Hyperactive Hyperlinking HyperBlogger

In the latest of a string of successes for my writings, my recent essay on Continuous Innovation has been posted to the RAPP Global Blog! This is directly at the "front door" for our agency worldwide, so it's a huge deal. Plus, I had the chance to work with some great people outside my regular circle here, which is just additional fun.

We wanted this version to be a little more readable and interactive than the original, so we came up with the idea of splattering it with links all over the place - making it the hyper hyperlinked remix version, if you will. Take a look at some of those links, they were half the fun in getting this done.


The Hottest Wallpapers I've Found So Far

Some people go for pictures of their kids as their computer wallpaper, but I think my little Squid is so cute that hiding behind my open browser windows doesn't do him justice. Besides, I like having something there that's utterly different and unique.

So here's a few of my current favorites, gathered from hither and yon. I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to first go check out the STUNNING wallpapers from mandolux.com and desktopography.net. Now enjoy what I've got here while the bandwidth's available!


ESSAY: Continuous Innovation

Update: Received a wonderful comment from a user identifying themselves as the Chief Technologist for NASA at Langley, VA. Here's hoping I can help space exploration, if in some small way!

I guess I must be good at this essay thing. They had another writing contest here at work, and I decided to enter. I wasn't really looking to do anything special, just wanted to see for myself if it was a fluke: if it was possible that I could write that well again. I really figured I had no chance, because of course, they wouldn't let me win twice, right?

Well, they did.

This contest was supposed to be about "Innovation." Here's the full essay, along with the announcement email, from the same Global Strategy guy. Plus, some minor mentions from later in the year. Enjoy!

Continuous Innovation

You have two minutes to do something innnovative. 120 seconds. Go.

Can we all be honest with each other here? When you look at the results from your latest campaign and see a click-through rate of .05%, or an open rate of 1.14%, or an average time on site of 00:00:14 with a bounce rate of 85%, you're not excited. Even though these numbers may be well above standard for your client's industry, or average rates for the medium, you can't help but wonder about the majority. The ones that just didn't do what you wanted them to do.

So what happens? You get in the office the next day and flip through your Rolodex of optimization techniques, survey out a 30+ variable testing matrix that would confuse a rocket scientist, and set about to "move the needle." Brief, blow out, build and blast; you manage to make that K.P.I. look a little less S.O.L., and your client is happy to carry on doing the same thing with the same messages in a slightly better looking package. That needle's moved, but that majority? Still there.

So why doesn't this FEEL good? Why doesn't this inspire your work and infuse your day?

Why doesn't this feel Innovative?

90 seconds.

The fact is, a lot of the things we fill our day with are NOT innovative. And really, there's nothing wrong with that - great work relies completely on great execution. An excellent process or cutting-edge idea will be the inspirational equivalent of a blank sheet of paper if it isn't carried out with absolute attention to detail, timing, and budget. The world needs people that do this, and for at least some part of our lives, we all must be one of them.

The problem is we confuse Innovation with The Work. We can't block out 30 minutes on our calendar to just "Innovate." Innovation doesn't generate any discrete deliverable, follow any Visio flow chart process, or wrap itself up neatly into a revenue stream by the end of Q2. Innovation is like a rainbow: ephemeral, beautiful, and impossible to precisely predict.

But, you CAN create the right conditions for it.

Just like we all know that stormy-sunny mix that gives the best opportunity for a solar color gala, we all intrinsically know the circumstances that will foster innovation within our organizations. We know the value of those hallway conversations, the break room areas, the coffee machine (oh YES the coffee machine), the foosball table, the huge whiteboard, the iPod with noise-cancelling headphones. We know those things that don't have a direct return, the stuff that's expensed before the bottom line, the things that usually get axed when numbers need to add up.

We know what fosters innovation - we're just afraid of it.

60 seconds.

The core problem with innovation is that it is rooted in, and generated by the Unknown. We can fertilize and water the field all day long, but ultimately it is innovation that makes a seed become a plant. The fear is that you might throw all your might and resources into a singular project to foster innovative growth and... it doesn't happen. Or worse yet, you take your baby idea out of the incubator and try to introduce it to the real world and guess what? It fails.

You know what we call new ideas that succeed? Innovation.
You know what we call new ideas that don't? Failures.

Under this paradigm, it's easy to see why a project with unclear and uncertain returns would never get off the ground. It's understandable trying your hand at the tried-and-true before ever venturing off into the unknown. When the world is black and white, why would you ever want to put yourself in the red?

