App of the Week: Drafts

Last week, we looked at Dropbox, a way to centralize your content so that you can access it from any device, anywhere, at any time. This week, I'm going to take you to the other end of the spectrum: Drafts, a universal iOS app for quickly capturing text you can then send to virtually any app or content store. The iPhone and iPad versions are optimized for use on each device type, and I use them extensively. The first thing to know about Drafts is that it launches instantaneously and gives you a blank canvas for writing so that you can capture your thoughts without delay:

As you can see, it gives you a simple white canvas, with a few buttons along the top for looking at your stack of Drafts, adding a new Draft, and taking actions. There's also a character and word count, together with an information button when there is something to know about the current draft.

Above the keyboard, there are also some new keyboard functions, including undo and redo, moving the sprite one character at a time, and various Markdown keys for headers, emphasis, and links. That list also scrolls, unveiling a few more options for a tab a special characters:

With this simple interface (and your choice of keyboard), it is easy to launch and quickly capture whatever is on your mind, from notes to journal entries to bits of code or anything else that you want to get out of your brain and into bits on your device.

Once you've got your text into Drafts, however, the magic really begins. Drafts is designed to be a catch-all for content and allows you to send the text virtually anywhere. Touching the icon in the upper right corner opens your Actions, providing you ways of sending the text to other apps, the clipboard, and more:

With this approach, you have one place to capture your text, and then you are able to send it to one or more other locations whenever and however you'd like.

Drafts keeps an infinite virtual stack of your Drafts, as well, and touching the icon in the upper left will show you your list:

You can flag items in the list, archive them, delete them, or simply keep the list running in case you ever want access to the items later.

I find Drafts invaluable, and it is one of the four apps on my iPhone task bar and is also one of the five on my iPad task bar. Take a look, and let me know what you think in the comments or by email or Facebook message.

App of the Week: Dropbox

Yes, I'm aware that Dropbox is less of an app than it is an online storage system, but that's precisely the point I made in my first post: the ability to transparently store your data in a way that is accessible everywhere changes every workflow. Dropbox was the first widely-available system that provided ubiquitous access to your files anywhere, and it does so completely transparently: from your perspective, your files are in a folder and sub-folders on your various devices. They are in the same place on every device. I have Dropbox on my Macs, my client PC, my iPhone and my iPad. My files are always at hand. The set-up is straight forward. Go to Dropbox, set up an account, be sure to use 2-factor authentication, and download the app for your Mac or PC, and install it. When you do, it will create a Dropbox folder in your home directory. Anything you put into it -- including both folders and files -- will sync to the Dropbox in the cloud, and sync to any other devices tied to the same account.

If you carry mobile devices, download Dropbox to them, as well. Now, your files are available anywhere you have any of your devices.

Dropbox Differences on Mobile Devices

By default, Dropbox on a Mac or PC syncs every file and folder on the device to and from the cloud. By default, Dropbox on a mobile device syncs none of the files and folders, but provides access to them through an Internet connection. Dropbox provides ways of changing this behavior, but the functions are different in the two environments, and you will have to decide how you want to interact with files and how much storage you want to set aside for them.

PC and Mac

Dropbox syncs your entire Dropbox to your PC and Mac, setting up a complete replica of the cloud version of Dropbox on your system. Given that most computer systems have sufficient disk space, this makes sense. However, there may be files or folders that are more archival or otherwise do not need to be always on your computer. If so, you can use Dropbox's "Selective Sync" feature (within the Account section of Preferences) to remove some folders and/or files from those that are always on the computer. Note that you can still access those folders using a web browser to Dropbox.com, but they will not be on the computer as local files, and won't be available when they computer isn't on the Internet. All other files will be available when you're offline, and will sync with the Dropbox cloud when you get back online. Dropbox handles conflicts smoothly, and uses icons and messages to communicate about the sync status.

Mobile Devices

On mobile devices, Dropbox works exactly the opposite: no files or folders are stored on the device by default. Instead, all interaction is by using an Internet connection through the Dropbox app. If you want a file to be locally cached (so that you can read it while on a plane, for instance), mark it as a "Favorite" by touching the star. This will cache the file on your device and also put the file into the Favorites section of the app.

Integration

More and more apps on iOS (and Android) interact directly with Dropbox, providing for workflows that store files in Dropbox that are edited or otherwise used by other apps. One common use, for example, is as a drop location for email attachments, both sending and receiving. You can even use a browser to download or upload files at any time from any where, including a friend's computer.

Workflow

I use Dropbox to store all of my files and data that isn't dedicated to one particular app on one device. I even store some of those in it. The fundamental advantage for me is that I have all of my files on multiple systems (my Macbook Pro, my Mac Pro, and even my client PC) so that I can recover the files if anything ever happens to Dropbox. And Dropbox has the files if anything happens to my devices.

So, as a result of this foundational characteristic, Dropbox is the first app/system in this series.

Don't forget to let me know in the comments or my email your thoughts on apps or workflows you'd like to see included.

 

Let's go!

Apps of the Week

Apps of the Week

Today, while flying over my beloved Rocky Mountain on the way to Phoenix to support my son Gabe as he competes in the Western Region Oireachtas Irish dance competition, this theme occured to me. As I have thought about the wide variety of topics on which I have written over the years, it became clear to me that one of the reasons that my posts have been so bursty is that I, as many before me, have wondered what I have to say that would be of the most interest. Over on the RedSeal blog, I post frequently on topics of cybersecurity and related networking challenges. However, especially when I wrote a column for InfoWorld, it was clear that there were topics that resonate and which people find helpful. 

