«  Remembering Steve

As a child, my parents’ friends asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “Race car driver.” As I grew older, my parents would ask the same question, with a little more concern. “Race car driver.” Through my teens, the answer remained the same. “But it’s dangerous”, they would reply. As parents, time was running out. I was about to go off to college. My Dad came up with the best lines. “When I was your age, I really wanted to be an electrical engineer. My Dad wanted me to be a doctor, but I didn’t want to be one. Now I wonder if I should have listened to him. I really think you should consider being an electrical engineer.”

February, 2001. I watched my childhood hero slam in to a wall in Daytona, Florida. His name was Dale Earnhardt and he was a race car driver. Going three wide in to the final laps of the Daytona 500, the black #3 inexplicably veered off the embankment and then shot back up in to the retaining wall at 160mph. “Race car driver.” That Fall I embarked in pursuit of my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

As an adult, I am known somewhat by my Apple fanaticism. My first computer was a Mac. It was an Apple IIe passed on by a family friend on which I played Chess and occasionally used the word processor. After years of tinkering with custom built PCs, I returned to the fold with a black MacBook. I got sick of the finance world I ended up in, so I took a job as a professional web developer. iMac. And I love my job so much I do it in what most would consider their “spare time”. MacBook Air.

Today, I watched my Facebook feed fill with mourning, respect, and snide remarks for a man I deeply respected. Today, the world lost one of it’s most brilliant visionaries, innovators, personalities, and… salesmen. A one in a billion type of person that died of a one in a million type of disease.

In their lifetimes, my personal heroes both held a few things in common. They both wore black. All the time. Both of their spheres of influence loved to hate them, but still respected and revered who they were. They both earned notoriety for their fearless passion (or perhaps their passionate fearlessness). And ultimately, they both died… doing what they loved.

May we all be so lucky.

Thank you, Steve. Thank you for teaching us, in your death, what it means to live. And for reminding us, in the oft quoted words of Stewart Brand, to “stay hungry” and “stay foolish”.

«  I Don’t Go To an Asian-American Church

At the turn of the century (man, that sounds historical) hundreds of college students were returning or had returned to the San Francisco Bay Area from their respective universities all over the country. Many of these people were searching for a community similar to those they had in college. Going to class together, eating together, hanging out together, and worshipping together all the time. Living life together all the time. In most cases, the churches these young professionals had grown up in did not meet these needs. So they left looking for something more.

In 2001 members of Newsong Irvine planted a church in Sunnyvale called Great Exchange Covenant. It flourished. People found a contemporary worship style more in line with what they had experience in college. Strong communities were formed. Lives were changed… people were transformed. And this didn’t just happen in the Bay Area. It was happening everywhere.

I attend an offspring church of this movement in San Francisco. We are a family of people who predominantly have an Asian heritage. Read: we have lots of Asian-Americans.

We are not an Asian American church.

Part of the original draw of attending GrX for some was that, well, it wasn’t their home church. Asian-American family churches around the Bay Area panicked as they were slowly losing their young adults to churches similar to GrX. They strategized how to keep their young adults happy. They vilified those that left for what they perceived as the new hip thing. “Oh, you go to GrX” translated to “Oh, you’re one of those abandoners.”

But the draw of the “new hip thing” wasn’t just that they could miss service on Sunday morning without their parents finding out. It was structured differently. The “english ministry” wasn’t just a secondary service. You didn’t call the “english pastor” the “EM Pastor” because he was, well, “the pastor”. Fabulous. No Asian-American church hierarchy. No Asian-American church patriarchy. No Asian-American church politics.

Natural leaders emerged. They heeded the call to service, acting as what the traditional church might have called deacons at the ripe old age of 25. They ministered to each other. They ministered to others. They flourished.

Church politics are not something unique to Asian-American churches. It’s universal. As far as I see it there are two ways of completely avoiding church politics. 1) attend a church so new as to have not had to run into these political conflicts (yet). 2) attend church, but remove yourself from these politics by either not getting involved and/or by attending a church so big as to have too many layers between you and the top for you to even remotely come in to contact with church politics.

