Washington, A Work in Progress

US Capitol

I spent last week in Washington D.C. This city used to be a frequent destination for me to visit museums, take in the architectural beauty and reflect on our history as a nation. This was however my first visit in nearly nine years and it was a very different trip as it involved my 8 year old son. We spent some time up front discussing the history and importance of the city and reviewed maps and photo books. When I got there it felt like I was visiting an old friend.

It’s not a perfect city nor a perfect democracy. We need to remember that our country is still a great experiment and there is still much to learn. I do worry that we are in danger of forgetting how to learn or work together for a greater good. We’ve created so much in such a short amount of time. We need to take the next steps, together.

There were people everywhere from all over the world this past week. They came eager to learn and excited for the opportunity. There’s a huge benefit to being a tourist. We don’t have to do the negotiation or the hard work of trying to support a base and stay true to what’s inside one’s heart.  I don’t envy their job, but they chose it and I do expect them to make progress for the nation at large.

One thing is obvious. Much of what our founding fathers did was correct. They knew they were creating something from scratch, but were wise enough to incorporate aspects of what was working across the world at large. The layout of the city. The thought that went into the decisions is probably the most impressive to me. So many things were consciously planned with deep meaning. Lady Liberty on the Capitol dome faces east, because the sun never sets on freedom. The cities’ main architect Pierre Charles L′Enfant is buried in Arlington Cemetery at the highest point so he can forever watch over his design. The streets were labeled based on the population of the states at the time. The most populous states got the longest streets.

The city has bones with a capital B. It’s a low city. Flat. Things happen close to the ground where the interaction is most personal. And nothing is more personal that one’s government.

All Photos: Steve A Furman with either an Olympus E-350 or my iPhone5.

Four Years of Blogging – So What

This month marks my fourth year of writing on this blog. I have posted 265 times, created 147 categories and made 725 tags for all this content. This pales by comparison to tens of thousands of others, and I’m not even talking about the pros. For me this has been and continues to be an enjoyable and helpful activity. I looked back at my notes from four years ago where I scribbled what I wanted to accomplish. There were essentially two buckets. One for personal expression/growth and the other for amplification/readership. I would give myself a sold B for the first one but am at a C- on the second count.

Is it just me or does the term blog sound old now? Certainly this platform has been workmanlike for some time and Word Press has done a spectacular job of adding features and functionality along the way. But I wonder how long it will be before we see blogging and visits to blogs wane. Maybe I’m hoping this will happen so I don’t have to commit all this time. Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook, Google+ have absorbed a lot of content that might have been earmarked for a blog post. Blogs are singular in nature. You sit and write. That’s really hard. Blogs are also a lonely place no matter how many people drop by to read or comment. Blogs are not networks even though links to posts are shared out by the millions everyday. It becomes harder and harder to leave the real time stream of social consciousness experienced in Twitter, etc. and engage with a blog. It’s kind of like zooming down an expressway, grooving on some tunes, then suddenly you find yourself maneuvering city blocks. Photos, videos and even status updates that can be recorded real time and instantly posted with a small caption are more meaningful because they often contain essential context like location and time of day. You go to a blog but the social streams come to you. Yes I know they are different and serve different purposes, but I am thinking more about this these days and am confident a structural shift is in the making.

Sound is going to be bigger than video… ‘Record’ is the new QWERTY.

— Alexander Ljung, Founder and CEO, SoundCloud

I really like this quote, but I would swap out the word sound for voice. It’s the voice that becomes the new keyboard in the evolving digital age. Apple’s Siri, available on the iPhone 4S, has made us aware how powerful the voice is. It’s speak and you hear back from another voice, but it’s paired with visual content and links. Their TV spots frame out most of the actor’s eyes, leaving the lips as the focal point.

Siri is a modern day Sherpa. Let’s hope we keep her safely tucked inside her box and away from the atmosphere, and not repeat the mistakes we made with HAL.

Remember podcasts? In 2005 there were dozens of predictions about how podcasts and podcast listeners would experience explosive growth. The 200 to 2009 Pew Internet Study on daily internet activities has the podcast third from the bottom on usage, barely moving up a percentage point in 8 years. So it’s not sound or voice, it’s interaction that makes things much more interesting. I digress a bit.

Blogging is still enjoyable for me and I’ll probably keep going for quite a while. But some day, it will cease to exist, like so many other content transmitters of the past. My thoughts and ideas will simply find new ways to be expressed. Until then, I’ve still got this blog.

Economy Impacts Internet Trends and the Result is Mobile

Every year, Mary Meeker, one of Morgan Stanley’s most seasoned analysts posits her Internet predictions. I wait on the edge of my chair for  this moment. This year she calls it Economy + Internet Trends, which once again reminds us how much the economy, or lack of it, has influenced everything, including the Internet. Her presentation was given at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. Unfortunately I didn’t see the presentation, but I snagged a copy to read. Lots of the usual slides on key indicators and charts on progress, or lack of it this past year. The big theme for 2010 is mobile, mobile, mobile. It’s big, and not only big, but bigger than we think it is.

