Posts tagged ‘technology’

March 1, 2015

#90) Gall bladders and crazy relatives (or why likes are the new calories)

What do the removal of my wife’s gall bladder and Facebook comments by an odd cousin have to do with each other?

I’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s start with a simpler question. What do high calorie foods and social media recognition have in common? We’re hard-wired to crave both.

According to one theory, our predisposition to high calorie foods is left over from our caveman days when we didn’t know when our next meal would be. Seems like a fair enough explanation to me; it makes me feel less guilty about putting away Big Carls left and right. I also believe that props from our followers on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and rest feed our appetite for recognition which, like our hunger for calories, is instilled in us early on. Popularity contests are nothing new of course, but they happen more quickly and intensely now than ever before, for worse as well as better (just ask Justine Sacco).

My dad’s cousin, in her late 70s, is a fairly avid Facebook user and while she’s no “Crazy Jewish Mom” she’s gotten off a few beauties in her time. When my wife jokingly used the word “pendejos” in in the context of sharing a “Bubala, please!” video, Crazy Jewish Cousin fired back with, “I don’t think you understand how offensive that term is.” When I posted pictures of my new dog, Meecham: “Bassets do NOT perk their ears up. He needs to be told.” (Duh, he’s not purebred–what do you think #bassetmix means?”) Recently she wanted to know, “I sure hope Instagram pays you for all the showings of your pictures that they use to advertise their product. What does Instagram have that just snapping a photo and posting it doesn’t have?”

The last part of that statement notwithstanding (I don’t feel like getting into an Instagram vs. Facebook debate just now) she did happen on an interesting point, if unknowingly. If Facebook doesn’t pay its users and in fact continues to alienate them while sites such as Bubblews and Bitlanders do pay users for their content, why don’t people just flock to the latter? Well, in the case of Bubblews they did, for a while. As of this writing, Bubblews holds an Alexa ranking of 4,946th globally: not bad, but the site ranked in the top 2,000 globally toward the end of last year, suggesting that it hasn’t gained market share. Bitlanders made a brief appearance in the global top 20,000 before dropping earlier this year; TSU had a brief flare last October. Throughout all of the above events, Facebook has retained its #2 ranking, behind only Google. According to Alexa data, the average time spent on Facebook daily is about the same as TSU, Bubblews and Bitlander put together.

Why? If you are reading this, odds are Facebook has outlived its usefulness to you. Yeah, some of you perhaps use it to promote or follow local businesses, bands, restaurants and communities, but by this point most of us have already reconnected with all of the long lost friends that we’re going to reconnect with. Why do we still log on? To get into political arguments? Parenting debates? No, to get likes, comments and recognition. Like calories, we’re addicted to them. Pinterest, Instagram and especially Facebook provide us with feedback that the little guys just can’t match.

Which brings me to the gall bladder. The gall bladder is left over from our caveman days, a storage chamber for us to stock up on calories back when our problem was too few, not too many. According to a recent blog post by Jenny McCarthy, “The gall bladder is vulnerable to stones, inflammation and polyps. For some individuals, it’s not only obsolete, it’s also a liability.” In other words, it’s kind of like Facebook.

Now, I have nothing against gall bladders, Facebook or calories. It’s just interesting to consider parallels between our relationships with social media and food. No one says, “I wish I spent more time arguing politics on Facebook.” Just as one has to weigh the tastiness of an item to its caloric impact, it might not be a bad idea for us to consider just how important those “likes” really are.

 

November 13, 2014

#87) Go home, NPR, you’re drunk

Dear National Public Radio,

I am sorry to tell you that you are drunk and I cannot serve you any more drinks tonight. Please give me the car keys. We’ll call you a cab.