The politics came to the “new hip thing”, almost as a sign of maturity, and the dream-like bubble of the faultless church popped. It popped big.

The draw of the “new hip thing” for those that had previously attended Asian-American churches also partially involved the absence of the traditional Asian-American church hierarchy. The English Ministry Pastor was usually under the Senior Pastor. The deacons were predominantly not a part of the English Ministry. Everything was run by those that you did not necessarily commune with or even know for that matter. Things got done (building decisions, hiring, finances) all without your opinion or input. You had no say, and thus you didn’t care.

I don’t go to an Asian-American church, but I see people acting like they do. Week-in. Week-out. I am guilty of this too. In my time I have left 3 churches that I didn’t feel met my needs. I also did nothing to help myself.

In the “new hip thing” you hung out with your Pastor. You attended the same small group as one of the “deacons”. You threw back beers with the music ministry director. Everything got done (building decisions, hiring, finances) all without your opinion or input. You had a say this time, but it turns out you didn’t really care.

Many of these people were searching for a community similar to those they had in college. Now they were going to work together, eating together, hanging out together, and worshipping together all the time. Living life together all the time. In some cases, the churches these young professionals had started to grow in to did not meet all their needs.  So they left looking for something more… or they grew up and, like the deacons at pastors at the churches they grew up in, they did something to fulfill their needs for themselves and others.

«  Why Google Doesn’t Get Social

It would be hard to argue that Google isn’t successful. Starting as a Stanford research project and ballooning to a $163B market cap that is taking on every imaginable competitor that it can, you might think that there’s no space that Google can’t compete reasonably well in.

But the internet giant seems to lack success in a key area of the internet: social media. First there was Google Wave. TechCrunch called it “part email, part Twitter, and part instant messaging.” Users called it completely confusing, as it seemed like no one really knew what the hell you were supposed to do with it.

Then there was/is Google Buzz. Buzz was supposed to a brilliant way with sharing things with people you actually wanted to share them with. But it’s launch was marred by privacy concerns, lawsuits, and an eventual drop off in “buzz” as people slowly disabled the feature as it added too much noise to their Inboxes.

Google+

So with Wave and Buzz lessons in hand, Google has rolled out +Pistevo to my Google menu bar. Think of it as Facebook, but done the Google way. It’s Buzz, except it has some added features like “Hangout” where you can awkwardly group video chat. Group management is handled by what Google+ calls “Circles”. It is pretty well thought-out, though Google had the advantage here of rolling this feature out at launch, unlike Facebook. So rest assured, you can happily block Aunt Sally from your drunken rampage last Saturday night. But unfortunately you have to add Aunt Sally individually and all your other 1000 Facebook friends because it currently doesn’t integrate other services. Overall Google+ looks a lot like Facebook, feels a lot like Facebook, and acts a lot like Facebook.

Google’s “Anti-Social” UI

So everyone wants to know… is it as good as Facebook? Kind of. Google+ is a clone of Facebook, except branded with Google’s “New” UI. Google has been letting their designers do a lot of the legwork the past few months. They added a new menu bar up top, gave Maps a makeover (NICE WORK EVELYN!!!!), reskinned Gmail, and made a bunch of other tidy visual touches to its flagship search.

Google has made a lot of money on one thing: search advertising. They are quite good at it. And I am quite certain they are good at designing for it. Get users to search quickly and get them off the page quickly to drive pageviews and click traffic. That is Google’s bread and butter, and if Google+ runs on the same Google mentality it is destined to fail.

Social networks have the inherent need to be social. You hang out on Facebook because your friends/ex-lovers/creepy co-workers are all on Facebook and you spend an inordinate amount of time stalking people, you creeper. You get in, and stay in. The problem with Google+ IS that it is Googley. It fits in completely with Google’s new branding. Developed by brilliant engineers and a brilliant designer who made it perfectly Google.  The more I use Google+ the more I find that I want to leave it. Get in, get out with a revenue-generating click. That’s the essence of Google. And that’s why Google just doesn’t get social.

«  The Gospel-Centered Church Vision

I’ve been thinking lately about the vagaries of the average church vision statement. Mission, vision, something that staff and layleaders and parishioners slave over. Is the wording right? Does this get the message across? Is this what we believe?

