing, but don't raise the bar too high or else people will give up. Not raising the bar at all will cause people to achieve that level and then move on because it's too easy. This bar can be set by other users, like when you're competing against other players in a sports game, it can be set by a computer which auto-adjusts for your skill level.

Expression
Related to: Fame, Voyeurism (contributing to), Showing Off/Vanity, Validation

Constantly we are on stage. The world is a theater and we are its actors. From the clothes we wear to what we say or do, we are always showing the world who we are. Providing a means for people to express who they are means they will continually do it, especially if there is a mechanism for validation like commenting on photos in Facebook.

Showing Off/Vanity
Related to: Expression, Fame

The extreme form of expression is showing off and trying to show that we are special and unique. Showing our crazy stunt videos, or photos of us drinking a 3 foot tall beer, or next to a movie star all show the world that we are not boring people but that we have the biggest peacock feathers. Allowing people to show off and giving validation mechanisms like commenting on photos, or leaderboards, or graphical badges of honors on our profile pages reward us for posting and showing off, and encourages us to do more.

Validation
Related to: Communication, Fame, Expression

We always want to know that who we are is noticed and special by others. We like it when we get comments on our photos and videos from our friends. It makes us feel that others care and that we are not alone in the world. Implementing means of giving validation gives users that special feeling that others do notice them, and they'll keep on posting to get more validation. The simplest form is commenting on photos and videos, but it can be focused by providing context like on Dailystrength.org where you can post an issue and get support from strangers and friends via the internet.

Masquerade
Related to: Communication, Community

Sometimes we're boring. Our lives are so mundane that we get sick of it. Or maybe we're not in the social mainstream. We feel shunned by the general masses and can't seem to get in the flow of society. Or maybe we're just tired of being ourselves and want to try being someone else. On the internet, the ability to be someone else is very easy. Simply creating a new screen name and building a personality underneath it has been done since the early days of the internet. People can pretend they are the opposite sex, older or younger, more fun, more engaging - whatever. It is something that is not easily achieved in the real world. Acting out the fantasy that they have either personality traits not in the real world or entirely someone else can be an activity that keeps people returning. The unfortunate thing is that people often masquerade for negative reasons like stalking children, and this needs to be guarded against.

Community
Related to: Masquerade, Connecting with Context, Communication

Humans want to belong. It's often to easy to feel outcast in the real world. On the internet, communities can be more accepting of people than in the real world. If a site can create a means for people to be a part of something, they will want to come back and continue to participate to be part of that community. Think of the instant groups that Facebook has, based on tags created from your interests, or your hometown. These are ways for people to find commonalities on which to connect on, which foster communication and validation.

Connecting with Context
Related to: Community, Communication

In watching social networks over the years, I am a firm believer that social networking for social networking's sake is a path to declining activity. It is much more engaging for users when you create a context for which socializing happens. MySpace's usage came from the fact that they were always about promoting indie music. Yes, other things happened there, but you knew that you could always find indie music on MySpace. Facebook started out by being exclusive to colleges and there was no way to taint the population with random people who were not attending your university. Everyone you found there went to your college and you could relate easily. LinkedIn's network is built on professional networking, another popular activity in business and its functionality is focused on making that activity easier. Contrast that with Friendster, who had a meteoric rise when it first came out and then usage tapered and dropped because people got bored there when applying this list of social techniques was not done well or not at all.

For all my projects, I try to think about applying some or all of these techniques in creative ways. I also think about the context since not all techniques are effective in every context. For example, dating could be a hard sell in a social stock picking application, but competition and fame would definitely work well. Some of it is experimental, as there could be unexpected results of applying something you thought wouldn't work in a context. So let's turn my example around. Suppose you did create a social stock picking site which had an underlying dating application underneath? Perhaps it could link up all the superficial, money hungry people by allowing you to find, meet, and date the richest, best stock pickers in the world...? Socially unacceptable? Perhaps. Successful? Who knows...

The Anti-Digital

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I admit it. I'm totally digital. Wired to the hilt. Can't live without it.

Well, almost not. I force myself to be totally digital because it's my job to know and experience what it is like to be totally digital. It makes me more effective in designing products and services for the next digital generation. I suppose I could live being NOT so digital, but I want to be better at my work so I be more digital than not.

In being so digital, it's strange, funny, and sometimes frustrating when I encounter what I call "The Anti-Digital." These are people and places which abhor having digital stuff around for one reason or another.

Take Cafe Dante in the West Village of Manhattan. Here is the sign right at the door when you enter:

Cafe Dante is a quaint cafe that serves old school espressos and eats and if it's hot, you can always get a refreshing dish of gelato there. I like hanging out there because it isn't as contrived as Starbucks, and it's quiet so that you can enjoy a conversation with whomever you're with.

But NO LAPTOPS ALLOWED. They don't even like you talking on the cellphone with somebody. To preserve their atmosphere of being an old school, they don't want people hanging around all day typing on laptops, even if it could mean that they get more business from the constant flow of caffeine to people typing on laptops. They just want you to have a great old fashioned conversation and enjoy a cup of coffee with your buddy or date.

Then there are "anti-digital" people. These are people that are barely can manage having a cellphone, and just don't find value in being connected. They have email addresses but rarely think about looking on their laptops to check for email. They never buy gadgets and almost always sit in the follower part of an adoption curve, after a technology becomes so commonplace that they can't avoid it.

One person I know at least checks email somewhat regularly, but takes forever to reply. I know this, so I rarely send emails but call instead. This person has also left their cellphone at their summer home for weeks and didn't even bat an eyelash! Most of us would freak out if we lost or left our cellphone somewhere and could not live without it. This person just calmly told me that if someone wanted to find them, they would know how to do it. The cellphone is an afterthought in any case; most of us could not leave home without filling our pockets with our gadgets. But even when this person had a cellphone around, it would often be forgotten and left at home, or not turned on, or even left to completely be drained of power and not recharged.