We have had a long relationship together, ever since I interned for your Boston affiliate WBUR-FM as a junior in high school. Through the years you have provided me with a nice alternative to the same 10 classic rock songs, shrill talk radio hosts and endless discussions on sports shows about why the Lakers suck. It’s been hit or miss; no one’s perfect and I understand. There’s no shame in trying something new and not quite nailing it the first time; progress takes trial and error. When my friends and I watched the video of the live broadcast of “This American Life” that made its way through art house theaters a few years ago, we didn’t mind that Ira was visibly nervous; it made him seem more human than when he’s a cool, disembodied voice behind the microphone. I also understand that not all of your programing needs to be heavy; there’s only so much conflict in the Middle East that people can take. Sometimes you will over-intellectualize pop culture and that’s okay. Even body builders have ice cream once in a while. But “Please Do Not Leave A Message” – a feature on why the millennial generation does not like voice mail – is desperation. In television speak, it would be “jumping the shark.” It’s beyond pandering; it’s beyond condescension. It’s just plain sad.

Look, I get it. It’s a jungle out there. People have more and more places to get their news, commentary and music. You are trying to stay fresh and reinvent yourself; you are trying to debunk the stereotype that only bearded, pipe-smoking septuagenarians listen to NPR. There’s no shame in going after millennials; everyone else does. According to a report by Barkley US, “The sheer size and buying power of this generation means that they’re not just future consumers, they’re a vital part of the market… They’re not only your customers, they are also your employees, which makes it helpful to understand how they think and what will engage them at work.” Love them or hate them, millennials are hot; when they talk, people listen. Of course you want to reach them.

But is “Please Do Not Leave A Message” the way to do it? Do these all-important millennials really want to hear a thesis about why they don’t leave voice mails, especially since the basic premise of the bit is that they don’t have the patience to leave a voice mail? Do the people who donate want this?

Maybe I’m wrong and the only way to keep NPR afloat is to pander. Generally speaking though, pandering is at best a short term solution. You’ll never please everyone. For every Madeline Burg who admits that she enjoys the attention and finds it endearing, cute and ironic when adults try to pander to her, there’s a Tim Donovan cautioning business and politicians against embarrassing themselves. Consider the words of non-millennial Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right…for you’ll be criticized anyways.”

Hey, NPR, I don’t blame you. We all have an off day. For now just get yourself home safely, remember to hydrate a little extra tomorrow and give me a call if you need to. And if I miss your call I’m absolutely fine with you leaving me a voice mail.

July 23, 2014

#81) An open letter to the restaurant customers mentioned in post #80

Dear restaurant customers mentioned in post #80,

Recently you collectively have come under fire for complaining about slow service when surveillance footage indicated that your behavior–mainly cell phone related–increased your length of stay by an average of 50 minutes.  In addition to being asked by the restaurant itself to “be more considerate”, you’ve also received your share of finger-wagging from those ranting about how rude today’s kids are, accompanied by cries for the banishment of electronics from restaurants.

I’m not here to add to that; I’m here to make a suggestion.  I’ll get to it later.

First of all, I support your right to take selfies at the restaurant; to take pictures of the food; to use the establishment’s Wifi connection.  (I get it; your data plan doesn’t grow on a tree.)  When you eat at a restaurant, you’re paying not just for food and convenience but also for atmosphere; you are entitled to include your cell phone as part of the atmosphere, at least if you aren’t gabbing away too loudly on it.  As I mentioned in post #80, if restaurants aren’t willing to cater to the cell-phone related needs of paying customers, they can’t cry foul when said customers head to more tech-friendly spots.

I also understand why you take selfies and pictures of the food.  It’s not about ego (okay, it’s a little bit about ego, but despite what they might tell you, baby boomers and Gen-X’ers have egos too; if the Kodachrome had been able to take good selfies, you can bet your entire library of Ellie Goulding downloads that the children of the ’70s would have taken tons of them).  It’s about keeping a memory alive.  Why do people spend money to go to Cancun?  The vacation itself is fun, but it’s really the memory. It’s perfectly understandable to take many pictures to keep the memory of a vacation alive, so why can’t one do the same at a restaurant?

As promised, here’s my suggestion.  While vacations come along once a year if you’re lucky, most people eat out at least once a month or perhaps more so.  Just enjoy the moment.  You may be bummed if the pictures from your once-in-a-lifetime safari or Greek isles cruise didn’t come out, but odds are you’ll be at another restaurant before too long.  You may enjoy the taste of your food more if you aren’t worrying about which filter to use when photographing it.

