Creating Transcendent Art

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I heard the kids stirring downstairs early this morning.

Why don’t they sleep in on Saturdays? Jennifer says it’s because they’re my children. Meaning, they have my inescapable wake-up-early-despite-what-time-I-went-to-bed gene. It’s a blessing. And a curse.

After finishing a book on my iPad, I came downstairs to feed the tribe. I found them hunkered around Mommy’s iMac watching Star Wars Episode VI for the trillionth time. That’s when it dawned on me.

I’ve created monsters.

Wookies, to be more precise.

But it’s proof George Lucas created transcendent films. Forging art that’s not only applicable to the present generation but captures the hearts of generations to come is evidence of genius. It’s also pretty amazing to think what kind of special effects kids today are exposed to, yet they never seem to question the plausibility of those late 1970’s – early 1980’s films. (Ironic that the special effects additions from the films’ recent revitalizations in the last decade seem grossly out of place).

Regardless of technology – or the tools of the day – art can become transcendent if the creator is true to the art itself. Staying true to the story, the mission and the values – regardless of what technology or tools are on hand – is essential to building believability and sustainability.

A simple example is the human race.

We’re pretty old technology if you think about it: our first models came out of production about 6,000 years ago. Yet we’re still enamored with each other, enough to love, marry, reproduce and die for one another. But that’s because the Creator stayed true to form. He had any creative means at his disposal – unlimited technology. Yet he chose only to create what the model was asking for as his design emerged.

I once heard a great music producer use that very line. “Don’t add the track you want to the song, add only the tracks the song is asking for.” Thanks Dad. Because if done properly, every song, every piece of art, and every film has a soul of sorts. Just like people do. Figuring out what fits the piece’s soul is the key to making it transcendent – making it stay true to form. To itself. And to its creator.

And ensuring Wookies are born in future generations.

ch:

Reinvention by Fire

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I’m more than halfway through Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs on audio CD. My mom gave it to me for Christmas and I’m just now getting to it.

I always had a lot of respect for Steve, but I had no idea just how diverse, full, liberal, adventurous, ironic, and trial-bound his life truly was. Which makes me respect him all the more.

I’m sure many of my observations will come out here over the next few weeks, from spiritual remarks to business principles to family life. But the thing that’s struck me the most – the thing that’s actually had me saying “Wow” out loud – was the manner in which Steve Jobs embraced moments of blatant defeat, both personally and corporately, and found ways to reinvent himself unto success.

Some by choice, others through what my father called “the great sieve of life,” Steve confronted personal demons that caused him to implode as a twenty- and thirty-something, and allowed him to flourish as a forty-something and beyond.

The interesting thing is that career-wise, Jobs was a multi-millionaire by age 25. But he was far from being a successful person in life. To live life well is a very different venture than running businesses in the black (though arguably related). The embodiment of our expectations, our dreams, our perceived gifting, and the way in which we treat people can make or break us as people.

In the 80’s, Jobs was ornery, prickly, polarizing, a know-it-all, pushy, and brilliant. But through being fired from his own company, building another company that hemorrhaged cash every year (Next), love lost, love gained, marriage, children both in and out of wedlock, and the success of Pixar, he was slightly less prickly, slightly less polarizing, thinking through the need for moral high-ground, patient, and still brilliant.

The very things that tried to destroy him were refining him to tackle the issues he was born to resolve. And he couldn’t face them until he was resolved. Until he was reinvented.

We tend to look at our own lives in the scope of today, this week, and next month. It’s not often we think about who we’ll be in twenty years and the things we’ll need to walk through in order to become the person that our environments need. Most of us – myself included – tend to look back and notice change. But what incredible foresight it is to see change that needs to take place ahead of us, and then embrace it.

I believe the root of such vision is divine in origin. It comes from a connection to the Holy Spirit who sees the end from the beginning.

I’ll save my limited thoughts on Steve’s spirituality for another day. Whether he had foresight, or simply was a product of the pressures that assailed him remains to be seen. But it’s apparent that he was able to accept many of the maturing influences that life threw him and grow.

Don’t put off your future fortunes by failing to miss the point of your present pressures. ch:

A Guide to Self-Publishing: Publishing eBooks

This one is the big kahuna. The full monty. The one that got away…

…but not this time.

This time you snagged it, reeled it in, and grilled it for dinner.