Another person I know does have a cellphone, but practically never turns on their laptop. In this case, forget even sending emails to their email address; it won't get read. But at least the cellphone is always on their person. So I must either text or email to the cellphone in order to get in contact. Otherwise, forget about websites; an iPod is barely manageable (it's probably the worst looking, scratched up, dented iPod I've ever seen), and the most advanced gadget in their home is a Tivo without which shows would be missed.

To both people, there is no Facebook, no Youtube. Digital cameras get used, cellphones maybe, laptops aren't a necessity.

When places are "anti-digital", I'm sometimes OK with it. I seek them out to either have a decent conversation or just to get some quiet and think to myself, or perhaps read a book. Other times I can't go there because I do need WIFI and I want to get some work done and need to be online. "Anti-digital" places don't fit in that.

As for "anti-digital" people, this is where it is most frustrating. I've either developed more efficient ways of communicating or get used to communicating to the majority of people I connect with through technology. I always have to shift my normal way of communicating to another way just to get hold of these people, which is often back to some old way like picking up the phone, and that's annoying to make that shift when you're trying to get a lot done fast.

Is my life better being maxed out digitally or is it better being "anti-digital"? I think it's a personal choice and a challenge. Personal choice in being maxed out digitally because I am an early adopter, and it's important for my work, and because I have a natural curiosity about technology. A challenge in that I am a big believer in simplifing my life and while you could simplify by dropping all this digital craziness, I am a big believer that we're going to have to live with technology and we must challenge ourselves to simplify in the face of more technology rather than less.

A Bit of Yahoo! History: Crocodile Hunter Visits Yahoo!

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This was just posted onto the Yahoo! Alumni group in Facebook. For those of you who don't feel like joining the Yahoo! Alumni group to watch this video, here it is. This video was created for a Production Conference and was shown at dinner time. Later, it became the main new employee video for many years afterward.

Those were the good ol' days...(sigh).

NOTE: Sorry about the other player. I uploaded to Videoegg and didn't realize until later that Videoegg only allows 5 minutes on the video. I've uploaded it to my account now but it seems that my server can be slow to load the video. But at least you can watch the full version now.

Day 12: iPhone Dies...and Lives Again!

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ACK! In an attempt to get my iPhone syncing with both my Mac and PC, I tried a restore of the software which hosed my iPhone. Ugh! I set it updating over night and then in the morning, it's just sitting there in the dock, locked up. I try a few things and then the screen shuts off...seemingly permanently.

I hold back the tears welling up in my eyes and pack it up, determined to exchange it for one that worked.

I walk into the Apple Store on University Ave in Palo Alto and tell the guy that my iPhone is way dead. He looks skeptical and we walk to the Genius Bar desk where he tells me about an IMPORTANT UNDOCUMENTED function called REBOOT. You press both the round "return to Main menu" button and the top small Wake/Sleep button together for a few seconds, and the thing reboots itself. Thankfully, this brings it out of its locked-up/dead state!

I boot up my PC (which I have with me) and then sync my iPhone with it, restoring the software and IT LIVES AGAIN!

It's beyond me why REBOOT isn't in the user manual. But for now, I am glad to have my iPhone up and working again. Just give me my MMS please and everything will be PERFECTO.

Day 11: iPhone Adventure Continues...

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Living with my iPhone has been a real joy. I think I like about 80-90% of it, but it is not quite there to make me toss my SLVR and Treo 680 just yet.

Some more discoveries:

1. According to the message boards, it seems that others have gotten music/video syncing on one machine and syncing calendar/contacts on a PC. I still haven't gotten this to work. More experimentation required...

2. Where is copy/cut and paste? Geez.

3. I need arrow keys on the keyboard! Trying to make edits by moving the cursor around with your finger is maddening.

4. Personally I hate the auto-complete. It's wrong a lot of the time and I have to teach myself to look at it constantly to tell it not to insert a word when I hit space.

5. I LOVE THE AUTO SWITCH FROM WIFI TO THE AT&T NETWORK. When I go in my house, the WIFI automatically connects. When I walk into a Starbucks, I auto-connect to T-Mobile. COOL!

6. Browsing on Safari is so cool. It really makes things easier.

7. Need Notes syncing to Outlook. I don't understand why this wasn't built in. So strange.

8. Getting faster on the keyboard.

9. I tried out a few widgets. It's ok for now, but definitely a problem when offline. Also, loading widgets over the EDGE network is totally slow. Forget any heavy AJAX site like Meebo.

10. Definitely need dedicated iPhone apps. Safari based widgets works for some things, but nothing beats dedicated apps on the device.

11. Need MMS!!!! Emailing photos just doesn't cut it.

I can't wait for software updates to make this baby work better!

My original thought regarding the iPhone was to somehow move completely over to the Mac. But I would definitely have to wait until Apple comes out with their much-rumored super-thin MacBook as I need to save my back from lugging laptop weight. I have a Sony T-series which seems to be the best option for lightweight computing so far. However, I will switch if Apple launches a super-thin option.

In any case, I wanted to see if I could remove one device somehow no matter what. Today, I carry a Motorola SLVR with iTunes, and a Treo 680. I do carry my iPod sometimes, but I'm not one of those people who walk around all day with earbuds in my ears, so I'm ok without music.

Comparing the Treo 680 to the iPhone has been interesting. Physically, the iPhone is much more thinner and sleek, and a joy to hold. The Treo 680 is bulky in comparison and seems so yesterday's technology (it became "yesterday" on Friday when the iPhone launched!). However, I do like it for:

1. I am still faster on the Treo 680 keyboard. I seem to be getting better on the touchscreen keyboard of the iPhone, but the physical keys still are better.