Yes, some meals are truly special occasions.  There are some restaurants you may only visit once in a lifetime.  I’m not telling you not to take pictures. I’m suggesting that the memories shouldn’t come at the expense of the actual experience.  It’s not your job to adjust your habits to make a restaurant staff’s job easier.  Don’t do it for them.  Do it for you.

 

July 14, 2014

#80) The restaurant time forgot (and what musicians can learn from it)

Note: this is a simulblog, posted on both D-Theory and Positive Music Place.

The story sounds familiar: a restaurant consistently received bad reviews, so they looked over surveillance videos to see what was going on.  The plot twist came when management looked over the film.  The results were surprising–not because they were shocking, but just the opposite.  There were no bodily functions performed on the prime rib; no one playing Words with Friends as a grease fire broke out; no managers putting the make on waitresses in the office; none of the employee hijinks that might be expected.  In fact, when they compared the recent footage to tapes from ten years earlier, the employee behavior was pretty much the same.  It was the customers that were different.

According the article about this restaurant’s findings, seven out of the 45 customers observed on the recent video asked their servers for the Wifi password.  Twenty-seven of the 45 requested that their waiter take a picture of their group; 14 of those 27 asked for a second picture.  Long story short: the restaurant’s conclusion was that customer behavior increased the average length of stay by 50 minutes compared to ten years ago.

Here’s where the restaurant missed the mark.  “We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant, after all there are so many choices out there.  But you please be a little more considerate?” they implore at the end of the article.

The problem is, the restaurant doesn’t accept the fact that–whether or not they agree with it–for many customers, the cell phone is as important a part of the meal as the locally sourced vegetables and the craft beers.  The restaurant customer of 2014 expects to be able to take photos of their food and themselves enjoying it.  Savvy restauranteurs embrace the free advertising and integrate cell phones into the dining experience they provide;  proprietors stuck in the past complain about how kids today have no manners instead of trying to figure out how to better cater to them, thus resulting in poor online reviews.

So far you’ve read over 300 of my words (which I appreciate, thank you!); none of which is “music.”  What does this restaurant and their grievances with cell phones have to do with music?

Musicians face a similar dilemma in terms of getting their product out to new audiences.  Yes, we all want to do it our way, but trends, buying habits and tastes change.  Many consumers expect to be able to get music for free.  Music fans often see Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as ways of connecting with their favorite bands.  (Check out this post on CD Baby’s DIY Musician blog for more thoughts on the subject.)  The musician who evolves to fit the needs of  2014’s audience will likely have more gigs than the one who shakes his fist and rants about how no one appreciates AC/DC, Zeppelin or Sabbath anymore (the fact that I am writing this blog instead of playing a show might give a hint about the category in which I belong).

Elitism can have its place.  Fattburger’s slogan is “We’re not for everyone”; the Stone Brewing Company Arrogant Bastard’s bottle reads, “You’re not worthy.”  Businesses sometimes have funny have signs mocking Wifi obsessiveness.  Similarly, the independent musician who doggedly sticks to their guns and refuses to cave in to any trends, technological or otherwise, sometimes succeeds.  Let’s be honest though; these are usually the exception, not the rule.

I don’t claim to have much experience in the food service business (unless you count the lemonade stand my brother and I had as kids) but I do know this: the restaurant’s choices are to either to brand themselves as a cell-phone free zone (a move which may make their following smaller but more loyal) or adapt to changing times and train waiters to accept taking pictures of drunken customers as part of their job description.

Today’s consumer typically has more options for night life, dining and entertainment than they do time or money; as a band, restaurant or other purveyor of goods and services, you have a lot of competition for customers/fans.  If you look down on Wifi use at your restaurant, customers will likely go to the place down the block where it’s embraced.