And that's your problem.

If you see every new venture, every weird idea, every novel concept as ultimately falling down the plinko machine into one of those two buckets, the risk is always 50-50. You're always that fixed distance away from perceived utter disaster, and you're always going to stay there.

Take a moment and think of the enormous gamut of problems you work with and attempt every day - from a way to remember to pick up the dry cleaning, to some method of resolving conflict with a co-worker, to influencing a new audience to buy your client's product.
The wrong thought is to rank these solutions the same way we would a coin flip - heads/tails, right/wrong, successful/not. We deal in a work that so tightly integrates with the human experience, that of communicating and carrying understanding of a client to groups of other humans. We play on emotion, on aspirations, on cognitive dissonance. So how can we call one idea absolutely innovative, or another absolutely a failure? How can we not appreciate the campaigns that "showed a small ROI" or "did sorta well" for what they are - learning opportunities.

30 seconds.

If asked about his greatness, Edison would tell you about the thousands of ways he discovered how NOT to make a lightbulb. Einstein would tell you about the 42 years of life BEFORE he won his Nobel Prize for Physics. Michael Jordan would tell you about the 26 times he was trusted to take the game-winning shot and MISSED. Greatness only germinates from the ashes of failure. Innovation will only spark after countless ideas are tried, tested, and most are found lacking. The world's Next Big Idea isn't sitting out on the sidewalk like a lost penny - it's hiding behind a veil of missteps, mistakes, and missed opportunities.

The clear fact is that in order to foster innovation in ourselves or in our organization, we need to create a mentality that ALLOWS for failure. We need to build into our campaign plans an aggressive process for correctly identifying results, then extracting every single bit of meaning or understanding from them - both "good" and "bad." This knowledge then needs to feed our future works. This knowledge must be immediately shared within our organization. This knowledge needs to be openly celebrated in front of our clients, to prove how we've positively built from failure and made our partners' money really worth something in the long run.

We need to innovate, or we will become irrelevant. Therefore, we need to fail, or we will never find success. And when we fail, we must intensely scrutinize the results in order to innovate.

Time's up. Did you innovate? Did you fail? How about both.

I am pleased to inform you that our writing contest winner is once again Eric Swayne. Yes, that's right. Eric Swayne. Again.

Well done Eric!

This contest focused on innovation. As direct marketers, innovation is a bit of a strange bedfellow. I mean, we typically focus on a linear approach of testing, learning and then optimizing. Innovation requires new, often lateral thinking, is often inefficient and as Eric rightly points out ...gasp...can actually require failing, maybe even repeatedly, before getting to the Promised Land. And yet now more than ever our ability to innovate as customer obsessed agents on behalf of our clients is the litmus test by which we are judged as true leaders in our space.

Traditional executions across traditional channels, nuanced by creative and offer are simply not working as well as they used to. Consumers demand more...more relevance, more experience, more inspiration, more opportunity to co-create across multiple touch points. Across channels heretofore not even considered media. To truly succeed for our clients we are going to need to be brave, pioneering and yes, perhaps even fail from time to time. Different than many the Rapp way, the way of data igniting creative experiences, of direct marketing sensibilities informing new applications across emerging channels, gives us an unfair advantage. It slides the odds of success to our favor. And I am happy to take any advantage I can get, fair or unfair, on behalf of our clients.

Take the time to read Eric's entry on risk taking, on having the courage of our convictions and on our mandate to innovate as a brand. It is inspiring. Please join me in congratulating Eric on what is quickly becoming the Swayne Writing Contest. (Actually, the entrants are presented to a panel of judges without name!) I encourage all of you to participate in the next iteration and help us crown a new champion. Not to mention win a bunch of money :-)

This next one came from the CEO of all RAPP itself. He CCed our Global President, and the President of North America:

This is really well done Eric. I’d like you, [name witheld] and [name witheld] to trim this down, add a couple of real Rapp examples of innovation and put this on the website blog. This is a very relevant topic.

Thanks Eric.

And here's the blog he was talking about: http://opinion.rapp.com/. I'm working with other amazing luminaries of the RAPP stratosphere to get this live, and I'll let you know here when it's up.

I'm still utterly amazed and honored to win this go-round. The money's nice (VERY nice), but the validation as a writer and strategic thinker is many, many times more valuable. It's mind-boggling and humbling to have a reputation throughout the world-wide stretch of RAPP. I hope I'm afforded many more chances to do this kind of free-form, blue-sky thinking.