Given the shift in applications over the past few years, it seems there is an interest in the systems and applications I use to do the work I do, both in my home office and as I travel to support clients around the world. So, beginning with the next post in the Technology section of the blog, I'll share with you the apps I use, how I use them, and why I like them. 

Purpose 

I could, of course, do this for any number of reasons, including that I'm being paid to do so. Let me start by saying that I am not. While I have acted as a beta tester for a number of the applications I'll be describing, most are simply those I have found by trial and error to be useful and effective for my work. You'll have to decide if they fit your needs and wants, and I'll do my best to help you with that process. Also, if you have questions about particular workflows, types of apps, others that I have tried but don't use, and so on, please ask.  

Also, perhaps through this process you and I will have an opportunity to influence some of the existing and emerging applications, and that seems like a reasonable purpose, as well. 

Most of all, it is my deepest desire to see you able to do your best art, whether it's writing a book, building software or hardware, teaching, or expressing yourself in any other way. If my insights into the applications you can use to make that work more effective is helpful, I will be delighted. 

Platform

The vast majority of my work is done on an Apple device. I use an iPad and iPhone (which run iOS), a MacBook Pro Retina, and an old 2008 Mac Pro (which run OS X) for my personal work. There are times when clients require me to use a Windows system, so there are some Windows applications that I use to shortcut and otherwise help me do good work in that environment, but for Windows applications (or Android, for that matter), my insights will be quite limited.

Perspective

There are a number of ways to view applications, the data on which they operate, and the systems and devices involved in the process. I have a very specific view that colors virtually everything I do: data is central and applications manipulate it. Applications are windows into and tools to manipulate data that is stored independently, accessible from any device anywhere. The ubiquitous Internet means that your data is available almost everywhere, and applications caching means that you can always have a copy of your data that will sync up when you are back online. As a result, my application choices and preferences are biased towards those that combine these fundamental concepts:

  1. availability across all my devices or cooperative interaction with an app on the other devices. For example, there are times when the same app isn't available on OS X and iOS, but there are apps that interact with the data compatibly, but in ways that take advantage of the particular characteristics of the different environments (touch versus keyboard interactivity, for example).
  2. caching. I am on airplanes and international destinations where use of cellular data is quite costly frequently enough that I must be able to cache data on my devices to continue to use it even when I'm offline. As I type this post, for example, I'm at 34,000' into Desk, I am not connected to the Internet. I'll post it when I get to my hotel, losing nothing in the process.
  3. cooperation. Apps that cooperate with other apps that I use help me more than those which are isolationist.
  4. nothing's perfect. I am always looking for apps to align more closely with the way I think, my preferences, and my workflow. Sometimes, I'll have 3 or 4 apps I'm using for the same thing, experimenting to determine which one fits best.

I think that's about it. Let me know if there are applications, workflows, or other related areas that pose as challenges or create questions for you. I'll do my best to address them either in a post or with a direct response.

Let's go!

The Lies of Net Neutrality

(Update: taxes, too; click through for just the update.) I was just taking a few minutes to check my newsfeed a few mornings ago, enjoying the final days of autumn before the polar blast that came to Colorado this week when I started reading them: the polarized, ignorant perspectives on the misnomer of "Net Neutrality."

On the one side, there are apparent ignorant politicians making comments both pro and con. They oversimplify the issue, and make it seem obvious to their own constituents that their view is right. The fact is, however, that neither "side" is right about this issue. As is typical when politicians attempt to stick their controlling efforts into science and technology, they damage the good with the bad and crush the possible benefits to the United States.

So, if you really want to understand the issues and the way that this should play out, read on. If you'd rather just pick a side and go into pitched battle, feel free. Just leave me out of it.

How the Internet Works

If you're an IP engineer, you can skip this part. If not, take a moment to understand some of the basics about how the Internet actually moves all that data around. It'll help you understand the rest of what's important about how the network gets managed and what is allowed and what's not.

Although it may seem like your downloading web page, video, or music is one continuous stream of ones and zeros, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, every last bit of data flowing across the Internet is broken into chunks called packets. These packets are typically a bit less than 1500 byte long, and it takes many of them to constitute a single uni-directional communication. These packets do not necessarily take the same path from the source to the destination, each individual packet being individually routed by the hardware and software that makes up the Internet. As a result, they may not arrive in the right order, some may be lost, and others may be corrupted. The receiving system works with the sender to reconstitute the original data, and you often see this as buffering, as that reconstituted data is collected for playback sufficient enough so you don't see any interruptions.

It is critically important to understand this aspect of the Internet before considering how you want to govern it and what rules you insist on creating. Let me explain why next:

How Different Data Needs Different Internets

There are a number of types of data used commonly on the Internet, and hundreds more that most people never experience. Focusing on just the common ones, consider these:

  1. Interactive voice and video. These data require near real-time delivery and controlled streaming. Large gaps between packets received will cause freezing and other issues with the interaction, effectively making the communication unusable. We have all had voice and video over the Internet freeze or fail, and this is why.
  2. Streaming voice and video. These data require the controlled streaming of interactive voice and video, but can be buffered or otherwise can make up for some of the vagaries of an unreliable network. As long as the stream of packets continues to arrive at a predictable rate, the results are good, since it's not interactive. However, if the packets are throttled, have errors, or get dropped, the experience is poor. Most of us have had the experience of Netflix or iTunes dropping back in quality due to poor network performance.
  3. Bulk data. These data do not have time or delivery constraints, and include most web data, email, downloads, and the like. This data can have packets with issues, but the ultimate goal is simply to get all of them to the destination within a reasonable timeframe so that the file will be available for use, regardless of whether it's rendered on a browser screen, played on an mp3 player, synced to a Dropbox folder, or read on the screen.

