Saturday, March 31, 2012

Seeing Shrinkage with Boost Mobile

This week, I got my first Shrinkage discount from Boost Mobile. I have a simple phone, so that means that my monthly service went down from $50/month to $45/month.

You might be thinking, "oooh! A $5 savings."

This is the first of several discounts. In another six payments, I'll be paying $40/month. In one year, I'll be paying $35/month.

At that point, I'll probably upgrade to an Android phone, which costs an extra $5/month. But, $40/month for unlimited calling, texting, and data seems like an awesome bargain to me.

All the while that I am a customer, I can't help thinking that this is a great marketing ploy. It's a great way to attract and retain customers. Can you imagine leaving a $35/month unlimited plan for a competitor that charges $50 to $70 per month for something somewhat comparable? You would need a pretty damned compelling reason.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Evernote and Meshin Recall: The Missing Link for Productivity

The Evernote website recently announced Meshin Recall on their blog. Unfortunately, I missed it. Otherwise, I would have known right away that it was available. What Meshin Recall does is connect your Evernote account to your Android calendar, which in most cases means your Google Calendar. 

At first glance, it seems like a neat little way to keep notes for meetings, either putting them there in advance of or after the meeting. However, it is more than that. Meshin Recall adds the missing piece in making Evernote your organizer. Without calendar functions, Evernote is merely a place to dump notes. You could annotate your notes by date and subject; but, it's messy unless you're a stickler for consistency in annotating. 

What is not obvious, at first glance, is that once you create a note attached to your calendar item, you can add To Do items to that date's note. You can add images, files, tables, audio notes, and all the wonderful things Evernote allows you to do. 

Yes, Google Calendar currently allows you to attach documents and files to your appointments. But, there is no checklist option. There is no connection to Skitch. And, that right there is another powerful feature. You can take a picture and annotate it on the same note. 

If you have other Evernote Trunk apps on your device, then Evernote acts as the bridge amongst all these apps. When you structure your notes by appointment, it makes it so much easier to go back and pull up notes for an event. 

Of course, all is not roses. 

There is no indication in your Google Calendar that there is an Evernote note attached. This means that you are limited to using your mobile device or Evernote client to look for notes. It would be nice if Meshin added a link to the individual Evernote item so you can pull it up on your browser or client. But, this is not a deal breaker. Theoretically, if you are relying on Meshin Recall, you are the mobile sort anyway. 

In terms of improvements, adding contact information would make the MeshinRecall/Evernote combination even better, creating a sort of CRM.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sports: For the Sake of My Boy

Recently, I have begun unplugging from the Internet for the sake of my son. He is 10 years old and has not exactly seen me as a great male role model. I have a tendency to spend a great deal of time in front of a computer, or be away from home. I think, in all ages, the absentee father is the norm; but, that only works when the mother understands and encourages her boy to go do boy things.

He has an older sister; but, raising a girl is different from raising a boy. I have a younger daughter too. For them, it is sufficient to hang around me and talk. This is very similar to what their mother does; she wants me to be around to talk to me. She is not the athletic type.

So, having observed my son, now that he is a preteen, it is like watching a caged animal. He talks a lot; but, I can't identify with what he talks about. I don't know anything about gaming  or the gaming culture. He also wants to do something physical; but, he doesn't know how or what to do. This is where I come in.

I recall being like that when I was young. My family was poor. Organized sports were out of the question unless they were with school. So, I never played Little League, flag football, or other sports. My father did not live with us; he was slightly athletic, being in the National Guard required a minimal level of fitness. At home, however, my stepfather was not athletic at all; nor did he venture to instruct my brother and me in athletics of any sort. We had no video games, thus the alien gaming culture.

I recognize my son's desire to do something to burn off energy by doing something physical; I experienced the same. He has also called me on my involvement. He has stated that I'm always busy or away from home, that I do not spend time with him. But, I make time when asked. Up to now, he's never asked.

He has also started to get fat, not the overall weight gain described as husky. He has developed a belly, like you would see in a middle-aged guy or a beer drinker. THAT is not right for a boy to have. Not even I had that. We are going to have to limit the gaming.

I recognize that I MUST do something. Lately, I have been buying him sports equipment. It started with a soccer ball. He spends some time outside kicking it around in the yard every day. But, that's not enough. I also got him a football, with the idea that we could toss it around. Today, I bought a couple of tennis rackets and a bag of tennis balls; which we tried out.

Part of our problem is that my wife and I have kept our children very close. We do not allow them to run off to play with the kids in the neighborhood as we did when we grew up. I do not understand why it is different for them. I used to disappear for hours at a time. Once I got a bike, I would ride for miles into town and visit friends. Yet, my children can't go beyond the yard unaccompanied.