This is the future of book publishing, and we are living in it. It has never been easier for a writer to reach millions of people globally than it is right now. Amazon continues to push its prices lower on Kindles and get them into as many hands as possible. And contrary to recent statements by union-type elites loyal to the author and consumer gouging practices of the Big 6, successful companies that verge on monopolizing any field do not raise prices but lower them. Consumers and creators benefit. As J.A. Konrath so unabashedly pointed out, it’s cartels and unions that are suffering, and are therefore throwing a hissy fit.

What’s the point?

The fact that you’re missing out on free money as I type this should be at least one motivating factor in getting you to start, finish, or prepare your manuscript for sale as an ebook. Yes, I write because I believe words change culture; I also write because I am compelled to be obedient to what I sense the Holy Spirit is calling me to, and to steward the talent he’s given me; as a blood-bought Christian, I will receive a reward (or lack thereof) in proportion to how I stewarded my gifts here on planet Earth. But I also write because it’s added income for my family, and as a husband and father I care a great deal about being faithful to them. You may not share my spiritual beliefs, but you probably share some of my economic ones.

Selling ebooks is probably the simplest, fastest, and most expansive return on my writing investment I’ve seen yet.

Granted, some authors will sell only a very little. Good books sell, and you should never fault consumers for poor sales performance. Other authors will sell gobs. The man I’ve mentioned above has hit $75,000-$100,000 USD/week multiple times in 2012. He’s fascinating to study, and to read. [Disclaimer to my younger readers: Konrath is brilliant, but at times he's very vulgar so please have a parent per-read a new post if you're unsure].

Me? I’m already making more per month than I ever have with my legacy publishers, and I expect my ebook sales to catch up with 6 months of combined print sales in less than 40 days.

As I’ll discuss tomorrow, I’m still experimenting with promotional tactics and trying to isolate what works and what doesn’t. Proper marketing is a fascinating and ever changing beast.

eBook Conversion

Probably the easiest part of self-publishing, and ironically the most cost-effective and lucrative, waits until the end of this whole process. That is unless you have no intention of providing print editions (which would go against the ideology of providing your books to as many people as possible across every available platform).

All the work you did to organize, edit and layout your manuscript, and to craft and refine a cover, now translates easily into creating an ebook. Essentially the conversion process takes the guts of your text and the front face of your cover and merges them together. If you’re skipping the print edition, then having a finished Word file and a front cover design are all you need.

As mentioned yesterday, I use Glendon & Tabatha Haddix of Streetlight Graphics for all my ebook conversions (and I plan to for a while to come). Here’s a little reasoning on why.

Knowing I’m a geek (nerds don’t make money; geeks do), I felt strongly I could attempt converting my own books. I read multiple tutorials on using MS Word and Adobe InDesign to convert manuscripts to ebooks. Given the amount of extraneous code that Word puts on the back end of a document, and the fact that I generally loathe even opening it (I prefer less clunky, more resource friendly and sleeker applications like TextEdit, Evernote and Scrivener) I decided to put most of my time into using InDesign.

I read tutorials, watched how-to guides, and even had some great dialogue with Adobe staff and one noted independent industry guru (all of whom were very helpful, by the way). But my final products never seemed to add up to something I felt represented my books, and I was sure they’d infuriate my readers. Knowing I had one chance to make my e-reading public happy, I needed a better option.

Kindle will help you convert a manuscript – at least to Kindle. When you create your free Kindle Direct Publishing account, they have options where you can have a KDP tech look at your PDF and give you a quote for converting it. Their base price says $69.00 USD. But my quote came back as $179.00 USD for each title of The White Lion Chronicles, as my PDFs had some “layering issues” they would not elaborate on. Ouch.

But having KDP convert for me was only a quarter of the problem. Since they only convert for Kindle – and holding to my “provide my books in as many formats as possible” mantra – I still had to find a way to convert for all the other formats, including Nook, Kobo, Adobe Digital Editions, Smashwords, Sony eReaders and Apple iBooks.

And people wonder where all my hair went.

By this point in the process I was tired and frustrated. I was emailing my fellow Spearhead authors looking for answers. One of their generous friends from a church in Seattle attempted to assist me; but even he, a former Amazon employee and conversion tech, was having trouble because things had changed since when he left a year ago. (Gulp).

That’s when Wayne Thomas Batson forwarded us all a link to Streetlight. At first none of us could believe their prices were legit. (Their cover prices as well as their package deals are amazing too!). So I wrote them to inquire.