So I Should Probably Let You Know...

You all remember this essay I posted earlier, mentioning that I entered it in a writing contest here at work. I'm glad to tell you that I WON!!!1!!! (LoLCat punctuation intended.) Yep, in addition to being an award winning web designer, I'm now an award winning writer!

The award (read: check in an envelope) was given me at an all-agency meeting on Monday. The Director of the entire freakin' office, the lady that can fire me if she just doesn't like my hair that day, asked me to read my essay for everyone. Normally, I'm very good speaking in front of crowds. I did a talk back in my LTC days for about 4,500 people no sweat. This time? My hands were shaking so hard I couldn't hold the paper in front of my face - I had to put it down on the podium to read it. People told me later I read fine, but WOW have I never been that nervous.

Later in the week, the Global Chief Strategy Officer (yeah, that's a big title) sent out the following email. I've redacted some parts here.

It is with great pleasure I announce the winner of our first RCW Writing Competition:

ERIC SWAYNE, Rapp Collins Worldwide, Dallas

Eric is an Interactive Project Manager who joined RCW about two months ago...and certainly has not wasted any time making a great impression! I urge you (or perhaps contextually it would be better if I “invited” you) to spend a few minutes reading through the entry. I find it to be a treasure trove of insights and provocative thought. Return on Interaction? Brands as parties? Brand Matchmaking? The birth of communication as anthropology and the end of hypnosis? Fantastic! As with everything we do at Rapp, I ask that you consider the points being made, debate them internally and with co-workers, enhance them, make them yours and then evangelize! This is how we grow organically and evolve our own brand.

We also want to thank everyone who participated. The responses and the writing are amazing and we recognize those who take the time to think and share the message.

Congratulations to all, and Eric, well done!


VIDEO: These Videos Have Nothing to Do With Each Other

Normally, I try to bring content with a theme, even if it's a niche one. Normally there's some common thread running through these snippets of web glory, but no such luck this time. This is just stuff that I find interesting or funny, and hope you will, too. Enjoy!

Synchronizing Metronomes

Interesting demo of a little physics here.

Virgin America's Safety Video

There's not much good in the category of Airline Safety Videos, but somehow Virgin makes me want to fly them even more with theirs.

Cat on a Treadmill

Seriously, do you need me to tell you why this is funny?

Darth Vader Feels Blue

Okay, hang with me here through the first few minutes. I promise it's worth it.



So the great place I work at recently had a writing competition about "reaching the new complex consumer." I was inspired to enter, because it's a fascinating topic - and the winner got a nice load of cash! I may not win, but I'm pretty proud of this little piece, so I wanted to share it here.

Remember: I'm writing this as a marketer, to other marketers. Some of the tone may get a tad fanatical for you, but when you're in the Advertising/Marketing industry, that's what it takes to get the attention of The Jaded.


The New ROI: Collective Networking Between Brands and Consumers

There is no more "them," and it's all our fault.

For good or ill, we started as Marketers with our "magic bullet" messages and drilled all the way down to the "guerilla" level for the express purpose of reaching and changing the behavior of Them: The Consumers. We've poked, prodded, offered, discounted, promoted and printed everything we could to affect The Target Audience. Each new medium has just been a wider net for us to reach more numbers to get more prospects and yield more ROI. We've used all 360 degrees around The Demographic to find a new angle, but now They have done the unthinkable:

THEY have learned to ignore us.

You have felt it. That inward shut-off when you see the overly-idyllic lifestyle photo, or your hand reaching for the dial at each mention of "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!" You know the Marketer's bag of tricks and can provide textbook examples of each, probably with material just from your morning commute. You've reached the point where it's sub-conscious, and yet if you're a Marketer, you'll get to your desk and try to analyze the next email campaign for whether we can get more out of Them with the "buy-one-get-one" or the "half-off" offers.

And this is the point: You ARE one of Them.

Marketers can not live in a diatomic, "Us vs. Them" world anymore, because the world has fundamentally changed. Publication now inherently includes participation, and the same people using your product are now recommending your product, rating your product, ranking your product, or just ranting about your product. Every move a Marketer makes throws off ripples of conversation, and the successful organizations are the ones who can anticipate these fluid dynamics, strategically activating groups and memes that maximize their clients' potential.

Marketing isn't hypnosis anymore, it's anthropology.