You should now see that these three types of data place different requirements on the network, and should be treated differently when bandwidth is at a premium. And therein lies the issues with so-called Network Neutrality. Data isn't neutral, so a neutral network will actually create a worse experience for the users of the network than will a network that is well-engineered to prefer the right kinds of data.

This means that networks should be engineered to prefer data packets in the order I listed above, and to use interleaving of lower-class packets with higher-class packets when bandwidth allows. So, for example, if I am on an HD video call and it's using 90% of my available bandwidth, my network should only use that remaining 10% to deliver any of the type 2 and type 3 traffic. If it uses any more, my interactive video experience will suffer. In other words, the network should prefer (there's that word that is so vilified in these discussions) the interactive video packets over the bulk and non-interactive video packets.

Impact on Net Neutrality Planning

Please note that nothing here indicates a desire to see "pay to play" kinds of arrangements in the industry. However, it is common for providers to charge for access to their bandwidth. When I want greater bandwidth, I have to pay more. If I want a guaranteed bandwidth availability, I'll pay more than a best effort bandwidth of the same amount. What I mean is that a 50Mbps download for consumers is usually best effort, and happens when the overall network is relatively uncongested. If I want 50Mbps regardless of the state of the rest of the network, I need to buy dedicated bandwidth, which costs considerably more (and is typically only sold to businesses).

If I sell data delivery to my customers, and that delivery requires a certain bandwidth, I typically buy that bandwidth from two or more Internet Service Providers (ISPs). And I have to pay for the bandwidth as either best effort or dedicated. This is the way packet delivery has worked over the Internet and between content providers and their ISPs since the Internet went commercial in the early 1990s. This arrangement is appropriate, it seems to me.

Furthermore, ISPs should not be restricted from shaping data in order to deliver better service to customers, as I outlined in the story of the 3 data types. They should be able to prefer interactive packets over streaming packets, and both of those over bulk packets.

This is not to say that content providers should be held hostage based on the type of data they are delivering. That should be up to the consumer, and the content providers should simply purchase dedicated bandwidth and be able to use all they purchase, filling it with any of the types of traffic their provider will deliver. Consumers should receive the service to which they subscribe from any provider of that service, delivered with the quality possible given appropriate preferences. But, providers need to be able to shape traffic or they will be forced to over-provision, passing the bill along to consumers.

The United States Compared with The Rest of the World

All of this said, do not buy into the myth that the US has the best Internet access in the world. In fact, it's abysmal. Wikipedia has an article summarizing a damning Akamai survey of Internet capabilities worldwide. South Korea (the leader) has services more than 100x faster than the average speed in the US, for $20/month. So, providers in the US need to do a much better job of delivering bandwidth for the fees that consumers pay.

What does this mean for so-called Net Neutrality? You decide. Now you understand some of the engineering complexities underneath the typical political bluster. At least you can decide if any of the politicians and pundits have a clue what they're talking about.

Update: Taxes, Too

Today, FCC Commissioner Mike O'Reilly said that, “Consumers of these services would face an immediate increase in their Internet bills” during a seminar held by the non-partisan Free State Foundation according to this article. This is an example of the repercussions of choices that involve a government maze of regulations, fees, taxes, and legalities that are unforeseen. Such is the case with the siplmistic idea of "net neutrality" that doesn't take into account the implications of government regulation as a telecommunications technology.

The Gift of Social Video (infographic)

(Megan Ritter reached out to me a few weeks ago about her excellent infographic on video for marketing. I invited her to write this post to describe the details of the graphic for you to consider. - ssh) When it comes to boosting the awareness of your brand and increasing engagement with your consumers, many businesses turn to social media as their primary outlet. However, with the amount of competition between brands trying to get the most reach with their content, it’s going to take a lot more than some cute animal images and a few hashtags to get the attention your social media efforts deserve. This is why a lot of businesses today are also starting to incorporate video into their social media marketing strategy, and the great news is that a lot of these social media networks already offer a lot of video options.

Video is naturally engaging, and because we live in a world that is overloaded with information, it’s important that whatever content you’re producing can be easily digested by your audience, or else they will move on. We are all familiar with the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and in the case of video, we can bump that number to 1.8 million.

By 2017, it’s being estimated that video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic, and it’s clear to see why. Simply put: video is the future of content marketing. And as online video continues to become a key means of bringing entertaining and informational content to the masses, businesses who fail to incorporate video into their own plans can count on missing out on a lot of new opportunities. Fortunately, with the help of the Social Video Starter Guide infographic below, getting started on your social video campaign doesn’t have to be as difficult as it’s been made out to be, even if you own a small business and are limited by a strict budget.

Megan Ritter is an online business journalist with a background in social marketing. In addition to social media, she also enjoys writing about entrepreneurship, business communications, and globalization. Follow her on Twitter today to view more of the awesome infographics she's found on the Web!

Cloudy With a Chance of...

