Thursday, May 30, 2013

Nerd Cruise


While I will definitely be partaking in crazy cruise excursions such as ziplining and dog sledding when I go to Alaska in June, I am also looking forward to geeking out in a part of the world I've never experienced.  

For my fellow cruisemates, here are some things to check out, monitor and watch for while vacationing.
Aurora borealis sightings
My name is Laura and I will be your Space Weather Girl!  This is not peak season for the Northern Lights, but I am very excited to announce that it looks like we might have significant solar storms during the last part of our trip, resulting in visible northern lights, otherwise known as the aurora borealis
Here are some links for monitoring as it gets closer:
http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/rt_plots/kp_3d.html
http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/Alaska/2013/06/04
http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/ftpdir/weekly/27DO.txt


International Space Station sightings
While not unique to Alaska, we will get more than the usual number of opportunities to see the ISS as it whirs around the earth every 90 minutes. 
The ISS can easily be seen with the naked eye on a clear night, and is the brightest thing in the sky besides the sun and the moon.  Here are the times when we are most likely to be milling about the ship and open to an ISS sighting: 

Here's a complete list of all 33 potential opportunities to see the ISS during our Alaskan adventure:


Not going to be in Alaska?  
Find your sightings here: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/
Or, sign up for alerts here: http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/



Whale and other Wildlife Watching
There is a strong likelihood we will be able to catch a glimpse of some magnificent whales right from our cruiseship!  While I couldn't find anything specific to the humpback whales we are likely to see, I was able to find some live tracking data on bowhead whales, below.

from http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=marinemammalprogram.bowhead


This link has some great info on other creatures to watch for: http://www.nps.gov/glba/planyourvisit/spotting-wildlife-from-cruise-ships.htm 


Webcams: http://www.kinyradio.com/webcams.html


Happy Sightings! 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Midget Saga - Part 1

*WARNING* This blog will involve many terms and jokes that are not politically correct.  Reader discretion is advised.  

I've promised a lot of you that I would share my Midget stories on my blog, and it's been surprisingly hard to get my head back to where I was back then.  Well, I've managed to get the beginning out, so be sure to check back for more, but for now, here it goes.

I will first introduce you to the characters and the setting in which these events took place.  After breaking up with a very long-term boyfriend, I reconnected with an old friend from college, whom I shall refer to as Karen.  I had a brief stint with my previous boyfriend, who had a ton of baby mama drama.  I was on and off with a friend of Karen's, and my flirtacious conversations with him had driven my ex-, who had been living in the study, to move out in a matter of hours.  His vacancy was quickly filled by Karen, who became my new best friend immediately.  We were practically inseparable, so much so that when she started dating a man I shall refer to as The Beast, he recognized that he had to treat both of us to dinner.  

She dragged me into kenpo, where I met a host of other characters, including her boss, whom we'll call Manimal, and a young man whom we'll call Eager Beaver.  Manimal was a brown belt, and gave Karen and I private lessons from time to time (no sexual innuendos intended here, he gave us legit kenpo practice).  I don't know if I said more than 4 words to Eager Beaver, but he very clearly had a little crush on me.  I assumed he was 15 or 16.  Little did I know he was legal.  

Our story begins on a fateful night just a few days before Valentine's Day. Karen and I joined a bunch of the kenpo students to celebrate Manimal's and Eager Beaver's black belts.  It was a big deal, and we had every intention of getting them wasted in celebration.  Well, we succeeded with Manimal, at least, because he ended up molesting me a number of times, including, but not limited to, sticking his hands down the back of my pants and sticking his hands down the front of my shirt.  In the meanwhile, Eager Beaver and his friend, who is a real, live little person, were hitting on me.  It was kind of like a group effort, and was the strangest thing I thought I'd ever see. 

