POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Plugged and Unplugged Life at Home

Our family is technologically oriented. It probably starts most with Dad. My undergraduate degree is in Applied Science in a computer science track. I've been a heavy user and early adopter of technology as it rolled out over the last few decades. It is my hobby, I listen to podcasts on the tech industry and news. I love it. I remember as a college student using computer software for my calendar and printing it out my day. The Palm Pilot and personal digital assistants were a revelation. They were a precursor to the convergence that would take place with phones, MP3 players and pocket computers. These devices  took mainstream flight with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.

Now smartphones and personal computing devices line our pockets, inhabit our wrists, and ride in our laps for both work and leisure. They are also taking over our lives and the lives of our family. "Screen time" is now a colloquial phrase in parenting and many times kids are handed "devices as baby sitters" at a very young age.

The drawbacks of these technologies are real: disctracted people, texting while driving, walking into telephone poles, looking at screens instead of faces, the rewiring of our brains and smashing of attention spans have all arrived. Yet the benefits to work and play have been enjoyed by millions and personal devices are revolutionizing how we do just about everything. Our devices are here and we need to engage this wisely.

In order to to live both the plugged in and unplugged life our family just took another step together towards our enjoyment of technology while minimizing its ill effects on our relationships, sleep patterns, brains and spiritual lives. The following are a few of the recent tech changes we have made at home along with some house rules we are all working to follow. Each of them includes a technological solution as well as human problem solving to change our flow in our family.

On and Off Times

The internet is always on in many of our homes through the ubiquitous flow of WiFi thoughout the house. But why? There are certain hours where I simply do not want my kids to have wifi signal. Wind down, read something, unplug, pray and talk to each other.

Technology Solution

We use a system of mesh wifi routers from Eero. They are awesome for their ability to spread your wifi through every inch of your home but they also allow you to assign various devices (like every single one used by kids) to profiles and have the Internet completely turned off. So from 10pm-6am none of the kids devices can get on the Internet. So no waking up or staying up late and getting online. Eero also has the ability to assign a custom DNS server so that those who use something like OpenDNS for filtering will be good to go. 

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Human Solution

Yes, we are aware of work arounds technologically, but we do what we can and trust out kids not to LTE it on their phones. Plus, the phone does not live in the bedroom. We can also turn the profile back on if homework projects are going awesome but it's going to take until 10:30pm to complete the job. Dad says yes to these type of requests.

Charging Station

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There are so many times when I'm on my phone around the house and ignore people who matter to me deeply. There are also times we want set aside as no device times with our family. We also can lose devices here and there and have to ping them to trace them down. So recently we have created a new solution that solves many problems at once.

  • It provides full batteries for our devices
  • It provides a place to put our devices at dinner time and at bedtime (well, before bed time)
  • It allows devices to NOT live in our bedrooms, at the bedside table
  • It allows reading of real books at night and a time where we turn off all screens prior to going to bed
  • It removes the temptation to grab phones in the middle of the night
  • It removes the temptation to make the mass of email, texts and social media notifications first thing in the morning
  • It allows the first movement of the day to be before God and not instantly connected by our alarm clock/smartphones

Enter our new charging station. We created a solution and a set of house rules for its use that is already blessing our family.

Technology Solution

Here is our basic set up with links to the actual products we are using

Power Strip

You have one laying around already, grab it and plug in. Get a surge protected one with some USB ports as well if you don't have something laying around the house already.

Anker USB Chargers

There are actually full multi-device chargers out of the east that do almost all that is involved here. Some of the reviews for them involved shoddy workmanship and even sparking (aka fire hazard). If you are not family with Anker, thank me later. They make some of the best charging accessories out there and are very well made. I thought of using a 10 port Anker but then all the USB plug-in points would be on one side of the charging station. Getting two 5 Port was a bit more pricey but allows the charges to face opposite sides of the station and to use smaller cables to limit clutter. The Ankers are safe, provide great amperage to the devices and even have two fast charge ports each. Put some colored markers on those fast charging cables and make them parent phones only. Lol. Just kidding.

12 Inch Lightening Cables

Though we use PCs for our computers, we are all Apple for mobile devices. So I found 5 packs of 12 inch lightening cables and bought two of them. This gives 10 short cables that go directly from the USB port to a slot in the station without tangles or clutter. If you own Android or other devices grab some micro USB cables and you'll be all set.  

Holder thingy

There are lots of these made of many materials on Amazon. I chose a black one that had 10 slots. We don't have ten devices yet but there are five of us and we have some phones and iPads already.

End Table 

Commandeering an end table from the house, gave space underneath for the kids to charge their Chromebooks. I don't personally appreciate the Chromebook but our school system gives them to all our kids and they do use them, especially our middle and high schoolers, extensively for school work. They plug into the power strip and live underneath. Out of the room at night so in the evenings there are no devices, no TVs in bedrooms.

Human Solution

  • Well, phones go on it at night one hour before bed time and they go with them to school in the morning.  We keep them plugged in for family connection in the morning for breakfast and prayer before the kids head off to school.
  • We still have general bed times for our kids. Sometimes it's more like "bed goals" or "bed hopes" for the teenagers. ;-)
  • I was pleasantly surprised that the roll out did not incur the whining and wrath of our teens, though some apologetics was necessary.
  • Casualties - Audiobooks at night were a casualty as well as using the phone as alarm clock These changes are VERY difficult for me. My eldest and me will have to adjust the most to these changes. I think we will also benefit the most. And yes, they still sell cheap, old school alarm clocks if you need one.

Look at my Face

One final thing we've added to our family flow is a simple pause and relational examination. If you are looking at a screen when you should be looking at a face, we need to put down the screen. Look at my face! We need to give this sort of attention to one another in our families more and more in our hyper-connected age. And your battery will be full as well! Enjoy your devices, but don't neglect the precious people that are right in front of you each day. 