So as not to pick on any church, I will pick on all, because your vision statement likely suffers from one, if not all three, of these points.

1. Your vision statement is too long: seriously, I’m not going to memorize point 2, subpoint 4.
2. Your vision is vague: it’s a nice idea, but what are we going to do exactly to see this through.
3. Your vision is fluffy: “devoted to”, “passion for”, “pursuit of”. Do you talk like that to your mother? Do you talk like that to your Dad? see item #2.

If I started a church, it necessarily, would have a Vision Statement. I mean, you have to have content for the snazzy website, yeah?

Well here it is:

Jesus.

Concise. Focused. There is nothing you can add to that vision that would make it better. And if you really want to subtract something from it, can you call yourself a gospel-focused church?

This is not meant as complaining or even really critiquing, but a reminder.  We rightly think about what we are doing, we pray about where we are going, and we seek and run after God’s heart. But are we letting our vision get in the way of God’s vision?

“And this wise man asked me to stop. He said, Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Get involved in what God is doing — because it’s already blessed.”
- Paul “Bono Vox” Hewitt, U2

Jesus, be Thou my vision. Peace.

«  Sweet Spots and the Split-Day Shift

About a year or so ago a friend sent me a Time Magazine spread comparing morning people to night owls. And though I write this at 2am, it seems I am neither.

I have come to the conclusion that my most productive hours are between 10 and 2. That’s between 10am and 2pm and between 10pm and 2am. Those are my sweet spots. You see it’s not that I am this anti-corporate hate-all-things-9-to-5 Four Hour Work Week reader. Ok, I kind of am. But it’s the way I’m wired… and could be the way you’re wired too.

I just don’t believe we were meant to be enclosed in our cubicles 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Luckily I work with a team that spans 4 countries, almost covers all 24-hours of the day between just 10 people, has part-timers, a full-time 4 day work week-er, and a fearless leader that has zero reservations about me working from home/remotely/in my pajamas until a client meeting.

My proposal is an exercise in flexibility. The split-day shift. 4 to 6 hours in the office followed by 4 to 6 hours at home. Think of the benefits.

  • increased productivity – I know you’re all falling asleep after lunch just like me. If you’re working 12 hour days there’s a good chance 3 to 4 of them are wasted on trying to get moving. How about stopping during the day so you can tackle a problem with a clear head? How about just cutting the fluff time out and working only when you’re focused?
  • less traffic – Everyones productive sweet spots vary. That means in a split-day shift not everyone is rushing to work at exactly the same times.
  • healthier families – Imagine dropping your kids off at school and picking them up after your first shift and just hanging out for the afternoon. You can’t do that with your 14 hour solid work day, but you could accomplish it with a 7/7 split.

So I’m an idealist and as much as I would love to see the above things, I realize this won’t work for everyone. Not everyone works behind a computer where they can just pick up their work and go anywhere. It wouldn’t make sense for the financial markets to open and close and open and close. But here’s to hoping I will always have a job and that some day you’ll get a job where a split-day shift works…

«  On Freemium

Freemium: one of the single most ridiculous Web 2.0 terms ever.

You may not be familiar with the term freemium, but… you are. The term coined by Web 2.0-er Jarid Lukin, is articulated by a venture capitalist as giving “your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc, then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base.”

Along with a plethora of mobile apps, Skype, Flickr, and Dropbox all operate on a freemium model. And with the success of the freemium model for companies like these, many startups have followed suit.

There’s just one big hurdle to jump.

Skype, Flickr, and Dropbox all offer awesome products. In fact, I am or have been a premium subscriber to each of those services at some point in time. The product rocks. What you get free already has an intrinsic value.

But the issue for so many web startups is that their free sucks. When your free product is worth exactly what your users are paying (pssssst, that’s nothing, worthless, zilch, you suck at life and you should end yourself) why would a user pay more for expanded features? You haven’t proven your worth to them, and the added benefits to subscribing to your Awesomr Pro Premium Plan become nothing more than bullet points on a subscription page.