We called him The Midget thereafter, so I will also refer to him as The Midget here.  Eager Beaver was becoming a little possessive of me, but The Midget was a smooth talker and kept the communication and the jokes going.  So The Midget would reach across the table and touch my hand, and Eager Beaver would put his arm around me protectively, saying, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, that's my girl, I mean…"  So awkward!  It was a few days before Valentine's Day, so naturally, The Midget and Eager Beaver asked me what I was doing.  I was single, of course, so I told them so, and that I had no plans.  The Beast and Karen had something extravagant planned, and I knew that I couldn't tag along on that particular date.  So when Eager Beaver and The Midget offered to take me out, I was so beside myself, I just agreed. 

Of course, we had some great jokes as a result of this.  For example, "You're so lucky, you have one and a half dates for Valentine's Day!" and "If it starts to get awkward, you could always make small talk."  Let's not forget, "It's the little things that count," and "I hope your Valentine's Day measures up to what you deserve."  

The Valentine's date started off about as normal as you could expect a one-and-a-half-dates date to start.  Eager Beaver and The Midget drove to my house to pick me up.  I received a necklace and flowers from Eager Beaver, and a box of chocolates from The Midget.  The Midget drove while Eager Beaver and I sat in the back seat.  We arrived at the pool hall, because that's a place of romance.  When we arrived, Eager Beaver and The Midget retrieved their pool cue sticks from the trunk.  They ordered pizza and soda.  I objected, I mean, really...  I needed a beer!

You might think that them having their own pool cues implies that they are actually good at pool, which couldn't be further from the truth.  I slaughtered them.  And I have to say, The Midget has a surprising advantage that should have helped him: the rest of us have to bend down to see where we're aiming, but he is right at eye level with the table.  

The date went on and on, and it was all very brutal and odd.  I was texting with The Beast, who was at my place with a very passed out Karen.  At least I could share my misery with him.  

Now I have to back up for a moment.  One of my favorite songs, partially because its hilariously un-PC and partially because I really love tall guys, is called "Short People Got No Reason to Live."  I found it when downloading music from The King's Singers, a fantastic acapella madrigal group.  
Probably the most horribly hilarious lyrics are:
"They got little cars
That go beep, beep, beep
They got little voices
Goin' beep, beep, beep"
Just a couple months prior, I had had a wild holiday party at my house, and had apparently danced around the Christmas tree singing these lyrics and cracking up when I beeped.  
Having said that, I'm sure you can imagine my absolute horror at having to try to control myself when
The Midget
beeped.  
Yes, he was pretending to be a truck backing up, and was beeping at me. Beep, beep, beep.  I couldn't handle it anymore, it was time to go home.  I texted The Beast and told him I was bringing one and a half boys home.  
Back at home, it got worse.  My dog Carly, and Karen's dog Penny, both very much disliked kids.  Apparently, they also disliked little people.  They barked and barked and barked at The Midget.  Thus, Karen woke up from her hangover, so her and The Beast sat on the loveseat and I and my one and a half dates sat on the couch across from them.  Among the topics of conversation, all entirely introduced by The Midget, were why donut holes were called munchkins and why ooma loompas were orange.  Karen pulled me over to her at one point, and said, "I don't think The Midget knows we know that he's a midget.  I'm going to confront him.  He needs to know we know he's a midget."  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Let's make it official

If you follow me on Facebook then you probably already know my big news of the day. I've been working on resolving the conflict between my head and my heart. The man I previously referred to as Dear John, for fear of breaking his heart, has made me his girlfriend. I'm still nervous, but it's entirely me freaking about having someone so wonderful want me the way he does. So I'm still proceeding with caution, but cautiously optimistic. 

It's crazy that a heart can be so indifferent when the head knows it's so right. Now that I've accepted the relationship, it does feel right. If I had made him wait, I think I would have continued being conflicted, so I'm relieved that I was smarter than that. 
 
I suppose my heart's turnaround started last night when he was my +1 at a rather unconventional baby shower featuring the UFC fight as the main event. It was the first time I put him in the situation where he was clearly with me among people he didn't know. It was like a dress rehearsal or a test drive. And it was great. Not only does he go out of his ways to do little things for me, he makes it look effortless (and trust me, I know I'm hard to please). 