Decades ago, while running a network in a small office building in California, a senior manager asked if he could cut the staff since the network didn't seem to need a lot of support. I reminded him that an invisible network meant that people could just do their jobs without any friction from the network slowing them down or making their job more difficult. Last week, I read this from Benedict Evans via John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

Digesting WWDC: Cloudy

Benedict Evans:

So edit a photo and the edits are on all your devices, run out of room and your photos stay on the cloud but all but the previews are cleared off your phone, tap a phone number on a web page on your Mac and your phone dials it. But none of this says ‘CLOUD™’ and none of it is done in a web browser. Web browsers are for web pages, not for apps. Hence one could suggest that Apple loves the cloud, just not the web (or, not URLs). This is obviously a contrast with Google, which has pretty much the opposite approach. For Google, devices are dumb glass and the intelligence is in the cloud, but for Apple the cloud is just dumb storage and the device is the place for intelligence.

http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2014/6/4/digesting-wwdc-cloudy

http://daringfireball.net

This aligns very well with my earlier comments on what Apple is doing with iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. The point is simply this: most people aren't enamoured with technology. Many who were at first delighted to have something as "cool" as an iPhone or Android device are now just using them. They are simply tools for living in the modern world. The next frontier for technologists is removing the barriers that devices and their interfaces create to doing what we want to do. The idea that what's important is speeds, icons, and other superficial elements is completely wrong. Just as with human relationships, physical attributes may initially attract, but in a relatively short time, it becomes the deeper aspects that matter.

The more technology companies get technology out of the way, the more successful they will become.

By the way, that manager was a smart guy. He relented. And I didn't have to break the network to remind him how important it was.

What is "The Economy"?

More than a decade ago I sat in a data center staring at a screen containing backup logs for a major agency of a state government. The logs made it clear that backups had been failing for months. My job was to find out what happened. I'm just built to get to the bottom of things, and part of my skill is to take apart the complex, interconnected pieces and find the simple parts. It makes it easier to figure out what happened.

Recently, I've done this with "The Economy."

People, especially experts and those who want to sound knowledgeable, talk about "The Economy" like it's an entity unto itself. Like it has a mind of its own, and it will head in various directions based on select, complex ideas like GDP, trade, and unemployment rates.

But, it's not. "The Economy" is nothing but a set of metrics (values of measurements) that communicate various historical truths (since most measures are 3-12 months ago). Economists, politicians, and pundits all use the numbers to beat up their opponents and to bolster their own theories, with all sides claiming proof for their viewpoints. And it's all mostly a great big show.

"The Economy" is nothing more or less than the collected decisions of human beings, including those responsible for making decision for corporations and governments. People decide to buy, save, or invest. As a result, funds become available as revenue, for loans, or in exchange for equity. The cumulative impact of these decisions results in the measures that become the economic metrics.

Underneath it all, however, are these decisions. They are made in an effort to keep a job, to profit, to look good, or to benefit one's own financial position. Sometimes, the decisions are speculative in the hopes of creating a large, fast gain. Other times, they are extremely conservative in an effort to avoid any risk or any possible loss.

But all of these are the decisions made by individuals and (sometimes) multiple individuals as part of a collective.

That's all "The Economy" is, though. It's the consequences of financial decisions of collections of people: cities, counties, states, countries, and the world.

When people stop spending and/or investing, we have a recession or depression. When business managers stop hiring, joblessness goes up. And so on.

We are a society that attempts to avoid the consequences of our actions. We want to believe that our intentions drive the consequences. They don't. The only thing that drives consequences is the natural laws that apply and the decisions that others make.

You can't escape consequences forever.

Getting It

To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that. Steve Jobs

When I read that quote on Quoth Steve today, I thought about this series on Apple's recent announcements and the ongoing discovery that many in the industry are communicating as the Apple WWDC continues this week. It underscores a key differentiator between Apple and most of the rest of the technology industry. In doing so, it also illustrates why so many in the technology press are fundamentally confused about both why Apple does what it does and why people buy Apple products.

Back when Japanese cars first began to gain a real foothold in the US, there was a similar dichotomy: Japanese cars had virtually no "options," while US cars were effectively custom built for each customer from an extensive list of options. Since I grew up in Michigan, the capital of the car industry in the US, I remember the derisive laughter about the limited options, the lack of this or that feature, and the expectation that the Japanese manufacturers would have to abandon the US or offer a better Chinese menu.

In retrospect, all of those observations and expectations were completely wrong. It turns out that the consumers appreciated the simplicity of getting a car without having to decide what to get on it -- and without having to wait for it to be built to their specifications. In fact, I lost out on a Pontiac Trans Am when my order turned out to have a very limited edition engine and the dealer decided he could get more for it from someone else, even though I had ordered it and waited for months.

1986 Trans Am

Today in technology, we have a similar situation: Apple is working on design in a way that Jobs thought about it. Most companies don't. Most put in a faster processor, more memory, more pixels, and expect those changes to compel purchases. Even customization is touted as a primary desire for consumers when that's not the case for many who just want to purchase a system that is ready to go, isn't bloated with a lot of distracting extras, and is designed in a way that allows it to disappear with use.

How do you want the products you purchase to be designed?

What's Really Up With the Economy?

What's the most clear path to ongoing financial success for you? Creating value others desire to receive.
What happens when things turn sour (layoff, reduced business, financial challenges)? Being of value to others! Finding ways to communicate your value becomes critical. Knowing what your value is is the first step.

How does money really work? Where does it come from? What are your answers to these questions?

1) money comes from an employer

2) money comes from the government 

2) money comes from those to whom I provide value 

3) money comes from the divine

My challenge to you is to change the way money shows up in your world: money is tangible gratitude.

Think about it. What does it take for you to hand over money that is in your possession? Exchange for something you value, of course. For example, if your dishwasher dies (like ours did just recently) and you decide you want a new one, you'll be willing to pay an amount that aligns with the value you receive from having one. If the cost is too great, you'll elect to wait, to change the options, or reassess what matters.

