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Wide White: October 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Political promises

Since we're heading to the polls in 2 days, this seems fitting.


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Saturday, October 30, 2010

A better leg than mine

This is one way to start a game.

(From the YouTube description: "Clark University vs Wheaton College - Cougar sophomore Will Van Noppen provided instant fireworks when he scored his fourth goal of the season off of the opening touch, launching a shot from the center circle that sailed over the head of Wheaton goalkeeper Stefan Viragh. The goal which came just four seconds into the match ties the NCAA record for the fastest goal to start a match in Division III men's soccer history." This was Clark's only goal of the game, as Wheaton won 2-1.)


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Friday, October 29, 2010

Why Republicans shouldn't want to win November 2nd

If Republicans want to take the White House in 2012, they should do everything in their power to make sure they don't gain the majority in the House and Senate on November 2.

Of course, no Republican is going to roll over and play dead. Every Republican vying for a seat is going to do all they can to get it. If Republicans don't at least take the majority in the House, this election will be considered a disappointment for them.

But Republicans won't win the White House in 2012 unless they remain the minority in the House and Senate.

Let's just take a look at the recent history of 2-term presidents.
1994 - Republicans gain 54 House seats and 8 Senate seats, becoming the majority party in both houses of Congress.
1996 - Democrat Bill Clinton beats Republican Bob Dole 379-159.

1982 - Democrats gain 27 House seats and the Senate remained unchanged, retaining a majority in the House and minority in the Senate.
1984 - Republican Ronald Reagan beats Democrat Walter Mondale 525-13.

1970 - Democrats picked up 12 House seats lost 3 Senate seats, retaining a majority in both houses of Congress.
1972 - Republican Richard Nixon beats Democrat George McGovern 520-17.

1954 - Democrats picked up 18 House seats and 2 Senate seats, becoming the majority party in both houses of Congress.
1956 - Republican Dwight Eisenhower beats Democrat Adlai Stevenson 457-73.
The only outlier for a 2-term president is from 2002, when Republicans gained 8 House and 2 Senate seats, maintaining their control over Congress and giving them the majority in the Senate. Of course, this was followed by a victory for Bush in 2004. However, the only other time this has happened since 1900 was in 1934 with Franklin Roosevelt, and I believe the 9/11 effect was still in play for Republicans in 2002 as the nation's attention was on foreign policy, considered a strong suit of the Republican Party.

We only have two mid-term elections for post-1950 presidents who served just one term and then lost their reelection bids, so there's not much comparative data.
1978 - Republicans gain 15 House seats and 3 Senate seats, but fail to come even close to a majority in either house of Congress.
1980 - Republican Ronald Reagan beats Democrat Jimmy Carter 489-49.

1990 - Democrats gain 7 House seats and 1 Senate seat, retaining control of both houses of Congress.
1992 - Democrat Bill Clinton beats Republican George Bush 370-168.
None of the data is entirely consistent, but I do see a general pattern of the majority party in the House sharing enough blame with the president that the incumbent president's opponent isn't able to criticize him to the extent that he would otherwise be able to.

That's what will happen if Republicans take the majority in the House in November. In 2012, Republicans will share the blame - and presumably the credit - for any policies that are passed between now and then. That's just not a position that sets themselves up for a presidential victory.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Let Me Take You There - Plain White T's - For Jamie

I've been wanting to make a video for Jamie since before we had the twins. I wanted to show who we were without kids so that if and when we felt like we'd forgotten what it was like to "just be us," we could rewind.

I finally got the chance to put it together over the course of the last month. If you care to get a window into our lives over the last 3.5 years, take a look.

As a bonus, you get to hear me sing. Actually, you'll want to turn the volume down for that part.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do political endorsements matter?

Much is made of political endorsements. Each year newspapers and prominent politicians roll out their endorsements of various candidates. This year is no different.

In Minnesota the governor's race has drawn the most attention. The endorsement leader has been no surprise. While liberal Democrat Mark Dayton has garnered most of the union endorsements and conservative Republican Tom Emmer has picked up those from traditionally Republican organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Independent Tom Horner has received the majority of endorsements.

Horner has managed to pick up almost every newspaper endorsement, including those from both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, as well as endorsements from 3 former governors, a former US Senate candidate, and numerous former state legislators.

Yet in spite of these and other endorsements, Horner's been unable to manage higher than 19% in any statewide polling.

This isn't to say Horner can't win. Jesse Ventura won 12 years ago and was lagging in every poll. However, Ventura also had a personality and notoriety that Horner can only wish he had.

I believe Horner is the best candidate. I plan to vote for Horner. But I don't believe Horner will win. In a world of politics dominated by advertising and party loyalty, the endorsements mean very little.

If there had been a surprise in the endorsements, it's possible that it would mean something, though still doubtful. Horner is the moderate in the group and most newspapers try to steer towards the center. Most of the people who endorsed Horner are moderates, whether or not they've been Democrats or Republicans in the past, and no sitting politician has endorsed him. Considering how much they need their own parties, it would be a shock if anyone did.

That's really why endorsements don't matter. They don't surprise any of us. They don't make anyone stop and think twice about who they should vote for.

Has an endorsement ever impacted your vote?