2. I use the Treo 680 for typing out notes and the occasional blog entry. I sometimes use a folding IR keyboard which works really well if I am typing something long. Definitely Apple needs to enable Bluetooth keyboards at some point. That would really make the iPhone useful.

3. I use a program called InfoSafe which keeps all my passwords around securely. I would need to replace this if I were to get rid of my Treo 680.

4. All my silly games are still on the Treo 680. None available yet on the iPhone, but I am sure this will change soon.

So far, what I think about the iPhone:

1. I really like the touchscreen interface! I also love the interactions they put in there for scrolling and resizing.

2. It took me a while to figure out how to set things, which are located in Settings. However, some of it seems kind of dumbed down.

3. It seems to be able to open Word attachments and I haven't tried PDFs yet. I would definitely love an industrial strength word processing program, spreadsheet, and presentation program as well, although maybe it can open them for viewing at least.

4. No MMS! I use my Motorola SLVR all the time to send occasional shots to family and friends, but can't do that here! I hope this comes soon.

5. Email is a joy. IMAP for Yahoo! Mail really works well. I wish there was a way to mass delete emails. This could become a problem at some point for my POP accounts and overfilling my iPhone memory. I need to look at the docs to see if there is an auto-delete off the iPhone after some period of time.

6. The browser really ROCKS. It's probably the main reason I bought it. I can now see web pages in their full glory. The browser on the Treo really blows. I've bought books on amazon.com, checked out netvibes, did google searches. It works really well!

7. The keyboard is a bit funky at first due to my right thumb's touchpoint. For some reason, the pad of my thumb touches down on the screen at a point that is not where my brain expects. I am off by a key! So now I am training my brain to recognize that typing with my right thumb means I have to mentally adjust it slightly to the left in order to hit the right key.

8. No cut/copy and paste! How funny that is. I think this will prevent it from being an office replacement.

9. Syncing was amazingly easy. I love the fact that you didn't have to screw around with installing conduits and seeing if you got it all right. You just launch iTunes and hit the sync button, and it just does the sync with Outlook. One strange thing. It doesn't sync my notes into its notebook. How strange. But calendar and contacts come over just fine. I hope they add an update to make this happen. As you have guessed, I am syncing my iPhone with my PC for now for contacts and calendar, and I will load music from my Mac Mini.

10. By the way, I did figure out how to get music and other media synced. Just a few settings in the tabs of the iPhone area of iTunes. But it seems to only let you control syncing via playlists. I will look at this more.

11. WIFI!!!! I locked onto my house network and also to T-Mobile at Starbucks. Very nice! Power drain seems to be ok, and much better than my Treo 680 which probably would have cranked down pretty quick if I had tried to go WIFI continuously with an add-on card.

12. One ridiculous thing: I have all my contacts categorized in Outlook. Those categories have disappeared on the iPhone!

So far, the one limiting factor is MMS for it to replace my Motorola SLVR and being able to type long entries means I will want my Treo 680 around. I think I will carry iPhone around separately for a while and see what updates Apple has for it. It doesn't work too well as a replacement for a laptop but is more of a hyper-powered mobile phone. Still, I think this device is hugely cool and Palm really missed the boat by not coming out with a Palm version super-thin phone. The Motorola Q and Samsung Blackjack are also nice, but Windows Mobile just kills both those devices.

Caught Up in the iPhone iPhrenzy

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Friday 6/29 finally arrives. The iPhone goes on sale! One of the most hyped up devices ever, I wondered if I was even going to be able to get one on the first day, but I sure as hell was going to try.

Tracking press releases up the big day helped strategize how I was going to get one of these babies. I originally thought I was going to head to a AT&T/Cingular store, but then I realized that you could get one at an Apple store. And how funny: you could only get one per customer at an AT&T/Cingular store, but you could get 2 per customer at an Apple Store. I theorized that they would probably have a lot more available at the Apple store so I made plans to get to the one at Valley Fair well before 6pm.

It was also a good thing; ever try to get anything at a AT&T/Cingular store? They have the worst checkout and queueing system ever. You go there and sometimes you just wait forever, because reps are sometimes trying to sign people up for an hour as people try to figure out what options they need. I can't believe they haven't figured this out.

Thanks to Apple for solving their problem. I found out on their website that you upgrade your iTunes and then when you sync your iPhone, it goes through the signup process in iTunes via the web. Wow. Thank god we could circumvent talking to some AT&T/Cingular rep about it!

So Friday turned out to be full of meetings. My last meeting I even cut short a bit, but the entrepreneurs I met with were thankfully sympathetic to my need to get an iPhone. I left around 5pm for Valley Fair and got there around 520p.

I went to the Apple store and found it to be closed! But, there was this huge line that wrapped around the side of the building, and then crossed through a doorway outside the mall. By the time I had gotten there, there were already about 300+ people in line! So I found the end of line and waited like everyone else.

As we're waiting, a guy comes up and asks us if we want coffee. Leave it to Apple to serve the people in line some Starbucks coffee, iced or hot! I gratefully grab an iced coffee and sip it while playing with my Treo and taking occasional pictures (which I'll post later).

I wonder about my Treo. In fact, I just bought a new one because my old Treo 680 was having problems. It's pretty good, but if the iPhone lived up to its hype, I could potentially get rid of my Treo and my Motorola SLVR (with iTunes on it) as well!

6pm finally arrives and the line moves about a foot.

615pm: Somebody walks by the line and gives a loud rebel yell and says, "I GOT ONE WHOO HOO!" All of us look at each other in line and collectively we wish that somebody would mug him on the way to his car.

