Categories
Podcasting

Marketing Over Coffee Live

I forgot to mention that as part of my relocation I’m no longer able to meet up with Chris on Wednesday mornings at the Dunkin’ Donuts to record Marketing Over Coffee. We’ve settled on Google Hangouts, which actually works pretty well for two reasons – first, it dumps the recording straight over to YouTube so now you can watch the video, and second, if it’s a normal week you can watch it live on Thursday mornings at 7am! Chris posted the show on his blog this week and I realized I should be doing the same!

In this week’s Marketing Over Coffee, we discuss all things Pinterest analytics, Google Reader getting killed off, and much more. Watch it here:

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Categories
Geek Stuff

Comanche 3

Before we get started, both hardcover and Kindle versions of my new book are available on Amazon.com. Go buy one and maybe 30 or 40 for your friends family, and even people you don’t know and/or like.

In my Kickstarter newsletter I learned of the Saturn 5 Relaunch Project and it got me thinking of the long lost days where all I had to worry about was stupid stuff like model rockets. I think anyone that built more than one rocket has a story of catastrophic failure. Hell, it’s like NASCAR, the crashes are the true spectacle. Even more surprising is that you can check out the back catalogs over at the Estes site. I was able to track down my very own Comanche 3. I laughed out loud at the catalogs from the Eighties, many rockets being dead ringers for military munitions, the RPG looking like you could scare the crap out of anyone with it. I had repaired a Big Boy that had a missle paint job and still remember everyone running like hell away from the launch pad as it only went up about 15 feet and then started to do circles towards the rest of the Boy Scout Troop.

The real big dog though was the Comanche 3.This rocket is absurd. Most of the rockets of the time were single stage, and there were some 2 stage. A “D” engine would get rolled out now and then for some of the huge models (engines are rated A-D (or at least were as I remember) with the A being about 2 inches long and about as wide as an extra fat pencil. The D was like a toilet paper roll). This is yet again one of the joys of pre-litigation society, when you could give 12 year old kids toys that spray flame and fly around looking for the nearest eyeball to poke out.

The Comanche takes it to the extreme, a three stage starting with a D and that kicking off a C and a third C. The big kicker is that the big engines were often used for huge models, in this case the rocket was about as small as it could be. It’s like that Darwin award story about the Jet Engine strapped to the car, if you had 3 jet engines on the car.

Unlike the Saturn 5 guys I did not have a catastrophic crash, instead it worked as it should. In a split second it was so far up in the sky that it went from a tiny speck to invisible. I got the first stage back and never found anything else. I have no doubt that if it’s not still in orbit, it did reach escape velocity and I’m waiting for it to return, self aware, calling itself V’ger, or for some alien with a glowing finger to drop it off on my front porch.

Tonight I raise a glass to the model rocket builders and their quest for learning, engineering, and the pure thrill of lighting the fuse and not knowing what’s going to happen next.

Categories
Podcasting

Hi, I’m Worthless

As much as we’d like our products do not work for everyone. In fact, for many businesses you need laser-like focus to separate yourself from the rest of the pack and find a market where you can survive. I saw this clearly this week as I was checking out a blog that had mentioned Glance. I’m always excited to find marketing and communications people that are interested in content to tell them about the Marketing Over Coffee library.

This time was a bit different, Anne mentioned that she can’t hear. Suddenly the value of that back library of audio content was approaching zero. The lesson learned is the same one we came to a few years back with the podcast – you need to test other channels to confirm you have the right fit. We got here when we saw that Podcast IPO was a phrase probably never to be heard.

We’ve been testing transcripts of more popular interviews (like the one with Seth Godin), eBooks like Chris’ On Heroes Project, and the Marketing Over Coffee Quarterly Report. (Now only 99 cents!) If you have any interesting stories about channel testing, please tell!

Categories
Podcasting

Seth Godin on We Are All Weird

A few weeks ago I a great discussion with Seth Godin about his new book We Are All Weird. You can hear the original interview over at Marketing Over Coffee  (or just buy the App). I had a request for a transcript, and since I went to the expense of having it written up I thought it was worth posting:

John Wall: So your new book here is “We Are All Weird” on the Domino Project available on Amazon. Tell us about “We Are All Weird”, what’s the idea and how did this all come to you?