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This paper shredder won't work for you

Jamie was researching paper shredders last month on Amazon and came across this review:
Not the best paper shredder if you want to eliminate years worth of documents in one day. You frequently have to take breaks to let the machine cool off and start running again. Otherwise very satisfying. Cannot recommend for criminal enterprises due to overheating drawback.
Thanks, D. Clifford, I'll make note of this when looking to remove evidence of my next criminal venture.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Why the blog is called "Wide White"

I often wonder why people give their blogs the names they give them. Most people who start blogs try to think up a creative, original name that nobody else on the web is using. There are people who won't start a blog because they can't think of a good name.

I chose Wide White for a few reasons. At the time my blog was predominantly political and I was conservative. The name was a play off of "wide right," as in, "He kicked the field goal wide right." This would obviously lead people to the conclusion, "His political views are on the right." It was also a play off of my last name. I wanted to use my name in the title in a play on words and "Wide White" is what I came up with.

In hindsight the name seems a little weird, but once you've established a name it's tough to change it. There are numerous people who now find my blog by Googling "Wide White." Any changes now would screw them up.

Now I think of my blog name as representing the wide range of topics that I cover. Sort of like ABC's old "Wide World of Sports," this is the "Wide World of Joey White."

Hopefully it's a world worth living in.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Protective big brother

My wife posted this picture of our kids on her blog last week and it's too good not to share.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

What everyone wishes they could do to that cell phone

I could never bring myself to actually do this, but I'm living vicariously through this teacher.


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Friday, October 22, 2010

Tree spirit?

Last fall when Jamie and I were in Charleston, SC - one of our favorite cities in America - we went to see an old oak tree. The Angel Tree is believed to be over 1500 years old and is considered to be the oldest living thing east of the Rockies.

There were only a few people there and one of them was a photographer who had his tripod setup. He seemed to be waiting for the sun to slowly move into just the right position. He offered to take a picture of us with the tree and struck up a conversation. Jamie quickly became bored with the conversation and headed for the gift shop. I don't remember much about the conversation, but I do remember that he had a layover in Charlotte on his way back home from New York to the San Francisco Bay Area and decided to extend his layover, rent a car and drive 3 hours to photograph this tree.

The photographer handed me his business card when we parted ways and thought I might look him up later to see what he photographed. The card said, "TreeSpirit Project." I didn't really know what that meant other than he was probably a nature photographer. I pocketed the card and went on my way.

I don't remember when it was that I realized what was on the back of the business card. I think Jamie found it. I may have glanced at the back and noticed a black and white photograph of a tree taking up the entirety of that side of the card. What I didn't immediately notice were the fully nude people IN the tree. They were sprawled over branches in postures that didn't hide a thing.

I later found out that the TreeSpirit Project is an effort to save trees by - what else? - photographing trees with nude people in and next to them.

To my knowledge there were no nude people in the Angel Tree when we visited it. I haven't found them in any of my pictures of the tree and I was taking pictures at the same time as that guy was. But I have to wonder if they were around, just waiting to strip down and jump in the tree when enough people left.

I like trees, but I also like wearing clothes.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blue Like Jazz

Blue Like Jazz. I don't know when I first heard about the book, but I do remember a few first impressions. The book title seemed weird. I'd heard it was associated with the emergent or emerging or post-modern or whatever movement. I didn't know anything about the book, but I knew I was against those movements and if that book was advocating those movements, I didn't care to read it.

But my wife had the book and she wasn't post-modern or any of those other things. A couple of friends had the book and they weren't any of those things either. Josh Harris liked the book and he wasn't post-modern. Of course, Brian McLaren liked it too, and he was one of those emergenty guys.

A friend eventually offered to lend it to me and I reluctantly began to read it, ready to pick it apart.

It's funny how you can go into a book your guns blazing and walk away wishing you could have the author over for dinner.

I resonated with author Donald Miller's sentiment towards Christian religiosity. I was challenged to think about what it means to be a Christian and what it means to talk to others about being a Christian.

Quotes that hit home or made me think include,
"My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don't really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don't believe in God and they can prove He doesn't exist, and some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it's about who is smarter, and honestly I don't care."

"My Sunday school teachers had turned Bible narrative into children’s fables. They talked about Noah and the ark because the story had animals in it. They failed to mention that this was when God massacred all of humanity.

"...I think the devil has tricked us into thinking so much of biblical theology is a story fit for kids. How did we come to think the story of Noah’s ark is appropriate for children? Can you imagine a children’s book about Noah’s ark complete with paintings of people gasping in gallons of water, mothers grasping their children while their bodies go flying down white-rapid rivers, the children’s tiny heads being bashed against rocks or hung up in fallen trees? I don’t think a children’s book like that would sell many copies."

"I really knew I needed Jesus like I need water or food, and yet it was frightening because Christianity is so stupid to so much of our culture, and I absolutely hate bothering people about this stuff.

"So much of me believes strongly in letting everybody live their own lives, and when I share my faith I feel like a network marketing guy trying to build my down line.

"Some of my friends who aren’t Christians think that Christians are insistent and demanding and intruding, but that isn’t the case. Those folks are the squeaky wheel. Most Christians have enormous respect for the space and freedom of others; it is only that they have found a joy in Jesus they want to share. There is the tension."
There are so many other quotes, but then, there's a whole book full of them.

I've been thinking about the book a lot lately because of Blue Like Jazz The Movie. The movie had a screenplay, producer, actors, and everything else a movie needs. Except money. Everything was lined up but the money.