6:20pm: Two more people come out and give doomsday talk about the fact that there is no way we're gonna get one. I don't want to hear this.

6:30pm: I move 20 ft. Seems like we're getting in the store now.

6:34pm: The line really starts moving now. Anticipation builds in me. I just hope people aren't sitting around in the store wondering if they should get one or not.

6:45pm: I look behind me and see about 80+ people lined up. The after work crowd must be showing up now.

7:10pm: An Apple guy gives me a brochure about data plans. Unbelievably, data costs less for the iPhone than for my Treo. I love getting ripped off by the phone companies.

7:20pm: I make up to the doorway into the mall. There is a big, tough looking guy who only lets 20 people at a time into the doorway. In a few minutes, I am in the doorway and now walking down the hall to the mall! Yeah!

7:24pm: I drop into the line outside the Apple store. They let one person in for every person that leaves. It's pretty funny. Every time somebody walks out with the distinctive iPhone bag, they clap and cheer! Ha. That's what I would feel too if/when I got one.

7:34pm: I'm IN! Standing in this line that goes to the back of the store, an Apple guy asks me if I want to take a look at one. Shit yeah! I play with it and call on it to check out its voice quality. Wow. The hype is REAL. I love it love it love it.

7:40pm: I grab 2 8GB iPhones and pay for them, and I'm walking out of the store now, grinning like a cheshire cat. I swear, getting one of these is like waiting for concert tickets the day they go on sale!

The next morning, I boot up my Mac and download iTunes 7.3. I go through the signup process and notice that I can't replace the SIM card, or at least I couldn't find an easy way to do it. I was going to toss in my old SIM card but looks like they won't let me. OK. So I signup for a new plan and will cancel my old plan later, as well as switch the phone number to it.

As I read the instruction manual, I find they did an incredible job with the syncing capabilities. I can, through iTunes, set it to sync with all the Mac apps, as well as Outlook on the PC! Pretty cool.

After I activate it, I play with the browsing and typing features. I setup email which is a bit weird, but I figure it out. Supposedly you can download the user manual off the website, but I haven't been able to find it yet.

Web browsing is great. Now I can see web pages pretty much like they're supposed to be, not all crappy like on my Treo browser. Email is also great. Using IMAP on Yahoo! Mail, it is really great for synchronizing email between client and iPhone. I also attach my DSV email too and will probably get my other email accounts attached too.

The one thing I could not figure out yet is how to get music on it. I try to drag/drop music onto the iPhone icon in iTunes but it doesn't accept items that way. I'll have to see how I can selectively add/delete music and videos to the iPhone a bit later.

All in all, this is the coolest device I've seen in a long time. A lot more compact than an iPod and certainly thinner than my fat Treo 680. I was afraid that it might be bulky in my pocket, but it definitely is not. Apple certainly has a winner here and it will be fun to see the rest of the industry just *try* to catch up.

iPod/iTunes is cool until you lose everything...Part II

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The saga continues..(from Part I)...

So after many weeks of going cold turkey and doing some research, I finally found my answer on About.com. I used a program called iPodRip which was well worth the $14.95 I paid for it. I downloaded this program, ran it, opened up all the music (and videos!) on my iPod and copied it all back onto a new external hard drive I bought.

This took many hours but was finally done. It was thankfully in the right format, so then I pointed my iTunes music folder to that folder and imported it all to its library, which again took many hours. But it was mostly back.

All my videos were gone, but like I said it was unlikely that I would go back and watch all those episodes of Lost or Battlestar Galactica. If I wanted to watch them again, I resigned myself to buying the whole season again, since our nice friends at Apple decided that upon losing your copy of the music or videos, you'll have to buy them again (wonderful).

So being Mr. Paranoid, I bought two other 750 GB hard drives on which I wanted to copy all my music, for a total of 3 copies of my iTunes folder. I figure, what's the chance of all 3 hard drives dying at once? So after a few days delay, I finally decided to do that late last week when....my Mac mini decided to crash on me.

This story is never going to end. I tried Data Rescue on it, but didn't want to retrieve the files; I wanted it back up and running! So tonight, I am bringing it to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store to see if they have suggestions. Ideally I could just reinstall Mac OS X again on the hard drive and everything would be fine...theoretically.

At least I'm not crying over this. I didn't keep critical data on the Mac Mini hard drive. It'll be a pain to reinstall everything but better than losing data....Sigh....

iPod/iTunes is cool until you lose everything...

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In a previous post, I raved about being able to bring my video iPod with me, and the TV shows that I always watch so that I can watch these shows whenever I wanted and not when they were on TV.

It was fantastic all the way up to the point at which the external hard drive which held all my iTunes library crashed in a big way.

Well, how nice of Apple to not let us re-download the stuff we bought. Where is the promise of digital media and the ability to not have physical media but being able to access it anywhere? Guess it doesn't work with the economics. After all, Apple could make money on all the people who blow up their hard drives and can't re-download their stuff.

I for one am glad that I buy CDs and rip them into iTunes. My music I can recover with difficulty; it was fortunate that I have a backup of my iTunes directory but unfortunately it is many months old. I can re-rip the CDs but I can't re-download the 2-3 albums I did buy through iTunes.

But all the recent TV shows I subscribed to - all gone. PFFT. Kaput. Nada.

Now maybe it's OK. I probably wouldn't have watched them again anyways. Still, it sucks. Those little bytes of data which made up those videos are gone forever because Seagate didn't make a drive that lasted long enough.

So where are the indestructible drives? As the world goes more digital, we have need for storage that should outlast ourselves. But yet nobody is making anything like that. They just say you should backup. Wonderful. I believe the technology is out there to create the indestructible hard drive but they just won't because otherwise they'd be out of business because they can't sell more hard drives for all the people who crash them.

