Fun and Frivolous

Sometimes you just wanna have fun. Post a stupid photo, upload a dumbass video. You know silly shit. Well, this is place for it, baby. All things retarded and pointless go right here.

Welcome to SXSW!

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For the second year in a row, I’m back in Austin attending SXSW. Below are some thoughts. I attended some cool stuff, saw some cool things, met cool people, had a lot of cool encounters and even cooler conversations.

First day in Austin. Landed this morning, straight to the Palmer Center to work on the Mario Kart experience we’ve been putting together since late last year. It’s nice to see all the hard work and big ideas come to life. It’s the most rewarding part of the job, by far. Make sure you check out the accompanying website that my team in Dallas put together. I’m really proud of the work they did.

 

What do you call them? I know you know what I’m talking about…

You’re flipping. Then you see it, and you stop dead in your tracks. You can’t flip anymore, and you have to watch the rest of it… every time you come across it.

For me, it’s always “Goodfellas”, “Casino”, “Open Range”, or to a lesser extent, 80′s movies like, “Pretty in Pink”, “Sixteen Candles”, or “Saint Elmo’s Fire”.

Don’t judge me.

Is there a name for these movies? “Flip Stoppers” seems a bit contrived… but oddly appropriate.

What are yours? And what do you call them?

 

You know, the first step is admitting you have a problem…

I just had the oddest experience. I was walking down the hall at work when I caught myself thinking about something.

No, that part’s not the “odd part”. The odd part was what I was thinking about.

I was thinking about peanut butter. Specifically, I was thinking about “Smucker’s All Natural Smooth Peanut Butter with Honey”.

I have an almost uncontrollable addiction to nut butters. I love them. I eat them on Triscuits. I spread them on whole wheat bread. I eat them on bananas. I have absolutely no ability to moderate my intake of any particular nut butter. It gets worse when it’s almond butter. I daresay I could polish off an entire jar of almond butter in one sitting and not blink twice.

So there I was, walking down the hall at work thinking, “boy, I can’t wait to get home tonight and eat some peanut butter on some Triscuits”.

What the hell is wrong with me?

I don’t know, but I guarantee, whatever it is, it can be fixed by spreading a little peanut butter on it.

Is there a name for this? “Embarrassment Coupon” perhaps?

I recently got on a Cafe Verona kick. Dark, “chocolatey”, it’s really a delicious coffee, and so lately I’ve been snapping up Starbucks Cafe Verona anyplace I can find them. I’ve got a little single-cup coffee maker at work. Black and Decker. It makes one little cup of coffee, and usually during the course of the day I’ll make a couple cups. It wasn’t until I was on my second or third bag, that I discovered that Starbucks will give you a free cup of coffee if you take the bag back into any Starbucks Coffee. “Hmmm” I thought, “that’s pretty cool. It’d be nice to be able to stop by Starbucks one day when I’m out and about and know that I’ve got a free cup of coffee coming my way”.

So a couple days ago, I finished a bag and before I could throw it away, remembered to save it. I took it out to my car and put the empty bag in the middle console between the two front seats.

And there it sat. Mocking me.

Was I so pathetic, that in order to get a free cup of coffee, I was willing to walk all the way into the Mall clutching an empty bag of trash? I don’t carry a purse, so it’s not like I had any clever place to “hide” it on my way in. No, I was going to have to walk into Starbucks and hand over my empty trash and say, “here’s my empty bag, can I have my little free cup of Pike Place Blend, please?”

That was when I realized the genius of Starbucks. They know you’re not going to redeem that shit. They know if you’re going to plunk down $7 for a bag of ground coffee, that you’re not the type of person who looks for ways to get a 90-cent cup of coffee for free. Oh sure, you might try to tell yourself, “well, they’re going to recycle them”, but you know that won’t happen. The little Emo Barrista behind the counter is going to look you over, judgmentally sneer, fill a little cup up with some coffee he was about to throw out, toss your little bag in the trash, then talk shit about you to all his friends when you leave. “Dude, today this guy brought in an empty bag of coffee in so he could get his free cup of coffee… I know, right?” Not to mention the looks you’ll get from every customer in the place. I mean, if I was in line and you approached the counter and offered up and empty bag of trash in exchange for a cup of coffee, I’d be like, “man… here… lemme buy you a Venti, bro…”.