Miller announced on his blog that the movie was dead due to being unable to procure the finances. It didn't take long for some people to put together In just 10 days they used crowd-sourcing to raise the $125,000 necessary to make the movie. There are a lot of other people who want to see this movie made.

I want to see this movie made too. I want it made because a lot of people who won't read a book will watch a movie. I want it made so others can see the honest portrayal of Christians loving others as they are.

There are still 4 days left before closes the window on contributions. If you want to see the book become a movie as much as I do, head on over and drop a few bucks in the bucket. The movie is now funded, but it's on a shoe-string budget with a lot of people volunteering their time. Every dollar will help make it that much better. Besides, if less than $10,000 more can be raised, this will set a record for the largest crowd-sourced project in American history.

And if you haven't read Blue Like Jazz, you're missing out on a great story.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The bucket list

I saw a bucket list someone posted on Facebook recently. It was a pretty awesome bucket list.

I started thinking about what I would put on my bucket list. What do I want to accomplish before I die?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I don't have anything to put on a bucket list.

Maybe I'm too practical about how I look at life. The way I see it, when I'm dead, there's nothing I'll be missing from this earth. I won't be around to look back and wish I'd taken a trip to Australia.

To be sure, there are things I want to do while I'm alive. I want to love my wife and kids with everything I've got. I want to love other people better than I do now. There are places I'd love to go.

But if I find out tomorrow that I've got 6 months to live, I don't think I'll be booking any trips to Costa Rica. I don't foresee bungee jumping or skydiving.

I think I'll just keep living, maybe travel to see some friends and family, and would probably be a better person for those 6 months than I am now.

How about you? Do you have a bucket list? If so, what's on it?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jesus wants the rose

I'm not by nature a loving, gracious person. I embrace the individualism that's so strong in America. In general, you get what you deserve.

That's why more than any other book, speech or sermon, this clip from Matt Chandler impacts my view of who Jesus is.

This drives at what's so rampant in my natural way of thinking. I don't see the grace and forgiveness of Jesus so much as I see the ugliness in the sin that exists.

I firmly believe every Christian would be better off watching this clip.

If you aren't familiar with Matt Chandler, he's a guy who became a Christian through a college football teammate, became a pastor, and is now fighting for his life against brain cancer. It's worth your time to listen to what he has to say.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Christian sales and marketing

As a user and occasional buyer of Christian material, I wonder sometimes what Jesus thinks of the sales and marketing of all of the material to help us be like him.

It's tough to compare today's world with that of 2,000 years ago. Our economy, printing press, and internet provide an environment that makes comparison almost impossible. Yet we make many biblical applications that we maintain are cross-cultural, so what about this one?

What would his take be on our Christian book stores? Would he approve of the huge markups that so much of the material has? Or what about the deals given out in attempts to meet sales numbers, conference attendee goals, etc.?

Of course, there are many Christian pastors and authors who offer their books online via PDF or their DVD series on YouTube. They have a real desire to see their ministry reach everybody and have no regard for profit from their endeavors.

But what about all of those DVD series you can't find on YouTube? Or the personalities and musicians charging so much to hear them speak and sing?

Put another way, what if the apostle Paul had a team of 30 people responsible for editing, publishing, and marketing Letter to the Ephesians, Volume III?

What if you could pay $19.99 for the apostle John's Walking with Jesus?

Yeah, that seems weird to me too.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

His hat wasn't fitted

This will be me someday. Until then (and hopefully even after then), this will make me laugh.


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Saturday, October 16, 2010

A British perspective on American college football

If this is the British perspective, I can only imagine what a Namibian perspective might be like.

(The audio and video feeds are off, but that's irrelevant for most of it.)


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Friday, October 15, 2010

Why we have debates

My friend Bill had a post this week questioning whether or not political debates are outdated methods. With all of the other options available to us for political communication through TV news, ads, social media, email, local events, etc., why should we have debates?

I've covered the purpose of debates in a previous post - at least from the candidate's vantage point. Their purpose is simply to communicate their campaign talking points.

But Bill asks a great question: do we really need them? This question especially becomes relevant when people like my congressman, John Kline, refuse to debate their opponents.

By the time November 2nd comes, the 3 candidates for Minnesota governor will have debated over 30 times, and that's only since the August 10 primary! Mark Dayton had upwards of 20 primary debates on top of that.

I think we need 2 or 3 debates, but more than that becomes excessive and the general public tunes out. Even those of us who actually follow politics tune out. I have yet to watch a single debate, not because I don't want to, but because there are just so many. It's easy to cultivate a mentality that says, "I'll just watch the next one." I typically watch all 3 presidential debates. If there were only 3 governor debates, I'd probably watch them all.

But whether 3 or 30, why have a debate at all? Aren't there plenty of other platforms for candidates to speak their views?

We have debates because outside of a debate, there is no platform with all candidates in the same room addressing one another. It's just that simple.

True, debates are over-political by nature. Candidates often bore us with their talking points that we've heard re-hashed over and over.

But every once in a while, one of them breaks through. Suddenly, we remember why we care about these things in the first place.

One of those moments happened in 2004 at Washington University in St. Louis, when Bush flipped in response to Kerry's allegation that the U.S. was fighting the war in Iraq alone.

A more memorable - and light-hearted - moment came in 1984.

This is why we need debates. These moments just don't happen in any other format.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jillian Michaels: fitness fraud?