As a web developer I have sorted through lots and lots of other people’s crappy code. I once paid for a PHP Classifieds Script that was full of invalid markup and a dysfunctional payment module. The solution seemed to be to pay even more for a third-party payment integrator. When I paid it seemed the integrator did not work either and when I emailed the developer I was offered a lame explanation and finger pointing at PayPal. Coincidentally, a disclaimer was placed on this fellows site the next day stating that the module didn’t actually work.

Tonight, I was once again faced with PHP scripts. In the course of hooking up a free add-on module, I realized that the company offering the module had purposely left out some features with the hopes that you would upgrade to a $40 “Gold Package” or spring for a $199 “Developer License”. “Your code is messy and really God awful”, I thought. “Why would I pay you?” So within 15 minutes I had hacked around to reach what the Gold Package would have supposedly given me and 2 hours later I was cleaning up code that I am fairly certain would not have been fixed with the Developer License.

So to all you want to be startup crazies: freemium only works when your free is premium, and not when your premium should be free.

«  Blame Google or Blame Verizon?

I am writing this from a BlackBook. It is the best personal computer I have ever owned. As a side note, it is not the best one I will ever own. Every day I see deals on unibody MacBook Pros, but they don’t come in black, so I’m keeping this laptop until it kicks the bucket because I think Apple is awesome.

I work daily on a 27″ iMac. It is the best work rig I have ever had the privilege of hacking on. The iMac is connected to an Apple Time Capsule and a Mac Server, and we as a firm have various testing iPads scattered around Australia, New Zealand, and the good old U.S. of A because we think Apple is awesome.

I have a small collection of iPods starting with a limited U2 iPod, a 3rd Gen iPod Nano, and a 2nd Gen iPod Touch. EFF a Zune.

Given all this one might think I am a fan boy. As a disclaimer, that wouldn’t be that far from the truth and I quite clearly have my biases. But what do I carry in my pocket?

November of last year I picked up the, now obsolete, Motorola Droid. This was Motorola’s flagship model running Google’s Android Mobile OS. Prior to that I had been on a BlackBerry Pearl. Cute little thing. Tiny screen, weird double key keyboard that all of its users somehow got used to and enjoyed.

So why no iPhone? Three characters, one repeated: AT&T. I started my mobile life on Cingular which became AT&T. And when that went downhill our family switched to Verizon and have lived happily ever after. So pledging allegiance to VZW I marched down to get me a Droid.

“You can do whatever YOU want with it, unlike the locked down iPhone.” Clearly this gentleman had been to the required Android sales training session. The Droid was being marketed as a symbol of freedom. Go anywhere, do anything… Droid does. “Oh, yeah… that’s cool”, I replied with a chuckle. He then proceeded to show me things that I could do with my iPod Touch. At some point I just started acting impressed because it was clear to me he didn’t get that I knew how to use a smartphone.

In the back of my mind I thought what this so-called freedom and openness that Verizon was pushing meant for me. I started having grandiose dreams of developing Android applications. To date I have developed more than negative one Android applications. This freedom meant I could at least change my wallpaper. That was cool. In fact it was among the first things I did when I get home. And then I realized the awkward multiple main screen interface meant needing to make seamless backgrounds or to live with designs that weren’t based on a central object. The phone was cool enough. But the freedom did not live up to expectations. I wanted the freedom to just have one main screen.

Fast forward to a month or so ago with the release of Android 2.2 (Froyo). Cool. I upgraded automatically. My battery life got better. The interface was polished and seemed less like beta software. I felt like I had the phone that my Droid was supposed to be when it came out, except with inferior hardware as compared to all the new fangled Android phones. Except, I didn’t have the freedom to tether. No big deal.

About two weeks ago with Verizon’s additional update to Froyo to support Adobe Flash. To be quite honest, I just wasn’t interested. I had lived without Flash on my mobile for nearly a year. It was clear I could live without it, and I didn’t want to deal with upgrading right at the moment they sent the notice. I chose not to upgrade right at that moment. About a half-hour later, the message popped up again. I still wasn’t ready because I didn’t have a full rundown of what was being upgraded, and a quick scour of the internet message boards did not yet have an answer yet either. So much for openness.