What can I do? I'm going to try to extract all the music from my iPod via some bootleg programs and at least see if I can recover a lot of my music. The videos are pretty much gone though.

I went and bought two 750 GB hard drives and now am going to have to be religious about backing up TWICE. So now for security, this wonderful digital media is costing me many hundreds of dollars more just so I can make sure they won't disappear on me again.

What's the probability of both hard drives self-destructing at the same time?

I don't want to know.

Snow Day Not Over Yet

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On Friday, we waited at JFK to no avail as a winter storm grew worse and caused all flights to be cancelled late afternoon. We tried everything and ultimately we managed to get transferred to a Sunday flight out of La Guardia, which would get us to Chicago O’Hare and then onwards to Los Angeles. The way home was interesting as we got to ride the most amazing off-rode vehicle ever and both of us spent two more nights back in Manhattan, braving first a night of pelting sharp snow and then the screaming drunk people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day all day and night.

I got up early just to see if I could make to the airport early and get a seat on my flight out to Chicago, as the internet was not allowing me to grab seat. When I got there, the woman said I still could not get a seat, so I sat down and waited for my buddy to show up. Of course, my buddy, through picking the right person and with a bit of smile and flirting manages to find someone who CAN assign seats even as they are locked up on the normal screens. Go figure. We get seats and then move downstairs to grab lunch before we board.

It’s still many minutes before the flight takes off, so we grab some food and sit down at the gate itself. We see lots of people milling around but nobody getting on the plane and it’s 1215p with the flight supposedly taking off at 1229p. So we just wait thinking that they’ll make an announcement when it takes off. Time passes, and passes. Then we see the board go blank and our flight is not talked about anymore. We get up to check the departure board and the FLIGHT IS NOT THERE. We then see the guy who was working the gate’s desk, stop him and ask him about our flight. He tells us it just loaded everyone and took off.

WTF?

We were sitting there at the gate and yet there was no final boarding call, no call for us even after we had boarding passes and were checked in! Unbelievaable. There wasn’t even a movement of people onto the plane that we could see! We run upstairs to the Admiral’s Club to see if we could fix this. They were as perplexed as we were and put us on the next flight to Chicago taking off at 115p, which was boarding right now. The guy grabs our boarding passes and runs ahead of us to see if he can get us seats, and we shuffle quickly after with our carry-ons. We see him at our gate and he confers with the gate agent, who, while boarding the last few folks, manages to get us FIRST CLASS SEATS. I thought we were really screwed and would have taken any seat just to get out of La Guardia! But somehow, we score the last two first class seats in time, nabbing them before all the upgrade requests ahead of us.

We get this confirmed, hop into line, get our seats, and look at each over the rows, thinking how unbelievable this whole trip back has been. Still, it’s not over yet. I have now only 10 minutes to get to my connecting flight when I hit Chicago. I hope that they hold this flight for me.

My buddy and I are never ever flying to or out of La Guardia again. That place is very bad for the traveler being very small and crowded with not enough places to sit and we’ve experienced firsthand poor operations. During the cold weather months, we’re going to ask our main ringleader if we can have meetings somewhere warm and not subject to snowstorms, like the Bahamas. Think he’ll go for that?

I Need MOOOOO Therapy

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These Moo cards are really starting to take my brain and feelings for a loop.

The impulse to make more is staggering. It takes a huge force of will to not go and upload more pics and order more.

When I order them, my intent is to use them as a personal ID card or as a unique business card design. But I find that when I get them, it is super hard to part with them. I like them so much that it's hard for me to give them away! I think it's the fact that I took those pics on the backs. I have a deep attachment to them simply for that fact alone.

It's also their novelty and size. The slender aspect ratio of these cards makes them almost cute and you want to own them. I can't part with them because they are so keep-a-ble!

Then when I show them to others, they like them too. But they won't take just any card; they want to pick. They look carefully through them and only pick the one they like. Or take more than one. How strange. They want that special one that appeals to them alone, even though I took those pics and like them all.

It is even more pronounced when I show my biz cards. In case you didn't know, the backs of my business Moo cards have images of my startups that I take on occasion to document their "Making Of". So when they take my Moo cards, they don't want some strange image or dudes on the card backs; they want something that is familiar to them, like either their own company or if they know the people.

Moo cards are strangely addictive and produce such interesting reactions in myself and in others. I think I am going to need some MOOOO therapy soon to figure this all out...

The Most Amazing Off Road Vehicle Ever

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This isn't a usual Business post. But I just had to post about it.

Today, my buddy Pooj and I were on our way home when one of the biggest nor'easters hits the east coast. It, well...kind of ruined our day. We both got to JFK only to wait many hours in the Admiral's Club to find out that they cancelled all flights out of JFK to everywhere. We tried everything; getting on flights to LA, connect through everywhere, get on an international flight connecting through SF or LA - all cancelled. Dejectedly, we removed ourselves from the comfy Admiral's Club where we were just sitting there surfing the Web and ragging on people. After looking at the taxi line (WAY TOO LONG), we jumped into the LIRR back which was quite an experience in hiking. Up stairs, down stairs, up stairs, walk more, down stairs, up stiars, walk more. ARG!!!

Eventually, we got back to Penn Station and after one more train ride to Grand Central, we said enough was enough. We've been dragging our luggage from JFK to Manhattan and pretty tired of that, especially given the constantly increasing snowfall.

So upon exitting Grand Central we said "f**k it" and jumped into the taxi line. As we were pelted by these little bits of ice which tried to fake itself into being snow, a guy pulls up in one of these:

Both of us looked at each other and had enough of the snow pelting so we jumped into this contraption.

Boy. I wish I had a video camera. It was the most amazing ride I ever had.