Jaiman and I only met a couple weeks ago, and we don't have a single picture together. That'll have to change of course. But we've spent a lot of time together, we've talked a lot and we text when we're apart. I thought about making it official last night, and I almost did because even more frightening than the uncertainty of dating him was the thought of losing him, but decided to give it a little more time.
Well this morning he brought it up, and I knew I had to say yes. It went like this:
J: "We've been seeing a lot of each other lately. Does that mean we're together?"
me: "Do you want to be?"
J: (honestly I don't recall what he said here, but it was an affirmative answer... I was busy freaking out in my head)
me: "Then let's do it, let's make it official."
Since that moment, I've been convincing myself more and more that I made the right decision. My roommate, who has been rooting for Jaiman all along, made the most convincing argument: he's everything I want. My reluctance to dive into a relationship has prevented me from even admitting to Jaiman that many of the things he's done and he's talked about play right into incredibly selfish fantasies I've had about Mr. Perfect. I won't say he's Mr. Perfect, at least not yet, but he's certainly better than anything I've had in a long, long time, and its incredible to me how good of a fit he is for me. 

So the bad news is I will no longer be going on silly, crazy dates with randos. But this comes at a great time so I can now focus this blog on my endeavors to become a social media ninja, successful entrepreneur, world traveler, etc. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

My boys bring all the milkshakes to the yard

I've been hesitant to write much about my love life as of late, partially because nothing too hilarious or ridiculous has happened.  But I do feel compelled to write an update as to where things stand.  Swing dancing has made itself a bigger part of my life than it ever was before, and as such, I've been meeting more people through swing dance activities.  I met an older guy who I really enjoyed dancing with, and could tell instantly that he was interested in me.  Let's call him Ted, because he's a bit like a giant teddy bear that I like to hug.  Unfortunately, he's going through a divorce that just began, and I've already dating someone through a divorce and I would really rather not go through that again.  Maybe if the guy was so over-the-top my dream man I would change my story, but that certainly is not the case.  Still, I've told him that I'd like to stay friends and do things with him, and he took that okay but still treats me a little like he's pursuing more.  That's fine with me, by the way, because I've gotten my feelings out on the table.  

So there's this other guy I met swing dancing.  He's young, 23.  He's very sweet, VERY physically affectionate and cuddly, and great in so many ways.  He appreciates the geek in me.  He, too, made it pretty damn obvious very quickly that he was into me.  It was nice, though, because we took it slow at first.  Texting, meeting up, a first date, movie night, video game night, brewery outing, having wine and cheese.  That doesn't usually happen with me.  He's physically attractive and easy to talk to.  He may not be the best swing dancer on the floor, but he seems to be a quick learner and an eager one.  There is really nothing wrong with this boy.  

Yet, I'm not jumping for joy.  I don't know what it is; I keep taking inventory of what I want compared to what he can offer, and he seems to fulfill my highest priorities fully, and my middle and low priorities at least partially.  I should be ecstatic.  But for some reason I have this strange boredom with it.  Maybe because it was too easy.  Maybe, as I've imagined myself saying to him many times, it just takes me a long time to warm up to somebody new.  I can't put my finger on it, but the feeling I get is something like when you've eaten the same meal for four days straight; you know it still tastes good but you're bored.  That's the feeling, but it doesn't make sense in my head.  He's physically nothing like anyone I've ever dated before.  It's been a long time since I've dated a band geek.  He's a dancer, which is different than the last few serious boyfriends I've had.  He does live at home like my ex- did, but he's moved out once before, and he's so much younger that I can't really compare where my ex- was in life to where he is.  He's still in school, so living at home does not make him a slacker.  He's responsible.  He pays for things without giving me an option, which is really smooth.  I am really stumped.  He's totally awesome, and I just feel luke warm about him.  Sure, he smothers me a little, but I feel empowered to push him away a little if I need to.  Other than that, I am totally comfortable around him.  My head says I could fall in love with him.  My heart says it could pass.  I'm going to call him Dear John, because I'm afraid I'm going to break his heart.  