Our new study is to understand the full experience of how consumers interact with products, and how consumers interact with each other. These interactions are the new "synapses" in our collective intelligence, and it is at these points of exchange that every brand finds its success or failure. As information flows through these points, nuance is gathered. Impressions are made. The Sneezers come out, and Tipping Points are neared. Everything that goes into forming an opinion, or deciding on a purchase, filters through this decentralized network.

Marketers can't be Brand Managers. They must be Brand Matchmakers.

In the status quo, brand management is about control. We control the ways and places our Brands interact with Consumers, and only let that interaction occur when it's in our Brand's best interest. "After all, if all a Consumer knows about our Brand is what we tell them, then that's all they can say about it, right?" Following this path, some Brands have taken the recursive path into effective silence, repeating only the boilerplate messages and ignoring the conversations around them. It's the Marketer's role to take this Brand into The Real World and introduce it to the Consumer, making every interaction genuinely positive for BOTH parties.

Marketers have to be done "telling." They must INVITE.

Every marketing campaign has to begin by identifying (or creating) a point of JOY between a Brand and a Consumer. Is it an amazing timesaver? A gift to the Environment? A security for the future? What interaction between one Brand and one Consumer will be so incredible that it can not be kept under Wraps? Your campaign is a personal invitation to participate in this moment; to experience the Brand at THIS point. It's no longer a question of gimmicks or tricks -- it's a moment of relationship.

Brands are parties, and the best ones have party favors.

Return On Investment is a fine metric when you're dealing with concrete assets. A bridge costs so much money and lasts so long, meaning a certain ROI. But can we reduce the social work we're doing to the level of asphalt? Marketing is about Return On INTERACTION; the mutual benefit gained by both the Consumer and the Brand from encountering each other. If the Consumer can take away an artifact, a benefit, a new mental benchmark (or even all three) from a positive interaction back to their social network, the Brand is the real winner.

Successful brands create a "Gold Rush Effect."

You would think the first person to find gold in the Klondike would keep their mouths shut about it. It's a finite resource of immense value, so shouldn't you keep it to yourself? Unfortunately, that person had to use what they found to get what they wanted -- gold exchanged for money or stuff. They HAD to interact with other people who wanted the same thing. It's in our nature as Consumers to share our experiences, and it's in our nature to want GREAT ones. Brands want their Consumers to walk away with the huge gold nugget, because they know that more will come looking for the same.

Welcome to the Consumerscape. Hope you brought business cards.

It's the equivalent of a political campaign, this concept of Brands "pressing the flesh" with Consumers. For some Brands, it's going to be hard to get out there and mingle with "real people." For others, they will have skilled Marketers to help them develop a form of charisma, a genuine personality that encourages Consumers to come closer. Some businesses will focus on earning a million dollars. Others will focus on winning a million friends. Which will be worth more?


VIDEO: You hafta be a Geek for this

I normally try to keep my content fairly "down the middle" and come with stuff that's not necessarily tied to one audience.

Unfortunately, I'm a geek.

And like all geeks, I consume web media voraciously. And yep, I'm susceptible to more geekish content out there. So yeah, your blog post today may be a little outside your natural demo, but let's give it a shot. Stretch a little and reach out to your Buddies of the Byte. Enjoy some web content from the wired guys.

Transformers Cosplay

Now, Transformers you know. Cosplay is literally a mash-up of "costume" and "play." Let's be clear: these costumes are cool. But these guys, well, let's hope there's more to them than meets the eye.

NOTE: You're gonna want to turn down your volume for this one, unless you love the 80's rock stylings of the original Transformers theme cranked up to 11.

New Math

Generally, geeks are good at math. I'm okay at it, but I'd be TERRIBLE if I had to do the New Math!

Time-Lapse Video of 40+ Hours in Adobe Illustrator

There's a special kind of geek that does Art. And when these guys do art, it's pixel-wrangling at its finest.

Science Machine from Chad Pugh on Vimeo.

Making Chocolat Moose with the Swedish Chef

Geeks love their retro Saturday TV fodder, and the Muppets are right up there in that category. Besides, how can you NOT love the Swedish Chef??


What Do You DO, Anyway?