Let’s face it, time can be a harsh mistress.  Yesterday’s rock star is today’s grumpy old man telling kids to get off their lawn.  Today’s rock stars–culinary, musical or otherwise–are often ones that let people on their lawn, but charge extra for Wifi.

free-wifi-geek-ashole-1026106

March 23, 2014

#75) Book review: “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson

This is an unusual biography, not just because of the unique story of its subject.  It is a biography by a writer who had nearly unlimited access to his subject, whom he interviewed forty times in preparation for the book.  It’s also a rare example of a biography that was written with the knowledge that the subject was near the end of his life.  As Jobs tells Isaacson near the end of the narrative, “I wanted my kids to know me…when I got sick, I realized other people would write about me if I died…[t]hey’d get it all wrong.  So I wanted to make sure someone heard what I had to say.”

Isaccson and Jobs knew each other but it was only when Jobs realized his cancer was potentially terminal that he enlisted Isaacson to write his story.  Isaacson points out an interesting irony: while Jobs was known as, for lack of a better term, a control freak, he specifically declined authority on what went into this book or stayed out of it; he didn’t want the bio to “seem like an in-house book.”

The result is an overall positive, inspiring reading experience.  Isaacson takes us into Jobs’s childhood and youth in Silicon Valley, where the personal computer revolution was beginning.  Seen historically as the property of institutions and corporations, computers were being used by members of the counter-culture as a means of personal expression.  With Steve Wozniak, Jobs quickly makes Apple into a success, but pays the price with his own ego and arrogance, leading to his banishment from the company in 1985.  In the ’90s, Jobs discovers a digital imaging company called Pixar and helps them merge with Disney to create computer-generated animation before returning to Apple and spearheading the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.

Isaacson’s in-depth interviews with Jobs provide insight.  Apple products have a reputation as being particularly intuitive and an early pilgrimage to India instilled in Jobs the value of intuition.  “The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world.  Intuition is a very powerful thing…[t]hat’s had a big impact on my work.”

We also get a sense of how Jobs viewed electronics as having human characteristics.  For example, the handle on the iMac is described as “approachable.  It’s intuitive.  It gives you permission to touch.  It gives a sense of deference to you.”  One sees the roots of the Pixar mentality of giving inanimate objects human souls, such as in “Wall-E” and “Toy Story.”

Yet there are a few flaws that hold the book back from being truly great.  Isaacson tends to go into a lot of technical detail about the computer designs, the various business deals between Apple, Pixar, Disney and Microsoft and other less-exciting subjects without making them seem particularly interesting.  Some of the visits to the bargaining table are rendered vividly; Isaacson doesn’t hold back when describing Jobs’s various tantrums or his “hero/shithead dichotomy”.  For the most part though, Isaacson failed to get me too excited about whether Jobs received 4 or 5 points on a Pixar deal or the difference between the circuit boards of the Apple II or the Lisa.  Isaacson also doesn’t elaborate in areas that could probably use more detail. In describing the unveiling of the iPhone, he says, “In a career of dazzling product presentations, this may have been the best.”  Yet he spends only half a page describing the event.  (Isaacson devotes a whole chapter to the launch of the Macintosh, describing the seminal “1984” commercial and the unveiling of the computer; here, he is at his strongest as a narrator, artfully building up the level of excitement throughout the chapter.)

The book also could have been more detail oriented.  Usually details bore the crap out of me; I prefer to be enjoy the big picture than to fuss over i’s being dotted and t’s crossed. That said, this is a biography of someone whose attention to detail was extreme.  Isaacson’s writing style is frequently awkward and lacks the type of flow that Jobs would have wanted.  The most notable example is that many sentences often start with “but” or “so”; in the index, the Beatles’ album “Abbey Road” is misspelled “Abby.” Is it forgivable to make a few mistakes in a nearly 600-page book? Almost everyone would say yes–but Jobs, at least the man portrayed by Isaacson, would have noticed and said something.

