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30 March 2008

Google Dark

A while ago I posted on NBC going green. So I just had to post about Google going dark. They too are making a statement about the environment - saving energy by turning out the lights.

I must say its a bit disconcerting to hit the Google site and see the black background. But it's for a good cause so I'll play along.

However this was just for an hour on a Saturday. The site is back to its beautiful white background - sporting the simplicity we all know and love. But for those that loved the darker look, take heart, you can still experience the darker side of Google. 

Travel to the beta site Google set up called 'Dark' and take it for a test drive. New login with new functionality. Let me know what you think.

29 March 2008

Tell Us What You Really Think

SocialThingI know developers tend to have favorites when it comes to browsers, but they typically play nice by ensuring their applications work in at least the major browsers (IE, Firefox, Opera and Safari).

So I found it refreshing (and yet a bit arrogant) that socialthing not only decided to forgo browser compatibility, they even decided to use the little 'IE = NOT!' sign.

Of course it says, 'We don't support that yet!' but do you really think they will support it?

If you don't take the time to support it along the way, what's the use trying to retrofit your site to support it later?

I guess they can just thank their lucky stars that IE8 passed the Acid2 test and will support web standards on a much stricter level.

I know I'm looking forward to it.

25 March 2008

got stress?

Do you have stress in your life? If not, you're either oblivious or your physician prescribed you very strong psychotropic medication.

Needles to say, we're all under a tremendous amount of stress. We have responsibilities and task lists that don't end with deadlines of yesterday.

So I was thinking about this the other day and it occurred to me that there are at least two ways to handle it:

  1. Give in. Get upset. Sulk and brood over the fact that there is so much to do and so little time to do it. Go into a funk and die early.
  2. Accept it. Embrace it. Work hard. Play harder. Don't take yourself so seriously. Look at the big picture. Live longer.
The Truth
Stress never goes away. In fact, it actually follows the Hindu religious belief 'reincarnation' in that just when you think its gone, it returns in a slightly different form.

22 March 2008

LOST Widget

LOST on ABCI know. I know. You're probably thinking, "Why is this guy cluttering up his site by adding a widget for something that doesn't appear to match the content and direction of his blog?"

Well, I thought the exact same thing when I found it. My initial instinct was to pass it by since I'm typically against adding widgets to blogs. But then I changed my mind. And here's why:

  1. I love LOST (warning: audio). I mean it's up there with my all time favorites like Friends (warning: audio), ER, Seinfeld and MacGyver (to take it back a few years). It's hard to call it the best show ever, but it's also hard not to. It takes television to the next level by combining humor, drama, suspense and science fiction to offer a roller coaster ride on the edge of reality. The widget offers some of the most interesting clips along with links to current news bites and fun facts about the show.
  2. I am still trying to figure out how to leverage widgets for the cause. Aside from creating your own widgets from scratch (flash development) I'm trying to figure out if the online tools will allow me to create the widget (in flash probably) and then use their engine to create the widget functionality so it can be shared on pages, blogs, sidebars, etc. So adding the LOST widget is also a test of sorts to see what the functionality does and what it looks like on a site. My first thought is that it's too big for the sidebar, but if it were any smaller it would be hard to see/read. I'm pretty sure these can be created thinner - though they tend to grow in length when you do that. Just a trade off I guess.
My Search Results
Here is one site that charges for the creation of widgets:
  • SplashCast (warning: audio)
  • Just about any web developer will make you one at a price...
Here are some free ones:
I love the widget concept. It offers you the ability to update important content in one place and yet have millions of viewable entry points all pulling the same content. It also allows people to use your controlled content in a way that means something to them (on their Facebook profile/page, as a post on their blog, in the sidebar of their blog, etc.). This 'viral' nature of the widget makes it highly useful as long as it can be designed well and leveraged correctly.

I'm leaning toward Sprout or Widgetbox at this point. I'll set up an account, do some design work in flash and see what comes of it.

Anyone know of a site with more punch? If so, let me know!