Jillian Michaels has built a reputation as a tough fitness instructor through NBC's The Biggest Loser. She's also built a brand selling weight loss pills, exercise DVDs, etc.

I don't watch The Biggest Loser and have never purchased her weight loss pills, but I was intrigued when I read an LA Times article coming down hard on Michaels, sent to me by my old personal trainer and RKC-certified kettlebell instructor.

The article's opening line grabbed my attention.
I don't know much about proper kettle bell techniques. Neither does Jillian Michaels.
Jamie and I lost a lot of weight and improved our strength and stamina with kettlebell workouts. Proper form is absolutely critical or you could seriously injure yourself swinging and lifting a 50-pound weight.

Among the article's allegations:
  • Michaels is "an actress playing the role of fitness trainer."
  • Professional trainers agree she regularly displays poor technique and unsafe training practices.
  • Michaels only has introductory exercise and aerobics certifications from 17 years ago and has never recertified.
  • Kettlebell and yoga videos - neither of which she's certified to teach - advertise losing up to 5 pounds a week, which is highly unrealistic.
Some of the direct quotes from kettlebell professionals take things a step further.
  • "I would not recommend this from a safety perspective."
  • "It's just every way. All of it. Every single thing she does is wrong."
  • "Her technique and approach was so off the mark. It couldn't have been more dangerous."
In fairness, I have no doubt Michaels has forgotten more about fitness and exercise than I know.

Still, it doesn't take a genius to know that weight training, yoga, kettlebells, and diet are VERY different from one another! Instructing others in these disciplines requires different skill sets and a tremendous amount of knowledge tailored to each one. The notion that one person would be an expert in all 4 disciplines is tough to believe, especially when that person is missing any certification in those disciplines.

Your health depends on you being informed - informed by someone who actually knows what they're talking about. Pretty faces and great marketing techniques are no substitute for the real deal.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Finding the perfect job

The other day I came across Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement address to Stanford University. One portion in particular stuck out to me.:
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking and don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.

So keep looking. Don't settle.
This reminded me of something my wife told me when we were dating and she's often repeated since. She hadn't dated in 5 years when we met. She said she just wasn't willing to "settle" when others told her to give up her high standards and just loosen up and date. She has often told me since, "I'm glad I didn't settle."

And yet in some senses, I feel like she did settle. You've got to dig to find my 6-pack (or is it a 4-pack these days?). My words aren't always very smooth. My full head of hair is was very temporary.

But her point isn't that I'm perfect. She's saying that she's with the person she's meant to be with; someone she can love well with all of his flaws; someone who will make her feel loved; someone with whom, as Jobs said, "it just gets better and better as the years roll on."

This reminder is critical in processing what Jobs is saying about work.

For some, Jobs' speech would leave them quitting their job to start a snorkeling business because they just LOVE snorkeling! Yet just as quickly as they start the business they realize they hate trying to find funding, hate dealing with equipment maintenance, hate needing to hire and train new employees, hate dealing with customers, and pretty soon they hate their job.

For me, loving work is equally about loving life for the 128 hours a week I'm not at work. It's about what I'm able to provide for my family and what I'm able to give to others.

Yes, it's also about being able to give 110% on the job and enjoy doing it 90% of the time. But no matter how much of a "dream job" it may seem to be, I just can't love a job that takes me away from my family for 80 hours a week or isn't paying enough to keep up with the bills.

Finding the job you love isn't just about finding that thing you love to do the most. That's part of it. But don't forget about everything else that matters.

Jobs' entire speech is embedded below. The video will start at 8:27, where the portion I quoted begins.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Keeping up with photos and videos

I talked about a few social media platforms yesterday but I didn't touch on platforms for videos and photos. They're a little different from the 6 platforms I covered yesterday and I'm not a power user of the video and photo sites.

Here are the 4 platforms I've used for photos and videos and my brief thoughts on them.

Again, I'm not an avid user of any of these platforms so any additional feedback is welcome.

Launched: 2005
I joined: 2010
Users: 43+ million
PROS: Easy video upload and sharing; best mobile video apps.
CONS: Copyright issues prevent most attempted uploads containing music; restriction on length of videos uploaded.
Summary: YouTube is the premier platform for sharing videos. It's used by more people than any other. It's simple. But if you've ever created a video with some sort of musical background, don't even think of trying to share it with friends on YouTube. I love YouTube as a user, but the only videos I upload there are simple unedited clips.

Launched: 2006
I joined: 2009
Users: unknown
PROS: Easy video upload and sharing; no restrictions on length or music used in a video.
CONS: No major mobile apps; low usage; poor business direction (went through bankruptcy and sale earlier this year); virtually no access outside of U.S.; viewing a video on their site (as opposed to embedded on another site) reveals a messy page cluttered with ads and other videos.
Summary: I turned to Veoh after frustrations trying to upload a video slideshow I put together that was 23 minutes long and used a number of music clips. The combination of length and music rendered YouTube and Vimeo unusable. Veoh did exactly what I needed it to do. The site itself isn't pretty to look at, but it gets the job done.

Launched: 2004
I joined: 2010
Users: 40+ million
PROS: Top photo-sharing site; simple to upload, share, and follow others' photos; more robust than Facebook for photo sharing.
CONS: Limits on monthly uploads may pose a problem for power users.
Summary: I really haven't used Flickr yet, so I don't have much to say from personal experience. I still haven't uploaded a single photo. However, I've used it as a viewer and have been impressed. I'm trying to decide between Picasa and Flickr, so if anyone has input as a user of either platform, let me know.