Working the System - Scheduling and Work flow as an Entrepreneur

Over the years I have mainly been involved with start ups. We helped start Athletes in Action ministries at the University of Kentucky and Virginia Tech. We started a college and young adult crew at a growing church, we helped plant churches in New Jersey for almost eight years and today we are in the process of starting a new non-profit ministry.

Working in such settings requires a certain kind of motivation, self-discipline and personal organization. It is easy to be lazy and unorganized or its also easy to work all the time. It requires one to prioritize and schedule one's own work life in a way that is both effective and healthy. In such settings if you don't get things done, nothing gets done. In this brief post I want to share a few things about the way I have developed a system to get things done. Still not sure if I've been highly successful or not, but here is the way I do things. 

Begin with a block schedule 

Block out time each week for the regular tasks, meetings and priorities related to your most central roles. I include things like exercise, devotional time with the Lord as well as things central to your vocation/work. What things are in the must do category each day, each week, each month, each quarter, each year.  Block out and reserve the time. I also think it's wise to include specific blocks for correspondence and any necessary administration. For example, don't do your email all day, block out times when you will (and will not) answer emails. Also remember to block in some margin to do some fun things like watching Premier league soccer games early Saturday mornings. :-) Keep in mind that proverb about "all work and no play" and more importantly God's command for us to rest. Block it all in and this will give you bones for the skeleton of your life and schedule. 

Find a system of triage that works for you

Triage allows an ER doctor to evaluate a patient and make decisions as to how to prioritize her care and attention. If a guy comes in spurting blood at the neck, a good triage system will put that person ahead of the guy with the sniffles. Triage also needs to be applied to the relationships, tasks and opportunities that you wish to make or come your way. In doing effective triage, I do think some sort of quadrant system of important, unimportant, urgent and non-urgent and is helpful. If something is urgent and important, do it now. If important and non-urgent, schedule it. If not important and urgent, run! Just kidding. Lovingly help that bit of urgent on to someone for whom it can be important. Finally, if not important and non-urgent simply say "no" because ignoring it to death may come across rude and uncaring. Saying no quickly helps us all know what to do next. A system of triage helps you sort through tasks, needs, etc. It also gives you a way of thinking and acting to determine if you are the right person to do something.

Place tasks or to dos into your life and schedule

I personally like to put anything I'm going to do in my actual calendar and forgo complex to-do listing. For me, if I cannot determine when something will be done, I'm not sure it's mine to do. Now I will use a whiteboard or a notepad to map out some short-term tasks but these are usually tasks related to things that I have put in my calendar.  Modern calendaring software allows us to schedule both events and the corresponding work for them along with timed reminders. If you love to-do lists by all means go for it. Just make sure things land in your actual life and you triage that list well.

I underestimate my productivity when I calendar things

This may sound strange but this is an important way of doing things for me. What this means is that if something ends up taking me 40 minutes and I have allocated an hour to the task, then I will have time for reflection, minor diversions and a bit of a release from focus. It allows each day to not feel as frenetic in pace. So if I need to do something and I know I can get it done in 50 minutes or so I block off an hour. If I'm not certain how long something will take I block off an hour. I always make time allocations generously but not wastefully. It would be equally unwise to block out an hour for a 10 min task or phone call. Giving myself ample time for my work also makes me feel super victorious on the days where I have high-energy and efficiency and get a whole lot done. 

When calendaring anything count the full cost

Whenever you go about accomplishing anything you have to account for the full amount of necessary time for the task. This means blocking out actual preparation time along with any commitment to a project, person, speaking engagement or group meeting. Scheduling in the time for preparation, prayer and focus helps to see what the actual cost of something is to my life. How much energy, prep and focus do I need to do XYZ and to do it right? This also helps with decision-making as to whether something should be on my plate or not or I should say yes to any invitation or not.

And this may be a little ridiculous...but I also record all my actual time

When I deviate from my schedule and do other things during the day I put in my calendar what I actually did that day.  This helps me reallocate time for things not yet completed as well as to hold myself accountable for what I'm actually doing each day. Furthermore, this practice also allows others (staff, church elders, boards, wives and family) to know what you do with your time. Remember, we are accountable to God and others for how we make use of our days. Additionally, having mysterious "time sinks" in our lives will hinder our effectiveness. Did I also mention that we are to have time in our life for devotion, thinking and exercise and fun? We don't have to be all work and no play to account for our work and play. :-) 

These are just a few principles I use to manage myself day to day in settings where the structure and workflow must come from my own initiative. I'll close with a listing of a few tools I use in my own flow of things.

Tools I use most frequently

Covey's classic work has helped me to try to work within my roles and relationships. Allen's work has helped me triage emails and tasks effectively in order to GTD. Both works I still find helpful for focusing my life and energy. 

I use my google calendar and multiple color coded calendars like a crazy person. My calendar, my kids Futbol travel calendars, practice schedules, even the games of my favorite sports teams all make it in to my week view with special colors. Any modern calendaring system can use shared and online calendars. So whether it's Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal or something else, you can implement this. For mobile, I particular enjoy Readle's Calendars 5 for iOS and an app called Fantastical.

I do use notepads, whiteboards and Evernote to dump and dictate thoughts. I find I think well out loud, so talking and capturing those things with speech to text I find effective although it leads to some typos LOL. Finally, for team work and leadership, collaborative task and communications, applications like Trello and Slack have been helpful of late.  

However you skin the cat of your daily workflow and productivity, I do pray that you find focus to love and serve well with the time you have been given. I hope some of the above may help you along the way as well. 

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Ephesians 5:15, 16

Thoughts on Missional Innovation

Every so often in history leaders, people, ideas and circumstances come together and dramatic changes take place. Ways of living, perspectives on reality and even our understanding of ourselves are profoundly impacted. We call these convergences of people and ideas, "movements." Every movement displays an interconnected nature as certain ideas coalesce into shared passion and joint action for change. Many times movements are marked by innovation, new ways of thinking and acting as human beings. At times innovations are seen as bursting forth out of nowhere, or as sudden awakenings, yet many historical events build successively into movements. The cumulative action of many leaders and ideas evolve forward or build like a wave crashing upon a seashore with powerful momentum. It is often said that today’s leaders stand on the shoulders of giants; we know this to be true. What is prevalent today was influenced by what came before as the interconnected nature of people and ideas moves us in one direction or another. 