21 March 2008

Technologically Profound

Apple ComputersLast night we rented Nancy Drew for the girls (and Tyler) to watch. Throughout the movie there were scenes with Nancy using a white MacBook to do her 'sleuthing.'

What made me laugh was the commentary from my daughters.

The first was from my 5 year old:

Hey daddy, that is the cute little computer Becky has with bright apple on it.
And the next was from my 7 year old:
Daddy, you can find out anything about anyone on those computers.
Profound revelation of truth from the lips of the naive:
  1. People love Apple products because of the pretty little piece of fruit on the cover.
  2. And yes, you can find almost anything out about someone online...

19 March 2008

Getting the 'Word' in Edgewise

A little self-disclosure is good for the soul...

I don't know how many hours you have in your day, but I only have 24, and most of the time it seems like I have 36 hours worth of stuff to get done.

So what do you do? Sadly, I tend to fill up these hours with the stuff that creates the most noise. And have you noticed that everything in your life makes noise? Everything that is except for your spiritual life...

It's true. God isn't up in our face. He can be found in the Bible, at church, in the world around us and through prayer. But we must be intentional to do these things. In fact, if it weren't for that still small voice, we might forget He's even there.

I'm sure we all struggle with this, but I wonder if those in the technology field are more at risk. We have desktops, laptops, PDAs and smart phones allowing us to email, IM, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pownce, Flickr, and YouTube. Not just at work, but at home, on the road, while waiting in lines and just about anywhere we can get a strong signal.

So here's a thought. What if God plugged in? What if He started lighting up our Inbox, joined Facebook, twittered His status, pownced us clips from the Bible, blogged His will for our lives or uploaded pictures of heaven to Flickr and videos of Bible heroes to YouTube? Better yet, what if He created an aggregated RSS feed of it all that we could subscribe to in Bloglines or Google Reader? Would that do it for us? Would that help us take steps in our spiritual lives?

Sadly, I'm not sure if it would change a thing. The truth is, we put time and energy into the things that matter the most to us. So it all comes back to the heart. If the heart isn't in it, God could walk right up to us and we'd probably miss Him.

So there it is. I threw it out there. If you're like me you're still figuring out how to get the 'Word' in edgewise...

14 March 2008

Pop Goes the Church Launches

Pop Goes the ChurchA few posts back I alluded to three big things I was working on. The first two are taken care of (online giving and weekend experience pages) and the third one is finally ready to be unveiled.

Tim Stevens (Executive Pastor at Granger) recently finished work on his latest book Pop Goes the Church (available in April 2008) and we were trusted to develop a website for it.

The site ( went live last night with 'close-to-complete' functionality. Don't get me wrong, you won't see an 'Under Construction' sign, but there are future enhancements to be rolled out when the book becomes available (more on that later).

PGTC Workshop
I also had the good fortune to sit in on the first ever Pop Goes the Church Workshop today. If you're interested in the way churches are leveraging pop culture to remain relevant to the world you don't want to miss the next offering on Monday, June 23. Tim has an interactive teaching style and includes numerous examples where pop culture intersects spirituality. This media-heavy workshop is practical, informative and entertaining.

Back to the website (creative process)

  • Brainstorming session: Team met to develop the concept for the site.
  • Big idea: Traditional church meets pop culture.
  • Making it happen: Photo shoot (Jeff Myers) of Tim using a variety of technology tools in a traditional church setting.
  • Creative layouts (Jeff myers): Designed with book cover in mind but also adding in a 'grunged up' feel for the Internet.

Back to the Website (development process)

  • HTML/CSS: duh...
  • Flash: Used for home page feature and main navigation.
  • Keywords: (Lee Hutson) Javascript driven keyword lookup feature for use with keywords found in the book (coming soon).
  • Blog: RSS (XML) feed pulled in with BuzzBoost (a FeedBurner component).

Good stuff. I love doing stuff like this on the side to keep the creative and development juices flowing.

11 March 2008

SXSW Hot List

It just occurred to me today that even though I didn't know many if the panelists, these are top players in the field and are from leading technology companies and design firms around the world.