Seth Godin: You know this is possibly the biggest idea I’ve had in terms of it all coming to me at once and I’ve been writing the last couple years about the death of the industrial age and the beginning of a new age. And I’ve been talking about how the industrial revolution created all this wealth. It created a culture around it because the wealth brings culture with it. It created standards, it created public school, it created expectations. But what I realized, just a little while ago, is that most insidious of all, it created a standard of normal. And by that I mean both statistical, normal, the center of the bell curve, and cultural, normal as “just like us”. And so what we do in our society is we make stuff in a factory, whether that factory makes insurance policies or widgets, and by default we have to pick the model we’re going to make. We have to pick whether the scissors are for left handed people or right handed people . We have to pick whether the car has four on the floor or automatic transmission. And what factory owners want, what shareholders want, is for everyone to be normal because that’s more efficient if you’re going to do mass manufacturing. You want to make one thing any color as long as it’s black.

If you’re going to do mass marketing you want to have one ad that appeals to the largest possible number of people. And so we have a cultural imperative to be normal and what the internet is doing that’s so revolutionary is it’s enabling us to do what we want to do; which is be weird. We want to be left handed or gay or play soccer barefoot. We want to buy a 21 foot long, 21 pound kayak that’s not the one that they sell at Eastern Mountain Sports. We want to have the people who follow us on twitter follow us and not the other people. And so in this world where everyone has a microphone and everyone has a choice; if your goal, if your requirement, is that the world be normal, you’re in for a whole boatload of stress.

JW: Right and so at the core of this you kind of kick off early in the book with the four forces of weird. Kind of what’s behind this weirdness, if you could tell us about that.

SG: Well, you know I, as always, am picking words and sometimes I define those words in ways that don’t necessarily match the way the dictionary would say it. And I think that’s important because if we don’t have words available to us it’s very difficult to talk about things. We don’t have a word for twitter other than the brand name twitter. So that’s why the brand name means so much. So what I did here was I grabbed a few words like “weird” which we’ve already talked about and “rich”. And what’s going on in “rich” is… Some people think rich means more money than you have, right? And other people think rich means enough money to take a private jet. I’m saying that all rich is, is enough money to make choices. That once you go beyond having enough to subsist on you are rich in the sense that you can make choices. So I want to lay out that ground work of what I’m about when I say “weird” and “normal” and “rich”.

So let’s talk about the four forces, the first force is that creation has been amplified, and what I mean by that is when I started out in the book business 25 years ago; they maybe published 30 business books a week and now they publish 500 business books a week and ebooks it’s 5000. So lots of people have been given a voice. Second force, is that when you’re rich you get to do what you want and you get to be weird. And this is why I think that the world is getting so much smaller because when someone enters the nascent middle class or lower middle class of India for example they now have a choice about what to eat and what to drive and where to live. They didn’t have that choice for 10,000 years. Every ancestor in their whole family had to stay on that farm growing that thing. Now they have a choice. Number 3, marketing is something that enables culture. And what marketing can do now is not just be on All in the Family or NBC on Thursday night. Marketing can reach the weird in lots of different ways. So if you do some sort of search for a Dracula costume for kids on Google an advertisement will find you; and that will enable you to buy something. And the last one is the tribes have become better connected, right? That when you’re all by yourself and you’re weird it’s easy to have your weirdness fade away. But when you’re surrounded by people who have the same weird as you, your weirdness is amplified and so these tribes keep ending up becoming more and more powerful which furthers this cycle.

JW: Now I was glad to hear you say that you feel this book is big and overarching because that was one thing that really shone through for me when I was reading it. You start off with weird and you talk about mass market, mass productions and things like that and you’re kind of right in line with a lot of stuff you’ve done. But then near the end you kind of blow the doors off and you say “Well this is the same for mass charity, mass religion, mass politics, mass education. We can look at all of these things in a different light”. So I guess you talked a lot about charity in the past too. If you could talk a little more about that, how is this shifting charity and what’s happening there as far as choice.

SG: Sure, now I’ll talk about charity and then I’ll talk a little bit about politics. So aid is something we do when someone’s drowning. We throw someone a life preserver because otherwise they’re going to die. And I don’t think we’re going to find anybody who says we shouldn’t throw a life preserver to a kid down the street who is in a pool about to die. And as Peter Singer explains, we can expand down the street now way further. So if there’s a kid in Somalia who is about to die or you can spend 5 bucks to have an extra dessert at lunch, obviously you should save that kid in Somalia who is about to die. The problem with aid is in addition to it not scaling, it just leads to the endless emergency of poverty. That if all you’ve done is throw someone a life preserver who’s going to need a life preserver tomorrow too, we’ve got a problem.