Recently I've been thinking much about some the technological movements of the last 100 years and I've read four books to that end. My undergraduate education was in the science and technology space and I’ve enjoy histories in that area of human work and inquiry. The first work was entitled The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner which focused on the history of Bell Laboratories and its various communication inventions that led into the modern information revolution. The transistor arguably the most important of the technologies that emerged there in the twentieth century. Next up was When Computing Got Personal: A History of the Desktop Computer by Matthew Nicholson, a work on the history of the desktop computer from it's very earliest forms until some of the recent sizes and shapes we see today. After this came Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet  by Katie Hafner. A fascinating read on the invention of this most important of computer networks through the combined efforts of industry, government and academia. I finally, finished up with Moore's Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley's Quiet Revolutionary by Thackray, Brock and Jones. Moore is an unassuming titan of what became our modern Silicon Valley and one of the chief inventors of silicon semi-conductor technology. He was one of the founders of what became the tech juggernaut known as Intel. Incidentally, an Intel chip is currently humming along inside my laptop as I type these words.

In my reading I observed that time and time again there was an interconnection between ideas that lead to innovation. Technology built upon the gains of the past and the previous generation’s hard work, problem solving and creative thinking. The innovation that took place in our technological revolutions was not in any way magic. It took place under certain cultural and structural circumstances that made the movement possible. I will outline a few of these in the final section of this essay below. As I looked at technological innovation I also saw much to be gleaned for the innovation needed in gospel mission in every generation.

What I want to do in this essay is to first look at the necessary restrictions and freedoms for innovation to flourish. I will do this under the header Context for Innovation. From there I want to draw some parallels between technological innovation and missional innovation for church planting movements before closing with a reminder of the type of innovation needed in the church in our time. 

Context for Innovation

It may be surprising but some of the modern technology and correlated free-flowing creations were actually driven by some imposed parameters and restrictions. Physicists and engineers are constantly encountering problems that cause them to think outside of the box precisely because they are working within one. What do I mean? Our scientific work does not bend or break the laws of physics. Our work will either conform to or be defeated by them. Reality shapes and constricts our efforts. Innovative thinking comes to bear in trying new ideas as we necessarily stay within the bounds of the created space-time reality. Learning how things actually work and how they work best is essential for our creation and innovation in technology. So the technologist is not some magician pulling a white iPhone out of her hat, but she is learning how things work within the system she has been given. This does not mean she is a traditionalist who only accepts the answers of the past. Yet she must see many past failures and go forward with things that work as she moves towards new solutions to problems in the future. It is not some terrible requirement to have to conform to the laws of Physics; there is no other way to cross technological hurdles. When a technology does not work because we did not understand the nature of reality, we have simply hit a restriction that sends us quite literally back to the drawing board. The restrictions are no enemy. They help us head off in fresh new directions that may prove more fruitful in the end. 

This brings us to a second necessary parameter for innovation to flourish. The technologist must have the freedom to try new things to solve problems. Otherwise we will be stuck in the past's failures or remain content with the status quo. The technologist simply cannot accept a current technical hurdle as the final defeat but must seek new ways to overcome it. This constant tension between the laws of physics and problem-solving creativity creates the spark of movement that can become a stunning wave of innovation. Both the restrictions and the freedom are necessary interlocutors that create momentum. Failures and success both drive forward the wave. 

The same can be said for the work of the church in every generation. First, there must be a firm anchor and reality to which we conform our efforts. This must be the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to us by God in history and Scripture. Just as creation itself is no hindrance to technology and science, sound doctrine and theology is no hindrance to missional innovation. We must have rails within which we are faithful, otherwise we won't build anything that actually "works." Without the bounds of revealed truth and the historical verities of our faith we can run the mission aground on the rocks of heresy and false teachings. The truth must be the raw materials with which we move forward in mission. Secondly, we must also grasp the freedom necessary to encounter people in every generation with the gospel. We must contextualize the good news of Jesus Christ to a changing world without denying or changing the laws of our theological “physics”. Yet we must have freedom while engaging with our inherited past, to question whether or not certain practices flow from human traditions (Mark 7:13-23) or from the revealed truth of God. This means there is a “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), and there are new horizons and new expressions of that faith needed in every generation.

The parallels between technological and missional innovation are not difficult to find. I will close with a look at the process of innovation and its necessary ingredients gleaned from various histories of technology.

Thoughts on Innovation

Innovation comes from passion

Innovation comes from a strong desire to learn and then solve problems. Those who seek new, faithful ways to reach people with the gospel are driven by a similar desire. A desire to engage the problem of a world in need of Jesus and to use all possible, godly means to bring the good news. They are willing to connect with people far from God in various cultural and societal settings because of their love for God and people. It is their passion and love that compels them as they are convinced that Christ died for sinners and communicating this truth is essential. Apologetics and missional thinking help us to overcome the hurdles that prevent thoughtful engagement with people in culture. Missional innovation must be driven by passion: love for God and love for people.

Innovation flows from proper freedom

One of the observations I made in reading about technological innovation is that smart people were given the time, space and funding necessary to do their work. Freedom in research must be funded with exploration and even failure as an aspect of the way forward. In missionary work, space needs to be created in, by and through local churches for similar efforts. Church planting provides the freedom for both faithfulness to gospel truth while engaging in some exploration and experimentation in methodology. Even those who hold to some form of the regulative principle may still maintain space for variation in style within a given culture for gospel life and ministry. Even if you have the conviction that we can only preach, sing psalms, pray and observe the sacraments in a church gathering, how a church goes about such things, language, style, aesthetics, etc. can still be a subject of exploration.  Furthermore, there is a wide open field of ministry through church members, smaller communities, missional groups and parachurch work that can flow with innovation even for highly regulative churches.