So I thought (for laughs) that I'd go back through the entire list of panels I attended and show you the companies/firms represented by the panelists. So here we go in the order I attended the panels:

  • Art Institute of Atlanta
  • Adobe
  • Global Strategies
  • AKQA
  • Google
  • Skyhook Wireless
  • Digital Roam
  • MIT Comparitive Media Studies Program
  • 37signals
  • Further Ahead
  • Facebook
  • Preloaded
  • Ekton
  • Climb to the Stars
  • flickr
  • Worldwide Lexicon Project
  • W3Conversations
  • NetCast HD
  • Polycot Consulting
  • RipCode
  • iTaggit
  • NC-soft
  • Avant Games
  • CSSzengarden
  • Quarterlife

SXSW Day 5 Parting Shots

The Creative Corner: Complete with LEGO blocks
An artist created a visual representation of each Keynote Address - very interesting
Leaving the Austin Convention Center for the last time

SXSW Day 5

SXSW 2008Day 5 was a tremendous wrapup to a long week. Great panels with very helpful content and cutting edge stuff to look into for future versions of the stuff we're doing back home.

Panels today:

  • Crunching & Streaming: Online video distribution challenge and opportunity (Various)
  • Following the lifecycle of an idea (Various)
  • Keynote Address (Jane McGonigal of Avant Games)
  • Creative Collaboration: Building web apps together (Various)
  • Quarterlife: A wild journey from internet to TV (Marshall Herskovitz)

Great Takeaways from Today:

  • Principles of Happiness: 1) Satisfying work to do 2) Doing something you're good at 3) Time spent with people you like 4) Chance to be part of something bigger. Jane McGonigal
  • Why gaming can be more desirable than real life: 1) Better instructions than in life 2) Better feedback than in life 3) Better community than in life. Jane McGonigal

Excitement for the day:

  • Ran into Guy Kawasaki in a hallway. He was sitting for a short interview so I waited and then said hi. I think he remembered me...
  • Jane McGonigal somehow managed to work the Soulja Boy dance into her talk (actually demonstrating after Q&A). I thought it was the most real and brilliant Keynote Address of SXSW 08.

Tonight's meal:

Google Anal...

Is it just me? Or should Google change their page title from 'Dashboard - Google Analytics' to 'Google Analytics - Dashboard'?

This way instead of the tabs in IE7 saying 'Dashboard - Google Anal...' it might say something like 'Google Analytics - Dash...'

Or am I the only one that notices stuff like this?

10 March 2008

SXSW Day 4 Imagery

Rainy and dreary in Austin

SXSW Day 4

SXSW 2008Day 4 was less than tremendous - there just wasn't anything that jumped out and grabbed me. I mean I learned stuff and thought there were good panels - just not like the past few days.

Panels today:

  • Lost in Translation (Various)
  • Social Networking and Your Brand (Various)
  • Keynote Address (Frank Warren of
  • Taking it to the Desktop (Lee Brimelow for Adobe AIR)
  • WaSP Annual Meeting: Don't break the web (Various)

Great Takeaways from Today:

  • Sometimes when we think we're keeping a secret - it's really keeping us. Frank Warren
  • Social Networking and other Web 2.0 applications appear to be fueling an 'intimacy revolution' or an 'authenticity revolution.' Audience member
  • Sorry...that's as good as I found from my notes today.

Excitement for the day:

  • Rain. Rain. More rain.
  • Found a new type of coffee: Kick Butt Coffee (a one store shop that intends on becoming as big as Starbucks)

Tonight's meal:

  • T.G.I. Friday's: Pretty mundane I know. But we weren't there for the food. Got to hang out with a great bunch of fellow web/tech guys. They make up a group called the Godbit Project. Had a good time networking and chatting about technology stuff with like minded people. Had a great time and will join soon.

SXSW Day 3 Imagery

Derek Featherstone plays Jedi Master in his session

09 March 2008

SXSW Day 3

SXSW 2008Day 3 was more of the same. Great panels, funny moments and hard hitting presentations bleeding from the cutting edge of the technology people are using today.