And that leads to this notion of trade and what trade does in international development is – it’s a transaction. It’s a business transaction and no one enters a transaction unless he or she is going to benefit. So if you’ve got a solar lantern it’s far better than kerosene and for listeners who haven’t been aware of this, about a billion people in the world, as soon as the sun sets it’s pitch black in their whole life until the next morning unless they light a kerosene lantern. Kerosene is one of their biggest expenses, it burns down their house, and it gives them lung cancer. Well we can now sell them, for 7 dollars, a solar lantern which will last for a year and eliminate the need for kerosene, pay for itself in 90 days and make it so it’s not dark right. Well the aid approach is: let’s make as many solar lanterns as we can and drop them off places. The trade model is: here you want to buy this solar lantern? Here’s why it’s better. And what happens when you do that is you give all the power to the person in the underprivileged country you’re trying to sell it to. And they say “Nah, it’s not the right color.” Now if you’re doing aid you can say “screw you, it’s black or nothing.” When you’re doing trade you’ve got to say ” Yeah, well ok we’ll have to make it in a better color.” Because by shifting the power to this weird person who has a choice you just made them rich. Because by my definition of rich, rich is about making choices; so when we can go to a billion or two billion people on the planet and start making a profit by giving them choices.

We’re going to enrich them and enrich us and it leads to this virtuous cycle and I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. When someone in India or Katali Kenya buys a cell phone they make money the next day. And the day after and the day after that from having a connection to the world. And as they make money they make more choices and as they make more choices they get richer still. And so I met a woman named Lucy who is a millionaire. She has a million Kenyan shillings under her bed which is like 10,000 U.S. Dollars. And her next door neighbor has nothing with the same amount of land. And Lucy got that way not by dating a UNICEF worker or a U.N. worker. She got that way by starting down this cycle of making her own choices and embracing her own personal weirdness.

So why all the stress in American politics? I mean anyone who watches any of these debates sees what’s going on. There’s all these schisms and the paradox of American politics is, by definition, a popularly elected official when 300 million people are voting has to be normal. There’s no room for weird if you need a majority and yet everything else in our culture is reinforcing splinter groups and reinforcing special interest groups and reinforcing people who have a budget and have lobbyists and can get online and yell and buy ads and yell and whatever. So politicians are caught because in order to get started in any given party you have to pander to the loudest, weirdest group because they’re the ones that show up. But then you have to somehow shift gears and move to the mainstream when there is no mainstream; and inevitably you’re going to disappoint a loud tribe or many loud tribes. And the difference today from 30 years ago is that we’ve gotten so fractious that any one of these weird groups is willing to bring down the whole system if it serves their ends. And so we can wring our hands at this and look at it but basically what we have to understand is that endemic into the system is built this dissatisfaction, that’s coming from empowered weird people tribing up, grouping up and criticizing whoever isn’t as weird as them who happens to be in power.

JW: So does that naturally lead to politics overall becoming less effective in the future or do you feel that there will be topics and common ground that the tribes will find to make things work?

SG: Well you see you know what Eli has written about in The Filter Bubble is this notion that if you’re going to spend all day watching Fox News or all day on the politics section of the Huffington Post it looks like the other side is invisible, right? That we can create our own bubble in Facebook and only see people like us who are weird like us; and only interact with those people. Even if we live in a town that’s different than us we can find fellow travelers and so we’re going to get more and more insular about this and government is going to get more and more paralyzed. Because this notion of the people down the street being just like me is forever altered and instead there’s this meanness toward the other that comes from finally being permitted to embrace your weirdness. And I’m titling the book really clearly, I’m weird too, I’m not saying these other guys are wrong. I’m just as weird as everybody else and what I think we’re headed for is a massive shift in our political landscape. And there are two books about this that are just occurring to me. One is Cory Doctorow’s book called “Eastern Standard Tribe” where he wrote about people aligning not by where they live but by who they agree with and politics changing forever because of that. And another one is a book-and I’m drawing a blank on the title about how it’s almost inevitable that the United States is going to break up into 8 or 9 countries.

And that sounds absurd but it sounds a lot less absurd today than when I read it 3 years ago. I think that when we realize that geography is just one of many conveniences and as geography becomes less important I wouldn’t be surprised at all if in my lifetime we ended up with regional governments that were far more important than whatever massive thing we grew up with.