Within a few hours I had a personal reply. What seemed too good to be true turned out to be better than too good. It was great. Not only would they format for Kindle for under $69.00 USD like KDP had quoted me, but they’d also convert to all the other formats I needed for under $69.00 USD per title!

I was beside myself.

Following the recommendation of friends I went and purchased a few randomly selected ebooks Streetlight had done, and the quality was above anything I could produce (and to date I’ve received zero negative feedback – a first for any reading format for me). Glendon & Tabatha are first class communicators and converters.

Distributing Online

Within one month I had The White Lion Chronicles ready to upload to all ebook distributing channels. Here’s what you’ll need to do the same.

1.) Open a free account with Kindle Direct Publishing. This will allow you to distribute your ebook to the largest seller in the world. And my own numbers prove it: more than 90% of my sales are on Kindle. You don’t need an ISBN; KDP has its own internal means of assigning yours books identification, though you can use your own ISBN if you have one.

2.) Open a free PubIt! account with Barnes & Noble which will allow you to distribute to the Nook. The Nook accounts for 2% of my sales to date. Like KDP, PubIt! doesn’t require an ISBN number and will track your ebook internally, but they’ll use your ISBN if you supply it.

3.) Open a free Smashwords account. Smashwords is great because it will allow you to reach all the other digital devices and formats out there, including Apple’s iBooks, and making your manuscript available as a viewable or printable PDF (I feel sorry for that printer!). Unlike KDP and PubIt!, Smashwords does require you to have an ISBN. It’s important to note that you can not use your physical book’s ISBN for your digital books. Your print book and you ebook are separate products (even though they have the same title), so they require different identification. Smashwords has their own batches of ISBNs that – like CreateSpace – list them as an associated entity with you, but does not infringe on your legal or moral rights or royalties. Until I feel like shelling out $1,000.00 USD for a block of 1,000 ISBNs from Bowker, this is the route I went. (Yes, you can buy less ISBNs from Bowker at a time, but the price is ridiculous).

One last note on Smashwords: in order for your book to be listed in something like Apple’s iBook Store, your book must meet their Premium status. Essentially, it needs to be a properly formatted, clean conversion that meets strict guidelines. Which Streetlight’s conversions do. It took almost 3 weeks (as your books wait in line), but eventually they were approved (something you see noted in your Smashwords dashboard).

Why not publish through Apple directly? You certainly can. But Apple tends to work faster with large representation companies (like Smashwords) that funnel huge quantities of titles and authors to them. Plus there’s no guarantee they’ll accept your application (they tend to be picky). There’s no real cost benefit either way, and it’s just one less account I have to monitor. I’m used to this already as my digital music is distributed through a San Francisco based company called IODA that supplies over 350 online retailers with my music, including Apple’s iTunes.

Streetlight provides a free step-by-step guide on how to upload your books and list them, and they alert you to any pitfalls in the process. It needs revising for 2012, but is a very simple and methodical overview of what to expect, and outlines just what you get when they convert your manuscript. (Astounding).

Pricing your ebooks can be a bit daunting. And the truth is you’ll never really know what works for you until you experiment. KDP has set the standard for the most part. At the time of my writing, they have two royalty brackets you can operate within: 30% for books set between $.99 and $2.98 USD, and 70% for books set at $2.99 USD and up. There are many articles and opinions on the best performing price points and why, but you risk getting so distracted you never end up setting a price point at all. All my books are set at $2.99 USD across all digital platforms at present; I may experiment later with dropping that further to $.99 USD.

There is a lot of discussion about the merits of selling ebooks for free in order to grow a fan base. While PubIt! and Smashwords allow this, Kindle does not, unless you’re a directly endorsed Amazon-published author (a whole other subject outside of this guide). KDP will only allow $.99 USD as their lowest price point. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of free in tomorrow’s subject of promotion.

The Future Is Calling

Publishing in the digital world is still in its infancy. But one thing is clear: it’s not going anywhere. Innovators will emerge, new companies will be birthed, and world literacy will grow – one of the best results I can think of.

I’ve heard it rumored that 10 is the magic number. Once an author has 10 titles to his or her name, their money-making abilities are firmly ensconced in the digital world. Call it an algorithm, a hunch, or a marketing ploy by Amazon to get more titles on their virtual shelves, the fact is that that premise will most likely mean little to you if you’re not writing.

So stop reading this and get back to writing. ch:

Video Production Schematic

Audio is fairly easy. There are loads of tutorials online, gear is easy to come by – especially used – and almost any church geek can help you get set up in a few hours.