Needless to say, a book about a figure as influential as Steve Jobs shouldn’t just be a sketch and on the whole Isaacson’s tome does the man justice.  Readers who are deeply interested in the details of Jobs’s life and perhaps have an interest in computer technology, business and other subjects covered in detail will find everything they want here.  Those who are more casually interested in Jobs and want to learn more about the broader aspects of his life might be better served with Wikipedia.  For my part my experience with this book – which lasted almost three months, including three trans-continental plane trips – was hit or miss.  At times it resembled the bulky, awkward feel of the PCs that Jobs saw as the enemy throughout his career.  At times Isaacson hits the nail on the head and reading the book was the intuitive, Zen, naturally flowing experience Jobs desired all of his products to deliver.

February 27, 2014

#74) Ten reasons why nobody’s reading your blog (and the fact that it might just kind of suck is #6)

Does having made a little over thousand dollars from blogging qualify me as an expert on the subject?  No?  Didn’t think so.  Oh well, I’ve never let that stop me before.  Here goes.

If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you write at least one blog yourself.  According to Brandon Gaille of wpvirtuoso, there are about 152 million blogs in existence – plenty to go around.  There’s also a pretty good chance, unfortunately, that you are not getting the type of traffic you want.  Here’s why.

#1) You do it too infrequently.  In the early stages of a blog, quantity can sometimes be more important than quality.  Getting your content out there – even if you end up revising it later – is important and if you do it consistently, you will start seeing better results sooner.  According to Gaille, blogs that are updated 20 or more times per month receive an average of 5 times as much traffic as those that only post 4 or fewer times per month.  Of course once you establish a base of readers, you don’t want to over saturate them, but cross that bridge when you come to it.

#2) You have too many opinions.  Expunge me!? You might be thinking.  A blogger telling people not to express their opinions on his site where he does nothing BUT express his opinions?  What gives?  I’m not trying to discourage your freedom of speech, but in my experience, information-oriented blogs tend to rank higher in search engines than those centering around the opinions of the author.   Most of my success (and I do use the term loosely) as a blogger has come from www.nobodyhikesinla.com, in which I provide information about hiking trails in the L.A. area.  NHLA typically gets more traffic in a day than this blog gets in a year and I’m OK with that; it comes with the territory.  Your opinions may be well thought out and skilfully articulated, but nobody cares about them, at least not yet.  You yourself probably google search for information/fact oriented items more often than you do others’ opinions on issues.  If you do actively seek out someone’s opinion, it’s likely because they’ve established themselves as a credible source and have probably paid their dues to get to that point.  You have to be a journalist before you can be a columnist.  You have to be a line cook before you can be a chef.  You have to be a bottom before you can be a….never mind, on to #3.

#3) You aren’t reading enough other blogs.  Reading other peoples’ blogs serves two purposes: it can give you ideas for your own blog and by commenting on, following or “liking” someone else’s blog you increase the chances that they may reciprocate.  Of course you don’t want to be too shameless about plugging your own blog, but if you provide thoughtful, encouraging comments on someone else’s work it’s not unreasonable to expect a little kickback.

#4) You haven’t exchanged enough links.  This can be a great you-scratch-my-back type of situation.  Think about it: most blogs you’ve read probably have a list of links to related sites.  (NHLA does.)  This is not only a valuable resource to your readers but if can funnel traffic to other bloggers, who in turn might see fit to throw a bone back to you by including a link to YOUR site on theirs.  Email bloggers who write about similar subject matter and offer to exchange links.  Most bloggers don’t want their site to be too cluttered with links but if your blog hits home with them, they just might include you.

#4.5) You haven’t embedded enough links.  This can be a good one to keep in mind if your attempts to exchange links with other bloggers aren’t successful.  You can always link to their blogs through your actual posts.  According to www.bluecorona.com, “Google ultimately wants its users to find what they are searching, so when you link to other authoritative and relevant websites, you are providing a great service to Google’s users. This makes your website a more valuable resource, in Google’s beautiful, primary-colored eyes.”