Imagine the snow piling up on the roads in this really slippery slush and taxis whipping in and around you as this guy is pedalling to your destination, which for us was only 5 blocks away. We weave our way around cars and people as he pedals in the middle of the road and we're wondering how this bike-thing isn't skidding out or doing some kind of donuts in the snow. We marvel at this bike's manuverability as he is on the road at one minute, and then he jumps onto the sidewalk and now he is weaving in and around people as they walk on the sidewalk! Wow! And he even swears at another pedestrian in true New Yorker style! What a treat! In another minute, he is back on the road and riding along with cars and then lastly, we tell him that our stop is over there on the right, so immediately he turns right and leaps onto the sidewalk and delivers us to the doorstep.

It was then we were able to look at this thing. What kind of tires this contraption must have to transport us through ice and snow without skidding or causing an accident, and only through human power alone?

An amazing invention, this tricycle-come-rickshaw with unbelievable off-road capabilities. If it ever snows in NYC, I would highly recommend jumping off the taxi line and taking one of these.

The Amazing Pace of Change at My Alma Mater, Yahoo!

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I just found the email that detailed the re-org at Yahoo! from Sue Decker, head of the new Advertiser & Publisher Group. It's posted at Techcrunch:

Text of Email to all Yahoos, Techcrunch

I have been out of Yahoo! since Sept 2004, and in 2+ short years, I see:

* Lots of EVPs and SVPs. They used to make you run the gauntlet before making even VP.

* I only recognize about 6 names in the email out of about 15. The influx of new people is staggering at the higher levels. Where did all the people I knew go?

* The company is organizing in a very "large company" way. The changes were in the making while I was still there, but now they are extended more.

* Valleywag's post about slightly less kneeling before Zod is a bit cutting, but it does make a point. I am not sure that splitting engineering (and by the way I heard through the grapevine that my old user experience group is reporting into the product teams now too) is going to be good for the company in the long term.

To me, companies always undergo cycles; they try things, they work or don't work, and then they go back to try old things, and then they work/don't work, and then you're back to trying stuff you tried before. I suppose it's one way to keep the world off balance to distract you from other possible issues with the company.

The Power of Referrals

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Just recently, I've been thinking more and more about the power of referrals as applied on to Internet businesses.

Think about Digg.com. I "digg" an news article, so I hit the "digg" button and it gets tossed onto the Digg.com list. Because I "digg" it, I am essentially referring it those who subscribe to the Digg feed of news articles. In aggregation with the crowd's opinions, as well as with some newly discovered editorial color on top of it, my referral could get sent to the those who like the Digg referral style of consuming news, as a way of uncovering interesting news.

On NYTimes.com, I just learned that they consider the number of times a story is emailed a better measure of popularity than just the number of clicks to read a story. If you think about it, calculating most popular based on clicks can have a self-fulfilling prophecy aspect to it; those on the most popular list are seen by more users who click on them more, and those stories inevitably stay on the most popular lists longer than they should. But, if you think the number of times a story is emailed, then you realize that if someone were to think this story is great, then they're going to refer it to friends. It's an added metric on top of how many times the story is read and helps fine tune out of self-fulfilling prophecies.

A new site I was just introduced to works on the same referral principle: downfly.com. It is a simple application which allows you to post a link on the site and it gets "passed" to your social network. Every now and then, I'll get an email from the system that sends me links that get passed to me. As I use it more, I find it to be entertaining, a great way to discover new sites, and I also get to see what people in my network are thinking about and consider important enough to pass down their social network chain. But as I become a "passer" of links, I can't help but think about what I'm passing and why and the ramifications of passing. I want to pass good links, not junk. I don't want to waste peoples' time by passing stupid links. I think about the value they're going to get and make sure they get some from whatever site/link I'm passing them. I also can't help but think about what they think of me as they're receiving my link passes. That would be something interesting to implement is a feedback system that allows people to easily comment or feedback on the stuff they're getting, as a mechanism to see if I'm doing a good job or not.

I see this referral aspect also in my advising/investing business. I see part of my job eventually is to help my early stage companies raise funding. I also see part of my job is to utilize my network to bring them valuable business partnership opportunities. But I told myself long ago that I need to build trust in my referrals to these folks. Investors don't want to keep seeing junk from you; they'll never take your call if you keep wasting their time with lame businesses. Potential business partners don't want to see junk either. I think deeply about whether there is true value in a partnership with someone before I introduce them. I don't want to make frivolous introductions, again because I want to continue building trust in my network that when I refer somebody to them, that I'm not doing that randomly, and that 10 times out of 10 it will be something they should look at.

Look at the effects of referral:

1. You the referrer have a desire to bring value to the receivers of the referrals. This altruistic notion forms the basis of the positive effects and power of referrals.

2. You think heavily on what could be interesting or valuable to them, so you're careful at referring things to them. Thus, you as a referrer need to get to know your receivers at some level to know what could be interesting to them. If you don't know them well, your referrals could have a negative effect on you as the referrer as your referrals could be perceived as random or junk. They may ask you to stop. Refer effectively by getting to know your receivers.

3. Successful or valuable referring can have positive effects on your reputation. It builds trust in your receivers of the referrals that you are giving them something valuable. It also builds trust in the thing you're referring, like a website, or business opportunity, or news story. It was checked out by the referrer, whom you trust, and thus you have a tendency to trust it more too.

4. If they like your referrals, you may get value back, in the form of good referrals or otherwise. If there is some measure of how good a referrer you are, like a ratings system, you can gain in reputation in a visible way. That rating is value to referrer, as is other things.

5. Referrals can be a better measure of popularity and "this is valuable or good" based on all of the above, and helps remove self-fulfilling prophecy effects of other forms of popularity measures.