I guess there was one funny situation I got myself into a couple weeks ago.  There was a swing dance workshop weekend with a 1950's Prom-style dance followed by an after party at one of the swing dancers' houses.  I had actually met Dear John at the workshop Saturday.  For the dance, I brought R, so he joked that I was his Prom date.  Ted showed up eventually, as did Dear John.  Mr. Suave, too, made an appearance, but he and I are quickly growing apart.  I guess it's a little odd to be at a dance with so many guys that like you, but so long as everyone was dancing and nobody was kissing (I had to mitigate some kissing from R), no harm, no foul.  Well, the first best thing was that when the last song came on, I saw Ted heading my way, and R heading my way.  Then Dear John popped up and grabbed me before the other two could get to me.  I felt like, you know, totally popular and like, loved, right?  After the dance, they usually play one or two silly pop songs that don't make any sense for swing dancers.  Following suit, they put on a funny song to dance to, and I immediately started jamming.  I ended up getting a little circle together with Ted and R, and thought it was funny that they were both trying to dance with me.  Writing it out, I guess it was significantly funny after all - because I haven't gotten to the the best part yet.  Ted wanted to follow someone to the after party because he didn't have GPS.  I told him R and I were going to my house to grab some alcohol and that he could follow us if he wanted.  So imagine my roommate's surprise when I walked in with R and Ted.  They were both very awkward and strange with my roommate and his girlfriend.  


Then the three of us went to the after party.  Having danced in workshops all day, my feet were aching, so I sat down smack in the middle of the big comfy couch.  R sat on one side of me, then Ted sat on the other side.  R got up to get me a drink, and Ted laid his head on my shoulder and snuggled with me.  He sat up again before R returned.  I'm not sure if this was intentional or coincidental.  R came back with the milkshakes, which I dosed with alcohol.  Then Ted got up to dance, and R rubbed my feet and kissed me.  Then R got up to dance and Ted sat back down next to me, saw my milkshake was empty and offered to get me another one.  I accepted, and he brought me one back.  Then R grabbed me for a dance while Ted was talking to someone.  When I sat back down again, Ted asked me to dance.  It was a little like volley-Laura.  

Volley-Laura can happen all night long with two guys I have close to zero interest in pursuing, doesn't matter to me in any serious sense, just comic relief.  Dear John is much more interesting.  In fact, we met up for swing dance last Thursday, and we've seen each other, either in public or at my place, every evening since then.  I almost saw R last night, and then he found himself a hot date while I was in a meeting (ok, full disclosure, I thought I had a meeting and I had the date wrong, so I wasn't actually in the meeting I thought I had - I guess I blew it because I could have seen R if I hadn't gone to the non-existent meeting - or did I?  We're talking about R, right?  Oi vey).  

There's just something about dancing with R that is much more comfortable and desirable than dancing with Dear John.  I don't know what it is, but I wish I could put those feelings towards the better man.  









Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Powerful Potential of Pinterest

No matter how many social media platforms you have accounts on or are actively engaged on, you surely have at least heard mumblings of how social media is changing the way we interact, browse, work and live. And like all forms of social media, much like new technology, there is a lifecycle of early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Some forms of new technology can be immediately useful to the very first users, while others require participation from other customers before it becomes useful. Social media, I'd argue, is rarely useful until everybody else is on it. Pinterest is perhaps the best exception to that rule.

Take the telephone for example (notSmart Phones, now, or even cell phones; I'm going way back to the original telephone): it had absolutely zero use to the very first user, because he had nobody to call. What a lonely set those first few customers must have been! But as the technology was adopted by more users, it became more and more useful. Then providers could improve upon the technology and add features, and make the service cheaper. Many new technologies had to be made flexible enough to accommodate the telephone system, because it became so critical to our lives.

The most exciting part of new technology, to me, isn't the technology itself, but the way it can be adapted to previously unthinkable applications. The Internet, as I saw it in my youthanyways, was a storage place for information, and an ugly one at that. But as it gained momentum, people started to figure out how to use it. TheSmart Phoneis another example; it didn't appeal to me at first, because the apps were mostlysub-parversions of websites, or clocks, or dumb games. Initially, app developers didn't see the big picture of how people could useSmart Phones, so apps didn't differentiate themselves from computer software. Now, there are apps that I feel like I couldn't live without; or would need a second, clunkier device in order to accomplish the same thing. The apps are quickly replacing clunky devices and computer software altogether.