#5) You haven’t registered your domain name.  First things first: I realize that since this blog does not have a registered domain name, I’m not practicing what I preach, but I basically just do this blog for the fun of it.  Most serious blogs have a registered domain name.  Doing so through WordPress is cheap and easy; I’d imagine the process isn’t too difficult for other platforms such as Blogger.  Your own domain name makes your site easier to describe at cocktail parties; it fits better on a business card.  It also appeases the beautiful, primary-colored eyes of Google; since most domain names last for at least a year, it shows that you are committed and Google likes commitment.

#5.5) Google also likes boldface.

#6) Your blog might just kind of suck.  No one likes to hear that they have an ugly baby, but sometimes it just needs to be said.  How are your punctuation, grammar and spelling?  Do you read your blog out loud to yourself before you post?  How well thought out and substantiated are your opinions?  I don’t mean to sound like a middle school teacher but if you’re going to expect people to take you seriously, you have to take your work seriously.  Don’t be like the state of California which recently informed a friend of mine that his business address was invalid by sending a letter to his business address.

#7) You haven’t found the right subject matter.  This is easier said than done: it’s a balancing act.  Blog about the Kardashians and you’ll have a lot of competition; blog about Taylor Grey Meyer and your audience may be a little more limited.  Topical subjects might give your traffic a short term bump but not much else.  It takes a while to figure out which topics are the best match between your writing style and your audience (I’ll let you know when I get there myself.)

#8) Excessive monetization attempts.  While there’s no precise rule regarding this, it’s generally understood that the amount of advertising/donation solicitations/product pitches/etc readers will accept on a website is commensurate with the quality of the content on said site.  To put it in English, if readers find your blog to be valuable and enjoyable they won’t mind  if you’re trying to make a buck or two from it; they may even contribute.  If, however, they just get bombarded by ads, they’ll stay clear.  Learn from the rise and fall of Myspace, which as Wesley Verhoeve eloquently put it, “monetized [itself] into oblivion.”

#9) It doesn’t look good on a mobile device.   How does your blog look on an iPhone, iPad or Droid?  Are the pictures formatted correctly?  Are the links visible and easily accessible?  It’s been often said that people have plenty of information and not enough time to absorb it.  Mobile devices allow readers to catch up on their favorite blogs while they’re on the run.  You never know who your readers might be: busy salespeople in between (or during) meetings; customers battling checkout lines at Costco; funeral guests stuck at an endless eulogy.  Hell, according to a recent survey, 12 percent of moms use their phone during sex.

#10) There’s no story.  You probably tell stories on your blog but does the blog itself tell a story?  Does the blog as a whole, as a brand if you will, provide a reason for readers to return?  When Julie Powell started the blog that would eventually become the book and movie “Julie & Julia”, her goal was to cook every recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” within a year.  Would she do it?  You had to read her blog to find out.  My fellow hiking blogger Jeremy Jacobus did a similar thing with his hiking blog–in which he set a goal of hiking a thousand trails in a thousand days.  “Meta” stories such as these can be compelling to a reader and make them want to come back – and tell friends.

That’s all for now – happy blogging and may your traffic be good and plentiful.

texting during sex

February 13, 2014

#71) How do you know?

How do you know?

I mean, seriously, how the fuck do you know?

This simple, timeless question was recently brought home to me by a TV commercial.  Like any good commercial, it failed to actually instill the name of the product in my head, but its message resonated with me nevertheless.  An adult is shown some fancy new product he’s supposed to buy and hesitates.  During his hesitation we see him flash black to junior high, when he dumps a tubby blonde girl: “Sorry, Brooklyn, it’s just not working out.”  In another flashback, now at college age, he declines investing in his friend’s startup: “What can you do with just 140 characters?” Which brings us to the present; the implication being that he doesn’t want to pass on yet another thing that will end up being huge.

Apart from its amusing storyline, the commercial has hit home for me on a personal level.  Since starting my hiking blog, www.nobodyhikesinla.com, I have been fortunate to keep the company of dozens of blogging experts.  Counsel that has been given to me about how to successfully monetize the blog includes T-shirts and other swag; creating a mobile phone application; eBooks about the hikes, branching out to other cities (coming soon: http://www.nobodyhikesinwichita.com).