But video is a whole other animal. In fact, it’s probably not even an animal at all. It’s a monster.

I have been asked countless times (no – seriously – I’ve lost count) to share just how we’ve wired New Life’s live video production department. The reason? There’s very little out there on video. And what’s there requires a very steep learning curve, tons of proprietary information, and a skill set that – among other things – necessitates the discipline of monitoring gear that changes monthly. That, and the equipment is expensive enough that you can’t afford to make mistakes.

The other factor is that there’s very little out there for mid-size budgets.

Sure, anyone can plug a home video camera into a computer via firewire and get a livestream.com or ustream.com account for their church. We’ve done that, and it served it’s purpose for a season. But it won’t last long, unless your viewers love when your senior pastor’s message gets interrupted by a 30 second Teen Wolf commercial of a guy groping a girl. (True story).

And on the high end? Well, you don’t even want to know. I followed a lead that my friend in a 5,000 member church gave me for what they use: a Spider box from Vista Systems. Oh, it did everything I wanted, and then some. Even had the name recognition of being used in FoxNews studios, CNN, the NFL, and other major production facilities. And for an entry level price of $53,400 I immediately understood why. “Yeah, I’m going to have to pass on this one,” I politely said and then hung up.

Back to the drawing board.

After joining nearly every video message board, having emails and posts go unanswered (or under answered) for weeks on end, and researching far more than I had time for, I decided no one was going to help me the way I needed, and that I didn’t have the budget to hire a consulting firm (only then to spend more money on the actual gear I needed).

I was going to have to create something from scratch.

The following represents 6 months of work (with even more research before that from my Video Director, Tim Desormo), a lot of sleepless nights, and the inevitable call from my “video savior” Mike Ricks of Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville, FL, who – after seeing one of my final desperate pleas on a message forum along the lines of, “Will someone just please tell me if this schematic I’ve created will work?” – wrote me back and said, “Bro. It will totally work. We’re doing the same thing down here. Call me.”

I’m making this schematic as well as a detailed description below available completely free because, a) this is the Kingdom, and we share our successes as well as our failures, and b) I don’t want others going through the hardships I went through.

Many thanks go to Mike Ricks, Eric Dally (LCM), Jeremy Bielawski (TFH), Dave Bode (Elim), David Seaman (Revive), and my own production team, Tim Desormo, Tammy Desormo, and Joseph Gilchrist. Without your patience and input, we’d still be interrupted by Teen Wolf every Sunday.

NEW LIFE VIDEO SCHEMATIC OVERVIEW

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD HIGH REZ PDF

MAC PRO: Our main hub is an Apple Mac Pro 8 Core tower. We have a cinema display and a wireless keyboard and mouse. It’s hardwired into our router, serviced by Westelcom’s screaming fast fiber optic lines that provide us with amazing 17mbps up and 10mbps down service. Among other video editing and ripping applications, our main use for the system is Wirecast. Tied with it is Desktop Presenter which I’ll discuss under the iMac section.

WIRECAST: Rather than going back to physical hardware (TV monitors, switching consoles, lots of cable, and a $15-$20,000 price tag), I wanted to stay digital, knowing software was easier to upgrade, and I had more than enough power. Wirecast by Telestream was the answer, especially at $400 for the por version. It allows for mixing of multiple shots in multiple layers all in real time, including chromakeying and clear background PNG overlays (that we produce in Photoshop for each series). Even more important than the mixing features is the encoding abilities. Wirecast has the ability to assign our final signal to multiple locations at once, including our in-house projectors, video and audio archiving, online iCampus streams (flash), and our iPhone and iPad streams.

LIGHTCASTMEDIA: Unrelated to Wirecast, LightCastMedia is the largest Christian live-streaming servers in the world (if not the largest), and provides the backend of all our delivery, bandwidth, and storage needs (see LifeChurch.tv). Erik Dally has been an indispensable wealth of knowledge, and represents a company that provides amazing customer service and reliable products.

