Friday, October 31, 2014

Feed Sift (Oct. 31, 2014)

Happy Halloween! Here's some stuff I thought was worth sharing.


ENGADGET -- Korean protester spreads democracy's message by balloon and flashdrive


MEDIUM -- The Internet of Things Will Ruin Birthdays


FAST COMPANY -- 5 Strategies for Big-Picture Thinking


INTUIT -- 5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your One-On-Ones With Your Manager


MORNING DEVOTION -- When You're Smiling


CINEMA BLEND -- How Guardians Of The Galaxy Taught A Kid With Autism To Be A Superhero


EXCELJET -- Can pivot tables save your job? Maybe!




LIFEHACKER -- All the Awesome Stuff You Can Do with Google+ Photos


TWISTED SIFTER -- 11 Story Building Completely Demolished in 60 Seconds - pretty sure it took far less than 60 seconds, that most of that time was just showing off with pyrotechnics

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quote: Enemy

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. - Napoleon

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On the subject of gifts....

I started to write an email and decided it worked better as a blog post. (What's below is not the email, I deleted that and then the first draft post as well.)

So why write about giving me gifts at all? Is that presumptuous of me? Greedy? Self-serving?

I hope not.

I don't want to be prescriptive about what people should or shouldn't give me, but I want to be helpful.  If I simply said "Don't get me anything." I know I would be sad (I like gifts/surprises) and some people would be sad (they like giving presents) or they would be offended (either because they weren't planning on it or because who am I to tell them what to do? They'll show me. Now they're going to get me twice as many gifts. OK, I don't see that happening.)

Here's a few of the things in my mind that might give you some ideas hopefully without being prescriptive. Lori can also probably decode these if you're curious to learn more but don't want to ask me.

Seattle - I love Seattle and love celebrating it, I love spending time in it.  

Food - I've dropped 42 pounds but really struggling with the last 8. Still, there are some special treats I enjoy, like items from Pike Place Market or Made in Washington that wouldn't normally appear on Lori's menu. Lori and I have also had fun recently buying small samples of various cheeses from Trader Joes as a way of trying new things.

Clothes - I'm in the early stages of coming up with a "style" - a much smaller wardrobe of quality pieces that all fit together for consistency with a singular look, color palette. 

Time with our family and friends - We (either all four of us, or just Lori and I or just the children without Lori and I) don't get to spend as much time with family and friends as we'd like.  Invite yourself over or invite us over.  A lame excuse but it's a step above survival - we're not thinking at that level. Please reach out to us. We're not intentionally being hermits.

Time with a child - Lori and I don't get enough chances for focused time together with a single child. If you'd like to borrow the other for an afternoon, evening or sleepover, they come with instructions. (Or just hang out at our house while we're out with the other child. Ben has been a bigger recipient of mom and dad time to date.)

Time with just Lori - while Lori and I do enjoy far more date nights than your typical parent of special needs children, we welcome ideas on how to spend that time (if you want to send us to a unique restaurant, a performance or a worship concert, those are all great ways to gift us)  

Stuff - I'm fighting a battle with clutter, we have limited surfaces and Ben's started pulling things off the walls. Would I grab it in a fire?  Alternatively, is it a non-food item I will use (but wouldn't necessarily buy for myself), some kind of little luxury? Otherwise, the "stuff" that I'd put on a list are not the stuff of gifts: a new furnace, permanent wiring for generator, hot water heater, windows in basement, new retaining wall, redoing the kid's bathroom, etc.

Future - Our future is uncertain, but there's the potential that Ben could be with us the rest of our life and then need care after we're gone. Anything with a thought towards that is a heartwarming blessing of a future we're cautioned not to dwell upon but still does linger as something to be considered.

Beyond me - there are people in situations I can't even really comprehend - around the world or here in our community, many of whom would probably even do a better job of being truly grateful for a gift. If I'm difficult to shop for or I've just put forth a bunch of annoying rules that suck the joy out of it, there's always shoeboxes and angel trees and food banks and charities.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rethink Your Business

In late 2010, I had an opportunity to do something really fun. I hand-picked about 10 of my co-workers and announced that we were going on a field trip - to do research project. These were peers, it wasn't compulsory but there would be homework.