With demeanor ranging from polite to borderline hostile, depending on the intensity of my expert’s pitch to me, I have invariably rejected most of these ideas, not because I want to be difficult, stubborn or ungrateful, but just because in most cases, I don’t feel that the potential for revenue justifies the effort and expense of, say, hiring an app developer or handling (gulp!) physical inventory, that bane of the existence of anyone who has ever tried to develop an online revenue stream.  My hesitation to endorse these ideas is based on information I’ve gathered about my site traffic, link clicks, etc (I have been known to spend hours a few minutes here and there perusing statistics related to my blogs).  While the revenue the site has earned – mainly through advertising; also through affiliation sales, the Nobody Hikes in LA Guidebook and donations – is a little bit short of Fortune 500 status, by breaking the three-digit income threshold, NHLA stands apart from at least 81% of the blogs out there, according to Infographic.

That being said, a part of me has to ask: what if I am wrong?  Are eBooks based on hike writeups the wave of the future?  By passing on these opportunities, will I become the next Nolan Bushnell?  (In the mid ’70s, after founding Atari, Busnhell had an opportunity to invest in a startup created by one of his employees: a certain Steven Paul Jobs.)

History abounds, of course, with stories like this: numerous record producers rejecting the Beatles; board game makers  passing on Monopoly; the Portland Trailblazers drafting Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan.  Hell, there’s even one from my own family: in the mid 1960s in New York, my dad and uncle Joe were involved with the city’s thriving folk music scene.  One of the misfits hanging around the fringes was a scruffy kid from Minnesota named Robert Zimmerman, whose presence was a nuisance to everyone, be they veteran musicians who didn’t want him fucking up the songs or young women whom he was trying to bed.  One of the latter category was waiting for my uncle Joe to meet her at a cafe and when he showed up, she was laughing.  “This homeless looking kid tried to hit on me,” she said.  “When I brushed him off, he said, ‘But I’m Bob Dylan!’  I said, ‘Well, I’m here waiting for Joe Lockeretz.'”

To bring it back to my original question, strictly speaking, no, you DON’T know.  You can, however, make sound decisions based on odds and information.  I consider the fear of passing on a great opportunity to be the converse of fears such as being struck by lightning, being attacked by a shark or being in a plane crash.  Just as plane crashes make the news because of how rare they are, stories such as the Beatles’ early rejections make history because of their infrequency.  Yes, it’s inspirational to hear these kinds of tales and their positive messages shouldn’t just be dismissed.  It should just be noted, however, that these events are the exception and should have limited influence on your decisions, investment and otherwise.  And if you do end up on the wrong side of history?  At least you’ll have some good stories for the grandkids.

December 3, 2013

#63) Apps I’ve paid for #2: Modern Hiker

Continuing the series of posts about applications I’ve purchased, I present the Modern Hiker smartphone app.  I bought this one both as a consumer and as a competitor; it’s been often suggested to me to look into creating an application for www.nobodyhikesinla.com.  I hoped that in addition to helping me more easily access the hikes displayed on the website, it would give me ideas for a possible NHLA mobile app.

Given that the app costs only $2, it would be hard to say that I didn’t get my money’s worth, but I would have liked to have seen more hikes listed on the app.  Modern Hiker has hundreds of hikes listed, but only the most popular are shown on the app – Solstice Canyon, Sturtevant Falls, Echo Mountain, the Bridge to Nowhere and Mt. Baldy to name a few.  There’s already so much information available about these hikes that the consumer would do just as well to look it up on a smartphone or print it out beforehand than to use the Modern Hiker app.  That said, I could see how the app would be useful to a novice hiker who isn’t familiar with Topanga State Park, the San Gabriel Mountains and the rest of L.A.’s outdoor areas.  It provides hike summaries, statistics and photos in a neat, fairly user-friendly package.

So far, the two apps I’ve paid for and then reviewed (this one and the Prince of Persia game, which I have still not won) have in common that no free counterpart exists.  Two dollars may be a lot for something that can just as easily be acquired for free, but when it’s the only choice, it doesn’t exactly break the bank.