CAMERAS & VIDEO CARDS: Until we’re ready to make the jump to HD, we’ve been buying up used Cannon GL2’s (broken tape drives, bad mics) and utilizing their great white balance options for low light and their great glass (lenses). We’ve been running BNC cable (available cheap and fast from monoprice.com), but for longer distances – and the eventual conversion to HD – we’re starting to use only cat5 with RCA converters on either end. The video cards that work best and have the least amount of lag are Decklink’s Blackmagic Intensity Pro cards. Each one will run you about $200, but your lag time will be about 13ms. (The only better solution that I know of is the Spider box. Refer to price tag previously mentioned). The Mac Pro can handle up to 3 cards (with one camera per card), and each card comes with the wiring harness that allows for all sorts of marvelous connections concoctions. I ordered ours through B&H Photo out of Manhattan. (Note that each card must be installed and set up one-at-a-time. A fairly simple process, but you’ll bugger it up if you do them all at once).

iMAC: We use a new iMac to run ProPresenter 4 by Renewed Vision. In my opinion it’s the simplest and most straight forward display program on the market, especially if you’re an Apple user. Making the switch for a few of my PC-only users has taken some getting used to, but they are enjoying the OS. (Side note: at New Life we stress that we’re not Mac or PC people – we’re Kingdom people. I’ve seen geek loyalty, which I’m the first to be guilty of, get in the way of friendships and stir up dissension. Make a policy on your team to celebrate the use of technology for the Kingdom regardless of your allegiances. I can truly say I celebrate someone’s new Droid as much as I celebrate someone’s new iPhone). The tricky part here is that – because the Mac Pro can’t except a fourth video card – we had to figure out a way to make Wirecast “see” the iMac as another camera. This is where Desktop Presenter comes in (included with your purchase of Wirecast). This little app lets you select a screen on the originating computer (in our case, a cheap Dell monitor that ProPresenter is sending a full-screen output of it’s master display to), and Wirecast – using it’s internal Desktop Presenter protocol – “senses” the IP address of the sending computer (our iMac) and treats it as a “new shot.” Because we edit the shot on Wirecast to chromakey out green, and logically make all the slides in ProPresenter have a green background, a always have song lyrics displayed over top of camera shots whenever the Media Director (on the iMac) changes slides – all in real time.

AUDIO: The last component is actually sometimes the trickiest to run. Our audio. That’s because we’re using the Mac Pro not only as a receiver for audio coming from our console (which is how our online audience hears the services), but we also play videos in-house from Wirecast – which means if we don’t mute the incoming console feed, we’ll get a feedback loop (as the viewers would hear both the original play-video audio, as well as the audio coming back through the front-of-house console). Like wise, the in-house audience hears a wild looping delay. So making sure our Video Director stays on top of things is key. (It’s one of the biggest jobs we have on a Sunday morning and requires a lot of practice, diligence, and discipline). You’ll also note the implementation of a small powered Mackie 1202 console, which you can pick up super cheap. This has been one of the only solutions we’ve found that conditions the line-level output of the main console into the Mac Pro without frequency oscillation issues or ground hums. It also allows us to use extra outputs or aux sends to power speakers placed thorughout our production suites so we can hear what’s happening in the sanctuary (as we’re all enclosed in glass up top).

As with any church entity, we’re already looking to expand, adding more projectors, better cameras, bigger screens, and more effects. But for now, the guts of our system will stay the same.

I’m happy to try and field any questions you may have, so ask away. If I don’t know, I’ll reach out to someone who will.

“Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.” Proverbs 4:7 ch:

UPDATED – 2013.07.24: Here is a more recent version of the schematic, which still doesn’t fully reflect the entire system we have today (I need more time to document it); our newest schematic should include our new audio mixing system, and the addition of a third, center-screen projector run from a MacBook Pro handling Wirecast and the same lyric feed from the ProPresenter iMac. Hope it helps! • ch:

nlcc video schematic v3

When Succession Becomes Legacy

On the heels of yesterday’s post about Apple’s attention to detail, came the historic business news that Steve Jobs had resigned as Apple’s CEO in a letter to his Board.

Certainly, Jobs’ hand on the helm did more for Apple than most companies could ever dream of. But I was very curious to read his entire letter, as my father always quoted King Solomon in saying, “It is more important how you leave a place than how you enter it.”

In his letter Jobs is as concise and efficient as expected, soft-spoken and honoring. But there was one section in particular that caught my eye:

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

And then it hit me: what’s my succession plan?

The fact is, we’re all going to be fazed out. Terminated. Pink-slipped. Whether in our job or in life, someone – or something – is going to replace us.

The question must be asked then, are we planning for it? Or when it happens, will it catch everyone off guard, including–

(You may not even be able to finish your own sentence).