Picture 5

According to Ms. Meeker, mobile Internet will be the next generation computing cycle. largely driven by a 10x growth in hand held devices that connect through the cloud. Real time wireless remotes control everything these days and location based services are the secret sauce. But the carriers could be their own worst enemy. AT&T is already struggling to deliver the messages and e-mails within the expected SLA. Mobile services add real time to relevance but not if it stops being real time. Carriers take note!  You can download her presentation here .

Picture 6

I have seen an amazing uptick of visits to web sites over the course of 2009 and believe that trajectory will continue. Leveraging this in-pocket or in-purse device will be an important part of anyone’s marketing and servicing strategy for 2010 and beyond. Ignore at your own risk.

Two Years with My iPhone

Steve Jobs with iPhone January 2007
Steve Jobs with iPhone - January 2007

Today is the second anniversary of the release of the iPhone. Yes, two whole years ago Steve Jobs changed yet another industry that was not computer related (music and cell phones). Now don’t get all mushy on me and start crying for heaven’s sake. I know, I know, you love your iPhone almost as much as your mother. Almost as much? Really. Does your mother synch your calendar, to do’s, and photos? Does she give you a full browser web experience? Has she provided you with a store that allows you to download thousands of applications you may never use? Can she integrate with Google? I thought not. Time to revisit.

First came the hype. I can’t remember when there was so much anticipation over a product (ok, Cabbage Patch dolls). Despite all the warnings about people waiting in line on that day, I got mine within 30 minutes of entering the Northbrook Court (Illinois) Apple Store on June 29, 2007. There were those who doubted Apple could keep up with demand. But that didn’t seem to be a problem, and when I returned to that same store over the next few days and weeks, I always saw people coming out carrying iPhone bags. No need to recount all the things an iPhone can do. We already know. Since that fateful day they have released two successors; the 3G and 3GS. Others are still trying to catch up with not much success. But I will admit, the Palm Pre has a chance.

This is just a sampling of what I do with my iPhone.

  • Check the weather
  • Use the maps to find homes, restaurants, museums, businesses
  • Update my  blog
  • Check my Facebook page and update my status
  • Tweet
  • Show people my photos
  • Take and share photos
  • Start revolutions
  • Listen to music on a flight
  • Check and send e-mail, including read attachments
  • Review my calendar for appointments, or make them
  • Seduce women
  • Manage my finances
  • Tame tigers
  • Settle bets
  • Browse the web
  • Learn what phase the moon is currently in (werewolf warning always on)
  • Text my friends
  • Quell uprisings
  • Watch movies
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Run governments
  • Entertain a bored 5 year old with games

Many complained that the battery was sealed, like an iPod, and it would only last a year. Then you would have to ship your phone back to Apple and pay $99 to have them replace it. Here’s my experience. I use my iPhone everyday, all day, and charge it about every other day. I’m still on the original battery and I’ve noticed no difference in how it holds a charge.

I was a bit peeved with the price reduction a few short months after I bought mine. Apple left early adopters, like me, high and dry. We complained and clawed back half of the price drop in a store credit. That left some scar tissue having been true to the brand for so many years. But time heals all wounds.

For me I don’t see myself getting a new iPhone until I’ve run this one into the ground. Although the video feature is tempting. And when I finally do, I’ll keep it, unlike what I did with all those old Macs I got rid of over the past couple of decades. The Day One iPhone goes in my personal museum.

The New Yorker Cover Re-Imagined on an iPhone

I’ve been getting The New Yorker magazine in my mailbox for about 13 years. The archivist in me used to save every issue. It was pretty easy, after all why did I buy a big house if I wasn’t going to fill it up? But three years ago I moved, so the recycle bin got a workout. It was bittersweet looking through all those issues and trying to decide which ones would stay and which ones would go.

There are lots of great reasons to read this magazine, but the cover is without question the defining element. It’s the first thing you see when you open your mailbox. The great thing about the cover is you never know what you’re going to get. After the shock of 9/11 was beginning to wane, one of the first thoughts that came to mind was what would The New Yorker put on the cover? When it finally came I was worried it might disappoint. Was I wrong. This was the most amazing magazine cover I had ever seen. Artist Art Spiegelman, who was forced to flee the falling towers with his child and wife in tow produced this masterpiece.

Art Spiegelman's Cover Art
Art Spiegelman's cover art following 9/11

It’s difficult to tell from this digital scan snagged from The New Yorker archive site, but it’s a rendering of the twin towers in black on a black background. Simple, powerful, crystalline, heartbreaking.

After decades of traditionally drawn covers, The New Yorker is enabling convergence by printing Jorge Colombo’s drawing, using a $5 iPhone application, on this week’s issue. Without the fanfare of how it was done, I would bet no one would have even guessed. It’s rich and totally expected. Welcome to the world of convergence.

Jorge Colombo
Jorge Colombo's cover drawn with an iPhone application

Read more and watch a video on how he did it here.