I'm not sure if there is a name for this phenomenon: it's like there was a steady climb up a hill where nothing really made sense and didn't prove its worth, early adapters raved about its potential, they just didn't know what that potential really looked like, and then one day thelight bulbgoes on and suddenly we understand how to apply the technology to vastly change and improve our lives, usually in ways even the early adopters couldn't have imagined. I shirk away from calling this a tipping point, because I don't think it's the same thing that Malcolm Gladwell talked about in his book by that name. I'd venture to say its even beyond the "chasm" that Geoffrey Moore talks about in the life cycle of a product. Rather, it's like a moment of clarity that only comes after tons of people are using it poorly.

So what does all of this have to do with Pinterest? Well, Pinterest may not be new to many of you, and maybe you've steered clear of it because of what you've heard about it. Regardless, I think Pinterest has some seriously untapped potential that we have yet to see spread throughout its users.

Newbie Mistakes

I'll admit that as a new Pinterest user, realistically like a new user to any social media platform, I didn't know what I was doing when I started. You could even say I used it "wrong". The first board I created was for my Life List, which had previously existed in several forms, including a facebook app that disappeared into some cyber black hole, and luckily, it was also stored on my computer on a simple Excel worksheet. Being the Excel guru that I am, I happen to dislike the life list apps I've found because they aren't as clever or functional or useful as my Excel spreadsheet, with its filters and notes and dates and possible locations, came to be. Still, since I didn't know what to do with Pinterest, I decided to Pin my entire 147-item Life List into a designated board. I'll admit in hindsight it was a big waste of time. I get very little utility out of it being on Pinterest except for one aspect: visualization. That was what was missing from my Excel sheet! The exciting and sometimes comical images I picked to represent my life list goals has a profound impact on me when I see it. I still refer to my Excel list regularly, but when I tell others about my Life List, I show them my Pinterest board because it just looks so cool.

I say this is the "wrong" way to use Pinterest for several reasons. First, I had to seek out and find every image, many from Google because I couldn't find them on Pinterest itself. The value proposition, and indeed the addicting nature, of Pinterest is that users will discover things that others have posted. Thus, having my list already created, and choosing not to add to my list, means I was rejecting and ignoring Pinterest's most valuable features. What a shame. Second, Pinterest isn't really just about visualization; its about information, too. Most of my pins are merely images, with no valuable content behind them. Don't even bother clicking on them; they will lead you nowhere. Thus, my Life List board serves no higher purpose than a clever way to display inspiring images. Third, a Life List is, by nature, a checklist, whereas Pinterest is not. Thus, other than editing the pin, either by writing "DONE!" after the caption or moving it to a new "Completed Life List" board, there is no action I can take to check the box, because Pinterest wasn't meant to be a checklist.

Pinterest is perhaps best known for collecting DIY/craft ideas and recipes. I cook about once per year, so recipes are not of much interest to me, but I'd argue that they're not even all that useful to the most common pinner. I've seen some people with dozens of boards on just recipes; they'll have one for desserts and one for chicken entrees and one for mushroom soups. However, there is a kind of hoarding going on, and this worries me. With no barriers to "keeping" pins, like price or space, pinners tend to just pin everything they see, without actually curating or evaluating the value. It's a little bit like holding on to clothes you never wear. I see pins that capitalize on this by saying, "Pin now, read later."If you're not reading it now, and you're just pinning things that might be useful, you'll probably never return to read those pins that didn't pique your interest the first time around. You don't need to pin "10 Ways to Remove Grass Stains from Carpet" just because it seems like someday it could be useful. If the time ever comes that you need to remove grass stains from carpet, you can Google it, look it up on YouTube, or heck, search for it on Pinterest. If it seems pin-worthy to you, then read it over once before pinning, and you're likely to recall the solution if it ever becomes a need.