JW: When you talk about that does it even break away completely from geography though? You know where you could be a member of the state but not live near the folks, or that the demographic breakup of the United States naturally fits more towards 8 different segments.

SG: Well see that’s Corey’s point. Corey’s point is if we assume that we can get to a world where you don’t have to defend your land with guns then geography stops being one of the top 5 most important things in your life. And if most value is transmitted in a digital way, if most communication is somehow digitized, if when we get together we’re getting together with people inside our bubble then geography stops being this essential driver. If you think about it it’s an artifact of the farming world and the factory world. It’s not an artifact of the digital world. So I know I’m sounding really crazy out here but marketing has already gotten us where we are today. Marketing made us consumers, marketing invented public schools. We know it. All of those things are a result of how we make money and my point is if we’re going to start making money in this global tribal way – you know Squidoo is the company I run, we have an office in Virginia, an office in California, an office in Italy, an office in Texas and probably one soon in Canada. Well all an office is where someone’s sitting with a laptop. Once that starts happening this notion of geography really goes out the window.

JW: Another angle on the that too, before we hook back into more pure marketing stuff is education and I noticed some of the stuff that you were talking about was brought to my attention in Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk; the hugely popular one there, if you could talk a little bit about those changes and education and how to get away from mass there.

SG: Ok well, whenever I talk about this people look at me like I’m making it up and I’m not. So here’s the story: factories were a revolution in the 1880s because almost everyone lived on a farm, worked outside, made their own hours and had freedom. And factories said: we want you to leave home, move into a crowded apartment and work 12 hours a day in a dark, dangerous facility. And this was massive. Clay Shirkey’s reported that basically in Manchester England, 20 years everyone was drunk. Because it was the only way they could get through the day. They didn’t have coffee carts they had vodka alcohol carts, gin carts going up and down the street. And so several things happened there, one we sent a lot of kids to work because kids were cheaper and more obedient and it took the K1u K1ux K1an to fight this and get kids into public school because selfishly they said “You’re taking jobs away adults”. So that was their contribution but in order to get the industrialists to go along with this we invented basically public school, compulsory education. And it was organized to train kids to sit in straight rows, be treated as a batch, follow orders, do what they were told and conform.

That’s why we invented it, to give people just enough training so they could then leave and go to work for the factory to make the town rich. And we still have that built in to the very nature of school. Well then school gained its own constituents and its own unions and its own money and everything else. And so people look at this school industrial complex and they say “well what would we do if this was a widget factory,” And the answer is we test and measure and improve. And so this whole notion of school needing to be better at turning out testable units is now ingrained into the whole system which could be fine if testable units were what we needed to create value. And in fact it’s not, it’s the opposite, that if we look at the companies that are growing if we look at the individuals who are making a profit none of them, not one, are cheap compliant cogs. We don’t reward that anymore, right? That’s a race to the bottom.

If we needed a job done like that we’re going to get it done by someone far away who works for way less in for worse conditions than the people listening to this are willing to do. And so one way I said in Lynchpin is: if I can write down exactly what you do all day I can find someone cheaper than you to do it. And so using school to churn out competent rules followers is foolish because we don’t have a competence shortage. So what Sir Ken argues is: if what we value is the ability to solve interesting problems and be creative then why on earth aren’t we teaching that? And please don’t tell me it’s not teachable because of course it’s teachable. The reason we’re not doing it is it’s hard to industrialize. It’s really hard to write down a lesson plan and really hard to demand that someone with one year teacher’s college walk into a bunch of kids who probably didn’t get the attention they deserve from their parents and get that group of kids to not only conform enough to be together but also to believe in themselves enough to be creative problem solvers. But that’s the only place value’s going to come from going forward.

JW: One sound byte you’ve got on there that really hooked me is ” Mobile is As Weird as Media Gets” if you could talk about that and where that goes.