For the last two weeks this upgrade message has now popped up more or less every time I use my phone. My refusal to upgrade at first was a want to wait, but now it has turned in to a daily protest. I was being sold openness and freedom, but I haven’t been told what is about to go on my phone (lack of openness) and it looks like I have no choice but to “upgrade” (lack of freedom). Furthermore, should I upgrade and decide to install say a rooted and improved version of Android OS, I have been told Verizon will chop off my head. Remember, I was told I can do whatever I want with this phone.

Verizon is like any other carrier. They want full control of their ecosystem. It somewhat makes sense. You play poker at someone’s home game, you play by the house rules. But you sold me on freedom and openness. I have experienced neither of these things. The cost of supplying data services to their customers hasn’t become cheaper as time has gone by. In fact, carriers are losing per subscriber revenue every year, so it’s no wonder they want you to play by their rules (READ: choke you for data costs and neuter your phone capabilities).

Google is somewhat of an enigma. Mobile users don’t click as many ads. Google is smart enough to know this. The real money to be made in mobile these days is from licensing and taking a cut of software development. Google’s Marketplace is a fragmented clusterflock of randomness, with inconsistent development guidelines and a lack of quality control.

I blame both. I blame Verizon for being Verizon. If they would have given up some control to Apple, I’m sure they could have made a hefty sum being the exclusive iPhone carrier. Instead, Verizon continues to slap their ugly logo front-and-center-cannot-miss-it on every phone on its network and continues to pollute each of these phones with some sort of Verizon permasoftware. Google is Verizon’s b*tch. Not just Verizon’s, but every other carrier. They do what the carrier wants just to get a phone in to a users hand. Verizon, I love you. But not as much as I hate your brandishing of perfectly good phones.

In the mobile market it looks like the main players are targeting distinct segments. BlackBerry obviously is married to the enterprise. Apple, I would argue, has positioned itself as the premium smartphone maker. Quality hardware and quality applications. So where does that leave Google? If Apple is marketing to the Bloomingdale’s shopper, Google is the JC Penney equivalent. Bloomingdale’s partners with luxury brands to bring high-quality, premium fashions to their customers. JC Penney partners with household, century-old brand names to bring functional products to the unrefined masses. For all that is awesome with Google, I hate Android.

If there’s one thing that Google needs to figure out, it is that online advertising strategies do not translate to the mobile market. On the web, Google wants tons of ads delivered to people faster and faster. They know that on average an ad might get clicked on 2% of the times it’s seen. The larger the pie, the bigger the 2% is in quantity, and the more money they rake in. More handsets to more people just doesn’t translate the same way. People are looking to interact with their mobiles quite quickly. They’re not surfing so they’re not clicking on ads on their phone. If they’re playing a game or using some other app, they’re there for the momentary distraction or the specific app content and not for the supporting ad content. The ads are ignored.

And the kicker… people will pay $199 for a phone, but they hesitate to pay $1.99 for an app. There are millions of free apps out there. Even if the free apps suck, the average consumer, and specifically the JC Penney consumer, will consider the paid equivalent to be far too expensive.

So here’s my suggestion to Google… but it’s really far too late. Target the market that pays. Well, you can’t do that. You’re the mobile OS for the cheap (m)asses. Clean up the Marketplace. Well, you can’t do that. You’re promoting openness and freedom. That’s how you’ve marketed this from the get go. And finally, stop being the carriers’ b*tch. Well, you can’t do that. You’re trying to get as many phones as you possibly can out to as many users as possible so that they can feed money in to your business model that just plain doesn’t work.

«  Three-Two-Two

I’m blogging live and direct from my temporary apartment. Temporary because my stuff barely fits here (wait, doesn’t really fit here) and there’s no way my wife and I will both fit in here when we get hitched. My friend Andy and his parents were gracious enough to let me rent their guest apartment until February or so when my fiancee and I will find a new home to call our own. Andy’s street number? 322.