The hoarding effect has gotten so bad that people joke about it, "Look I finally used a recipe I found on Pinterest!" I think mindless hoarding is Pinterest abuse, and I'd strongly discourage it. Not only does it clog up your boards with recipes you'll never cook and links you'll never click, it clogs up my feed. So rule #1 against hoarding is, if its not worth reading the first time, it's not worth pinning. Rule #2 is, if you don't actually find yourself going back to reference certain boards, then those boards are hoard boards; they should be deleted and you should stop pinning those types of things.

That being said, I think there are still bigger and better applications of Pinterest that haven't been fully realized. I have been playing around with this, seeing what is useful and what is not. One such board is my "Companies / Websites to Watch" board. This is a home to the really exciting "next new thing" things that I see, can barely contain my excitement, and otherwise don't really know what to do with. I have yet to decide if this is really of value or not, because I don't find many times in my life where I am triggered to return to the board, like I do with my "Places to Try" boards. On the contrary, here are some useful ways in which I think more people should use Pinterest.

Reference Lists

What I realized is that Pinterest is a unique and incredibly functional way to organize thoughts, activities, desires, etc. Perhaps the most utilitarian use is creating a Wish List which you can then refer your friends and family to when it is birthday and/or Christmas time. The problem I faced pre-Pinterest was that I knew I wanted things that I wouldn't necessarily splurge on, but when my parents asked me for a list for Christmas, I drew a blank. Even when I managed a thought or two, they certainly weren't my biggest desires. Somehow I couldn't remember what it was I wanted most. Sure, I could have kept a list in OneNote (which I used to use) or Evernote (which I now use), but that list was tacky and became difficult to update because some items were bullets and some were pictures and some were links and it was just ugly. Sharing it was even harder, because if I updated it, then I'd have to send it out again. And if I ended up buying something from the list, I'd want to tell my parents to disregard that item. Pinterest is nice, because it is made up of links naturally, it can display prices, it maintains a consistent format, and it can be shared and updated with ease. And Pinterest is beautiful to look at!

Another great idea for Pinterest boards is the "Things to Do In..." or "Things to Try" concepts. How many times have you been sitting around with your significant other wondering where you should go to eat or what you should do? This is my remedy. When I see or hear about a cool local restaurant or venue, I pin it to my "Places to Try in Phoenix" board. That way, when the "what to do" question comes up, I have an immediate list of places I've already decided I want to check out. I do this for other cities, too, because chances are I'll forget all the cool things I've heard about by the time I actually get there. So as I'm planning my next Vegas trip, I can refer back to the accumulation of cool things to do in Vegas on my Pinterest board. FourSquare lets you create checklists, so I have used that from time to time if I'm mostly concerned about collecting a list of places to go in a different city; there are a number of drawbacks to using FourSquare, though, and perhaps the only benefit is the ability to link directly to a Nav app.

I'll submit a caveat here that I think is important. When creating Reference Lists, I find it helpful to be very specific. Not just, "Things I want to do someday", but "Things to do in Las Vegas for free" or "Places to Eat in the Phoenix area" or "Day trip ideas". The reason I find this helpful is because when a board is too generic, I start thumbing through it and get turned off by the things that don't apply to my specific situation. I might even walk away with less of an idea of what to do than when I started, because my board was too generic of a collection.

Another way I've used Pinterest is to pat myself on the back and remind myself of some of the extraordinary things I've done. Specifically, my "Hiking Conquests" board is made up of, as you might imagine, hikes that I have completed and thus want to remember. When you hike five or six places, you can probably remember them pretty well. But as you hike more and more places, you don't always remember them, and then you're talking to a fellow hiker new to the area, and you can't remember all the places you might recommend. Does it belong on Pinterest? Maybe not; an Untappd-like app specific for hiking might be cooler. FourSquare allows you to check in to hiking locations, but doesn't differentiate them from other check ins. Maybe if FourSquare grouped past check ins and saved them in a useful format, this could be the end-all solution. In themealtime, Pinterest is the best solution I have found for this purpose.