So I mean, there has to be a name for that, right? You offer someone something you KNOW they’re never going to redeem, but you look good offering it. It gives people a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling, but in the end, nobody’s pathetic enough to redeem it without submitting to some kind of “walk of shame” and taking a few self-esteem hits.

I think I’ll call it, “An Embarrassment Coupon”.

Oh, and if you spotted me in Starbucks today during lunch, don’t tell any of my friends, okay?

“I hate that place”

I hear that so often these days. From friends, from co-workers, from Twitter followers. Seems like everyone hates Facebook.

So why are so many people still using it?

I don’t post pictures there. I don’t upload video there. My only participation is to use it as a broadcast medium to point to the place where I control the universe. Here. I might share a link or two, but they’re also shared here as well. I don’t want Facebook to actually have any of my content. It’s mine. Not theirs. They don’t have any right to my family photos, my videos, my thoughts, my ideas. They make money off my stuff. If all of a sudden everyone stopped giving Facebook all their shit, Facebook would be completely value-less. Facebook’s whole value is wrapped up in your eyeballs. Increasingly, they’re becoming a walled garden. I saw a post the other day comparing them to AOL, and I thought, “that’s perfect”. AOL used to be a lot of people’s “internet experience”. You’d sign on to their world, play around in their playground, interact with their users, then log off. Once you started sniffing around outside their walls, they were essentially done. People went, “waitaminute, you mean there’s all THIS out there? Why didn’t you tell me?”. Then it was all over for AOL.

Seems like the same thing’s happening with Facebook.

It’s the end of the year. Time for people to start writing those “retrospective” posts looking back on “the year that was” and a lot of them seem to be themed around the idea of “moving on from Facebook”. People seem to be coming around to the idea that there’s life beyond 500 million users. That juggernauts can be stopped cold in their tracks. That there will be a “next big thing” and they’re already starting. That can’t bode well for Facebook, but it could be good for users.

See, I think, as an idea, Facebook’s great. Share shit with your friends and family. As a platform, it’s been great as what I would call, “the first iteration” of that idea. Sort of a “here’s how you do it and make it easy for people”. What I think it’s failed at miserably though, is the obvious obsession with monetizing the idea. In an effort to somehow get money out of an idea that’s inherently NOT a money making idea, they’ve had to open the “social graph” to people who weren’t part of your conversation in the first place.

I was talking with my friends and family. Who invited Coca-Cola and Toyota?

Then there’s the whole notion of Facebook making money off of my life. Seriously? You take my photos, my videos, my thoughts, my ideas… and you monetize them so YOU make money? And you don’t offer me a cut? How does that work?

Turns out it doesn’t. At least not very well. In order for Facebook to make that money, they’ve got to run completely counter to their idea. They have to open what was originally a very closed idea. I liked it when the idea was closed. I liked it when I had friends, I could share, they could share, and that was our world. Now, this whole, open platform environment runs counter to my comfort level and the comfort level of most users. You think I want all my friends to see my activity on Huffington Post? Do I want everyone I’m friends with on Facebook, business Friends, personal friends, family, to see what I like on Buzzfeed? You think that’s appropriate? I don’t. It’s also not the deal we signed up for.

So what happens now? Well, it’s anybody’s guess, but judging from some of the conversations out there, we won’t have to wait long to find out. There are a lot of really smart people out there who see this coming and are already working on solutions to “the Facebook problem”. I’m confident they’re smarter than Zuckerberg, too. Here’s the best part, you don’t have to “train” a new audience what the idea of Facebook is now. All you have to do is be the one who comes up with the next, “It’s Facebook, but better”.