Innovation comes from people who dared to try and have some talent

The status quo can trap us. As people, we don't always like change even when change is what we desperately need. There are churches that will demand their own death and extinction rather than change out carpet or switch up musical styles in worship. Church planters are willing to accept the dare of the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus outside of the camp to the lost, beginning new works that might connect the gospel to those far from God and his church. Innovation comes when there are people who take "risks" for the sake of the gospel putting their hearts, souls, mind, strength all in with their God given gifts and talents.  

Finally, innovation comes from systems demanding attention and constant improvement

One of the striking driving forces for technological innovation in the 20th century was the growing complexity of telephone networks. The problems that emerged in expanding and maintaining such a complex network drove innovation because there were so many problems to solve. Necessity, quite literally, was the mother of many inventions. The place where many inventions were made was within the actual telephone system itself. The same might be said of the technology that was invented within the 20th century context of the cold war. There were secret groups of smart, dedicated, well-funded and focused people (see Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed by Ben Rich) meeting serious military problems with life and death implications. Will some Soviet or US military advantage lead to our mutual destruction? Let’s get to work on solving this or that technological hurdle so that no one gets nuked into oblivion. This has striking parallels to our work in church planting. New ideas for the mission must emerge from the necessity of the mission itself. In the middle of the messiness of ministry we must solve problems which arrive from the streams of providence and the shifting of cultures. A world broken with sin and death while facing coming judgment should bring an urgency of action and missional innovation from God’s people.  

Let me conclude with one final thought about "innovation" in and through the church. It is not innovative to simply copy and ape a worldly culture and society. I once heard Nancy Lee DeMoss say that the world is not aching for a "religious version of itself." What did she mean? I think we must see that the lost world around us does not necessarily need a sermon series called "Soulflix" with a perfectly mimicked Netflix logo all the while preaching messages from this or that movie. As fun as this might be, it is neither innovative nor really creative. What we do need are churches that can passionately preach the great gospel truths of the book of Ephesians to people that watch four hours of Netflix a night. That task will require both creativity and innovation in thought. It will require the bounds of the truth and the freedom to innovate in our styles, modes and communication. It will require us to be faithful and daring. It will require prayer and the dynamic leadership of the Holy Spirit in our day. After all, our goal is not simply to innovate in missionary methods for the sake of doing new stuff to make a church seem “cool”. Our goal is to bring people to Jesus through the preaching of the gospel and that means we must care about the methods we use to connect and communicate in THIS or THAT time and place. 

How I ended up with an iPhone this week (yes, sigh...an iPhone)

My friends who know me will realize what a momentous title this blog carries. Over the years I have had not a small bit of fun with the clone phone carriers who stoop to pay homage at the alter of Steve Jobs. I still type this on a PC so there is no fear of a complete conversion, yet something a bit strange happened to me this week. Now, don t get me wrong, I am a technological diversity champion using a Dell XPS laptop, Palm Pre (original/Sprint) and the family having a couple of i devices from the fruit company.

As I am somewhat on vacation this week (though working from the road, preaching this Sunday) I thought I would share a bit of my heart in what happened to place this iPhone at my side today. This week I am in Memphis, TN with my three children visiting aunts, uncles, cousins and having the kids stay at Grandmas house. On Monday we went downtown to do a few things and my son was climbing all over me and apparently, inadvertently, stepped on my pocketed Palm Pre phone. After realizing the touch screen was not working I noticed a spider like crack in the screen. This of course brought both sadness (I LOVE web OS) and a bit of a dilemma. I had planned on making a smartphone decision this summer in June but alas it was now thrust upon me.

The Story

Seeing that we have no home phone and I am a guy that uses his phone daily for just about everything I do, I went right over to the trusty (um, well maybe not) Sprint store to get a replacement. The following sad story is unfortunately true.

Part I - The Joy of Sprint Store

  • Act I - We can t give you a loaner phone cause you are from out of town
  • Act II - We can t give you a new Palm Pre Minus as we are not carrying replacements for them any longer
  • Act III - You can buy a new phone, let me see when you are eligible for an upgrade. I knew this was coming very soon as I am almost 2 years on the original Palm Pre bought on launch day. 
  • Act IV (mental act) - I felt sad as I don t want an Android phone and did not like the Win Phone 7 coming out on Sprint.
  • Act V - Oh sir, you are not eligible for an upgrade for another 1.5 weeks (yes, weeks). 
  • Act VI - Can you just let me upgrade today and get a new phone? Let me check with the manager. Manager - no, you need to wait. 
  • Act VII - I must admit that I was now flabbergasted. Really?!? Yes, really. 
  • Act VIII - But there is a Verizon Store almost right next door, do you guys want me to have to go get a phone there? Sir, you have to do what you want. Exit Sprint store.

Part II - Seeing Red

  • Act I - Wow, Verizon people are friendly and professional
  • Act II - Explain their plans (yes, a little more money that Sprint)
  • Act III - I love the apps on iPhone/iPad - they are quality devices and particularly love ESV+ and Logos Bible Software. OK, lets do this
  • Act IV - transfer number to Verizon
  • Act V - have phone, have problem solved

Part III - Leaving on a Red Plane

  • Act I - Tell Sprint guy I need to cancel my line, and scale down our plan for wife’s phone
  • Act II - Sprint guy, texting while talking to me, says O you have to call customer service to do that 
  • Act III- Can’t YOU do this? No, you have to call, just dial *2 on your Sprint Phone! But what if your Sprint phone is broke. Dials store phone and hands me a handset - I have to do this myself.
  • Cost me 50 bucks to cancel last 3 months of my contract. Worth it.

So, after this sad story, I ended up with Verizon and the best phone out on their network today - iPhone 4. After using this phone for a couple of days I have to say I dearly miss my Palm Pre. With the Sprint likely not getting the HP Pre 3 this summer at least I might have the option to move back to webOS and give my wife the iPhone once her contract with Sprint is up.