6. You refer poorly, or annoyingly, and people will shut you off. Trust is lost, and thus reputation is lowered. And also they will lose trust in the thing you refer. As an entrepreneur, make sure you get referred by someone who is trustworthy as a referrer, and not somebody who has low or potentially low trust amongst the people you're trying to get referred to. This can be very hard to determine who is trustworthy as a referrer and who is not, so tread carefully.

7. The system which enables referring effectively can use this as a viral marketing tool to gain more customers or users.

As I think on the effects of referral, I am going to try to employ it more often in thinking on product strategy with my companies.

American Airlines Qualification Complexity

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As I crossed into the new year, and now in planning for 2007, one area where I have to really put some effort into is with American Airlines.

Following my time at Yahoo!, I remained with Yahoo's preferred air carrier, American Airlines so that I could continue accruing miles and status on the airline where I had the most miles. After I left Yahoo!, I proceeded to try to redefine my life and went to NYC quite a bit, which elevated me to Executive Platinum status. The best perk about Executive Platinum is automatic upgrades to Business Class when they are available. Oh man! What a perk!

I usually take the redeye on my way to NYC so as not to lose a day there. If you've ever tried to sleep in coach, it sucks so bad. The airlines are never going to have enough money to remodel their planes. They're just going to leave them the way they are, to the detriment of all air travelers and their bodies. Add to that my triathlon training regimen and now it's doubly worse. Upgrading to Business Class and their much better seats - recline further, better cushions - means I am much more comfortable on those overnight flights.

Have you looked at how much they charge for Business Class? For the cheapest coach from LAX to JFK, it is about $350. For Business Class, it is a whopping $3300! Way too much!

Executive Platinum status has become a necessity not only for my body but for my wallet.

Last year, December rolled around and I realized...I WOULD FALL SHORT OF THE 100K MILES to qualify! I panicked! But I also found out one crucial thing. That was certain flght classes would only get 50% of the mileage applied to Executive Platinum qualification! I spent a whole year traveling not knowing this. By the way, the classes that do give 100% of the miles applied to Executive Platinum qualification are K, L, M, V, H, and W. Every other one is a discounted class and gives you only 50%.

First I go to the website and I realize the website doesn't give you the ability to have that fine a control over what classes you can buy into. You can only get the cheapest fare, or by major flight class, Coach, Business, or First. If you go ask for Business Class, you'll get the $3000+ fare. If you ask for Coach, you get the cheapest fare but only 50% applied to Executive Platinum qualification. You hit the "with restrictions" radio button, and you get ridiculous fare quotes of $1000+.

Calling up the Executive Platinum is better. I ask them to change all my flights to 100% mile qualification classes and we sit there for about 30 minutes going through my remaining 2006 flights and switching classes. I gladly pay the extra fees, and in some cases, I actually get money back! But setting all of them to the full mileage qualification classes means I squeak into qualification at approximately 105,000 miles by December 31.

This year, I looked at my travel and realized that I wouldn't make it on miles alone. Now I have to book flights through the Executive Platinum desk and ask specifically for those flight classes. This is tricky because I need to keep pushing them on lower prices. The first time I did it the person came back with a $1500 fare; I asked for a lower fare and it dropped to $560. I also stopped flying Southwest and fly American Eagle on short hops to attempt to qualify on the 100 segments flown in a year.

I don't think I could do this travel without Executive Platinum status. It's too taxing without the automatic upgrade. I may pay a little more for fares, but the automatic upgrades to Business Class make it worth the extra bucks I pay over the cheapest coach fares.

The New Holiday Card...through SMS!

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This year I got my share of snail mail holiday cards and a smattering of e-mail e-cards. But this was the first year I got 2 SMS holiday cards!

They said:

Merry christmas! :)

- from J.

All the best wishes for a happy and healthy 2007! :-*

- from V., A., and J.

Maybe you don't think it's a big deal, but for me, it's just another milestone in SMS coming into its own in the U.S.

These SMS greetings are:

Easy to create - just type it out on your phone and no messing around with graphics.

Immediate - they aren't sent to your e-mail, but you get it on your phone which you probably have on or near you right now.

Easy to send - my phone has almost all my friends on it, which is the list of people I really wanted to send some sort of greeting to anyways. And, it has a nice interface to send mass SMSes to everyone in my phone book.

Perhaps it's just a matter of time before someone thinks of creating an MMS based greeting card service?

Today, the headlines wrote that Miss Nevada in the Miss America competition would be replaced by another, on the revealing of exposed breast pictures and other 'deemed inappropriate' acts several years ago as a teenager. Apparently, a friend had taken those shots and then posted them on the Internet. Consequently, they were discovered and Miss Nevada was disqualified and the honor given to the next in line. She is realizing firsthand the dangers of actions which happened years ago coupled with the openness of the Web.

The Internet has become a place for free expression but fraught with unexpected consequences for those we express without restraint or forethought. We are in a transitional generation learning with trial by fire (or error) and missteps on what the Internet can do and what dangers it can represent.

Prior to the Internet, our society's private information was very much protected by the lack of technology and by physical barriers. We never had to worry about people seeing our pictures because they just sat in old shoe boxes or albums and nobody could see them except those whom you wanted to. Our personal information was our own; what we did in our bedrooms, closets, and homes never had webcams focused on them or digital phone cams to send to others.

With the emergence of sharing tools in technology and on the Internet, it was now possible to take all that information and put it out there, often times simply because someone asked for it, or because we thought it would be funny....for the moment. Somehow in our naviete we thought that we could put it out there, it would do its thing, making someone laugh, or be just a passing comment on a post or instant message, and then we forgot about it, thinking it be lost in the masses of information on the Web.