The consequence of such a policy is that WE must take them to the park or wherever they need to go to have fun. But, that is not enough. They can be bored at home or bored at the park; unless they have somebody to play with them, there is little gain from being outdoors. Involvement is a must.

So, this is where I come in. If I want my son to be active and learn to play sports without enrolling him in any leagues or hiring somebody to teach him, then I must be the one to go out and play with him. I must be the one to introduce him to sports and keep him active. I must be the one who gets him off the computer and outside for a quick game of whatever.

I don't like it. I grew up watching TV, reading, and pursuing geekiness. But, I had the freedom to go out without supervision. I swam, ran, rode my bike, climbed things, and roamed to other cities. I wasn't physically active for the sake of being physically active, except for running. I was physically active as a means to an end; it got me places or was required by school.

Although it is somewhat unnatural for me to engage in sports; something about seeing my son evokes some instinct that I must do something, that I must "show him the ropes" of being a guy.

I've read articles that point to evidence that boys learn best on the playground rather than in the classroom. If you've watched "The Dog Whisperer", you know that Cesar promotes taking the dogs for walks to burn off energy; otherwise, they go nuts and start acting crazy and tearing up things. Two completely unrelated facts, I know; but, the both apply to raising a boy.

So, in part, I recognize that simply spending time with the lad has tremendous benefits; but, he's not a girl, nor am I. Guys don't talk; we do things. Quite frankly, there is so much one can learn from doing. And, although I write a lot, I don't have the words to tell him how to be a man. However, I can show him.

I'll be sore for the next few years. Most guys will boast that pain reminds you that you're alive. I suppose that it also reminds me for whom I am living.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Google Plus Love Is Starting to Bloom

Back when I first learned about the tech and content community, circa 2007, I saw Whurley and Giovanni Gallucci use Twitter as a way to announce upcoming speakers at Barcamp Austin. After that night, I started delving more and more into Twitter.

That same year, Facebook was on peoples' radars; but, we could not join. It was limited to universities and businesses. When Facebook opened up to the general public, I signed up to see what all the fuss was about. I have to say that it was nice; but, it would not take me away from Twitter for some time.

I remember spending a lot of time telling people about Twitter and Facebook, and they'd look at me like I was some kind of geek. Once the celebrities started using the stuff, all of the sudden everybody started joining in droves.

I find myself in the same situation with Google+ these days. I still pop in and out of Facebook on occasion to check messages. I still tweet on occasion. But, for the most part, Google Plus is where I spend the majority of my time. Actually, it started with Google Buzz.

In my eyes, Google Buzz and Google + are the exact same thing, except that Plus is much more presentable and integrated into the Google ecosystem. But, let me add that influential people in the online community are becoming enamored with Google Plus as well.

Robert Scoble has a post about how blogging isn't IT any more, and it's mainly due to Google Plus. At the risk of being a sycophant, I must say that I mostly agree with him because I see the potential. Let me just add, however, that my ad revenue from Google Adsense has suddenly jumped since Google Plus launched. I'm not rolling in dough; but, I can afford a nice dinner on occasion.

Are blogs dead? No. But, I agree with Scoble that they aren't quite the draw they used to be. But, that is at odds with the increased ad revenues. I get comments for my blog posts on Facebook and Google+ more than on the blog itself.

Guy Kawasaki also recently launched his book on Google Plus, titled What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us. Guy has a big following and can be credited for realizing how awesome Apple computers were when they were just starting out. Guy has a good sense of what's going to be hot.

Other influential people out there are also on the Google Plus bandwagon, with good reason.

But, there is a cognitive dissonance. You might be thinking why is Google Plus not as popular as Facebook? All I can say is, add "yet" to that. G+ is still rather new. The network effect has still not kicked in for "the rest of the world". For now, Google Plus is a playground for the early adopters and people who "get it". But, you'll see that start to change in the coming months when you will find you cannot escape using Google Plus without using Google.

Here is a great post by Ivan Dimitrijevic highlighting key individuals who see Google Plus as a major force in the coming months.

I can see what is coming; I've been there before. I find myself rather anxious that things should happen sooner.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What if you knew you would never reach retirement age?

A question has been weighing on my mind as of late. What if I never reach retirement age? The men in my family, as far as I know, do not reach retirement age in any useful shape. Given that longevity tends to be somewhat hereditary, it makes sense that I should think about my mortality. This isn't some morbid exercise finding reasons to give up on living. Rather, it is a practical perspective on what I ought to achieve in the potentially short time I may have.

This is somewhat related to the ideas by Tim Ferriss's question, "what would you do differently if you knew you could never retire?"