Three-Two-Two. 322 was my pager code in high school. This led many to believe my birthday was on March 22nd. So 4 days before my birthday I’d get a plethora of well wishes. “Thanks in advance,” I’d say to their dismay. One of my close friends had the code 311. Her birthday actually is March 11th, but no weirdos, this was not some sort of awkward psychotic twisted crush to be coupled with Miss 311. (11 coupled = 22?!?!?, I still don’t get it).

Pictured here are Roces Chapter 322s. My codesake. WTF? Now you’re thinking one of two things. A) You were one of those lame inline skaters. LOL! or B) Shiet, mang. You named your code after 322s. Everyone knows the top of the line were the Majestic 12s. Your code should have been 12.

Well, A) I hate you, and B) I never ever got top of the line growing up. It seemed to be some sort of weird life lesson that my parents were teaching. In fact, it was one of the things my Dad always said to me. “Remember son, even when you think you’re the best there will always be someone better than you.” So when I got hockey skates I got Bauer H3′s instead of the then top-of-the-line H5′s. Civic Si. NO WAI. You get an EX. Never the worst. But never the best.

So here I am. 322 in 322. Coincidence? Yeah. But one worth reminiscing about.

«  The Endless Pursuit

In September of 2001, I packed all of my belongings in to a Honda Civic. ALL.

That summer my stepmother had slowly amassed a small collection of college necessities for me. A nice comforter, which I am typing this entry while sitting under, a husband, and some new pillows. I felt the odd need to bring both of my guitars, my brand new laser printer, and a newly built AMD Athlon 1.6GHz rig (somewhat speedy at the time).

Last weekend I packed a few boxes in to my WRX Wagon headed for a shared storage unit. These boxes represented about a third of what was in my apartment. My Mexican Martin Acoustic resides in a church office and my bass guitar in a closet at church. My two electric guitars I’m staring at here next to me, and the digital recording setup is in a box behind the Hello Kitty Stratocaster. My terrain-park snowboard is next to the Switchfoot autographed guitar and the powder-day board next to my golf clubs in the storage unit, behind the ski/bike rack.

My pastor is riding my mountain bike, although I would have given him my road bike had I not sold it last year to a 14-year old kid. My home audio setup is at my fiancee’s, since I sold my TV to a friend two years ago. And aside from the laser printer which is also at my fiancee’s, and the desktop computer, which I gave to my Father as a spare computer (he has like 5), everything feels like it has been acquired after 9/11/01.

Source: Diana Walker

I recently told a friend that all I felt I needed more in life was a Mini Cooper S. This was a half truth. There was of course the garage I wanted to put it in, which meant a home that came with said garage. And a GT28RS Disco Potato attached to the motor, because I have vowed never again to have less than the approximately 270hp currently on the WRX.

I like stuff. I really do. Stuff, stuffs, and more stuffz. But where does it end? There’s always more horsepower to be made, less f/stops to get down to, and more MB/s to read/write.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
-Luke 12:34

Diana Walker’s famous photo of Steve Jobs at home in 1982 always comes to mind when I think about stuff. What do we really need? It’s probably all here in this picture. A light (yes, that’s a deeper metaphor), music, and some Steve Jobs (or rather, products made by the company he runs). So why all this need for stuff? Moral, mental, and emotional depravity. I suck, therefore I want.

«  Changes

Tomorrow night is my last night in the apartment I’ve had for over 4 years. Crazy.

A couple of weeks ago I stepped up to sing in front of a handful of people, my first time playing guitar in public in over a year. Wasn’t sure if I would ever do that again.

About a month ago I quit my job. The first day was a bit of a shock because I am no longer a financial professional.

The 20s are crazy. You finish school and get pitched out in to the real world through a pinball machine, bumped off of career, to the social circle point boosters, to the loop-de-loop relationships, just trying not to go down.

In 6 months I’m getting married. One woman. Forever. There will be many changes ahead. Kids, cars, net worth. But whether I stay a Web Developer or become a Circus Performer, whether we stay in San Francisco or move to Chicago, San Diego, Irvine, Moreno Valley, or Atlanta, the ring on my finger will mean that the wife will never change. All this change makes me tired so I’m sure glad that this one part stays put. Or to put it more romantically… when you’re old, sad, and wrinkly, I will still love you, honey. And that will never change.

pistevo