Similarly, when someone is considering handing you money for some reason, whether for a used treadmill or for a month worth of skilled labor, they are assessing the value received against the cost. Are they grateful enough to make the exchange? Or not?

As you consider the current economic realities, ask yourself one question: are you creating enough gratitude to earn the compensation you seek? If not, find new customers or deliver greater value -- or both.

Invisible Technology

As is often the case, immediately after I posted my thoughts about Apple's announcements yesterday (The Next Technology Shift), a number of my friends reached out (especially on Facebook) to point out that other companies and technologies had similar features (like Android, Microsoft Surface 3, and so on). Because they did, I fear that I wasn't as clear about the major shift as I could be, but I also became aware that it is a paradigm shift, and as such will require explanation and expansion. One aspect of my perspective that isn't universal and is often misunderstood is that I am primarily a futurist. I am looking at where we are headed as a society and how technology can help us to become more human and to experience greater joy in life. Although I have spent most of my working years as a technologist, I have not done so from my love of technology. I have done so from my love of people and my desire to see them benefit personally and corporately from what it can do for them.

It is from that paradigm that I approach the recent Apple announcements.

Before I say any more, let me be clear: nothing Apple announced is entirely new. Most has parallels elsewhere on the technology landscape. However, that fact is entirely meaningless from the perspective of what these announcements mean for individuals, for corporations, and for the software development community. The importance of the announcement boils down to the facts that Apple is doing it and combining the technologies and devices together into a single, unified, simple offering. It is those facts which will change the world.

Over the next few days I will unpack the elements of the announcement from this perspective.

The Next Technology Shift

Apple's WWDC announcement usher in a new era of integrated mobile and desktop computing poised to change the way people interact with their technology. Again.

On Monday, Apple announced the new versions of their two operating systems: OS X 10.10 Yosemite for Macs and iOS 8 for iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch). There were a number of interesting components to the upgrades, and I have installed Yosemite on one of my Macs to begin testing and exploring a bit, but the real shift is in the integration of the two worlds. While this is only a first step, consider two aspects of the new awareness:

  • Your Mac will know when your iOS device is near, and will allow you to transparently continue on one something you started on the other. Start an email on your iPhone, finish it on your Mac. Start writing a document on your Mac, finish while on the go on your iPad.
  • Your Mac becomes an extension of your iPhone, allowing you to make and receive phone calls and text messages (SMS) directly on your Mac via your iPhone, even if it's charging elsewhere in the house (I'll leave mine up in my bedroom where it gets decent cellular signal!).

Now, add to that updates to iOS like:

  • Family sharing, allowing up to 6 family members to share purchases, location, and iCloud data like reminders and calendars simply and transparently,
  • Health, to integrate all of the great health monitoring and management that is now available,
  • HomeKit, allowing developers to create integrated apps and hardware for keeping your house safe and automated to do what you want it to do.

When I look at this set of new capabilities, I see an incredible opportunity for Apple as a company, and those who align squarely with these new initiative and build hardware and software that aligns to it, and even for individuals to navigate a new career.

Apple introduced an entirely new programming languages called Swift that is designed with mobility, touch, and common development of iOS and Mac apps as core architectural points.

If technology is your business or career, pay attention and strongly consider a shift in how you're doing what you're doing.

If you are a user of technology, be prepared to shift away from thinking about your various devices as individual points of interaction to a world where they are each simply windows into your information that have different characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses.

Leading a Church

Here's an important question for you to answer if you attend a church in any capacity: What does it mean to "lead a church?" The more I have stepped back to examine churches and their leaders, the clearer it has become to me that there is an epidemic of festering misconception of what it means to be a leader who claims to follow Christ. In The Myth of Christian Authority, I outlined an aspect of this confusion which is especially pernicious: insisting on obedience of church members in direct opposition to Luke 22:25-26.

In addition, though, there are additional disturbing aspects of the way that most of those in positions of oversight in churches that are rampant, the most prevalent of which is codependency.

Many churches rely on providing "support" to their members and others in their community as a source of identity. As Thom S. Rainer mentions in his article "The Most Common Factor in Declining Churches," churches have become more and more insular with the focus on the members and no outward focus. However, he doesn't go far enough in his analysis. Digging deeper, it is clear that the underlying issue is an unwillingness to allow the laity to shine and step into the fullness of their gifts, talents, and skills. Instead of growing members into their full selves, church leaders work to make them comfortable and "happy." This is what Rainer outlines as a focus within, but the underlying reason is that the people in the church are not allowed to be all that they were created to be. They are kept passive and content through the organization catering to their desires and whims, believing that it exists for them.

It doesn't.

At least, not in the way they are led to believe.

Romans 12:6-8 makes clear the purpose of the church: to encourage everyone to step into their gifts and calling, to develop the skill to align with their gifts, and to, in a nutshell, become all that they were created to be. When people are allowed and encouraged to shine, they focus outwardly since there aren’t enough ways to exercise those gifts internally to keep them fully engaged.

The moment the entire body is encouraged to step into that reality, the church cannot possibly look within; there is too much energy and drive as a result of full engagement.

Of course, it requires a recognition that the leaders are not in control. No human is. So, it's messy, but it's supposed to be! It's part of the growth for everyone to let go. But, it's scary and forces the leaders to let go of the illusion that they are dictating the future. It's an attractive illusion, though, and allows the leaders to feel important and powerful. But it's a lie.