Good leaders plan for their end, and position replacements accordingly. That’s just good leadership. Because you care about the people and the entities you’re leaving behind. Or else you wouldn’t have risen to that place of stewardship to begin with. (Notice I don’t place Gaddafi in either the leadership or stewardship departments).

Within the first year of our marriage I took out a life insurance policy. Whether I was replaced by another loving husband or not, as a leader I wanted the provisional need felt in my absence to be taken care of. That’s good leadership.

As a Youth Pastor, I know it’s not my call to fill that role forever, so I’m actively preparing the guy that will replace me as I move into my next season of local church leadership.

And as a Christian on the earth, one advancing the Kingdom for God’s glory, I’m training up my children in the ways they should go, believing they will do more, win more, believe more, travel more, love more, live more, and see more for Jesus than I ever could.

In light of those ideas, preparing a succession plan becomes a joy. Because I’m leaving a legacy, not a position.

Is yours in place? ch:

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It’s In The Details

There are any number of common-speak expressions that all personify value being held in the amount of detail something has. “Good leadership,” even, “is in the details.”

And how interesting that in our fast-paced, bulk-discount lifestyle, we often miss the things that we say have the most value.

I’m not sure that it takes God more time, energy, and expense to craft the micro-refractive mirrors that give a hummingbird feather its color, but I know it would for any fortune-50 company; yet how often have I thought about that amazing God-technology in my day? And further, valued it?

But it’s not just God-in-nature.

One reason I love Apple so much as a company is because of the value they place on details. While everyone, including myself, is salivating over the next iPhone 5 rumors, did anyone ever notice the Apple imprint on the white charging cable? It took me laying in bed this morning, researching something online, to truly appreciate it.

The thoughtful.

The unassuming.

The unexpected.

The they-didn’t-need-to-go-to-the-trouble-because-almost-no-one-would-ever-notice-but-they-did-anyway.

Because you noticed. And you’re the most valuable thing a company could market for, and that God could create after his own likeness.

What’s a detail that you’ve noticed recently, today even, on a person, place, or thing that made you stop, smirk, and say, “How cool”? ch:

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I Love Lamp. I Love Lion.

I downloaded Lion for MacBook Pro yesterday.

•••I love how they’ve implemented more “gestures” on the touchpad: Mission Control, right-swipe to Dashboard, and the up/down reverse (which takes some getting used to, but makes it feel more tactile, like you’re manipulating e-paper).

•••I like how they’ve modernized some of the regular interfaces, like the login-screen (and made it fit my head perfectly).

•••Love how the new Mail follows conversations like iOS does (and they didn’t do that sooner because…?).

•••And little things like changing “Turn AirPort On/Off” to “Turn Wi-Fi On/Off.” While AirPort was original, it was like trying to rename an already established colloquialism.

Expect a wait: 3.6Gb download took under 10-min at my office, but *much* longer for some of my friends abroad. Took about 30-min to install, and Mail took about 5-min to re-archive. But the whole process was simple, and smooth (downloaded straight from AppStore).

Two thumbs up from me, and further proof to all unbelievers that Apple does do it best. ch:

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Productivity: Face Lift

christopher hoppers office

Clutter. Have any? Maybe it’s the kitchen-black-hole-of-death drawer that’s crammed full of stuff. Maybe it’s the one room in the house you never show on “the tour” when guests come over. But if you’re like me, somewhere in your life, there’s total physical chaos.

Recently my office got a makeover. For those that might remember, I had painted it blue with a black city skyline 360-degrees. It was cool. Then I added my collection of street signs–placement care of those that tuned in during a live broadcast of the event. A table, some chairs. And inevitably, stacks of papers, collectables, gifts, supplies, and an old sandwich.

And then my thread of OCD kicked in.

Inspired by The Lightman Group’s make-believe office from the show Lie To Me, and Apple, I decided to throw nearly everything out, store the rest, and repaint: antique white on 3 walls, royal blue on the ceiling, and a light grey on the back wall.

In less than 4 days, my office went from chaos to clean. And so did my brain.

Many times our lack of productivity is directly tied to our environments. And I found that if both my head and my office were in chaos, work became frustrating. So one of them had to change. My mind always has been and always will be in a state of creative chaos. That’s how I’m wired. No changing there. So my office had to give way.

The result is that I love sitting in this clean space. I can breathe. I can think.

Sure, large canvas prints of my family are on order to fill up some of the vast amount of negative space. And I’ve added one of my antique model sailboats to the top of the bookcase. But that’s it.