Panels today:

  • Everyone's a Design Critic (Various)
  • Everything I know About Accessibility I Learned From Star Wars (Featherstone)
  • Keynote Address: Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)
  • The 10 Commandments of Nice (Preloaded Team)
  • Harness the Power of Social Networking in Your Intranet (Cava)

Great Takeaways from Today:

  • Top 5 Client Requests: 1) My unqualified friend has different ideas 2) Purple is my favorite color. Why don't you use that? 3) We need more stuff above the 'fold' 4) There's so much empty space. Can't you fill it? 5) Can't you make the logo bigger? (Everyone's a Design Critic)
  • Technical marvels (like the Deathstar) can often fall apart due to one minor glitch in the system (Featherstone)
  • 7 principles of user interface design: clarity, feedback, affordance, simplicity, structure, consistency and tolerance (Preloaded)

Excitement for the day:

  • Derek Featherstone dressed up in a Jedi cloak for his entire presentation and made lightsaber sounds just by moving his MacBookPro around.
  • The woman interviewing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Sarah Lacy of Business Week and apparently Mark's personal reporter...) was so chastised by the audience for her poor interviewing skills that it was shocking she didn't break down and leave. At one point Mark explained that he would answer her if she'd only ask him a question. To which the entire audience broke out in applause akin to a standing ovation...

Tonight's meal:

  • Antonio's Tex Mex Perhaps some of the best Mexican food I've ever had (chipotle enchiladas).

Tonight's Entertainment:

  • Jumper (3 stars) Good initial concept that was developed well throughout the movie. Scenario set for future movies. Seemed a bit short though.

08 March 2008

SXSW Day 2 Imagery

ScreenBurn Banner at Entrance
ScreenBurn Platform
ScreenBurn: Games Going On

SXSW Day 2

SXSW 2008Day 2 is obviously NOT meant to be an introduction to SXSW. It's more like trying to drink from a fire hose. The day started at 10:00 a.m. and (for me) went to 9:00 p.m.

Panels today:

  • Creating Findable Rich Media (Various)
  • Geolocation in Web 2.0 (Various)
  • Book Reading: The Back of the Napkin (Roam)
  • Opening Remarks: Henry Jenkins & Steven Johnson
  • Ten Things We've Learned at 37Signals (Jason Fried)
  • Interactive Media Trends: Are you on top of it? (Various)

Great Takeaways from Today:

  • What's your consumption to creation ratio? Are you teaching your kids to create as much as they consume?
  • "You can't build a democracy on the premise that people are stupid." Henry Jenkins
  • In discussing the time some spent on analyzing the map (shown for 2 seconds) in the second season of LOST: "We shouldn’t ask what's wrong with them. We should ask what's wrong with a society where people have the time to do this stuff because they aren't challenged in their jobs?" Henry Jenkins
  • "Err on the side of simple." "Interruption is the enemy of productivity." "It's ok to think about the future - just don't write it down." "When you make tiny decisions you can't make big mistakes." Jason Fried
  • "Invest in what doesn't change. People aren't going to wake up a few years from now and say, #&@*!! I wish this software was hard to use." Jason Fried
  • "The brain is infinitely more capable than any piece of software we have on our machines." Dan Roam

Excitement for the day:

  • Attempted the Google Party: Realized I was going to be standing in a line around the block for a couple hours so determined that dinner was the better option. Got to hang out with the Digerati Team from - good times...
  • ScreenBurn 2008: Got to walk through a room full of amazing gaming technology and watch expert gamers do their thing.

Tonight's meal:

  • Katz's Deli & Bar

Keen on Innovation

The other day I picked up a new pair of shoes (Keen: Austin's) and I love them more every day. Not because they're breaking in. But because they are innovative and well made.

Keen isn't breaking new ground like Birkenstock did in the 70's and Crocks did in 2003 with a complete rethink of what a shoe looks like and is made of.

The first shoe Keen designed (the Newport) did try to combine a sandal and a shoe, but the majority of their shoes look pretty normal.

Innovation: Keen made the intentional decision to create comfort through effective design. The majority of their shoes have a form fitting heel and midsection but a generous amount of room for the toes - making for a very comfortable fit.