The Web sometimes loses things, but most of the time it does not disappear. Search engines make finding things easier. We all get googled now before we meet people just to see what we can learn about them before we meet them. Information is archived on sites because every page a site has means more page loads for ads to be shown on. It doesn't make sense for Web companies to blow old information away. Text gets saved and copied, and re-pasted or quoted somewhere else. Pictures and videos are saved and re-posted. Even if you think your picture is deleted in one place, someone else may have saved it for their own use and it may re-emerge.

So now it's not our own naviete but the responsibility of others both close to you and not. Even if you don't post something, someone else could. Embarassing pictures taken at an office party get posted to your favorite blog; your drunken actions at a frat party re-emerge to make you lose a job offer years later. The news is filled with instances where everyone is getting googled and embarassing information surfaces about that person that pre-Internet would never have been found, like to the detriment of Miss Nevada.

Openness is good and to the extent we can find out more about the people around us is probably positive in the long run. But for us, in the transitional generation, we have not done well enough in teaching our youth or ourselves about the dangers of posting text, pictures, and video on to the Net and the future ramifications of doing so. We need to do better in knowing that we need to think more carefully before we act impetuously in hitting the enter key. And that sometimes, our actions not only affect ourselves but others as well.

My hope is that our educational resources will add materials about the positive and negative aspects of posting to the Internet as soon as possible to their curricula. And for us, who are out there with our school days behind us, I hope that we can just pause a moment before we hit that enter key and think on whether sending that file or post is really the right thing to do, even if it is funny in the moment.

Fame and Competition on the Net

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It started way back in the middle of the Internet boom years. I got onto eBay and started bidding on toasters (I collect antique toasters...!) As I bought and sold stuff, I collected positive ratings for my transaction behavior. As my positive ratings grew, I became more obsessed with responding quickly and often about my transactions. If I was buying, I would send payment as soon as possible or notify the seller that I had a delay. Likewise for selling, I would make sure I respond quickly and let the buyer know exactly when to expect the item. My rating was my reputation on eBay and it became one of the most important things I would build on the Internet, which was a trust rating that I cherished and allowed me to do things on eBay with other members that untrusted, poorly rated members would not.

Around the same time, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? became one of the hottest TV shows. But something that ABC did that not many knew about was the fact that you could play real time along with the show and compete against others also playing via the Internet. I also started playing along with the show and the designers of the Web game did some really great things like allow you to accumulate points upon answering questions successfully and in a timely fashion (more points for faster answering). Players with the most points were put up on a leaderboard which you strived for. It was amazing how many points some people had accumulated. It made you really try to get to the top of the leaderboard and feel....famous for being the best. And the world knew you were the best because the leaderboard was visible to all.

Fast forward to 2004 where I discovered that HotOrNot.com had put up the ability to send virtual flowers to people you liked and wanted to meet via its meeting service. But they did something clever. If you received virtual flowers, they would appear next to your picture. It gave you a sense of superiority; I've got 10 roses! How many do you have? It made you feel great about yourself and showed the world that others thought you were hot enough to send flowers to.

And now, as a frequent contributor to Yelp, I find myself racing to be the first reviewer of a restaurant. When you are, you get a little icon that states you are a first reviewer and then on your profile, it shows how many first reviews you've made. Then, I started writing witty reviews instead of boring ones. Because readers can rate reviews on the basis of Useful (big deal) or Cool (yeah!) or Funny (even better!). For some reason, I sought to write better reviews in an attempt to get more Cool and Funny ratings! It's easy to write a Useful review, but not many can entertain or be noted for being "cool".

Fame and competition go hand in hand on the Internet. It's one of the best techniques for getting users continually engaged on your website. You hook them in by making them feel like they are the best at something, and let others know about it. If others can say your cool or the best, that's even better because now you have validation from the crowd. How much validation do we get in real life, even from the people we know and love? Often times - ZIP. But on the Internet, the millions of surfers can come by and tag you as cool, or see that you're the best at something.

Then since you know the crowd is watching, it makes you want to participate more, and it pushes you more to do better at whatever you're participating in. It draws you in and the reward is fame and notoriety whereas in the real world you may not have that chance.

It's easy to reward people with money. But it's costly and you need money first before you can give it away. When the reward is not money, sometimes it's more powerful at encouraging and reinforcing user engagement. I would argue that it is even more long lasting because if it's some contest you're in and you win, that's where it usually ends. There is no more beyond that. With a well crafted fame and competition scheme, you can engage users for a much longer time and at much lower cost.

Working with my startups on developing fame and competition systems tailored for their services is something I think about all the time.

To WIFI or Not to WIFI: the Future of Hanging Out

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I was in NYC this week for a series of meetings. One of my meetings took place at this really nice cafe called Cafe Dante in Greenwich Village. Upon arriving at the front door, I was confronted by this sign:

How unusual to see this in today's world of coffee houses and letting people hang out all day surfing the Web! I surmised that this cafe had ulterior motives:

An attempt to preserve the traditional reason for going to a coffee house which is to talk to someone?
Annoyed at those who stay all day surfing and eating/ordering practically nothing?
Abused as a child by their parents hitting them over the head with a laptop?

I contrast this to what I encountered later that day. I met up with some entrepreneurs who were hanging out at a bar/restaurant called Ditch Plains in the West Village. While the bar was getting crowded and drinks were flowing, you'd expect that we'd be just talking and laughing away; instead, I walked up to two people chatting occasionally but mostly looking down at their laptops and surfing away. I joined in the intermittent chatter and whipped out my Treo and surfed and sent email as much as they did. In the middle the surfing, we'd order more bottles of wine, more food, dessert, and surf some more. It was probably my first experience with the combo drinking/surfing/talking thing.

A world torn between the old and new? To surf or not to surf? That is the question.

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