My Impressions

iPhone Pros - I love the screen, the speed, the sturdy feel of the hardware (though I fear dropping this thing). Video looks great and the basic phone functions work well enough. Of course, the best thing is all the apps and their quality. The fact that my iTunes account has all apps we have purchases as a fam on iOS the fact that I did not have to repurchase any apps was really cool. I also like the iPod integration and I can truly now roll with just one device.

iPhone Cons - I absolutely hate the keyboard so far. Other than this the Cons have to do with webOS and its superiority to iOS on several fronts. I miss the integration of all my contacts and being able to just start typing someone s name to text, call, email them. Too much in and out of multiple apps on iPhone. I miss the wonderfully elegant multitasking and the notifications of webOS. iOS just feels clunky on these fronts. I also really, really miss my slide out hardware keyboard.

The Road Forward

Over the summer I will watch the phone space as iPhone 5 and HP Pre 3 will launch. I am guessing both will be on Verizon. If I want to head back to webOS I can pick up the Pre 3 and give iPhone 4 to Kasey once we get her off of Sprint. If I continue to grow in appreciation for iPhone we can pick up the new one this summer with the new contract price. $199 isn t bad for iPhone.

Perhaps the one thing that may cause me to fully drink the iKoolaid is FaceTime. Yes it is gimmicky, yes its only on Wifi, yes it is proprietary Apple tech/branding but I gave my kids an iTouch not too long ago and it is a delightful thing to FaceTime with the kids when on the road. I look forward to my April trip to Brown University to try this out from the road. Last night a same house test session at Mimis was a HUGE success.

I feel like I have switched allegiances in some way and I m not so sure I’m comfortable being an iPhony yet. But the journey has been interesting so far and perhaps I have been predestined to end up with an iPhone all along. I suppose God only knows.

Using web stuff

In light of the below Christmas Eve rant, I thought it would be good to share how we use various social media and web stuff.  If you are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, various bloggin stuff, I would love to hear how you use each.  Here is the way I use em.

The Facebook

I use Facebook very sparingly and for a relatively small range of functionality.  I post photos and videos I want friends and family to see - my smartphone does this in an integrated fashion making the process easy. I also interact with friends just sharing small likes and comments along the way.  I update my Facebook status from my Twitter feed but don’t do that on the FB site.  I do not do any games, applications which I have to join, etc. etc. If you ask me to take quizzes, surveys, play Zynga games I will simply delete those requests without any thought. I spend a very small time online with Facebook but utilize the site daily. 

The Twitter

I am ambivalent about Twitter. I used to read RSS feeds in a feed reader but I find myself rarely doing so these days do to browsing my Twitter feed.  I use Twitter to read news from various sources, read links from interesting people and to interact with friends in a fully public way. As mentioned above I update my Facebook status from Twitter so I do tweet basic life stuff from time to time. I also use it to announce stuff, post links to resources and throw up pics through my webOS twitter app.  I follow only a few people I do not know personally. If I do not know them I usually follow if they have some expertise in some field in which I am interested.  I sometimes want to converse with people on Twitter and interact with stuff people tweet. I find Twitter terrible for such interaction and better for just blasting stuff out to the masses. I spend too much time each day reading my Twitter feed.  I’m not proud of it and it has messed with my reading habits.

The Blog

I use my blog to write things that are longer than 140 characters and things which are more essay oriented.  If I want to share links I now tweet them.  Unfortunately I used to write more about things I read online before Twitter.  My blog has been up since 2004 and I try to use it as a place to publish written pieces on various subjects of interest…most common would be theology, philosophy, technology and stuff I am reading. Over the years I have used the following blogging platforms: Blogger, MovableType and now Squarespace.  I luuuv Squarespace. I’ll share personal stuff there from time to time but I have done that less of late. I constantly break the “rules of blogging” mainly in that I write long posts that nobody will read. I have never had a blog in order to “have a big awesome blog” but rather a place for thinking, publishing and posting writing I do for real people I know. 

Geolocation

I currently don’t play Foursquare (I did in elementary school at recess though), I don’t Gowalla and I don’t check in with Facebook Places. I know it is cool to tell the world where you roll and become the mayor of BW3s. I just have not been interested in that schmack until now. Never saying never though. 

So, how do you use online stuff? Still on MySpace? Orkut anyone? 

Tron, a bit of our Legacy

When I was a kid video games and tech were beginning to invade the popular imagination.  One thing I remember clearly were the light cycles of TRON.  Well, it is on once again.  Old school movies such as Clash of Titans and Tron Legacy are appealing to kids that are grown up now. As I was 9ish when these movies were originally out…I suppose I’m in.  Here are some trailers, then and now.

Tron and Tron Legacy

Clash of the Titans - Old and New


web OS 1.4 - Video and Flash Ready

Users of the Palm Pre and Pixi (not yet the Plus versions on the big red V) rejoice this morning! WebOS 1.4 just dropped adding some new newness to our phones.  Video and the coming of Adobe Flash the most important but lots of great tweaks as well. I’m downloading now. 

Precentral.net has lots of good info about the release and the following video shows off the new video cam feature.  Holla at your Pre this morning if you have not done so.

PS - we know the iPhone is great, Google rules the universe, yada yada…smart phone peeps take some biblical advice “rejoice with those who rejoice” - Smile

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Finally!

After Palm’s creepy children of the corn girl and then Verizon’s phone for Mom ads one began to wonder if someone…Spring, Palm, Verizon…would would ever actually advertise the actual coolness of the Palm Pre and webOS. Well, the first ad really giving props to the sweetness of webOS is out.

Newest ad for Verizon’s Palm Pre Plus - finally…check out those notifications, effortless app switch and multitasking, gorgeous design of the Pre.  And if you are using Verizon…check out that mobile hotspot and that AT&T enraging network map.

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Some Good Reflections about Palm and webOS...