So, if you are a leader, set the people free!

If you are a member of a church, expect to be guided into the fullness of who you are. If your leaders aren't doing that, be clear that you expect it. Call them to their bigger selves. Don't compromise on this, though. You are the one who is responsible and accountable for being all you were made to be. Anything or anyone keeping you from that is an obstacle to overcome. You don't need to be obnoxious about it, but be insistent.

Be free. Love yourself.

The Myth of Christian Authority

In his seminal book that serves as an accurate guide for those who want to understand how to navigate their work life, Robert Ringer focused on the three kinds of people there are in the business world: The person who is after your chips, and lets you know it; the person who is after your chips, but tells you he's not; and the person who is after your chips but honestly doesn't believe that he is. In "Winning Through Intimidation", Ringer describes the third type of person as the most dangerous of all. (As an aside, if that title bothers you, I strongly recommend you read the book! A revised version is entitled, "To Be or Not To Be Intimidated.") Ironically, I have discovered over the past few years that many Christian pastors and leaders are of this third type: they honestly believe they aren't after your "chips," but experience will prove that they are. Your "chips" may be any combination of your time, talent, and treasure, but they are the essence of what you bring to your service.

These are those men – and less often women – who will assure you that they have your best interest at heart. And, to be explicit, they actually believe they do. But, they don't. Over time and when viewed objectively, it becomes clear that what they interpret as your interest they see through their own interests. They want to be right, they want to be loved and accepted, they want to believe they belong in the role in which they find themselves, and, most unfortunate of all, they want you to fit the mold they have shaped for those they can be proud to call their own. All of these concerns of theirs form their truth and make it impossible for them to actually hold your interest ahead of theirs.

This is further complicated by the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Christian scripture over the past hundred and more years. Many Christian leaders believe that they are "in authority over" those who attend their churches. However, scripture makes it clear that this is not so. On the contrary, the role of a "Christian leader" is twofold: on the one hand to be a "servant of all," and on the other hand to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." That's it! Nothing in there about telling the sheep what to do!

In fact, sheep are notoriously difficult to herd! …and shepherds know better than to try to teach them any tricks. Sheep just don't do what you want them to do. So, smart shepherds focus on guiding them to fresh grass and clean water, allowing them to wander within relatively safe confines, and do what sheep do.

Unfortunately, many Christian "shepherds" aren't so wise. They use guilt and manipulation to coerce their flock into what they believe the sheep should and should not do. They exercise their "authority" over their flock, making demands of the sheep, and using the tools at their disposal to get the behavior they deem "holy". Ironically, this violates the core of the Christian gospel!

If you are a Christian leader, my hope is that you can honestly examine yourself and adjust your expectations and behavior as necessary (it might help to review Romans 12:3 and the verses following it. There's work to do in the church!). Serve the body, equip them, allow them to do what they do, to fail and to succeed, to eclipse your status, and even to make a mess.

On the other hand, if any Christian leader you know places behavioral expectations on you or other members of the church, run away! You must protect yourself! You have found a pastor who is not mature enough to step into the full truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the gospel is grace. And grace, at its most basic, is this: there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more... or any less. There is nothing you can avoid doing to make God love you any less ...or any more. He loves you infinitely right now at this moment regardless of anything you do or do not do. It is impossible for you to diminish his love for you. It is also impossible for you to increase his love for you. It is out of your hands. It is grace, and only grace.

Thank God!

The Presence of God

As I sat across the table from a good friend who has shared his walk in Christ with me for many years, he said those words that cause me to wince on the inside: "The presence of God is what really matters to me..." To many, this idea sounds wonderful: let's do whatever we can to have the presence of God be in greater abundance in our times of meeting together. Let's be sure to do those things that bring God's presence to a greater degree and avoid those things that would cause His presence to wane.

There's only one problem with it: it isn't true. Let me explain.

The assumption behind this is that God's presence waxes and wanes; that it is strong in one place at one time, but weak in another. Furthermore, that what we do or do not do somehow effects the supply available. None of these are true.

In fact, God's Holy Spirit has been poured out on everyone. The prophet Joel foretold this outpouring and recorded it in what we now know as Joel 2:28: "Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people." God made sure that we would understand that this had happened the moment Jesus breathed His last:

Matthew 27:51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Why? And why is Matthew so careful to give us the details? Remember that Matthew's primary audience was those of Jewish faith who would understand the depth and power of this statement. First, that curtain could have been a foot thick, making tearing of it impossible. It was also 15 feet high, making the human tearing of it impossible from the top to the bottom. God did it. Before He did, it separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Afterward, the separation was obliterated as God communicated once for all time that He cannot be confined to a time or a place. He poured Himself out on all people.

The unknown author of Hebrews makes clear the significance of this event by writing in chapter 10 starting in verse 20: "By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water."

There is something very important to notice in this passage in Hebrews: there is nothing for us to do in order to enjoy the presence of God. We can go right in. We don't have to be somewhere that He is, do certain things to please Him, avoid those things which displease Him, or anything else. We cannot effect His presence!

It's always there in full power. God is omnipresent and omnipotent.

So, you may ask, why do some God loving, God fearing people believe that God's presence is greater in some places and some times than it is in others?

The answer is actually quite straight-forward, but its incredibly important to understand. The reason is that they experience Him more in some places and times than they do in others. In fact, most of us do. For me, I have felt that I can almost touch God as I've stood on a mountain top, gazed at the ocean, and held my newborn child. There are also times when it's hard to believe He's close. Those are the times that I've learned that He is and that all I have to do is tap into the truth, step into my faith, and recognize His presence. He is there. He always is.