SG: Right, so the first time someone said to me “mobile is the future of media” was 15 years ago and every 9 months someone says “You need to change Squidoo, you need to this, you need to do that, because mobile is the future of media.” And the reason it hasn’t happened yet is not because of the technology nor is it because of the consumer. It’s because the advertisers hate the fact that no one wants to see a mobile ad, unless, big unless, it’s all about them, where they are right this minute; because if there was a mobile ad about who you are, what you’re doing right this minute, where you are, we’d love it. If I’m about to walk into a store and with my permission my phone tells me the store next door has exactly the same item for 20 dollars less, I’m delighted. I’d be annoyed if I didn’t get that alert, right? If I’m on my way to catch a flight and someone (and I’ve permitted them to know this) knows I’m about to fly to L.A. and they have an empty seat on their plane and their willing to give me the empty seat for half of what I paid Delta, I’m in. So the problem is: that’s weird. That’s not mass, that’s the opposite of mass because my needs in that moment belong only to me. And advertisers don’t know what to do with that.

JW: Another thing is interesting where this kind of spins off into is: the obligation of the weird. If you’re weird there’s some things that you’re expected to do. You had some examples and talked about driving markets and if you could explain that.

SG: Sure, so one of the things that being weird seems to bring with it, something that we’re organized for, which is selfishness. You say, well “it’s all about me I have all the power so I’m going to do what I want.” But tribes fly in the face of that, because what a tribe says is “if this is important enough to us, then we better organize to make things happen because no one else will.” So that’s how you get Sir Christopher Wren building a beautiful cathedral. He built the cathedral for the tribe not for the outsiders. If you want more operas to get written then you better go buy all the new operas that are available on dvd or cd; because if you don’t buy them no more of them are going to get made. If you read about something on boing boing that seems to appeal to your tribe, that someone’s written a great short story about unicorns and you’re into unicorns or someone has come up with a piece of furniture that’s also a drum set and you’re fascinated by it, you have an obligation to buy it right now. Because if you don’t and you’re one of the few members of this weird tribe don’t expect that the world is going to make more stuff for your tribe. That this notion that we have to keep dancing faster and faster to entertain those of our tribe while they sit there with their arms folded and take no action, works in the short run but then it runs out of fuel.

And there’s a really fascinating thing to talk about here. If you look at the Amazon best seller list all the time, in the top 25 books are books that appeal to Fox News viewers. All the time. And there’s almost no books that would appeal to the kind of person who listens to Air America radio, the kind of person who’s on the progressive side of the scale. Why? And the reason is because when Glenn Beck says go buy a book, 50,000 people rush and go get it. And that act and the fact that publishers know that’s going on, gets publishers to publish more books for that tribe. And so it’s really interesting to me, for example you’ve been doing this great work for how long, couple years, three years?

JW: Four years. Yeah.

SG: Four years. It would seem to me that with the listener base you have they should be lining up and saying “Just write anything, make a product we’ll give you 20 bucks just keep doing this.”But instead the weird mantra to date has been “me, me, me, me, me” not “how do I put some stuff up so that we get more flow through coming.” And this was part of the magic of the Zagat’s Guide. What Tim and Nina Zagat did for people who loved restaurants is they created a focusing mechanism so that the weird few, the 3 percent of people in any given city, could organize around the best restaurants. So that way restaurants could compete against each other to be one of the best restaurants. Because they knew that if they got on that list the traffic would come. And so in that short riff where I talk about the obligation of the weird, it’s very simple: If you love something you better support it or it’s not going to happen anymore.

JW: Alright and so the book’s avalaible as part of the Domino Project. I just want to touch on that for a second and I know you’ve got an interesting thing here where the hard copy version’s only available with 10,000 copies out there and that’s it. So if you could talk about that and just how things are going with this project in general.

SG: The goal of the project was to make a ruckus. I’m happy to declare victory. I think that what we did is what we set out to do; which is come up with some ideas that publishers could steal. Because I have no desire to be a publisher. I have a desire for publishers to keep making more stuff I like. And I viewed the publishing community as pretty stuck with fear in the face of the death of paper. And we’re eight books in, we’ve had eight best sellers in a row, each time taking on advice about building a subscription base, a permission base anyway. Coming up with interesting formats, if we do something on paper we’re going to do it in a way that’s worth owning. We do something digital we’re going to price it in a way that reflects its costs and make it so that it’s likely to spread. So we set out to do all those things and we have, I hope, at some level succeeded. Not any of the books we’ve done have outsold a traditionally published book from a major publisher with a lot of hoopla. But every one of the books made a greater return on investment than any book published by a major publisher because the system is so efficient and our ability to reach the right people without waste was so high. So all those things are really thrilling to me.