Starbucks had just launched the Starbucks Digital Network (in cooperation with Yahoo!) - a portal of content exclusively available in its caf├ęs. At the same time, our new group was really hitting its groove and thinking hard about what the next version of the internet looked like for us.  We were a newly formed unit focused on the internet inside a major non-profit that had successfully lived in a postal world for decades - several different groups had been brought together to function like a startup. Those were exciting times.

I told them to bring their phones, laptops, I think we even had a brand new shiny iPad First Edition with us.

I put together a packet with a couple of pages of questions. We piled into cars and headed to Starbucks. Unfortunately, the WiFi wasn't working. The barista said it had been out for some time and that it had been reported.  We tweeted about the non-working WiFi and one person tweeted about the Starbucks Digital Network.  We got in the car and drove to a second Starbucks. By the time we got there, we had heard back from Stephen Gillett, the then-Executive Vice President of Digital Ventures at Starbucks who apparently had a watch on Twitter for people mentioning the SDN.  (By that afternoon he and I exchanged a few emails and the WiFi in the first store was fixed. That was kind of cool.)

So we rolled into the second store, some already carrying Starbucks cups, the others heading to the counter to place their orders.  We gathered at the bar and a few nearby tables and began playing. They also had their homework packets that I had prepared and provided in print and electronically to them. Some filled it out by hand, others began to type responses and others didn't fill them out later, but I led them through an examination of the experience... what did you notice about the marketing? how was the new offering promoted? how easy was it to use? what did you like? what didn't you like?

I got them thinking about how the experience might be perceived - how it might complement someone's other activities, such as sitting and drinking a coffee. Or would it have negative side-effects? Would people stay too long? Was that a problem? Would they play on their computers instead of talking or reading a newspaper? Would they be disappointed if they called up the page later after leaving and they could no longer get to the content?

Lastly, I made it applicable to us. What if the same people that did the Starbucks Digital Network did our website? What if they were trying to do what we did?

There were some fascinating answers, some great thought-provoking discussion and I think we all came out of it asking new questions and approaching our work in a new way. (My photo is intentionally obtuse, I think the responses were best left for internal use.)

I never had a chance to do anything like this again, but I always thought it would have been fun to go some place like The Home Depot and use their breakroom for a brainstorming session.  Or go to Best Buy or Verizon or Macys or Wal*Mart and ask "What is unique about this experience? What would it look like if the gatekeepers for this experience were tasked with meeting our business objectives? What would they do? What wouldn't they do that we're now doing?"

What are you doing to get out of the box and see your business in a new light?

(cross-posted to LinkedIn)

Facebook Email: That's All, Folks

At the end of 2010, Facebook unveiled its inbox: your chosen nickname would become an email address. My coverage (here) has remained one of my most read blog posts over the years. Well, based on the email this morning, looks like Facebook's changing course. All emails sent to my email address will now be forwarded to one of the email addresses I have on file.

Facebook's Inbox was never well-publicized, new messages hidden in an "Other" inbox that was hidden unless you knew (and remembered to actually check it). New emails didn't result in notifications and were missing from the mobile apps.

The last message I see in that inbox (from a Facebook group/page I am a fan of) was from 2011.

This may have been a missed opportunity for Facebook (probably would be considered a "distraction") but also speaks to the strength of email as a stand-alone platform.  Attempts to redefine or integrate email into something else is not an easy proposition.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Book Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner by

Review by ()

I spent the entire time I read this being slightly confused. A boy named Thomas wakes up on a moving platform without most of his memories. When it finally stops, he realizes that it's been an elevator. He's greeted by a bunch of boys who speak English, but with a few made-up words. Even though he can't remember anything, he feels like he understands or has repressed memories of the place. The elevator is in the center and it's a big, flat place with a farm in one corner, a forest in another. The place also has a cemetery, a crudely constructed multi-story building, and a few cinderblock buildings, one he learns is a jail, another a room where maps are kept. The entire area is like a box with no lid - vertical walls extend up on all sides over a hundred feet tall.

On each of the four walls, a vertical slit leads into a maze. The boys have determined that the maze is 8 times the size of the space they live in (think of a tic-tac-toe board). Every night, the slits close and the maze is reconfigured.