Given that truth, you may next wonder why it matters. If someone believes that God is more present with certain activities going on than with others, what's wrong with that?

The answer is uncomfortable, but important: it places the emphasis wrongly.

The core truth of the Gospel is grace. The reality that God loves us independently of anything we do or don't do, think or don't think. There is nothing we can do to cause Him to favor us more... or less. That is the good news; the Gospel of Jesus.

Believing that there are certain things we can do or think that will cause God's presence to show up--or disappear--belies the truth of the Gospel. In doing so, it also reduces us to rule followers trying to please God so He will show up for us. That, to put it bluntly, is endeavoring to seek God's approval (His presence) by our actions, which is the opposite of the wonder and truth of grace.

Given this, why is it that it sometimes seems that God is farther away than other times? What is the cause and how do we get back to that connection with God?

What do you think the answer is?

Faith. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1) By faith you know that God is there and His presence never wavers. By faith you know that He loves you infinitely and nothing you do or do not do can ever or will ever change that.

When you're missing that connection, step into the truth that He hasn't changed. He is for you. He is fully present.

..and if singing certain songs helps you, sing them. If being in a certain place makes a difference, go there. If standing, sitting, dancing, or crying connects you, do those things, too. In spite of all that, though, recognize that these are tools that help you to step into the truth that God is fully present with you in that place and time, not that you must do anything so He will be more present.

Our Father wants to be with you all the time. Step into the awareness that He's always there in full power.

Enjoy His presence.

The Amazing Good News

The truth about God and the Gospel is foolish to men. Unfortunately, many of those men are in churches. The church for decades--and perhaps centuries--has just flat missed the point. In the always-tempting pursuit of right and wrong, good and evil, and believing that they are wise, those governing the church have lost the Gospel. The Gospel is both too simple and too extraordinary to make any sense at all to the human mind.

The Gospel is this:

You are capable of being more than you can imagine and living a life beyond your dreams. God knows this and believes in you far more than you believe in yourself.

It doesn't change God's opinion of you when you fail to be perfect, when you fail to avoid what's not best for you, or even when you choose to speak poorly of Him, ignore Him, or otherwise mistreat Him or His reputation.

He loves you anyway.

...this drives the religious people mad!

...and it demonstrates just how different they are from God.

...it also explains why the Church is so far out of favor in the world and has become increasingly irrelevant.

Who are the most judgmental people you know? Probably the religious people you know. And this is a sad commentary on the perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ over the years. For the most part, the Gospel is lost, overwhelmed by the drive to sign up people to agree with those in the church. The Gospel is very simple:

"God loves you and there's nothing you can do to change that."

...the corollary to that is: You can't change anything you do or say or think to make God love you more. You can't change anything you do or say or think to make Him love you any less, either. He loves you as much as He possibly can right this instant. He always has and He always will. Simple as that.

...although what He means by "love" will probably surprise you!

He loves you. You can be sure of that!

Pause and let that sink in. Like a proud papa, God favors you. He brags on you. He thinks you're a great kid. He couldn't possibly care for you more, pull for you more, or think more highly of you.

...and that's Good News!

Apple Just Changed Publishing

It is very rare indeed when I disagree with Seth Godin. He is a brilliant man, a best-selling author, and an insightful coach for the emerging economy, but he's missed it on the latest announcement from Apple. I don't blame him. It's easy to do with all the changes that are bouncing around like a Heisenberg Uncertainty experiment. Today, in a useful post on his Domino Project blog, he says that Apple did not just make publishing easier with their announcement of the iBooks Author application. He rightfully notes that the iBooks Author application is about authoring books, not publishing them, and there's a difference between printing and publishing. All true.

However, the iBookstore itself is a new way to publish. In much the same way that iTunes changed publishing first for music and then for movies and TV. And the iOS App Store and then the Mac App Store changed the economics and dynamics of software publishing, so will the iBookstore change the dynamics of book publishing. The iBook Author app is the disintermediation of book creation and the iBookstore is the creation of a publishing platform designed for social discovery and long-tail economics.

Unfortunately, I think that Seth falls into a bit of myopia here due to his experience with and success in both using publishers and creating a brilliant new publisher in his Domino Project. He sounds like some of the doomsayers in the early days of iOS apps.

Publishing will never be the same. Neither will making and selling music or making and selling other creative works. Seth knows this. Perhaps the world changed publishing and Apple is simply building tools for the ride. Regardless, anyone can now create and publish a book. Selling it requires building a tribe, just like it always did, but now you get to do it on your own.

So Many Miss the Point

With the passing of Steve Jobs this week juxtaposed against the announcement and release of the new iPhone 4S, the technology media have been atwitter with their views of Apple's success or failure to continue their recent successes. In reading a wide range of such writing, it strikes me that most miss the point entirely. The reason is ironically the same reason that Apple is so successful: it's really difficult to understand people and what they want. Over the past few years I have spent substantial time studying direct response marketing (such as the marketing done by companies who take out those one-page ads for subglasses or the Internet marketing that offers you a free report for handing over your email address). One of the primary tenants of direct response marketing is this: it doesn't matter what you want or what you think about those who make up your market. All the matters is what they actually want. Figure that out and you'll be successful. In fact, your success will be in direct proportion to the accuracy of your understanding. Most technology writers and those who live their lives consumed with technology miss entirely the preferences of the vast majority of people. That's why Apple is successful. It's also why I have migrated exclusively to Apple products.