They also came up with a revolutionary concept: socks (in this case 'sox') that are made for specific feet (in other words: a left foot sock and a right foot sock). I haven't test driven these yet but hope to soon.

These innovations along with a strict corporate responsibility policy and care for the environment wrap this company up into a nice little package.

I'm in...

07 March 2008

SXSW Day 1 Imagery

SXSW Banner at Main Entrance

SXSW Day 1

Day 1 is obviously meant to accomplish the following:

  1. Assimilation: Those who live here or are repeat attenders may not need this, but I definitely took an hour or two to just figure things out. I found the hotel, unpacked, drove to the convention center, looked around at the hundreds of thousands of people and then found the line to register.
  2. Registration: I stood in line for close to an hour to get my badge and then another 15-20 minutes for materials.
  3. Introduction: Panels only went from 2-6 with the bulk of them taking place between 3:30 and 6. Nothing crazy - just enough to introduce you to the way the schedule works and to prepare you for a packed day tomorrow.

Panels today:

Excitement for the day:

  • Interviewed by local Austin CBS affiliate: I was asked these questions while in the registration line: Where are you from? What interests you about SXSW? How much money do you plan on spending total while in Austin? I'll have to see if it shows up on the late news tonight.

Tonight's meal:

  • P.F. Chang's China Bistro: I went big the first night assuming that I may be tied up the majority of the nights with after parties, film screenings and award shows.

Better get some sleep - tomorrow's schedule starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 2 a.m. Sunday morning...

06 March 2008

How to REALLY Frustrate Me!

Sprint.comFor the most part - surfing the web is a fun experience for me (as long as I'm on a hi-speed connection of course). I'm typically on sites that are clean, function well and are easy to use. But every once and a while I find myself on a website that just doesn't work well.

My temperature starts to rise and my blood comes to a full boil. I want to be locked in a room with the people responsible for the site and be able to ask them:

What the @%$!()*!! were you thinking?
This happened to me today at lunch. A friend of mine got a new phone so I was chatting with my wife about it. This led me to go online and see what the latest cool phones were for our carriers. Once there I quickly came up with a short list of ways to REALLY frustrated me:

  1. Give them the unexpected: I went to and clicked on 'View All Phones.' Now you'd expect the page to refresh with a list of Sprint phones for sale right? Wrong! Instead, I'm presented with a full listing of all Nextel phones. Now I know Sprint is 'together with Nextel' but I didn't ask to see Nextel phones, I wanted to see the Sprint phones. Update: I still can't figure out how to view the Sprint phones...
  2. Use technology that doesn't work: The next thing I tried to do is access my wife's online account (currently with Nextel) to see how much it would be to upgrade her current phone. You login, choose your phone number from a drop menu and then the system asks you for a zip code so it can determine which phones (Nextel phones I'm assuming) are available in your area. Here's the problem: the system doesn't recognize any of the zip codes I put in! Apparently I'm living in an 'invalid' zip code area [see screen grab]...

These are just two of the things a website can do to REALLY frustrate me. But it's also a learning experience because it makes you rethink the way you design your sites.

Is it simple?

Does it give them what they expect?

Does it work?

Great questions that MUST be answered 'Yes' if you're to be taken seriously...

Something New

Jing ProjectIn a recent post (Reading Between the Lines) I talked about the Jing Project and how we'd soon be adding it to when appropriate.

Well, I finally got around to adding the first one - a two minute, fast-paced, how-to on setting up online giving. Hopefully it compliments the PDF process document that we already had out there. Go here and click on the 'How To (Video)' button in the right hand sidebar.

Pros: Video, quick and easy, short and to the point, visual rather than cerebral, free.

Cons: Only export option is a flash movie file (.swf). I'd love to have the ability to spit it out in a variety of formats including Flash Video (.flv). Would also like to be able to control audio better. The audio in our example is pretty low - so you'll have to crank up the volume. And finally - the embed code is fairly specific so if you're adding the .swf to a basic html page you'll need to make some small changes (specifically the 'allowScriptAccess' parameter).

Still to be determined: Life-expectancy of these videos and where else they might come in handy.