Launched: 2004
I joined: 2010
Users: unknown
PROS: Google integration, including with Picasa desktop; unlimited monthly uploads; simple user interface.
CONS: Not as expansive a user base as Flickr.
Summary: I've used Picasa a little and it's been a simple platform to work with. Picasa's desktop version is actually pretty cool, with face recognition so you can find all photos with a given friend or family members grouped together in one album. Of course, the face recognition isn't perfect and takes a bit of time as you identify all of the faces in your photos, but for the most part, it works pretty well. Given Flickr's dominance in this arena I'm guessing it beats Picasa for features but I'd love to get feedback from those who've used either one on why they prefer one over the other.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Staying connected

I'm an avid user of what has been coined "social media." For those who disdain that term and its overuse, it really just identifies web-based platforms that allow users to easily and quickly share information.

I'm not looking to convert those who see no need for social media in their lives. It's not for everyone, particularly those who become easily addicted to the internet, information consumption, etc.

But for those who are curious what these social media platforms are all about, here's a list of platforms I use along with my thoughts on the value of each one and why I use it.

Each link below will allow you to jump directly to my summary of that platform.

1. Twitter
2. Google Reader
3. Facebook
4. Blogger
5. LinkedIn
6. GovLoop

I considered including video- and photo-sharing sites but they're a little different from the rest of the sites listed here so I'll table them for another post.

Oh, and each hyperlinked title below directs you to my profile on that site.

Launched: 2006
I joined: 2009
Users: 100+ million
PROS: Quick, easy source of news, politics, sports, and other headlines; great platform for sharing and exchanging thoughts and information; character limit restrains big talkers, forces users to cut to the chase.
CONS: Big talkers sometimes just post multiple tweets; inconsistent use or overuse of Twitter features such as RT, reply, DM, hashtags, etc.; 140 characters isn't always enough; new users often get confused and don't stick with it (this includes anyone who has an account but had no idea what I meant by "RT," "DM," or hashtags).
Summary: I use Twitter daily. It's my source of news, sports, comedy, politics, religious thoughts, etc. I like to be able to scan headlines and click on links to stories I'm actually interested in reading and it's a whole lot faster and more efficient than watching the evening news. I've met a couple of people in the south metro through Twitter. As far as sharing updates with friends, it's sort of like Facebook status updates except it's not considered "stealing" and "unoriginal" to repost others' tweets (in fact, it's encouraged).

Launched: 2005
I joined: 2008
Users: unknown
PROS: Great RSS reader (for those who don't understand that, RSS means "Real Simple Syndication" and is a standard format used to publish information, with Google Reader being an RSS reader that allows you to read anything published to RSS - mostly blogs - in a sort of RSS inbox); simple to add and organize feeds; easy to share posts with other Google Reader users.
CONS: Clunky interface needs to be updated; not very useful for interacting with others.
Summary: I use Google Reader daily. I can't believe it took me until 2008 to start using it. It's so much more time-consuming to click through to each blog individually. Additionally, I like the feature in Google Reader where you can share posts you like with other Google Reader users. It's an easier way to share a post than actually reposting it on your own blog. Google Reader is like an inbox for any blog you read (or any other web content that's available through RSS, such as my city's press releases). New blog posts are "unread" and old ones are still visible but marked as read. I strongly recommend Google Reader to anyone who reads blogs or any other RSS content on even a semi-regular basis.

Launched: 2004
I joined: 2005
Users: 500+ million
PROS: Great phone/email/address book; good platform for sharing and exchanging thoughts and information; good for sharing, captioning, and getting comments on photos; there's a "hide" feature for that relative whose updates you just don't care about but who really wants to see cute pictures of your kids.
CONS: Privacy is a persistent concern; settings are confusing and difficult to locate and change; too many "News Feed" changes in the wrong direction; FarmVille, Mafia Wars, etc.
Summary: I typically use Facebook daily. However, if Facebook didn't have the "hide" feature, I probably wouldn't use it (for a while, I actually didn't). When you have everyone from your high school cousins to your grandparents on a platform that offers photos, videos, status updates, messages, wall posts, games, groups, and more, the use of that platform will vary widely from one user to the next. I've hidden enough content on Facebook that I can get through an entire day's worth of updates in 5-10 minutes. Facebook is great for connecting with people you haven't seen in a while. My wife and I have met up with friends and relatives because either us or them was passing through the other's hometown and we never would have known it if it hadn't been for Facebook. Facebook is also great for connecting with people whose phone number or email address you wouldn't necessarily have. I recently connected with an aunt in California through Facebook when I was out there and wound up staying with her for a couple of nights. Facebook's photo sharing capabilities are adequate for sharing pictures of your newborn or your latest vacation, but not nearly as robust as actual photo services like Flickr. Facebook is NOT great if you're friends with people who have no filter on what they will post or people who have nothing better to do than play Mafia Wars all day. Again, the "hide" feature is essential in helping with this problem. In the end, Facebook is better than other platforms if for no other reason than it's the most widely-used social networking platform. I can only think of a few people who aren't on Facebook. I recently had someone in our church who I'd never met send me a message through Facebook to ask about our small group. If you want to say something or show a picture or share a link and you want the highest possible number of people to see it within your circle of friends, Facebook is the way to go.