Image from PreCentral.com

The guys at Precentral have put up some good thoughts and reflections regarding the first six months of Palm’s new webOS and phones.  The Pre and the Pixi both now live in the Monaghan household and Kasey has become a fan of the latter.  I, for one, am pulling for Palm to take the webOS into cool lands in the months ahead and thankful to be an early adopter of the Pre. 

Here are a few of my thoughts on webOS, the Pre, the new Pixi and Palm’s overall execution…

webOS

In my opinion the user interface and experience is such a win for Palm. The core apps and the apps that stick to basic webOS UI conventions are absolutely beautiful. The deck of cards metaphor for app switching and multi-tasking simply has no comparison in the smartphone world. Each time I play with another phone I am shocked at home simple and elegant Palm’s solution really is. The beta app catalog is expanding and I have found plenty of useful apps.  It is only going to get better.  I think Palm needs to put the graphics chips in play and allow some more direct hardware calls; overall the strategy to use a browser as the presentation layer is cool.  One drawback is some amazingly ugly user interfaces some people have put on their apps.  Just because you can use any HTML/CSS as the interface does not make non standard user interface buttons and elements a win.  Design apps that look like webOS apps people - your creativity sometimes turns out ugly.

Palm Pre

Overall, I am a huge fan of my little Palm Pre.  The camera is excellent, the processor speedy, WiFi and 3G all work seamlessly.  However, the Pre feels like a less than serious piece of hardware. The choice of materials and build quality really shows when compared with iPhone and the new Motorola Droid. I like the slider well enough and I absolutely love having a physical keyboard. I have used all the virtual ones and I find real typing much more preferable.  Palm needs to follow up with a rock solid built phone on the high end that feels less like a toy.

Palm Pixi

Though it lacks WiFi, has a bit slower processor and smaller screen than its big brother, the Pixi is a fantastic little phone.  The design feels much sturdier than the Pre and it is so freakin small.  It is so thin and tiny that my wife is now using a dedicated phone sleeve in her purse to keep track of it. The keyboard on the Pixi is fantastic; I like it better than Pre.  It is small but the buttons are really clicky and give a super solid feel.  The Pixi is a little slower but overall the webOS experience is great on this little phone.  To be honest, if they can make a phone as thin Pixi, with a slightly larger screen, wifi and a bigger processor…I’m in.  The candy bar styling of Pixi is a win.

Palm’s Execution

To be honest, Palm’s marketing for the Pre was pretty lame.  The crazy children of the corn looking chic looks so silly compared to the Droid’s rabid robot advertising. Palm obviously has tried to expand their smartphone reach to the ladies and the young peeps (with Pixi ad) but they lost a ton of cred in my opinion with creepy stuff like this and this…note to Palm - in future ads and marketing, don’t chit chat about reincarnation and talk about THE PHONE!

I’m looking forward to seeing the webOS and the phones from Palm thrive in the future; I think they executed just enough to stay afloat for another act or two…but they better build some good hardware, optimize webOS for speed and get on multiple US carriers.  So overall, I am hopeful but not triumphant about Palm’s effort.  May the best days be before them.

Incredible, Amazing, Easy and Awesome...

Now I know why people love Mapple products so much…they are incredible, amazing, easy and awesome.  Where have I been?

Wasn’t that AWESOME!

Bell Canada - For the win...

Americans have a hard time admitting that Canada has something up on our country other than geographical location on the earth.  But it seems clear to me that Bell Canada has a bit more saavy when it comes to adveristing a PHONE. In the US, the Palm Pre has been pitched with this crazy looking girl saying all sorts of strange things looking like she needs to go ahead and walk into the light. Bell Canada had a crazy idea - go show off the PHONE to real people. Hmm…maybe people intersted in getting a new phone would benefit from knowing just what it does. Nice facebook usage as well…

If you didn’t believe me about the Palm Pre US commercials…check this one out. Wow, I’m just not so inspired…

By the way, the reason nobody has any memory of their last life is that they didn’t have one. Simple…and it has nothing to do with a Palm Pre. Which is quite a nice phone by the way.

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Fair comparison...

Here is how to be dorky, have fun, compare two technologies without becoming a weird zealot.  Not sure who these two dudes are, but they do a fair job discussing the Palm Pre and the Apple phone…

Bing is bangin...

I have been playing with Bing a bit as a search engine…I have to say that it works quite well. The way Bing presents search results is creative and useful - it is worth giving it a shot.

The commercial below is also pretty well done.

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Pre and iPhone 3G - Side by Side Use

A good comparison between basic use and navigation of Palm Pre and iPhone 3G. It looks like this guy is an iPhone guy and just got a Pre. I have used both and this is a very good comparison of basic use. No, I know the Pre is not better than iPhone - that would be considered blasphemous so save the hate.

One thing I would add to this demo is the guy did not need to close his cards when going back and forth from browser and contacts.  You can keep them both open and instantly flick back and forth.  I will admit that closing apps is so fun that I do what this guy does - I close stuff down all the time when I probably do not need to. Yet when you get tons of apps running performance does slow a bit so closing apps isn’t a negative or anything :)

Also, he had his iPhone browser cached so the web browser came right up with page already loaded. Anyway, kudos to the author of the video - he does a good job.

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Palm Pre - First Impressions...

OK, this is not going to be a full on tech review - others more qualified and with more time have done that elsewhere (see entry here).  Yet I wanted to drop my impressions here briefly after having the Palm Pre for two days. Mind you, I am a pastor so Saturday and Sunday did not afford as much time to play with technology but I have put it through its paces a bit.

Before I begin though, these links are some response in the press to the Pre and its launch:

First Impressions

When I first grabbed the device in person on Saturday morning (yes, I am one of the nerds who waited in line) I was amazed at how small it really is.  It resembles a smooth river stone and fits nicely in the palm of your hand.  The screen is 3.1 inches and seems roomy as you never have the screen real estate used up by a virtual keyboard.  It feels sturdy in the hand and has a glossy finish.  If you pay the ridiculous high price for the touchstone charger (I must admit I did) the back panel is replaced with a really nice matte finished piece that grips nicely.  To say the least it is attractive in person and I recommend those considering the phone to go by a store to see the demo.