Here’s how I imagine that conversation went down…

OPENING SCENE: SOME CANDY COMPANY BOARDROOM, MID-80s:

“Okay people, here’s the deal. Parents are having a shit-fit. We can’t sell sticks made out of sugar, with a little painted red-tip, packed into boxes designed to look like cigarettes, and call them ‘Candy Cigarettes’ anymore. It’s just not working. So we’ve got a machine downstairs that makes sticks out of sugar, and another machine that makes cigarette boxes. Any ideas? ”

“What about if we just call them ‘Sticks Made Out of Sugar’ instead?”

“You’re fired. Next?”

“I know! We’ll call them ‘Candy Sticks’. That way, it still has ‘candy’ in the name, and kids love sticks!”

“Okay, I like where you’re going with this. Now. What about the box machine? How do we work that into the mix?”

“We’ll print superheroes on the boxes. Kids love superheroes.”

“I like it, it’s a real win-win. Let’s go with that one…”

Candy... sticks?


Kids LOVE candy. Kids LOVE superheroes. Kids LOVE sticks. It's a no brainer, right?

“Where’s the camera? I need it…”

This weekend I’m sitting on the sofa, minding my business when a “supposed to be already in bed” little ball of energy come bounding around the corner.

“Dad, where’s the camera? I need it…”

Now I’m curious. Why would a 4-year old need a camera after nine at night?

“It’s in the diaper bag… why do you need it?”

“Because I’m going on a safari”

“…”

Well, apparently, over on Nick Jr., Olivia was going on a “wildlife safari”. Not the Ernest Hemingway type, mind you, but the safe, fun, “adventurous-for-your-four-year-old” kind. As someone who has actually gone to Africa and experienced a real life, “holy-shit-this-is-awesome”, life-changing Safari, I was intrigued, so I pressed further. “Are you prepared for your Safari?”, I asked. “Yes, I have a backpack, and a camera, and a map, and everything!”, she replied.

Good enough for me!

About 12 hours later, I’m going through the camera and I stumble across the below photos. All descriptions come directly from first-hand accounts of the dangerous expedition undertaken earlier that morning, while I slept. You owe it to yourself to read them:

“The Best Laid Plans…” and what my gut told me.

I had actually planned to write a lot this weekend. I felt like I had a lot of pent up blogging inside me. Like I had things to say and there was some underlying emotion bubbling through me that would somehow be cathartically released if I wrote about it. I mean, I can’t explain it. Ever have one of those feelings like, things are just over the horizon, and you can’t quite see them yet? They’re just not in focus, or not completely visible? That’s how I’ve felt for about the last couple of weeks. I think a lot of it has to do with Adobe Max this year. I’m struggling with the “all over the map” feeling that this year’s Max Conference has left me with. Oh, not in a bad way. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I feel as if there are dozens of opportunities out there for me to apply a little talent, a little skill, a little elbow grease, and wind up on the other side of a hugely rewarding experience. So I thought maybe meditating on it, spending a little time writing about it, and talking to some friends this weekend would help me sort things out in my brain-container.

Then Fallout: New Vegas arrived. Then I got a new iPhone.

I mean, seriously, could I have had two bigger distractions fall into my lap? First off, don’t even get me started on Fallout. I wrote about it a while back on my other blog. The previous version was my number one game of 2010 and the damn thing was released in 2009. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how many hours I spent playing Fallout 3, but I will cop to it being in the hundreds. And don’t think I’m the only one. My wife not only loved Fallout 3, but she’s got a book she checked out from the library that’s a 14-day checkout (that’s already overdue), and on about three separate occasions this weekend she stopped what she was doing and sat next to me watching me fight dehydration (of course I’m playing it on hardcore mode, silly), fend of radscorpions, and work with “Fantastic” to squeeze more efficiency out of a solar panel array in the nuclear wasteland formerly known as “The Nevada Desert”. Quite simply, the game is magnificent. Oh sure, it’s basically an add-on pack to Fallout 3… but I don’t care. It’s more wasteland, more post-apocalyptic carnage & mayhem, and more piled on top of more. So here I sit, Monday morning, with barely any sleep on a weekend where I actually got an extra hour built into the weekend, having accomplished nothing more than learning how to tan golden gecko hides in the desert with some roots and turpentine. Oh, and I shot some ghouls into space. That was pretty cool.