Launched: 1999
I joined: 2006
Users: unknown
PROS: Great way to communicate via a variety of channels, whether video, short thoughts, long essays, pictures, etc.; number one blog platform with many recent changes to keep it competitive with challengers like WordPress; smooth Google AdSense integration; very simple for novice bloggers with enough flexibility for the pros too; easy drag-and-drop templates.
CONS: Comments function is inadequate (I prefer Name/Email/Website format of WordPress to Username/Password format of Blogger); seems to fall behind WordPress in number of advanced users.
Summary: My use of Blogger has varied from daily to monthly, though it's typically at least once or twice a week. Blogs are sort of old school in the realm of social media, but that doesn't mean they're stale. No other internet communication method offers as much versatility. You can keep it short or write a novel, post photos or videos, build a community of commenters or shut down comments and just publish information. Blogger is a simple, easy tool for blogging, and that's really all most amateur bloggers are looking for. Those wanting more robust options often seem to switch to WordPress, but there's not much I've ever wanted to do that Blogger couldn't do for me. TIME recently named Blogger one of the five most overrated websites, saying that Tumblr is better for basic blogging and WordPress for more advanced users. I won't argue with the cool kids, but old habits die hard.

Launched: 2003
I joined: 2008
Users: 75+ million
PROS: Focused on professionals; provides great summaries for candidates applying for a job; good way to maintain a connection to business partners without using Facebook, which is usually too personal for that.
CONS: Not very interactive; many users don't engage much once they've signed up; the interface could use a face lift.
Summary: I use LinkedIn monthly at most. If you aren't a white collar professional, you probably won't find much use for LinkedIn. If you are a white collar professional, you still may be hard-pressed to find much regular use for it. I use it as sort of a professional contacts list and to keep up on updates like job changes with those I know. I think it's professionally more helpful to at least have a profile in place than not as it provides a quick, easy online resume. TIME recently named it one of the 50 best websites in 2010, so that's saying something.

Launched: 2008
I joined: 2010
Users: 35,000+
PROS: Great network for government employees, contractors, etc.; simple, easy-to-use interface.
CONS: Those with no involvement in government will see little use in it; still growing a user base, though it's growing quickly.
Summary: I typically use GovLoop on a weekly basis. GovLoop is intended to get government employees, contractors, educators, and others together and collaborate to make government run better and be more efficient. Of course, if you're outside of government, you probably haven't heard of it. I work with government agencies so I'm engaged with GovLoop but I probably don't find the same kind of value that government workers do. Their weekly email updates are very helpful for keeping users engaged and there's a great community of users exchanging ideas and information.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

People still use Internet Explorer?

As I post this using Google Chrome...


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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Clever political advertising

My first job out of college was as a campaign manager for a congressional campaign, which I left 2 months before election day. The candidate started showing signs of being a little crazy as early as a few months into my unfortunate tenure with the campaign. By the time I left the campaign I was at the point of being unwilling to send the press releases as my original press release drafts became butchered with venomous language I just couldn't support.

After I left, he put out ads that still make me cringe. I saw one of his ads used 2 years later in a news piece on how outrageously negative campaigns can get.

I haven't been following the congressional race in Minnesota's 5th District this year, but recently came across an ad from Joel Demos, who's running against Keith Ellison for the seat. The 47-second internet ad was just turned into a 30-second TV ad and is getting rave reviews from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and others.

Joel's going to lose, but he's not going down without a clever fight.


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Friday, October 08, 2010

Dads: babysitting or watching your kids?

I've caught myself - and had a few other people catch me - using the term "babysitting" when referring to watching my kids without my wife around.

For some reason, "babysitting" is just the vernacular that comes to mind by default for me when I'm watching my kids alone. Of course, being their dad, I'm told, "It's not babysitting when they're your kids!"

It's true. When the kids are yours, can you really call it babysitting? But when you don't normally watch them on your own, what else do you call it? "Watching the kids?" For Jamie, it's just everyday life, but for me, it's not a typical evening. When someone asks, "What are you doing tonight" I don't respond, "Just being a dad, as usual."

So, any suggestions for me? What do you call it?


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Learning through idiocy

I backed into a concrete wall Monday night.

Yes, my blunder was as stupid as it sounds. I was in a parking ramp backing up. I guess I'm still getting used to the big trunk on the Impala I've had for a few months now. I had a car on either side of me for perspective. The concrete wall wasn't flat but I could still see the corner of the wall that protruded into the corner of my car. (Or was it the other way around?)

I stopped at what I thought was a reasonable place, then decided the nose of my car was still too far forward. Besides, you're never as close to an object as you think you are. How many poor souls have you seen inching their way forward, trying to maneuver a parallel parking job, with 4 feet of wide open space in front of them?

Surely I still had 6 inches behind me. I gently eased off the brake.

This is the part in the script where you read, "SOFT CRUNCH SOUND."

On my way into the dentist office - as if the situation couldn't be worse, yes, I was at the dentist office - I texted Jamie my apologies and professed my undying idiocy.

She responded,
"Ok, it's just a car. I'm guessing u r about 1000 times more upset than me as I have a smirk on my face, as it is so unlike u. So does this mean we're even? ;)"
Does this mean we're even? I was confused.

Then I remembered. She schmucked the rear bumper of a car in traffic one day in our first few months of marriage. We lost $400-500 on that one.