Hardware

The build quality is good and it does not feel like a cheap phone in the hand.  There are dedicated volume button on one side and ringer/vibrate and on/off button on the top right.  These are perfectly located for use with the index finger when holding the Pre diagonally in the left hand.  The entire front looks like one black panel with a small pearl like button on the bottom. When the screen comes on it really pops and is as vibrant and clear as anything I have seen.  In the past I have not been a big fan of slider phones, but the Pre has changed my mind here. The slider is quick and sturdy and makes the phone a nice curved shape that is nice when talking.

The keyboard has been a feature of some discussion as to whether it is too small, cramped etc. Let me preface my remarks in saying that I am switching from a Palm Centro that has an even smaller keyboard. So far I have had zero problems with the keyboard and it works really well. It is a big thin as it lives on the bottom of the slider, but I am adjusting to that fine.  I have typed on virtual keyboards and I found no love for those - having the keyboard hidden away keeps all your screen available and it is accessible when needed.

The touchstone charger is just cool and works as advertised.  It does cost too much but I had a 25% off discount as a long term SPRINT customer that at least brought the price down a bit. The phone just sits perched upon the angled hockey-puck like touchstone and charges inductively through the special back panel.  Did I say this is just cool?

Software

OK, here is where I am going to make iPhone fan boys angry.  I find there is no comparison between webOS and iphoneOSX.  I have nothing but superlative praise for the thoughtful design that went into this UI.  The multitasking card metaphor just works fantastically and the handling of notifications (alarms, emails, texts, music playing, GPS nav running) is simply brilliant. The experience is way better than I anticipated.  I will say that you do have to learn all the gestures and unlearn certain ways of doing things.  If you are convince that you always have to “go to a home icon screen” to move around and switch applications you will waste time on the Pre.  You can leave apps running, switch quickly with flicks and swipes, use quick launch, universal search etc.  It is better on Pre but I have found myself going to the launcher when I don’t need to.  Here is an example.  If I want to Google search something on some phones, I would go to Home, launch Google and search.  On Pre I just start typing search terms from anywhere and then click Google.  Fast, simple - but something I need to learn to do more intuitively rather than always launching the browser.

The contacts, calendar and email apps are all great and they really “just work” in pulling in information from various sources on the web (Gmail, Facebook, etc).  When the Sprint guy asked me “do you want to transfer your old contacts to the phone” - I said naw, I’ll just sync it with my Gmail contacts.  Done. The web browser is fast works well on both WiFi and EVDO Rev A.  I downloaded Tweed a twitter app from the beta App Catalog and it is awesome.  The apps are thin now but I sense the developer world will show up more and more in the coming days.  PC Mag plays with the apps here.

GPS nav from Sprint is robust and supports turn by turn voice directions as well as the animated interface.  I will say that GPS drains the battery pretty quickly but this is the case with most phones. One last thing, the iTunes integration works great.  I dropped about 2GB of music over to the Pre and it plays fantastically on the Pre’s media player.

Not Perfect

The only concerns I have are battery life as if you are constantly surfing, emailing and enjoying the data connection the 1150mA battery can get chewed up.  Yet because this is not Apple, you can have a spare battery - this is your choice and choice is good. I have heard that SEIDO’s 1350mA battery for Centro/800w will work but I have not ordered one yet.  Will look for others review of doing this…

Also, the apps do have to load on the Pre as it is a smartphone and there is a tiny pause when loading applications.  The response is instant though when you switch to an app that is already running. Multi-tasking is good friends and the Pre’s UI makes it much easier than other phones.

One final hardware issue that I will complain about.  The center button on the front should also be able to turn on the device. I want to do this ALL the time.  The button’s main use is to bring up card-view for switching programs and it is effective in that role, but it should turn the phone on.

Conclusion

All in all, I have enjoyed my first two days with Palm Pre.  The team at Palm did a fantastic job with aesthetics, user interface design and did all the small things right. As a Palm user since 1996 I was stoked when Pre was announced and even more stoked to purchase the phone (saved my pennies from Jan-June :) I am also a SPRINT customer who has had zero complaints about the network and find its data connections robust and speedy.  The customer service issues from a few years ago are also better (it was bad) and we are glad to continue with the company.

For those of you who are not religiously affiliated with Apple, Inc. the Palm Pre is a great smartphone and from the initial response it seems it has a bright future.  As to whether or not it is better than iPhone, I will not say. I will say that I do not want an iPhone and after using my Pre I see no reason why I would.  It just would be a clunky and disappointing user experience for me.

For all those out there who incorporate data from multiple sources, need to work on the go, want a device that merges personal/business functions (small biz owners, church planters :) I can think of no better device than the new Palm Pre. 

Cheers.

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The Gathering/Convergence/New Age is near

In a few hours, Mapple fans throughout the universe will unite publicly at the pilgrimage known as WWDC.  At 10am PST, those in the temple will hush into a silence and Mapple computer screens (and some PC screens - gasp!) will tune in to see what the priests have to give.  Cheaper iPhones, more flash memory, 3.0 software (that will underwhelm Pre owners) and leopards that dash about in the snow! Will Steve step out from the shadows…oh, if Steve steps out on the balcony to wave we know the spirit of the age of Aquarius might be born anew. Gizmodo and Engadget will be blogging…many will stream video.

The true believers will party, begin to smugly mock RIM and PALM and WINDOWS and generally feel good about the world again.  After all, the webOS is better than current iPhone offerings - and this is just an unbearable, impossible situation that the high priests of “i” will certainly rectify today. Right?

Pre-press

Lots of Pre-press coming in on the net…here are just a few compiled courtesy of boing boing…Also, Palminfocenter has their full review up as does Engadget.