The iPhone? I dunno. Jury’s still out on that one. I played with it a little. Wasn’t “blown away” but wasn’t disappointed either. Apple is Apple, and everything they touch they think through to such extreme that it’s almost annoying how perfectly everything works together. UI isn’t so alarming after owning an iPad for six months, but I have to tell you, if I didn’t own the iPad, jumping from 2 years on an Android phone to the iPhone would’ve been a lot more jarring experience. Having a Droid 2 and an iPhone simultaneously should be an interesting experience that I hope to spend a little more time exploring. Initial thoughts however, are a resounding, “meh”. It was, however, nice to have a new iPod. I will admit to spending an inordinate amount of time this weekend loading the shit out of it with Video/Movies/TV shows and music. Somehow Band of Horses just sounds better on a new iPod/iPhone. I can’t explain that… something about how shiny it is, I think.

But you know what? I don’t regret a minute of it. I think my gut was telling me to relax. I spent a week in Los Angeles on sensory overload and it actually felt nice to curl up on the sofa all weekend, enjoy time with the family and decompress a little. I cooked dinner for my mom, went grocery shopping, and helped my daughter go on a “wildlife safari”. Taking occasional time outs to shoot the arms off of legionnaires who don’t like me because of my tremendously good karma (the idolize me in Novac!) was just the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned.

Weekly roundup for… um… this week.

Look, I don’t know if I’ll ever do another “Weekly Roundup”. Shit, I don’t even know what a “weekly roundup” is… but I had a bunch of little things that were percolating near the front of my noggin, and I didn’t wanna do a whole blog post about them, so I figured I’d do this sort of… “catch all” kind of post. It sounded like a good name and… oh who am I kidding? “Weekly Roundup” is the lamest name on earth. I mean honestly, if that’s any indication of the depths of my creativity, then I should just give up and go home… If I do this again, I promise I’ll be a little more creative next time with my naming…

Hold on, I’m gonna go brush my teeth. As I sit here typing, I have the distinct feeling that I’m sporting some serious morning coffee breath. Be right back…

Okay, cool.

A while back I got this sample of “Crest Whitening Expressions” toothpaste. It was an odd flavor, “Refreshing Vanilla Mint”. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, I was conflicted. Was toothpaste supposed to taste yummy like vanilla? What exactly was “vanilla mint”? Why was I so emotionally invested in toothpaste?

So I gave it shot. Holy shit was that stuff good. We’re talking life changing good. We’re talking, “oh, THIS is why I’m emotionally invested in toothpaste…” good. I actually spent the next couple of weeks stopping at every shelf that I passed that had toothpaste on it (Target, CVS, Bi-Lo, Food Lion…) and scanned them to see if they had it anyplace. I was convinced that someone had played an elaborate prank on me and no such toothpaste existed. Then I ran into it at Bi-Lo and it was on clearance! I was both elated at having finally tracked it down, and dismayed because I had a feeling I knew what “clearance” meant. So I bought two tubes. Just trust me on this one. If you EVER, and I mean EVER see “Crest Whitening Expressions Refreshing Vanilla Mint” toothpaste, buy a tube. Don’t ponder the decision, don’t think about it. Just kneejerk impluse buy the shit out of it. You won’t regret it.

Rocketship… Powered by Typekit
Hey, notice the little logotype at the top of the page? Pretty sweet huh? Over the last decade and a half of doing web pages, the one topic that I’ve never been able to escape is at some point saying some variation of the phrase, “you can’t use that typeface on a web page”. Oh sure, it’s gotten more polished and less confrontational over the years (“I’ll specify it in the CSS, but you should just be aware that most people don’t have the font installed and probably won’t see it, but I’ll make it work for you as best I can”),  but it’s always been a source of disappointment and friction between development and design.

Well, not so much anymore. I mean, I know Typekit’s been around a while, and yeah, I know it doesn’t degrade “ever so gracefully”, wonking out in older browsers (more about my philosophy of, “fuck IE6″ later, I promise) but you know, for the most part, it’s a pretty tight technology. Don’t abuse it, set up your CSS all sweet, make sure you cover your bases, and for the most part, it works pretty well. It was always on my radar, but attending a recent session at Max by Greg Veen of Typekit convinced me. I staggered up to the front, threw my arms in the air, said, “I believe!” and came back one of the converted.