In the case of “Weird” we limited the hardcover for a couple interesting reasons. The first is, no publisher has ever done that before because the math doesn’t support it. By the time you sell 10,000 copies in hardcover, you are in. That means you’re going to sell another 1,000 copies a month forever and that’s a lot of money. So why on earth with you say on 11,000 I’m going to stop making the hard cover, and for me it goes like this: Infinity is best handled by digits, that keeping a digital book in print forever is trivially easy. Whereas making sure you have enough hard cover books all the time forever is really hard and expensive. Number two is if its scarce, there’s a reason you’ll get it right now and that in fact is the biggest problem book publishers have – “how do I get someone to go get it right now”. So my model, which I hope will work out, so far it has, is a whole bunch of people (maybe some people listening to this) will rush and get it right now because they don’t want to be left out. And then once all the hard covers are gone and people are still buzzing about it, which I hope they will, you can still buy it, you just have to buy it in the kindle edition. And guess what, we make more money on a kindle edition than we make cutting down the tree shipping it to you, keeping it in a warehouse etc. So you benefit because you got it cheaper. We benefit because we didn’t have as many expenses and we’ve changed the conversation which is why me, the author, has written it in the first place.

We Are All Weird is available as hardcover or in Kindle version.

Categories
Podcasting

Live with Seth Godin

The past month has been insane. Thank you dear readers who keep this in your feed despite my spotty publishing schedule.

The good news is that I have been writing like crazy and after about 3 years of Saturday mornings at Starbucks or Tunnel City, the first draft of my book is complete. I hope to have it edited in less than 2 months, more on that as it goes.

I also did a session on 10 tricks to improve your photographs at Podcamp Boston 6 last weekend, you can get a PDF of the tips here.

Seth Godin was kind enough to talk with me about his new book, We Are All Weird last week. You can check it out on the latest Marketing Over Coffee.

There was also a Hurricane in there, Trade Show, some sick people, me breaking the side mirror off the Flex, watching Cars 65 times, new episodes of Dr. Who, some Red Sox games, the wheels falling off the Red Sox, DC Comics doing some crazy stuff, and a lot of work. I can’t forget my personal favorite – going to The Big E (a multi-state fair for those beyond New England) and hearing a marching band in the parade playing Cee Lo Green’s hit “F**k You” and most people not getting it, my wife laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe and was unable to explain why to her mother.

Categories
Geek Stuff

Audiophile Check-in: Best Headphones for Running

I got an email this week that TomTom is doing a GPS running watch with Nike. This was the missing link from the Nike + system that got me to switch to the Garmin 305 a couple of years ago. That led me down a rabbit hole of trying to figure out if I wanted this upgrade. A big part of it is headphone review since there are tons of styles and model numbers. Hopefully some of my research and experience will help you.

To bring everyone up to speed I have two systems that I use for working out. For running on the treadmill indoors during the winter I am now using my iPad and the Jaybird Sportsband Bluetooth Headphones. I wanted to go bluetooth so that I didn’t have to worry about pulling the iPad off of the treadmill magazine rack. I had tried a similar setup with the Sony PSP, but could not find a good way to get the PSP to sit on the treadmill with the headphone jack coming out of the bottom (great for gaming, terrible for movie watching).

I just found out about the Jaybirds two weeks ago from Christopher S. Penn, who liked his. I had been looking at the previous Jaybirds, but they stopped making them. I also used the Sony DRBT160AS, bluetooth in ear headphones for about a year, using an in-ear bud for running is a strange experience and I found that they didn’t go as loud as I would have liked for watching movies. I also tried a set of Plantronics Backbeats that died the first time they got some sweat on them. I wouldn’t say the Jaybird Sportsbands are perfect, but they are the best I’ve found so far. They are big and clunky for sports headphones and they are tight on me (I have this problem with most headphones thanks to my fat head).

For running outdoors I have a different set of tools – I use the Garmin 305 GPS system to keep track of time and distance. This includes a chest strap since it is also a heart rate monitor. The 305 covers everything except music so I also bring an iPod Shuffle 2G and a set of Sennheiser PMX80 earphones. The Sennheisers are ok, again I have the problem of a fight that is tighter than I’d like and they were a tradeoff from my previous Nike earphones. The Nikes were lighter and fit well on me, but the sound quality was about as bad as it gets. The Sennheisers sound much better but they are heavier and  tighter.

I was a fan of Nike + until I found out how inaccurate it was for me. I was doing a 5k race and found out that I was almost a tenth of a mile off, that’s really a back breaker to think you are in the final kick and then seeing the finish line still a 10th of a mile away. But now with the TomTom GPS and the fact that the Nike+ can grab data from a Polar Heart Rate Chest Strap, it is a possible alternative.