Their life is one of routine and rules. Everyone has assigned duties. Supplies arrive in the lift on a regular basis. Try to escape via the lift and something slices you in half. But you can ask for stuff (like running shoes) and it's delivered with the supplies.

Every day, "runners" go into the maze. Their job is to explore the maze and document what's changed. The belief is that somehow, somewhere, there's a way out. For over two years they've been at it. No contact with the outside world, no knowledge except for that which they discover themselves. Oh, and there's monsters in the maze - creatures that are part slug, part mechanical beings. If encountered during the day, you can usually get away and get out of the maze, but you do not want to remain in the maze overnight, you will not survive and the next day the runners will be cleaning you up off the maze floor and bringing you back to bury you in the cemetery with all the other boys who have died. If the monsters prick you with one of their spikes, you will have all sorts of scary hallucinations and be mentally unstable for a few days. Boys who have gone through that say they'd rather die.

The new guy Thomas isn't content to slowly learn, he's anxious to get started. He wants to be a runner. He riles everyone up because he's not interested in the rules and order. He gets things done and by ignoring the rules he discovers things about where they live that no one else has. Not too soon after he arrives, an unconscious girl arrives in the lift. A note in her hand says that the end is coming. Between Thomas' failure to follow the rules, the arrival of the girl and the happenings that begin to, well, happen, the other boys are for the most part angry and distrustful of Thomas and don't believe he knows as little as he claims.

I couldn't quite picture the monsters, I couldn't quite fathom the scale of their prison and the weird language the boys spoke threw me. The ending was also a bit frustrating. This won't be a series I continue to read. However, I am curious about the movie because maybe it will help fill in the gaps for me that evaded my imagination. If it's good, maybe I'll pick up the second book (which is also currently being turned into a movie).

The Maze Runner (

Friday, October 24, 2014

Feed Sift (Oct. 24, 2014)

Some recent stuff I wanted to share.


ENGADGET -- What you need to know about self-driving cars


NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC -- Empire of Rock - China's Supercaves


PEOPLE DISCOVERY -- Mind-Set: The Winning Factor


EXCELJET -- 23 Things You Should Know about Pivot Tables


BIRGIT WHELAN -- Staying at our Post


MEDIUM -- Technical Debt 101


CRACKED -- 6 Ways Movies Get Space Wrong (by Astronaut Chris Hadfield)


NOT ALWAYS RIGHT -- Political Correctness Takes a Holiday


OK CUPID -- We Experiment on Human Beings!


YOUTUBE -- Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Uncut - Totally recreated scene for scene by other people in a variety of styles. Wow... people are cool. I wish I had time to watch this whole thing.

Happy Friday!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Review: The Everything Store by Brad Stone @bradstone

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by

Review by ()

I love Seattle. I thought I loved L.A. and possibly there's still a part of me that does, but I love Seattle. I love the beauty of the city in its rich history and architecture to the tall lines of its modern buildings. And then there's the trees, the water and the mountains. And the weather complements it as well, whether it's a beautiful 72 degree spring day or a gray, rainy, blustery day. So I've always been a fan of its local industries and the degree to which Seattle businesses become global juggernauts.

So of course I had to read the Amazon book. I couldn't help compare to "By My Guest" by Hilton which my dad loaned me and got me interested in these types of books (and one that I apparently never reviewed on my blog) and "Onward" by Howard Schultz (which remains a popular read on my blog).

The book is a quick read and you get to learn some unique things, like about some of the building or conference room names (one after the first customer, another after a dog that would accompany an early employee into the office). Another is the small, independent team mentality which sounds fascinating and scary but may also be why this reviewer continues to get emails from Kindle Brazil despite the nice letter from the Director of Amazon Brazil pledging to get me off the list (probably as a result of me writing to and that director getting one of Jeff's famous "?" emails.) But in the same way that it's a quick read, it also feels rushed.

Jeff Bezos says that Amazon is still on "Day One" - that most of Amazon's story is yet to be written. This book suffers for that - while a great look at what's happened so far, the pace at which things are changing means that far more quickly than, say, Hilton, the book becomes past its good-through date: you get to the end and you think "what about... and... and...?" This may not necessarily be the book's fault, attempting to capture a snapshot in time of a company that's moving so quickly. I think what makes "I'm Feeling Lucky" (my review) is that the author was an employee but then left, which gives the book more natural closure. While Stone had access to a number of employees, including Bezos for while, it's more analysis and recounting events but you lose some of the narrative or some of the inherent underlying vision of someone who lived it as an employee or the visionary themselves.