The bottom line: most people just want stuff that works. They don't want to customize it more than putting their own wallpaper on the screen. They don't want to hack into it or understand how it works. They want to use it, get their activities done, and keep living their lives.

Apple products do this really well. In fact, Siri---the new Apple iPhone 4S's mechanism for voice interaction---is the opposite of what most geeks say is needed: it will create less interaction with the screen rather than more.

Today, John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote an article specifically about the iPhone 4S and everything the pundits are saying Apple got wrong. I agree 100% with what he says. I expect the iPhone 4S to be the most popular iPhone ever much to the shock of those who think the screen needs to be bigger or that it needs to have a replaceable battery or LTE networking.

It doesn't. It's a great upgrade. I'll have mine in a week and will be sure to let you know what I think after I've had some time with it.

What do you think?

Farewell, Steve

Yesterday, just after hitting "publish" on my iPhone 4S recommendation post, I received the news that Steve Jobs had passed away at the too-young age of 56. I never met Steve, but his uncompromising focus on doing the right thing has influenced me. Today, Ken Segall (I read his blog religiously) shared the impact that Steve had on him, and I must agree, although I never had the experience of working directly with him.

Although I have been accused of being an Apple fan boy, my relationship with Apple is relatively recent and based on only one thing: my use of Apple products has given me a far more productive and pleasant experience than any of the environments I have used in over 25 years of daily technology use.

...and the reason for that is the insistence that Steve had on building products for people, not "users."

Yesterday, I was struck by how sad I felt when I learned of Steve's passing. I was rocked when I first saw the news, and found myself grieving far more than I would have expected.

Why?

I think one of the reasons is the rarity of Steve's insistence on building technology that works for people. Just reading the industry commentaries about Apple products shows this clearly. The complaints are universally about "speeds and feeds," complaining that this phone has a bigger, higher-quality display than the iPhone or that tablet is available in a 7-inch form factor, missing the only thing that matters: how the product works as a whole. This is why the iPhone is the most popular phone in the US and the iPad is really the only tablet that matters.

So, farewell, Steve. You have inspired me and I am grateful. My commitment is to apply what I have learned from your approach.

Thank you.

Buying an iPhone 4S?

Yesterday, the most valuable company in the world (by market value) introduced their latest product. Leading up to the announcement of the new iPhone, the traditional media and blogosphere were rife with rumors, spanning the gamut from the new iPhone only being available on Sprint to very solid rumors that effectively got it right. Who cares?

The real question is whether or not it makes sense for you to buy one.

For me, the answer is easy: yes, it makes sense. The devices I use are never fast enough for all I try to do with them, and I am using my voice more and more to interact with my phone, so I am looking forward to having the new Siri assistant so that I can use my phone more consistently and safely without looking at it. With Siri, I will be able to hear and reply to text messages, compose emails, change meetings, and more by conversing with my phone. I'm looking forward to that.

Plus, my daughter had her iPhone 3G stolen this summer and has been waiting for a trickle-down iPhone since then.

For you? It may not be as clear.

Here are the criteria I would recommend you use to decide:

  • If you cannot purchase it with a contract, I'd consider waiting
  • If you do not make heavy use of smartphone features like email, web browsing, camera, and apps, the iPhone 4S is likely overkill for you
  • If you make heavy use of Internet data, the iPhone 4S will be a benefit, but only if you are an AT&T subscriber
  • If you're a heavy user of a camera and either want better quality on your phone or would like to leave your camera home most of the time, the iPhone 4S will be great for you

So, what do you think? Is the iPhone 4S in your future? Hit the comments or Facebook with your thoughts.

I'll let you know more about what I think after I have had an iPhone 4S for a few days.

All Clouds are Not Created Equal

After I read about another Google customer losing all of his Google data when Google decided to delete (or at least suspend) his account, I got to thinking about all of the times that Google has made a mistake and deleted user accounts or deleted email for Gmail users, I thought about how the different approaches of the key players in the emerging world require you to make some choices, some of which may be untenable. So, I thought I'd lay them out in clearer form than you will get from the hard-core technical blogs or the companies themselves. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this year (WWDC 2011), Steve Jobs and the Apple executive team introduced iOS 5 and iCloud. During his iCloud introduction, Jobs said this: "We are going to demote the PC to just be a device. We are going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud." This is Apple's philosophy: the iCloud is the sync-master for  your digital life. It provides the axle to your devices that are the spokes. However (and this is a vital distinction!), your digital content lives on your devices when you are using it. The iCloud, then, is the master copy, but Apple expects you to have copies on one or more of your devices.

This is in sharp contrast to Google. In Google's world, the cloud is the only place where your data resides. You'll use your browsers (on your PC, your tablet, or your phone) to access, manipulate, create, and use your content. You may even cache some of it locally for performance reasons (for example, caching the first part of a video so you can watch it without "stutters"). However, the content is in the cloud and your devices are simply windows into it from Google's perspective.

...and then there's Microsoft. They want to get in on "this cloud thing," too, but they really aren't sure how to do it. Their business is Windows and Office, so how can they use the cloud and keep those lines humming? What they are doing now is having the cloud be a glorified backup service with some of the capabilities of their apps. The best experience, however, is to use their native apps on a PC and hook them into the cloud for backup and collaboration. This means that Microsoft Office 365 is a different perspective than iCloud (which is personal) and Google (which is all about the data being in the cloud only). It's effectively a hybrid of the two.

Regardless, you will want to make a choice based on these distinctions, because to the cloud you will go, one way or the other.