I've been getting a lot of questions like this, since announcing that I'd become a full-time Interactive Project Manager, and when I get that blank stare I've always had this great quote from Sports Night running through my head (emphasis mine):

You guys know who Philo Farnsworth was? He invented television. I don't mean he invented television like Uncle Milty, I mean he invented the television. In a little house in Provo, Utah. At a time when the idea of transmitting moving pictures through the air would be like me saying I've figured out a way to beam us aboard the Starship Enterprise. He was a visionary and he died broke and without fanfare. The guy I really like though was his brother-in-law, Cliff Gardner. He said to Philo, "I know everyone thinks you're crazy, but I want to be a part of this. I don't have your head for science, so I'm not gonna be much help with the design and mechanics of the invention. But it sounds like, you're gonna need glass tubes. See Philo was inventing the cathode receptor, and even though Cliff didn't know what that meant or how it worked, he'd seen Philo's drawing and he knew he was gonna need glass tubes. And since television hadn't been invented yet, it's not like you could get 'em at the local TV repair shop."I want to be a part of this", Cliff said, "and I don't have your head for science. How would it be if I taught myself to be a glassblower? And I could set up a little shop in the backyard. And I could make all the tubes you'll need for testing." There oughta be Congressional medals for people like that. I've looked over the notes you've been giving over the last year or so, and I have to say that they exhibit an almost total lack of understanding of how to get the best from talented people. You said before that for whatever reason, I seem to be able to exert authority around here. I assure you, it's not 'cause they like me. It's because they knew two minutes after I walked in the door that I'm somebody who knows how to do something. I can help. I can make glass tubes. That's what they need.

By the way, if you've never seen Sports Night you oughta get that on your Netflix list right now. William H. Macy delivers that line, and boy does he sell it.


VIDEO: Holy CARP they can do that with a Wiimote??

I know, I know - two posts in one day. This one was just so cool and amazing that I couldn't wait to get it up.

Ever seen a Wii? Played one? Own one? Well, little did you know that your humble Wiimote can be used to create a whiteboard, virtual WACOM tablet, or even a 3-d room!

VIDEO: We all need a feel-good moment

I originally titled this one "stuff I can't believe I love", and I may still come back to that with music. (I mean, after all, I favorited a track by BRATZ.)  But lately, I've found a lot of things that are genuinely lovable on the Interwebs - stuff that gets a little cloying and sugary-sweet, but lovable nonetheless.

Best Little League Game Ever

This little gem comes to us from Improv Everywhere, a fascinating group that's a collision of "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" and "Candid Camera." For this event, they descended upon a Little League baseball game with the goal of making it as close to a real Major League game as possible - complete with fans, announcers, JumboTron and the Goodyear Blimp.

The Last Lecture

Randy Pausch is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and he has pancreatic cancer. He reprises his "Last Lecture" here on Oprah. (Man, I can't believe I like something from Oprah!)

How MC Hammer got his grooves

WARNING: Early 90's hair, miniskirts, and club dancing are present in this video. And no, that's not supposed to be the feel-good part of it.

I just chuckle inside whenever I see the "Running Man." Especially done by more than one person.


The New Job

Well, since my wife basically called me out, I should probably get back here and blog about my new job and what's been keeping me so busy. This is a long post, but I want to tell you the whole story of what's gone on here, since there's been a lot of changes and a WHOLE lot of God working in our lives.

So as a lot of you know, I'd been working at Texas Instruments, as a contractor. And for the record, I liked it there! I liked what I was doing (because I'd basically carved out my own role), and I liked who I was working with. There were really only two things wrong with my situation: my salary was below market value, and the benefits package I was getting as a contractor wasn't near what I could get as an actual employee.

Sure, there were a lot of other factors that irked me about being a contractor. Sure, it was hard to be the Project Manager and Get People To Get Stuff Done when they were employees and I was a contractor (blue badges vs. red badges... and don't get me started on those yellow badges!). Sure, they instituted this weird policy where employees could work from home but contractors couldn't - even though we both had the same equipment and were (assumedly) both sets of trustworthy adults. One of my contractor friends and I started calling this the Chinese Water Torture - no one droplet freaks you out, but add these things up and it gets overbearing. I wasn't to that point, but I can't say it didn't factor in.

So I'd been looking, for a while. Job boards, emails, interviews - the whole bit. At one point, I got a pretty serious interview from a company offering WAY more than I was making. Only one catch: the business was right on the edge of my moral standards. A lot of other people might not have felt a moment's regret doing this kind of thing, but I did. I told them that I probably wasn't their ideal candidate. That was one of the first interviews I had in my looking process, and it really colored my experience through every other encounter with a company. Others got serious (and I even got an offer at one point), but they never were in that stratosphere. I was glad to get interviews and offers, but in the back of my mind, I was always wondering if my value was actually way up there, instead of somewhere below.