Oh yeah, the ad went out on Facebook last night…not sure I like the ad - maybe there is a dude version coming. Engadget had this to say about the ad “an impassioned plea that approaches gently upon the pads of kittens, gazes in your direction, and then walks away. If we didn’t know better, we’d guess that Pre was a new brand of feminine deodorant…it made poppies seem bruttish…” You decide:

Here are the thoughts/links from the early reviews:

David Pogue, leaked by the Financial Chronicle, at The New York Times:

So do the Pre’s perks (beautiful hardware and software, compact size, keyboard, swappable battery, flash, multitasking, calendar consolidation) outweigh its weak spots (battery life, slow program opening, ringer volume, Sprint network)? Oh, yes indeedy. Especially when you consider that last weak spot might be going away. Verizon Wireless has announced that it will carry the Pre ”in the next six months or so.”

Steven Levy, at Wired:

It’s a huge win … The Pre emphatically shows that Palm has not reached the stage of suffixes. And multitasking rules!

Walt Mossberg, at the Wall Street Journal:

The Pre is a smart, sophisticated product that will have particular appeal for those who want a physical keyboard. It is thoughtfully designed, works well and could give the iPhone and BlackBerry strong competition — but only if it fixes its app store and can attract third-party developers.

Joshua Topolsky, at Engadget:

To put it simply, the Pre is a great phone, and we don’t feel any hesitation saying that. Is it a perfect phone? Hell no. Does its OS need work? Definitely. But are any of the detracting factors here big enough to not recommend it? Absolutely not. There’s no doubt that there’s room for improvement in webOS and its devices, but there’s also an astounding amount of things that Palm nails out of the gate.

Jason Chen, at Gizmodo:

The software is agile, smart and capable. The hardware, on the other hand, is a liability. If Palm can get someone else to design and build their hardware—someone who has hands and can feel what a phone is like when physically used, that phone might just be one of the best phones on the market.

Mark Spoonauer, at Laptop Mag:

We’ve seen many smart phones come and go since the original iPhone, and the $199 Palm Pre is the first device we’ve tested whose user interface not only matches up well to Apple’s offering, but also beats it in some areas. … Palm and Sprint have a hit on their hands with the Pre, and the webOS is a smart phone platform to be reckoned with.

Boy Genius Report:

The OS is great. There’s no ifs ands or buts; it’s really refreshing to see something that’s brand new with a UI unlike anything else out there. The only problem with this is, Palm’s never been a hardware company that anyone’s really cared about. … Couple that with the nation’s underdog carrier at a $299 price-point (before rebate), and we’re not sure how many people are going to be lined up overnight, yet we’re pretty confident once people are able to play a real unit themselves, there will be more than a lot of happy Palm Pre customers.

Bonnie Cha, at CNET:

Despite some missing features and performance issues that make it less than ideal for on-the-go professionals, the Palm Pre offers gadget lovers and consumers well-integrated features and unparalled multitasking capabilities. The hardware could be better, but more importantly, Palm has developed a solid OS that not only rivals the competition but also sets a new standard in the way smartphones handle tasks and manage information.

Ginny Miles, at PC World:

The long-awaited Palm Pre lives up to the hype with a responsive touchscreen and an engaging interface, but a few hardware design flaws keep it from being the perfect smartphone.

Stephen Wildstrom, at at BusinessWeek:

If the Palm Pre had appeared a year ago, it might have turned the smartphone market upside down. It would have beaten out Apple’s iPhone 3G and the iTunes App Store, Google’s Android, the BlackBerry Bold and Storm as well as BlackBerry App World, and possibly taken the spoils. But the field has grown so crowded with clever entries in the past 12 months that the Pre, ingenious as it is, seems evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Sinead Carew, at Reuters:

The long-awaited Pre has nice new touches, but Palm Inc has a lot of work to do if the device is to be a serious competitor to the iPhone.

Om Malik:

…it is a pretty good-looking device, but it feels a little plasticky and is lower in build quality than a BlackBerry. It is squat, has a nice screen, and is easy to grip. It is round in the right places. However, the slide-out keyboard seems flimsy and cluttered.

Peter Svensson, at the Associated Press:

Move over, iPhone. You’ve had two years on top of the smart phone world. Now there’s a touch-screen phone with better software: the Palm Pre. In a remarkable achievement, Palm Inc., a company that was something of a has-been, has come up with a phone operating system that is more powerful, elegant and user-friendly.

Ed Baig, at USA Today:

The first Palm Pre will certainly give the iPhone and other rivals a run for their money. To be sure, there are areas where it could improve: Bring on the apps. But Palm has delivered a device that will keep it in the game and give it a chance to star in it.

 

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Palm Pre - phone for the resistance...

Everyone knows that the Apple iPhone is a cool product.  Its keyboard really sucks, but the product is an amazing piece of technology. Yet for those who are not fanboys of the throng led by Steve Jobs the cool phone pickins have been pretty slim.

You could get a Windows Mobile phone and be stuck with a slightly worse than crappy user interface and a kludgy experience (apologies to my friends at Microsoft - I am a PC apologist, but the WinMo space stinketh).  You could get a Crackberry and be happy enough…but the cool factor is lower and the Storm was well, underwhelming.  Finally, if your were a Tmobile person you could get the Google phone (G1) and use it for about 47 minutes a day before recharging.  Plus, I can just see how Google will be slappin ads everyone on your phone at some point in time.

So, what was a gadget loving guy to do if he did not want AT&T and to fully embrace the Apple. Well, before now, he would just be a bit sad.  No longer my friends - there is now choice coming.  This Saturday the much awaited Palm Pre and its webOS newness arrives (although perhaps in low quantities) to Sprint stores, some Best Buys and Radioshacks.

As a current Sprint customer, I will be picking one up in the morning if a kind providence affords the opportunity. I have saved my pennies and resisted the iPhone man - looking forward to playing with my new little friend.  Pray that no idolatry creeps into the soul.

 

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