Covers from The New Yorker magazine

Tweetie is now Twitter on my iPhone

I’ve tried several Twitter iPhone applications, Twitterific, Twitfire, Twittelator and most recently Tweetie. Here’s my take.

  • Twitteriffic has a richly designed screen with a nice collection of settings that mirror the iPhone interface. It’s pretty fast, but unless you upgrade you get ads.
  • Twitfire is essentially a quick way to get your Tweet out there. It’s very basic in design.
  • Twittelator Pro allows you to choose from 5 designs, which is a nice touch. It’s quick and allows you to zoom in on any Twitterer.
  • Tweetie is my new favorite. The initial screen is a little slow to load, but once it does things move along quickly. The navigation lines up closely with the actual Twitter you see on your browser making it easy to learn and memorable. Supports multiple Twitter accounts, which is a time saver. Also has a nice trends tracking feature and the ability to adjust font size. Most other features on Tweetie are found with other applications.
Tweetie iPhone Icon

Tweetie is the one for now and only costs $2.99. I’m sure there will be another Twitter iPhone application very soon, and no doubt I’ll probably give it a try.

My Favorite iPhone Apps, So Far

I’ve got a first day (June 30, 2007) iPhone. The beauty of the iPhone is how seamlessly everything is knitted together. Email, text, contacts, calendar, phone, camera, photo gallery, music library, maps, the Internet. I can get to just about anything I might need to know as long as I have it with me and it’s charged. Not one problem so far.

The concept has always been based on operating system instead of a handset, which has been elevated to a new level with the release of V2.0. Apple combined the iPhone 3G launch with the software release (maybe not such a good idea in retrospect) as well as the applications store. I’m not really tempted to get the 3G model. I just don’t need it. But the apps are delightful. Here are my favorite iPhone applications, so far.

  • WordPress – Keep up on your blog stats and post on the go.
  • Twitterrific – I’m finding Twitter to be a great source of information for my professional as well as personal life. The app delivers the big browser experience vs. a string of text conversations you would normally see on your phone screen.
Twitter on the iPhone
Twitter on the iPhone
  • Facebook – Gotta have it if you are on Facebook for the same reasons you need Twitterrific.
  • WineSnob – An unfortunate name. I love wine, but am not at all snobbish about it. It’s a nice companion whether at a dinner party, a fine restaurant, or shopping to stock up. But know that it simply re-purposes the Wikipedia wine entries. Not a bad thing, but a kind of a killjoy. Hugh Johnson, where are you?
  • WeatherBug – A meteorologist in your pocket at all times. Since we are now focused on climate change, this could turn out to be the most useful app of all. You can also view live web cams.
  • Labyrinth LE – The classic maze game brought to life on your iPhone screen. You hold the phone like the box and work your way up the levels of difficulty. It’s missing that wonderful ball bearing rolling across wood sound. Maybe that’s part of the pay version.
Labyrinth LE
Labyrinth LE
  • myLite – Kind of cheesy, but has come in handy while on the way to my son’s room in the middle of the night so I don’t trip over a plane, train or car. Also used the concert lighter feature last weekend at a friend’s band performance.
  • Pandora – Your favorite internet stations carry over to your iPhone. Keep the music coming.
  • NYTimes – Shows up everyday in my driveway (that’s right, the real paper). I don’t always get to it the same day, but I never recycle them without reading, no matter how old they are. The app keeps me up to date on breaking news. Used it today in a meeting. Read an Op-Ed article to the social media team. I read it in the paper while at a stoplight on the way to work. Makes you look sooooo smart.
  • PangeaVR – View stunning panorama photos from all over the world by accessing their database, or enter a web site URL. Great for photographers. Kind of like sightseeing with your phone. Pangea means entire world.
  • Nearby – My Platial maps are always close at hand with this app. I can add a new place while I’m right there, or surf the popular tab and explore what’s around me. I’m very impressed at how advanced the current political campaigns are with social media. They’re all over Platial.

I only paid for one of these apps and it was less than $3. Entertain yourself or your kids, stay more tightly connected, be more productive, or just escape. The iPhone application store has it all and it’s dead simple to use.

Pandora on iPhone 2.0 Applications

Like millions of others, I was browsing the iPhone 2.0 applications on iTunes last Friday. I got my iPhone on June 30th, 2007, the first day it was available. I have been giddy over it ever since, but am comfortably encased in my talk and data plan, and don’t see enough of a benefit to switch to the 3G, at least not at this time. I spend more time on SMS, talking to people (yes you can do that on a phone), managing my calendar and contacts and using the applications than surfing the web. The extra speed would be nice, but not the additional expense.

While on the iTunes applications site I came across the Pandora application. I’m a big fan of Pandora as you can read in a previous post here. I have spent some time setting up stations so I can listen to them through my G5 Mac as well as on my Sonos music system. The Pandora iTunes application is seamlessly integrated with your web settings, and allows you to log in and gain access to all the stations you have set up through your computer. So now I can access the Music Genome Project where ever I go. Love it. The Pandora application is free. Get it, use it. It rules.