Research

Ultimately, I think Pinterest works well as a collector of research. I still assert that you should be discriminatory about what you pin, and not just blindly post anything related to what you're looking for. Used properly, you can quickly accumulate a list of links that you found valuable on a specific topic. Why use Pinterest instead of a list in EverNote or Excel? Captioning, for one. I rarely remember the title of an article, and based on the title or the URL, I almost never remember what it was I found useful in it. Thus, with a regular set of links, I might be clicking all the way down the list until I find that one nugget I was looking for. Pinterest requires a description or caption, which prompts me to think what it is I want to say about it, thus capturing the main idea before I move on to the next source. Yes, a description or note about the value of an article could be captured in EverNote or Excel, but Pinterest requires something, which I think is of at least minor value. I think the big bang comes from that visualization I liked so much early on. While I might not remember titles or URLs, I do remember visuals. Any graphics that are displayed while reading an article get tied to the concepts, ideas and values of that article; even if they aren't obviously related. So by Pinterest purposefully requiring an image, I can utilize boards to quickly identify the link that I'm looking for.

I'll give you an example of such research. My "Genius Marketing Ideas" board is dedicated to out-of-the-box, never-woulda-thought-to-do-that marketing examples. This serves as inspiration whenever I am looking for a new angle in my marketing, whether it be for the non-profit I work with, a personal business, or a new startup. Some of them I found by chance on Pinterest or elsewhere on the Internet, and some of them I created a new pin for based on something I read in a book. My favorite of these is the hand-written board outside a cafe that says, "Come in and try the worst Thai tea that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life." I find this hilarious, because it is turning a negative review almost into a challenge, as if to say, "Really guy on Yelp? Is it that bad?" It almost puts him out there as a target to throw darts at. I could imagine that others would be more prone not only to try the tea, but to then go on to Yelp and disprove of the negative review, than they would if it just said, "Give us a review on Yelp!" It also hints at one of Cialdini's weapons of influence, authority; by admitting a very minor negative, namely, one guy didn't like one of their products, they actually increase their credibility as a coffee shop / cafe.

On the other hand, one major flaw I see in Pinterest is its increasing inability to identify images on websites that I'm trying to pin. I suppose this is because websites are becoming more sophisticated, with embedding or references that just didn't exist or weren't popularly used 15 years ago. So I can be starring at a page full of images, and Pinterest can't find one. Thus, I can't pin that page. I have a work around, it's more of a band-aid than a cure, and that is to take a screenshot and manually create a pin referencing the website in the caption. There is no link when done this way (sad face). This is both time-consuming and frustrating, and what's worse is that I cannot do this on my mobile phone, which is a major part of my pinning activities. If Pinterest would automatically take a Snippet and maintain the linking feature, instead of rejecting my ability to pin, that would solve a world of hurt in my pinning experience. Please, Pinterest, please! Read this and take action!

Enough about that. I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons my Life List was using Pinterest wrong was because I essentially rejected the Pinterest discovery process. But here's the problem: if nobody else is using Pinterest for research like I am, than the only things I can discover are recipes and crafts. Like the telephone back in the day, I need someone to call, or in this case, follow, to see what they're finding in their research on similar topics. To be fair, there are a few out there with boards of interest. Usually if I find a pin that I re-pin into one of my research boards, I'll review the entire board it came from, and if I find myself re-pinning once or twice more, I become a follower of that pinner. So I have a few people who help me discover, and I have hope that this number can grow. Just imagine if 7 followers/followees were researching the same narrow topic of collaborative innovations as I was. That would be some seriously powerful collaboration, by total strangers who could care less what the others do with the information.