With the iPod Nano 6G I would have about the same music form factor, but it would also be Nike + enabled, capturing both GPS and heart rate data. Ultimately I’m still wearing the same amount of stuff, but my music would now be integrated into the system so that I could get audio feedback. The only problem is that only the headphones could go to the new system, I’d need the watch, the Nano, a band for the Nano, and a new chest strap – around $500 worth of stuff. Looks like I have my birthday list ready.

I’ve also decided that I want to compare existing headphones to some old classics. I considered the current MDR-AS35W but the Amazon ratings really beat on  them. I remembered that my Sony MDR-W10 were lightweight and sounded great. I managed to find an unopened set of the successor MDR-W20G, which is very similar but the headband is plastic and wider. We’ll see how these stack up against the Sennheisers. It appears that if you like this style the current model is the MDR-W08L, which is dirt cheap, but most reviewers are saying things like “they are cheap but you’ll need 4 to get through a year because they break so often”.

Note: If you are into audio you may also be interested in my posts  covering Shure, Sony and Bose headphones and how to get better sound out of your iPod if you are willing to cough up another $50.

Categories
Geek Stuff

What is the Best Dog Food?

With the passing of our dog Hannah, an economic turning point was reached. She was allergic to many common dog food ingredients, so we ended up having to buy her very expensive dog food. At first it was a prescription food, until we found out that it was actually a lot of low quality ingredients. We were able to switch to a higher quality of food that was less expensive (around $70 for a 30 lb. bag).

When we adopted Carter from the shelter he had been eating whatever garbage he could find on the streets, so we knew that even the crappiest dog food on the market would still be something he would suck down so fast he wouldn’t taste it anyway. Eating stuff like your own crap must kill the whole gourmet experience…

My first stop was Consumer Reports, an excellent site, but outside of their major categories I often come up short. In this case they have a pet food study going on now, but no results yet. Next stop was the Google, and it did not disappoint. I found Dog Food Advisor, an amazing site. From what it says there, Mike’s dog was a victim of the dog food industry’s lack of quality control. Like any true hero, he has stepped up to right what has been wrong.

It was very easy to check out the 5 star foods and find a number of alternatives. At this point though, my background in Economics kicked in – Yes, there was a ton of data on the quality of the food, but without pricing information there was still work to do.

I fired up Google Docs and started building a table of pricing from Amazon. We are Amazon Prime Members so for many of the dogfoods there is no shipping charge (I know, I couldn’t believe it either when a 30 pound box with a bag of dogfood showed up at my front door, but it did).

By calculating the price per star I was able to compare prices at similar quality levels. At this point I found what I was looking for – I never thought I would make a plug for “Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul” but it has 4 stars, and costs significantly less than all of the others I checked out. After buying a first bag, it looks almost exactly the same as the food we were using that costs twice as much. Carter still hoarks it down so fast that I still don’t think he tastes anything, but he seems to be doing well.

Unfortunately at this point the lovely Carin identified a critical flaw in the model – I had considered all dogfoods equal by weight and that is not the case. Generally the better dogfoods are richer in nutrients so you don’t have to feed your dog as much. In some cases I noticed that it can be as much as half the food over lower quality brands (so that heinous cheap stuff is no bargain at half the price if you go through it twice as fast). The proper calculation would be cost per meal – a function of price/weight per meal/weight of bag. I may not even bother as I think I’ve got a pretty good solution, but perhaps there is an outlier out there that’s an even better deal.

Just in case you are really interested, I’ve made the table available here, you can check it out and use it as you will. If you have any additions to the data (such as how much stuff costs at Costco), or have comments on the model, I’d love to hear it.

Categories
Geek Stuff

My Last PC

I was hoping that this post would be about how much I love my new laptop. Both my old tower and laptop were both over 5 years old and I decided that portable hard drives now come in sizes large enough that I could consolidate to one machine.

The problem is that after dealing with so many viruses, spyware, malware, adware, corrupted registries, I’ve moved everyone else in the family to Macs. There were two things that made me think staying with a PC was the right thing to do:

  1. I use one for work and this way I could use one docking station in the office
  2. I’m already loaded on PC software so that factored into the price of everything

There are two things that have made me realize that this was a mistake:

  1. Migration – Moving from one Mac to another entails connecting them with a cable and coming back an hour later. Migrating from one PC to another has taken all of my personal time this week and will still take another 5 hours or so.
  2. Backups – The state of PC backups are a disgrace to the technology industry as a whole. Time Machine is the Mona Lisa, PC backups are a stick dipped in crap.