It's funny how you forget things in marriage; things that at the time probably seemed so important; things that seemed to take such a huge dent in the budget at that point in time.

And now, those stupid mistakes are forgotten.

My idiot move reminded me of my wife's graciousness with me. I was reminded of my need to be equally gracious with her when the roles are reversed. I was also reminded of how unimportant my little mistake really was.

Because 3 years from now, the only reminder of that incident will probably be this blog post.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A $7,400 business mistake

How do you respond when a business doesn't handle a situation the way you feel it should have been handled?

Our air conditioner stopped working while we were on vacation this summer. We returned to a home temporarily housing my mom and a number of siblings along with the 4 of us in my family. We cooked through a few 90-degree days before we called Hoffman Heating and Refrigeration of Minnesota to come do a performance check.

I assume a performance check is supposed to tell you whether your unit is working. Our house was built in 1987 and still had the original A/C and furnace. That said, we've never had an issue with either one.

Here's a timeline of what happened next.

8/13 - At our $100 performance check, the Hoffman technician told us the A/C was working properly and was just struggling to keep up with the heat. This seemed like an odd response since the unit had never had a problem with hot spells before and it was failing to cool the place even when temperatures dipped into the 70s at night, but we accepted his verdict. In the review he left us he wrote, "Normal operation at this time."

8/20 - After temperatures dipped to normalcy and the A/C still refused to produce cold air, Jamie called Hoffman about the problem. She was told it would cost $90 to send someone back out.

8/20 - I sent the following note through Hoffman's site.
Our air conditioner doesn't seem to be working. Someone came to look at it on 8/13 and said it was under "Normal operation at this time." We'd been on vacation for 2 weeks with it off and in 5 days since returning from vacation the temperature hadn't cooled below 78 degrees. We were told that the air conditioner was functioning and just wasn't able to keep up with the heat. While this has never been a problem in the past, we accepted it and replaced the filter as we were recommended to do.

Now, 7 days later and with daytime highs in the mid-70s, we're still having the same problem. The temperature inside the house is currently 82 and the air conditioner still doesn't seem to be working. We've checked the fan to be sure that air is being moved through the house and can't find any malfunction there at all. In fact, when I put my hand in front of the fan I don't feel any cold air at all. The furnace is older so it wouldn't surprise me if there's a problem, but it was working just fine until the end of July and didn't have any problems until we turned it back on when we returned from vacation 2 weeks ago.

My wife, Jamie, called to ask about it earlier today and was told that we would have to pay $90 to have someone take a look at it again. I have no problem paying for parts and labor if something needs to be fixed or even to pay for a new one if it needs to be replaced. However, it doesn't make sense that we would have to pay $90 for someone to come and take another look at it since it appears that the problem wasn't correctly diagnosed by the first person who looked at it.

Could someone review this and let us know what options we have for resolution? Again, I have no problem paying for any service or maintenance that may be needed. My only concern is that we just paid someone to take a look at it and were told that everything is working properly when it's clear that it's not working.

Thanks for your help!

8/21 - I received a reply from Hoffman's president. This came on a Saturday just 16 hours after I sent my email, which impressed me. (This is the last time I would be impressed by Hoffman.)

I looked at the info and noticed that we were there for a performance check. A performance check does not include any repairs and it is not a warranty for future problems. The reading indicates that unit was operating fine when we did the check. You indicate that there is a problem with the cooling abilities of the unit; at this point the problem is unknown. We would have to send service over there to diagnose the problem, at that point we can give you the findings and you can make your determination on how to proceed. There is a fee to diagnose the problem, which is 90. If you do the repair we can wave the repair fee, once again I do not know what is wrong or if anything at all. The unit might be failing and need replacement, I don’t know, I am telling you that it could be anything, just so you’re aware if there isn’t a repair that could enhance the performance, you would still pay the 90.

Thank You,

Scot Hendricks
Hoffman Refrigeration and Heating, LTD.
5660 Memorial Avenue N.
Stillwater, Mn. 55082
(P) 651-439-5770
(F) 651-439-0812
It's important to note that while they offered to waive the repair fee for any repairs, the technician had specifically recommended that if repairs are needed, the unit be completely replaced rather than repaired, so this seemed a rather pointless offer. Still, as frustrated as I was, I wanted to try to reason through this.

8/21 - 5 hours later, I sent this response.

Thanks for your quick reply, I really do appreciate it. Just to be sure I understand, are you saying that a visit to diagnose a problem is different from a performance check? I assumed that a performance check would identify the reason my unit isn't performing, but maybe I'm confused.

Also, just to clarify, I didn't expect that a performance check would include the cost of repairs or was a warranty for future problems, but this problem is clearly not a "future problem" since the unit wasn't working before and hasn't worked since the performance check. I'm happy to pay the cost of repairs or replacement if that's what's needed, it just seems pointless to keep paying for more diagnoses when the first diagnosis seems to have been incorrect.

8/27 - After 6 days of waiting, I sent this follow-up.
I still haven't heard anything back, just checking to see if this made it through the first time.

After another 2 weeks with no response and temperatures turning unseasonably warm, we turned to Standard Heating and Air Conditioning. They sent a technician out who quickly found that the coolant was leaking (and expressed surprise that another technician could have possibly missed the problem). They refilled the coolant and offered to apply the cost of the service towards a new unit if we decided to purchase one.