So what you’re seeing is my first foray into Web Type. I like it. Additional bonus points because it’s a Blambot Typeface AND I have the added benefit of good typeface karma because it’s all on the up and up, fully licensed, legal, and approved by the board of directors (okay, there are no board of directors, I made that part up).

Hmmm… looking at it just now also made me keenly aware that I haven’t changed the blue/purple theme in over a month. I’ll have to remedy that tonight. Doesn’t quite feel “Fall” enough.

“Luke, join me, together we can rule the Galaxy”
As I type this, I’m sitting anxiously in my seat, squirming. I’m waiting for the guy from HTC to deliver my iPhone 4. I know what you’re going to say, “But Jeff, didn’t you JUST get a Droid 2 last week?”. And yes, I did. Which is precisely why I’m getting an iPhone 4 today. I’ve had my G1 now for almost exactly 2 years. I’ve ate, slept, and breathed Android. Of course, I couldn’t upgrade the OS and was forever frozen in 1.6 Hell. So it was nice to get a new phone without having to pay for it. It’s a Verizon CDMA, and I don’t have Verizon, neither does the company I work for, so there was really no way to activate it as a phone. It’s good over Wi-Fi, it will run apps, I can download development work to it for testing, and so as a development platform, it’s perfect, which finally freed me up to get an iPhone. HTC was completely awesome (seriously, those guys rock) and helped me jump from T-Mobile over to their service without so much as a moment of pain, and even offered to drop off my new phone at the office today. So it was what we refer to in the programming world as a “Win, Win, Win, Win”.

I do plan on spending some time detailing my journey to the dark side. Buying an iPhone really pushes a lot of my “daily-organizational-workflow-life-shit” into a whole new place. Calendar management, email and document sharing… I’m not really sure right now how I’m going to manage assets that I’ve grown to love in google’s cloud, but we’ll see. I’m considering a Mobile Me account, but a couple of people have said, “wait”. So I’ll wait. If anyone has any insight or reviews of Mobile Me, please share. I’d love to hear your experience.

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”
Holy crap was Walking Dead good. I have loved that series since it first began, buying it at a comic shop that doesn’t even exist anymore because it just looked cool. The greatest thing about Walking Dead is that it really isn’t about the Walking Dead. Zombies are merely a backdrop. The story is actually the people. Who they are, what they become when everything they know and love is taken from them. When you wake up one day and everything you took for granted, electricity, running water, food, friendship, trust, law & order, is just… gone. When the framework of society evaporates, what you’re left with is “what are people really like?”. As I read the series I constantly found myself saying, “would I do that?” or “would I have acted that way?” or more often, “why am I not repulsed by this person’s behavior?”. I think the series, produced (and the pilot directed by) the great Frank Darbont (yes, THAT Frank Darabont, of Shawshank Redemption fame) really nailed the essence of why the comic book resonates so deeply with its audience. I’m only one episode in, but I can already tell, this is my absolute favorite new show to watch (with “No Ordinary Family” right behind).

Okay okay… that’s enough for today. I wanted to jot some things down and wound up writing a small chapter to a novel. I’ll dig into more fun stuff and play around this weekend. My whole weekend right now revolves around taking my daughter to see, “Mega Mind”. That’s all I’m currently focused on, and when that’s the sum total of your “plate”, life is extremely good.

I think I’ll have my daughter help me write a review of it this weekend.

Oh yeah! And more Fallout: New Vegas. Holy shit am I having fun with that! Right now, hands down, bar none, the best game of 2010. It was my “game of the year” last year, and this new sequel has quickly become the front-runner for top of my 2010 list. Even more awesome is the fact that with daylight savings time, I actually get an extra hour of playtime Saturday night! Woo Hoo! Coffee and Fallout! If you haven’t played it yet, stop what you’re doing, close this browser window, get off your ass and go buy an Xbox and Fallout New Vegas. You can thank me later.