The migration thing doesn’t bother me too much, I know people who don’t go the transfer route because they want to reinstall apps for better performance so the only real pain point here for me was iTunes. I had to do a lot of hocus pocus to keep my playlists – transferring my library to an external drive then reimporting it on the new machine.

Backup is what kills me. I had used Ghost for years until I had a couple of machines where I would take an image, upgrade to a larger hard drive and the image wouldn’t run on the new drive. I tried Western Digital, they have some thing where they change the file system making it slow to browse for files. One day I plugged in a drive and something was wrong with the index for the file system. The 200 GB of data was on the drive, it just couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it and said the backup set was empty. From there I went to Acronis which worked very well but I tried to install it on a WinXP machine this week and the installer wouldn’t run. I’m not too interested in trusting my data to a company that can’t get the installer to work. It could well be a Windows issue, Firewall, Anti-Virus, the guy Tony down the street, hell if I know, it’s not like I get an error message or anything.

For the XP machine I had a previous version of Acronis on CD so I could at least take an image. The question was what to do with my new Win 7 machine. There’s both the Win 7 backup utility and the Lenovo Rescue and Recovery utility. I went with R&R because it prompted me and I had forgotten that there was backup in Win 7.

It spent about 10 minutes writing help files to a hidden partition. I already have one image on a extra partition, why do I need a second one? Why would one partition be hidden and the other one not? Why bother giving an estimated time left for the help files and then have it say 0 minutes remaining for 2 hours as it writes files to my USB drive? Seeing as Adobe CS5 help files load in less than 10 minutes why does a restore program need 10 minutes? Why didn’t it ask me which drive I wanted? How am I going to know which directories are the backup and which are the folders I already on the drive? Can I have more than one backup drive? Why do I feel like this backup plan is about as safe as a parachute covered in gravy thrown in a basement full of rats for 3 months? Why do I bother asking these questions when I know that the answers don’t matter, if I had a Mac I’d click on Time Machine and be done?

The worst part is that it’s all about time. I could have spent time writing, talking to my family, doing some productive work. My fear of the pain of switching platforms boomeranged right back at me, I should have been more worried about the pain of staying on the same one.

Categories
Fanboy

Flight vs. Invisibility

Recently This American Life replaced an episode from the archives where John Hodgman (flickr Photo from kodamakitty) did a segment asking “What superpower would you choose?” (available here via Amazon affiliate link).

The rules are simple, you have the choice between invisibility or flight. He uses the question to great success as an icebreaker, and talks about the process that most people go through while answering the question. If you do not listen to This American Life I heartily recommend it, it’s very high quality and family friendly.

And most importantly, which would you choose?

Categories
Geek Stuff Podcasting

Audiophile Update

Longtime readers know of my love for music and audio, and regardless of the quality of my marketing thoughts here the linkbait of my headphone review trumps everything else at this site.

The original review was in 2007 and is posted here covering Shure, Sony and Bose. I also get a lot of traffic on how to get better sound out of your iPod if you are willing to cough up another $50.

So what’s new? I also mentioned the Nike earphones that I use for running, they died a couple of weeks ago at the Falmouth Road Race. After at least 3 years of sweating and pouring water over my head in hot weather I can say they are a superior product and served me well at the price.

I have replaced them with the Sennheiser PMX80 running earphones, which I had considered when I bought the Nike set. They are also great but it comes down to sound quality vs. comfort and isolation. The Sennheisers sound much better but they are a tiny bit heavier and they fight much tighter in my ear, this results in a much better sound, but I’m not able to hear what is going on around me as well. It comes down to much better music, or hearing what’s going on around you with out as much in your ear. For now, I’m liking the music, we’ll see how the hold up.

Shure Update – I got an email notice that Shure is refreshing the line of products. The big thing I noticed is that the cables are now removable. After a couple of years of heavy use the cord on mine broke because of the way they twist over my ear (and it should be mentioned that they repaired them for free). These are still getting heavy use and sounding great, although I haven’t tried anything new lately.

In other gear updates I got a Sony NEX-5 and will be posting some pics on Flickr soon.