10/4 - Here's the last email I sent to Scot Hendricks at Hoffman Heating and Refrigeration.
For what it's worth, we had another company come take a look at our unit. It turns out, the coolant was leaking. I still can't believe that isn't something that should have been found on the performance check. Our furnace and A/C were both original to our 1987 home and we knew they'd need to be replaced soon, so we decided to replace both. We spent $7,400 (before rebates and tax deductions) on a $9,000+ package. All it would have taken was for you to send someone back out to address our concern that the work wasn't completed the first time and that job would have been yours. I'm not a cheapskate, but I do expect a job to be done right and don't expect to pay to have someone come do what should have been done the first time.

I thought this was worth passing along for future reference when dealing with a similar situation.

I've heard it said before that the customer is always right. I don't believe this for a minute. However, right or wrong, the customer needs to be listened to. It doesn't take an expert to see that Hoffman didn't do a thing to fix the problem that existed, yet they refused to acknowledge that. In spite of their failure to locate the issue the first time, I still gave them an opportunity for our business and they failed to take it.

So, I'm out $100 to Hoffman and $7,400 to Standard. Aside from the fact that Hoffman's $100 performance check was worthless, there's just no excuse for the co-owner and president of a company to flat out refuse to respond to an issue from a customer.

And the next time someone asks me who to use for heating and cooling, there's no question who I will recommend. Standard was phenomenal.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Sleeping alone

Saturday night marked the first time in over 3.5 years of marriage that I've slept in an empty house. The only other nights I've spent without Jamie have been a few short business trips.

It was odd having an empty bed at home, though sleeping sprawled across the bed was pretty awesome.

It made me consider why it took us this long to have a night apart for a reason other than work travel. I know a number of other couples who are frequently separated for a night or two at a time as they each do their own thing.

The simple truth is I really like my wife! And yes, I mean "like," not just "love." My mom once told me that you don't have to like your family, but you do have to love them. It just makes it a lot easier to love them when you like them too. I suppose that's true of your spouse too.

I'd rather be with her than without her. She's fun, mischievous, happy, likable, thoughtful, and beautiful. Who wouldn't want to spend all of their time with someone like that!?!

And for the haters, it's not cheesy or sappy to like being with your wife. The people who think it is seem to be those who stick to some stupid "bros before hoes" mantra. Or they're just people with marriages that suck.

Well, my marriage doesn't suck, my wife isn't a hoe, and she comes before all of my bros. Always.

Oh yeah, and I prefer to fall asleep with her by my side.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Yellow lights bringing multiple generations together

You're driving 55 MPH, coming up on a green light. "Please stay green, please stay green..."

Of course, what seems like 90% of the time (but is really 10% of the time), the light turns yellow.

What do you do?

I figured I had enough time to hit the brakes, but going 55 MPH, I was reluctant. Besides, I figured the light would stay yellow long enough for me to make it through the intersection before it turned red. Helping the case I was making for this being the right decision, there was a car driving the same speed next to me in the right lane. I checked my peripheral vision and thought I saw the car begin to slow. But then, just as quickly, it inched forward and kept pace with me.

That's it. If the car next to me is going for it, so am I!

As we both cruised through the yellow light, I wondered if the driver next to me had gone through a similar thought process. I looked to the right with a grin/smile/smirk on my face. Just as I turned to look at her, a 75-year-old lady turned her head to look at me and a big grin spread across her face.



Friday, October 01, 2010

Does what we believe matter?

That seems like a question with an obvious answer, and it's an intentionally vague question. Of course what we believe matters. What we believe about God/faith/religion shapes countless decisions we make. What we believe about the government shapes our political thinking. What we believe about social behavior shapes who we're friends with.

So if what we believe matters so much, why are we so often hesitant to talk about it?

I should clarify. I'm not referring to the things that we believe are wrong. Nobody has a problem identifying what they believe is wrong. Most of us will readily rail against our idealogical enemies, whether it's Muslims or Christians, Democrats or Republicans, Michele Bachmann or Nancy Pelosi, Packers or Vikings. We can readily identify what disgusts us, outline our reasons why, and type up a blog post or retweet a video without hesitation.

But what about the things we believe are right? What about the things we actually believe in? Isn't that what really shapes us? We so easily crawl into a hole when it comes to those things. We don't want to offend anyone. We don't want to hurt someone. We don't want to make people uncomfortable.

But why? If what you believe is so important to all of your decision-making, why not share that with others? Or at least with friends? If there's disagreement, you either work through it or move on. It seems so simple.

And yet, with person after person, these subjects are taboo. We can talk about the politicians we despise, but not the ones we're going to vote for. We can talk about the people we think are religious nuts, but not who and what sustains us spiritually.

I realize that there are some things that fire up and divide people unlike anything else. But that doesn't mean they should.

I'm not suggesting we all sing "Kumbaya" and act as if there are no differences of opinion, no differences in our values, no right and wrong. But I am suggesting that we'd all be a whole lot better off if we'd just open up a little more. It would give us a chance to sharpen and refine our ways of thinking. It would open us up to more views outside of our own. And it would strengthen our friendships.

What we believe matters. It matters very much. And it doesn't just matter to us as individuals; it matters to us all as friends and family. Take the risk. Let your friend be uncomfortable. Take the chance that they may not like what you have to say. But by all means, say what you think. Say what you believe. We'd all be better off for it.

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