It's Jing-alicious...

03 March 2008

Leader / Manager / Doer

In many work environments you will find a similar pattern emerge. If you look at those you work with they will typically fall into one of three categories. We typically refer to them as leaders, managers and doers. But those aren't the only names for them.

In fact, a while ago our team read through a book together and we got to learn a lot more about these three. The E Myth Revisited calls them the Entrepreneur, the Manager and the Technician.

Now these three roles don't operate in isolation and just because someone is in one of the specific roles doesn't mean they won't be involved in the other two. But it's still a pretty easy task to split people up into one of the three areas.

In our department here is how I see things working out:

  • Leader: We do have an identified leader. However she still manages and does stuff. But for the most part she needs to be leading our team and thinking big picture.
  • Managers: We have a few of these - people that oversee the day to day workings of the department but aren't typically responsible for getting it all done.
  • Doers: Then we have those who get things done. They don't need to be involved in big decisions nor do they need to be responsible for timelines and production schedules. They work best with a very specific task list that can be checked off when each item is completed.

There is definitely interplay between the three areas. We want leaders to be able to help out in the trenches, we want managers to be capable of leading well and doing things to help the team. And we want doers to be able to lead volunteer teams if needed with some level of management skill.

Encourage well-roundedness just don't require it.
The problem with requiring someone to step outside their role is that you tend to decrease their effectiveness in their strength area:
  • If the leader has to do too much they will have a hard time seeing the big picture.
  • If the manager has to do everything and think big picture they may not be able to ensure the day to day gets done.
  • If the doer is responsible for the end product and ensuring the timeline is set up correctly they may never end up doing what needs to be done.

Yes - it's a work in progress for every team.

02 March 2008

Reading Between the Lines

The other day I had one of those 'stereotypical male' moments...

I was busy at work when my wife called with some obscure question that I was sure she already knew the answer to.

A bit frustrated, I responded with the romantic and sensitive words, "Did you need something else?"

I know. I know. Give me the Husband of the Year award right now!

Needless to say the conversation ended quickly and it wasn't until later that day when I realized what the call was really about.

She was having a very difficult day at work. People were getting let go, job roles were changing and she was feeling a bit insecure about her future.

So why didn't I read between the lines?

Similarly, why don't we read between the lines when we interact with co-workers and end-users?

In the communications department at granger we get calls all the time from people inside and outside the church. Questions from those inside the church often relate to using our Church Management System (FellowshipOne). And we also receive calls from people outside the church regarding their online account (Also a component of FellowshipOne).

Failing to read between the lines can often lead us down the wrong path. We try to fix the problem and then move on, hoping it doesn't happen again. But if we read between the lines, we hear the true question behind the question:

I don't feel equipped to use this part of the program. Can you give me a non-technical explanation of the answer so I can understand it?
When we finally began reading between the lines and changed our behavior - we were able to come up with more helpful solutions:
  1. Process documents: With each passing year we get better at documenting processes for both staff members and the end-user. Here are two examples of process documents we created: The PDFs for Kiosk Setup and for Online Account Problems.
  2. Structural change: Rather than having one or two 'experts' in the use of FellowshipOne who tell everyone else what to do, we created a team of experts called Super Team. This team shares the wealth of knowledge and are champions for the system [more here].
  3. Trying something new: We recently started playing around with the Jing Project - a free plug-in that captures your desktop as either a graphic or as video. This allows you to create training videos for programs you use and processes that need documenting. Huge win with limitless potential. No examples yet - but very soon.

We still have a long way to go but it's amazing how things have changed since we started reading between the lines...

Starbucks Closing?

Starbucks CoffeeI thought it was interesting that Starbucks decided to close down operations for a few hours the other day to get back to basics.

It wasn't to do inventory, or to make repairs to machines in stores around the world. No, it was to do some targeted training with Baristas - training that would hopefully ensure the consistency of the product.

In summary - Starbucks is trying to get back to basics after focusing on everything but the product.

Good for them. And inspiration for us to dust off the 'product' every now and then just to make sure we haven't lost focus.