I think it's telling about Amazon that even this book was embroiled in controversy - there was questions about whether it would be sold on Amazon and the store and publisher have tangled over pricing.

The Everything Store is told from more of an outsider's perspective. It tries not to be critical, but it's probably a little more "warts and all" than the Hilton or Starbucks or Google book. I was applying for jobs while I read this book and I came close to withdrawing as I read. The book shows a relentless pursuit of customer service, but I wonder if it's at the expense of anything else and everything else.

I'd do recommend this book, it's full of great stories and gives you some glimpses of the birth and growing pains of this modern juggernaut. And I'd definitely recommend it for Amazon employees - these are the stories that are being told. If they're wrong or incomplete then Amazon needs to do a better job of telling its story, its way.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (

Links to Amazon are tagged with my affiliate code, of course. You'd be surprised how many thermistors I've sold for Amazon.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Feed Sift (Tuesday, Oct. 14)

More stuff I've captured because I wanted to share but then never made it into a post.


LIFEHACKER -- Change Your Beliefs About Yourself to Form Better Habits


ENGADGET -- See more of Android Wear, Google's wrist-borne OS

CROSSCUT -- The truth about Tacoma: 5 things you might not know


THE ATLANTIC -- World War I in Photos: A Century Later


LIKE A TEAM -- Preparing for Worship


SETH GODIN -- When in doubt, re-read rule one


WEB URBANIST -- Dubai to Build New 50 Million Sq Ft Climate-Controlled City


HOUZZ -- Light Your Patio, Extend Your Evening


BUSINESS WEEK -- Twilight of the Pizza Barons - As a former Little Caesar's employee (and current regular customer), I found this really interesting


VIMEO -- Futurama 3D Test Shot - wow. Go watch the larger version and his "making of" videos.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Worth Repeating: Jennifer Golbeck @jengolbeck

The Curly Fry Conundrum: Why social media "likes" say more than you might think: Do you like curly fries? Have you Liked them on Facebook? Watch this talk to find out the surprising things Facebook (and others) can guess about you from your random Likes and Shares. More on

Why I Posted This: Data is fascinating. Simple behavioral data (you visited this page, you put this item in your cart, therefore we'll recommend these items and send you this abandoned cart reminder) is just the tip of the iceberg. Even Target knowing you're pregnant before you've told anyone is just the start. All of the sudden through aggregation and patterns, information exists from data clues you provided. And in some cases, it can be wrong and in other cases, it's right on. What we say and do online (or don't do and don't say) starts to define who we are. Not who we really are, but who the interconnected world of computers that determine what you can buy, what your credit or insurance risk, etc., is. Fascinating and scary.

(Why haven't I posted these in awhile? I've been busy and distracted. I'm way behind on the list of TED Talks I want to watch.)

Feed Sift (Saturday, Oct. 11)

It's been way too long since I've posted one of these. I've been collecting interesting links but not getting blog posts written. So here's a list of 10 things off that list that are still interesting (to me).


ENGADGET -- FDA approves a life-like prosthetic arm from the man who invented the Segway


LIFEHACKER -- Stop Trying to Be Happy and Start Working Towards Your Ideal Self


TWISTED SIFTER -- Remember Faces but Forget Names? You Might Be a Visual Thinker


MICROSOFT -- Create a custom number format in Excel


NETFLIX -- The Case Against ISP Tolls


ENGADGET -- Autonomous camera drone lets you shoot your own action scenes


THE GUARDIAN -- D-day landings scenes in 1944 and now – interactive




GOOGLE OPERATING SYSTEM -- Startup Tips From a Former Googler


YOUTUBE -- Danny MacAskill's Imaginate

Monday, October 06, 2014

None-Too-Small: Email Marketing for the Local Dry Cleaner

Anyone who relies on repeat business (especially the closer it gets to a commodity product or service) must regularly remind their customers that they still exist and are still the ones to do business with.