There is the question of planning ahead. Obviously, retirement planning would be done with a grain of salt, a tongue-in-cheek exercise. I'd have to stash money away for retirement on the off chance that I do survive to retirement age. On the other hand, wouldn't it be more beneficial to stash money away for use today? Have money put into investments that produce income for the here and now?

Having income-producing assets would go a long way towards helping me achieve a life of freedom where I don't have to work if I don't want. But, getting there is the dilemma. You must put your nose to the grindstone for a few years, forsaking anything you would consider a life.

There are personal ramifications to a short life-expectancy as well. Knowing that you may potentially have health issues lurking around the corner, wouldn't you want to make the best of your health now? Run that marathon, go skydiving, learn to dance, play soccer with your son or daughter, or any number of activities that will not be doable soon enough. If the whole point of life is to enjoy it, then during ones remaining time, it should be a priority to enjoy it while you can to avoid the regret of having missed it.

Knowing that your existence may be short-lived, when seen from that perspective, has a tendency to set your priorities. You cannot just leave things to chance as many people do who save up money to enjoy in their retirement. Maybe they'll enjoy it; maybe they'll spend those last years in poor health. The point is, one must plan for the future; but, not forget about making things work for today. You cannot pin all your hopes on someday. Retirement as a contingency plan rather than the goal.

So, once you know your priorities, it becomes very easy to make decisions. Either something will move you towards your milestones, or they won't. You can cut out extraneous activities that do not contribute to your overall aim to seize the day and make the most of it. Knowing that your time may be limited allows you to cut out the drama that seems to envelop the lives of some of the actors in your life's play.

There are some who would have you abdicate all responsibility and indulge in wanton pleasure every day that you can. What I am thinking is quite the opposite. One should be very deliberate about making each day count while one still can. For this, you must have a set of fixed priorities that transcend your occupation and the vagaries of life. To live as though it were something to be done rather than to be experienced.

The approach does not detract from enjoying your time on Earth. Rather, it is a recipe to enjoy it to the fullest in a calculated and deliberate manner. Knowing that you may not reach retirement age frees you to squeeze as much enjoyment out of your working days as you can.

I recognize that there is irony in finding freedom in living a structured life. But, not having an open-ended exit forces you to accomplish all those things that will lead you to that day when you can look back and say that you did everything you set out to do and can die with no regrets. And, that's what we really want, right? To have done everything we ever wanted to do.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Ubuntu Is Great For My Old Laptop

I have an old Dell Vostro 1000 laptop running Ubuntu 11.10 for desktop. It originally came with Windows Vista Basic, got upgraded to Windows Vista for Business, and proceeded to get slower and slower with each Windows Vista update.

The hardware only supports so much memory, so I hit that limit long ago. It was taking several minutes to boot. I considered ordering a recovery disk to restore it to factory settings; but, decided that after all the Windows updates installed again, it would probably not be much faster.

Given that I had been avoiding use of the laptop due to the long boot time, I went for it and installed Ubuntu 11.10 for x86. In retrospect, I should probably have chosen the 64 bit version. The laptop has an AMD 64 bit Athlon X2.

I don't know what difference running the 64 bit version will make.

Tonight, I noticed that Ubuntu is now testing 12.04, Precise Pangolin. So, rather than doing a straight upgrade, I'm downloading the 64 bit version. I'll be installing from scratch. I haven't had the laptop running on Ubuntu long enough to get sentimental about it. Actually, most of my work is cloud-based, so there is little chance I'd have anything on the laptop worth keeping.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Buying Weights to Begin Strength Training

Tonight, I went down to the store with the intent to buy kettle bells to help with my recent interest in CrossFit workouts. I'm going into the fitness routine a bit slowly. I'm 37 years old and weigh 173 pounds at 5 feet 8 inches and shrinking. Sitting in front of the computer for hours on end has left me a round shadow of my glorious self.

It's to the point where carrying the 20 pound dumbbell to the checkout was a struggle. I've really let the tech weenie bit go too far.

I was shopping around for prices on weights. The kettle bells are more expensive than I imagined. A 20 pound kettle bell costs a little over 30 dollars. That's just one. A set of kettle bells could very easily set you back a few hundred dollars, if you were to buy them in pairs at each weight increment.

If you intend to use them often, I can see where they may be worthwhile to own, if you buy them as you go. However, kettle bells are like that one great clothing ensemble that doesn't go with anything else. I decided to go with the standard weight plates because I can mix and match with other bars and weights, kind of like mixing and matching your clothes.

I recognize that I could have bought some inexpensive vinyl-covered weights; but, I want my equipment to last. I have a son who will be a teen soon.

I'll slowly add on to the weight set, including a bench, as finances allow.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Being an Outdoor Geek

I like hands on projects. I enjoy doing stuff in the field rather than sit around planning. I think I'm an outdoor geek.

It just dawned on me.