So my challenge, then, is to figure out what Pinterest is really good for. Hoarding is silly; it's a powerful platform with tons of potential, and I just don't think it has reached that moment of clarity yet.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Why Self Driving Cars Are Coming Sooner Than You Think

No futuristic technology excites me more than the self driving car.  This desire to own one is purely selfish: (1) I hate driving, and I feel it is a waste of my time and energy.  It is also exhausting emotionally when some idiot almost hits me.  (2) It makes me nervous to have others drive me, be it taxi drivers or friends.  (3) I love the flexibility and convenience driving affords me, as opposed to public transportation and alternative modes of transportation.  (4) Being in a car in a populated area is the most dangerous thing most people do in their lifetimes, and most people do it every day.  It doesn't matter that I'm a safe driver; some idiot can hit me when I'm stopped with nowhere to go, and damage my personal property.  Even if its repaired, the car loses value.  Thus, I want all other drivers to own one, too.

So you can have your phablet or your 3D television, all I want for Christmas is an autonomous car.  Hell, I'd even give up my smart phone for a car that drives itself.  Maybe I'm one of the few in the early adopter stage; that wouldn't be a surprise to those who know I own the first Chevy Volt in Arizona.  Maybe I'm just lazy and want to make life even easier on me.  Either way, I want it.  But I won't be so naive to think that everyone will jump at the chance of buying one.  In fact, I don't even think the product life cycle of the self driving car is even worth talking about.  When you question whether or not car makers can make it and car buyers will buy it, I think you're missing a lot of the more important aspects of the discussion.   

The legislation that does exist today - primarily requiring an alert, responsible human driver - is ridiculous.  To that end, if that's the legislation that sticks, we will never get mainstream adoption.  The legislation is indicative of caution exerted around the unknown, which is understandable because we don't really have a solid, viable product in the consumer's hands to base it on yet.  I think what needs to happen is we need to flip it around.  Governments are interested in reducing car accidents and drunk driving.  Why not legislate that new cars have to be equipped with at least partially autonomous features?  The more cars that will avoid hitting things on the road, the less accidents we're likely to see, and the less lethal the remaining accidents should be.  To address the drunk driving issue, breathalzers could be installed and programmed to signal the car to take over the driving when the driver is blowing a high BAC.  Governments should be rallying behind the self-driving car, not putting up barriers.  

We know we can't always rely on government to do the right thing, so let's turn to the commercial world.  Taxis, limo services, shuttles and all sorts of transportation providers should be interested in self-driving cars.  The upfront cost may be astronomical to begin with, and some drivers are paid very poorly.  But there has got to be some length of time where the self-driving car makes economical sense over paying hourly wages, and that payback period will drop with large contracts and larger volumes in production.  

Let's not forget individual consumers who are unable to drive.  This can include the legally blind, the physically handicapped and the elderly.  I'm not saying they're going to shell out a bunch of money themselves, but there are probably grants, charitable support or other funding opportunities to help get them in self-driving cars to empower them to live with more freedom and flexibility.  Disabled military veterans, specifically, have several organizations and grants to support them in civilian life.  Even where there are no available government monies or charities, these kinds of a causes could be crowdfunding-worthy.  

Finally, insurance companies will want their drivers in autonomous cars.  There is huge potential for insurers to give discounts or even potentially subsidize the cost of an autonomous car, knowing their risk is much lower and that the more autonomous cars on the road, the less likely others are to have accidents.  They could give insured drivers the option of replacing their totaled cars with less expensive cars equipped with self-driving capabilities.  

The electric car is great, but it is not a good model to compare future demand for self-driving cars to.  The benefits of the electric car are mostly idealized: reducing dependency on gasoline from overseas, reducing pollution, paying less per mile, not having to go to the gas station.  These points are hard to defend, when it takes sometimes dirty energy to create the electricity, same of creating the car itself, and the cost of the cars make them less than economical.  Cool, yes, but economically sound and environmentally neutral, no.  The self-driving car, on the other hand, has much more tangible benefits.  People who can't drive can use them to reap the benefits of driving, the safety of the autonomous car's passengers and drivers around it is increased, and intoxicated drivers can get home safely without requiring a cab, to name a few.  Thus, the only main stakeholders for the growth of electric cars are the consumers, while the adoption of the autonomous car benefits almost everyone on the road, plus insurers, governments and people who are prevented from driving.  This is the angle that should be taken when discussing the feasibility of self-driving cars in the foreseeable future.