Like the old joke about the guy who says "Honey, I said I loved you on the day I married you and I said I'd let you know if that ever changes." -- it's not good enough. You have to keep telling them you love them.

The real problem with Email Marketing (or any real marketing), then, is that you have to be interesting. There are shortcuts to grab attention - you can be funny or loud (broadcast), you can appear intellectual, cultured or informed (especially in print), but if you're not interesting, it won't work in the long run. You can also relentlessly hammer home discounts, coupons or low prices, but it's a race to the bottom and today's low price isn't as impressive tomorrow.

So how can a commodity like dry cleaning use an email newsletter?

Dry Cleaners actually have some significant up-front costs - the machinery. Ongoing, there's rent, cleaning supplies, electricity, marketing. And staffing - either paying people to work there or collecting enough margin to put food on the table and send the young ones to college (if I may borrow from the stereotype of a bootstrapper seeking to make a better life for his family)

The Dry Cleaner needs regular, consistent repeat business and yet there's often not a lot to differentiate one from another at first glance, especially to someone who hasn't visited your shop before.

You are reliant on signs in your windows or signboards on the street, coupons in the mail. That might bring someone in once, but how do you keep them coming back? Also, is there a better way to get them in the door in the first place? Absolutely - the recommendation of an existing customer who's already excited about your service.

What might you promote?

  • Convenience - you drop it off, we clean it, you pick it up
  • Additional Offerings - other services they might not be aware (or have forgotten) we offer such as pick-up, delivery, late hours, rush service, loyalty programs, credit-card-on-file, etc.
  • Competency - tips and tricks on how readers can deal with simple spills and stains themselves with reminders about how we are with the big jobs
  • Competency - describe tough jobs and how you handle, like a leather jacket or wedding dress
  • Savings - the best customers get the best discounts - tie to customer loyalty to avoid giving away margin to bargain hunters that go wherever the cheap deals are
  • Benefits to the environment - the dry cleaning process vs regular cleaning, or better yet, if eco-friendly products are used, how they interact with the environment (but work just as well to clean)
  • Customer Testimonials - other people just like them who think you're awesome 
  • Lost and found hall of fame - interesting items that have been abandoned (always leave them with something fun - then with each newsletter, they know it's worth skimming to the end)
  • Reminder feature - a way for the customer to schedule a reminder email/sms reminding them to stick the dry cleaning in the car

When should you send?

Once a month is probably a good place to start. From all of the categories above you can probably find 2-3 items to write blog posts about and that's probably all you need in a mobile-friendly quick hit reminder to your customers that you're still out there doing an amazing job providing a service they need. A couple of options, depending on how fancy you want to get.

  • Sunday afternoon - reach people who have had events over the weekend that included formal wear that now needs some care and attention
  • The night before your slow day - drive business when you have the most free time to provide excellent customer service, when you're not feeling rushed
  • Timed with their pickup - if you're about to send but the subscriber has clothes being cleaned, hold the send until the clothes are ready for pickup - then your email serves double-duty as a transactional "your clothes are ready" and as informational - it'll be opened at a higher rate and give you another chance to reinforce that you are the Dry Cleaner with a difference.

Additional idea for Dry Cleaners:

If I were opening a Dry Cleaning shop, I'd start calling the HR Departments of local businesses, asking to speak to whoever was in charge of Employee Perks.  You might get people stammering and saying they didn't do much of that. Which is perfect because you have an offer for them - office pick-up and delivery of dry cleaning - you'll provide bags and order envelopes. Once a week you'll pick up all dry cleaning (the envelopes have a hole that fits over the hangers and a place to write instructions and they put their check for payment inside) from the office and the day after next you'll drop off the cleaned clothes.  There might be the minimal expense of providing a small clothes rack but you've now created a built-in steady supply of customers.

About Me:

I am a digital marketing and technology professional with 20-years experience. I started a small consultancy (BoostCE) as a hobby to help smaller businesses with their marketing needs because I just love this stuff. I'm also currently looking for a new full-time job in the Seattle/Tacoma area. If you're looking for some creative help with your marketing, whether you're looking to add someone like me to your team or if you'd just like some consulting help, please feel free to contact me. Please also check out my LinkedIn profile and pass it along if you know of someone who I could help.