Not only do I enjoy my office much more, but it’s caused me to adopt a new habit as well, which I’ll cover in the next post.

So which space do you need to give a face lift to? Go on, we want to know! ch:

[A big thanks to Will Farr for the recycled chairs!]

Tether XBox 360 to iPhone

Question: Can connect to XBox live using my iPhone’s data-plan?

Answer: Yes. (If you don’t want to read my schmaltzy backstory, skip to “Directions” below).

For the record, I’m a geek. Not a nerd. Geeks make more money than nerds.

My biggest tech woe is that I live in the sticks. For those geeks not familiar with living on a one-lane dirt road 20 minutes from civilization, it means wire will never be run to your home for internet unless you’re willing to pay a $26,000+ install fee (my most recent quote from a mega-ISP).

As a result, we’ve tried everything under the sun. And I mean that. Satellites are the most common solution. But their weather-related finickiness combined with their outrageously low bandwidth allowances make it only slightly better than an internet dial-up connection. And for 100 times the money. Then there was Verizon’s nice USB stick option, which we tried. Until my first bill came back at $400 for exceeding the 4Gb monthly allowance.

Enter the iPhone.

While I wasn’t as open with discussing jailbreaking the iPhone before it became legal, I now see it as a more than viable option for bringing home internet capabilities to those of us “less-fortunate” in the sticks. A recent boost by AT&T to our local tower now feeds me a steady full-bar stream of 3G anywhere in my house. MyWi has become arguably my second most favored app (right after HeyTell). Now our little home in the middle of nowhere has beautiful wifi for all of our computers.

Except one. The only PC I own: XBox.

Before we moved to northern NY I had a sweet wireless router that I used for my Xbox. But now that my internet is provided by my iPhone, how do I get them to talk? The first trick is that you need a computer to act as a router. My directions are all for Macs, but the same principle will work for you PC users. (A big thanks to MacCheeta3 who’s 2007 directions I’ve modified below).

Directions:

While plugging in an XBox to your Mac’s ethernet port and pointing it to “share” your AirPort or USB internet connection might seem easy enough, the XBox 360 won’t dynamically take an IP from a Mac using Internet Sharing, so it must be static (Manual).

Any IP ranges using the 10.0.x.x or 192.168.x.x ranges will work. It’s best if you don’t use the same IP range as your router. If your router has an IP of 192.168.1.1 use a 10.0.x.x range and vice versa. I’ll use the 10.0.0.x range for example.

Mac OS X
1) Apple>System Preferences>Network>Ethernet>Advanced>TCP/IP
2) Set Configure IPv4: to Manually
– Set IP Address: to 10.0.0.1
– Set Subnet Mask: to 255.255.255.0
3) Apple>System Preferences>Sharing>Internet Sharing (don’t toggle on the field yet, just highlight the region)
4) Set: Share your connection from: to Airport
– Set: To computers using: to Ethernet
– Now click toggle on the Internet Sharing field, and click Start when prompted

XBox 360
1) While in the Dashboard, navigate to the System blade
2) Network Settings>Edit Settings>IP Settings>Manual
3) Set IP Address to 10.0.0.2 – The first three segments (ie 10.0.0) will need to match what you set in step #2 of the Mac OS X section
– Set Subnet Mask to 255.255.255.0
– Set Gateway to 10.0.0.1 – what you set in step #2 under the Mac OS X section
– Click Done
4) Go to DNS Settings
- Set Primary to your router (iPhone). You can find your router’s IP by going to your MacBook and to: Apple>System Preferences>Network>Airport>TCP/IP.
-Leave the
Secondary
blank.
-Click “B” for back. Everything will save automatically. Now “Test Your Connection” to XBox Live.

Hope that helped! If you’re a PC user and want to list or link instructions below, I’ll gladly approve your comment.

Happy gaming fellow geeks! ch:

The New Morality of Brand Loyalty: from books to basketball

the new morality of brand loyalty christopher hopper

If you’re over the age of 30, you probably remember shopping at a particular store simply because your family were “faithful patrons.” A locally owned grocery store, hardware store, deli, or toy store. It meant you drove out of the way to buy from a trusted vendor, worked on a first name basis, and even purchased products knowing full well you could find them a few cents cheaper somewhere else. To those that remember, it was the way “things were done.” To those who don’t, it’s a foreign concept entirely.

But today, I primarily think about just two things when purchasing anything in 2010: 1) Where’s the cheapest place I can buy it? 2) How quickly can I get it without spending too much for the acquisition?

So how did I get from seeing my parents build 30+ year relationships with certain business owners to not eve caring what name appeared at the top of my receipts?

I have a theory.

The Internet taught me that online providers can sell products far less than I could find them in retail stores (low overhead, greater volume), and further still,  Google taught me I can search among those multiple virtual market places to find the best price. Because in the end, it’s all about me. Everything caters to my needs for expediency, customer experience, and price. Amazon saves my searches and recommends products; iTunes is so genius it tells me what songs I’ll like next; and Wal-Mart won’t even charge me shipping if it kind find what I want in their retail store.

Sure, their might be some semblance of brand loyalty hidden in the recesses of my heart, but more likely manifest in the need for desiring community with the “store closest to my work place” then true brand loyalty to a store owner’s benefit. Shoot, even my perceived brand loyalty to Apple would change the day their OS felt more like Windows than I was comfortable with.

I’m really just a shallow shopper.

As a result, retail stores learned they needed to make their prices more competitive, create franchises rather than one-of’s, provide online versions of their chain stores, and use eye-catching marketing to secure trendy buyers. With a few exceptions, mom-and-pops die off and price becomes king.

But is that where it ends? Has this new era of me-economics affected our morality as a culture, too?

Admittedly, I am not a basketball fan. But not even I could avoid the headlines of LeBron James‘ highly controversial switch from the Cavaliers to the Heat. And if you caught any version of any part of his interviews, it was apparent it really all came down to one thing: LeBron winning championships. For himself.

Forget the team that took a chance and made him the superstar he is today. It’s not about loyalty. It’s about me.

And then there’s employment. Ask the average teen or twenty-something how many jobs they’ve had in the last three years, and then what their plans are for the next ten. I know older Americans who’ve spent their whole lives working for an employer simply because their company helped put food on their table and kept the lights on. To them, to even think of changing jobs was tantamount to blasphemy.

Even the Church is fair game. Don’t like how you feel? The Pastor is too dressy, too casual? The worship not hip enough? A particular message offended you? That’s OK, you can shop around for the right church. And shoot, if you don’t find it, there’s church online.

And yet, there were basketball fans that cried faux pas when LeBron made his announcement…not just Cav fans. And I do know people that won’t set foot in an FYE, opting to for a crusty, hole-in-the-wall record store. And I’ve even had the privilege to meet congregants who stayed on through pastoral changes in leadership, opting to value the whole church above their personal desires.

Even I, while on tour, much prefer visiting the restaurants that make a city special than eating in the national chains with microwaved food.

But is this sort of person the exception, or is a possible return to the values of our parents’ and grandparents’ approaching?

Is it too idealistic to believe the general public lives above the power of the almighty dollar? Do you shop somewhere simply out of principle? Or has the trend of self-driven purchasing power even affected our loyalties to our employers and our churches? ch:

Red Rings of Death

It seems I just can’t escape Microsoft, even after throwing every PC in my house and office in a dumpster or passing virus laden units on to family. (I know, nice, right?)

For some reason I thought the XBox 360 would be different. Maybe I thought, “It’s just a gaming console, how hard is it to mess that up?” And then last night I went to play a quick session of Vegas 6 before going to sleep and, zing…

The Red Rings of Death.

I suppose a Blue Screen of Death would have been too much of a throw back. (Does anyone else see a trend here?)

For all those wanting to hear from an expert exactly what’s happening to over 30% of all XBox 360s (ummm…that’s one out of every three units purchased), I thought I’d pass along this handy article. It really doesn’t help you do anything about your faulty unit, but it at last tells you like it is…which is pretty bleak. Instead of a poor operating system or a virus prone internet browser, now they just went cheap on everything from CPUs to soldering joints. Oh, and they never spent enough time designing a proper heat sync system to handle the units high output. Oh, and they–

–never mind. Just read the article.

In all fairness, my latest iMac just had to go in for repair (something my Senior Pastor got a kick out of; we have an ongoing PC vs. Mac battle of wits), proving nothing is sacred when it comes to electronics. But at least with Apple, they actually replaced my refurbished iMac with a brand spanking new one. For free. That’s way better than Microsoft’s $140 service charge (plus shipping both ways) to fix my 360. Despite all their flaws, this leaves me with only one conclusion:

You can’t compare Apples and…

…is there another computing platform?

CH