I prayed a lot about this, and my friends from my church small group know that I wrestled a lot with this. Christians, on the whole, aren't taught a lot about how to deal with Ambition. We're allowed to strive for spiritual perfection, we all know that, but what about the rest? Is it wrong for a Christian to want to succeed in their career because they believe they can? Is it wrong to use money as one of the ways you measure that success? Is it wrong for me to want my family to live more comfortably? This search for the Contentment that isn't Stagnation is still something I'm trying to figure out.

My search seemingly concluded with an offer from the startup internet company GodTube, and I was really pumped about it. After all, it's been one of my passions to investigate this realm where Christianity and Cyberspace collide, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. I accepted the offer, knowing that the benefits and vacation weren't at all as good as I wanted, but believing that God had led me here and would work that part out.

About halfway into my two-week notice in my job at TI (what one should do during that lame-duck time is probably a blog post in itself), a friend there asked me if I'd be interested in another job opportunity. He had a friend at Rapp Collins, a full-service marketing agency, and they were having a BEAR of a time finding someone to come in as an Interactive Project Manager. The pay range was higher than what I'd accepted at GodTube, and I knew from my previous jobs with Ad/Marketing agencies that their benefits were usually pretty nice, too. So after praying about it, talking about it with my wife, and getting the input of respected friends, I decided to go ahead and interview there. This was a clear example of letting God show you the way he's planned, because I knew there were some hurdles to get over to get me working somewhere else after I'd already accepted another company's offer.

The interivew at Rapp went very well, and they were completely understanding of my situation. After 24 of the more stressful hours I've ever had, they contacted me with an offer. The benefits were there, the hurdles were overcome, and the pay was even back in the range of that first job - the one that had been nagging me ever since. I accepted, and had to inform GodTube that I'd been "made an offer I couldn't refuse."

I've been at the new job for a couple of weeks now, and I'm starting to see what God had in mind when he put me here. There's a lot of chaos, and a lot of work flow processes that have been cobbled together and held by sheer manual human labor because "they've worked so far." My new boss is extremely open to automating and streamlining these things, and has given me the task of doing just that. It's like a blacksmith creating his own hammer and anvil before starting a job - you're in a better position to do a good job because you made the tools. The word is that we've got a job coming in to do a complete redesign of a local corporation's web site, and I'm gonna be the guy Getting Things Done on that.

It's been a long journey, but I'm rejuvenated by my new surroundings. I lost the opportunity to pursue this "God and The Web" passion directly, but I'm going to start a new side project on that soon - keep looking here for details. What's more, I'm getting new leads to do some freelance design work, so I'm still gonna have the chance to get my hands dirty with some code and Photoshop. God's led me a long way to get here, and I praise Him for what He's done. Here's to more blogging from a new work address.


VIDEO: Fun with kids

Now that I've got a kid, I finally have a real idea of how funny they can be! Here's some other kids being almost as entertaining.

3-year-old Explains Star Wars

via [ Wired's Geekdad Blog ]

Fight Dad vs. Kids

Note : no kids were harmed in the making of this film!

Product Testing with Kids

A little parody from Jimmy Kimmel.

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Yep, It's Valentine's Day

Larissa and I already had our Valentine's Day celebration last weekend, by giving the Squid away to his Mema and Granddad for a weekend (you can catch her take on it here), so we aren't planning any specific festivities this evening. But, it's still saying "St. Valentine's Day" on my calendar, so I'd feel very remiss if I didn't take a moment to tell you all how amazingly wonderful my valentine (and wife! what a bonus!) is and has been for the last 4.5 years.

Over there is my favorite picture of her so far - smiling while holding our son for the first time. That was an insane and wild night, and we were all drained - emotionally and physically. And yet, even though Lukas isn't looking too happy about the situation in that photo, this was a moment of peace and joy for everyone. My wife has become an incredible Mom, just as I knew she would when I married her. I wouldn't have ANYONE else raising our son. Some women are just blessed by God with all the skills, common sense, and patience it takes to be a stay-at-home Mom, some aren't. I know Riss thinks some days that she can't do this mothering at home thing any more, but I always know that she has more than it takes. I'm so excited for our son, because he's going to get the best start from the best educator I know.

Now, lemme tell you, this lady here didn't just become amazing when she started changing diapers regularly. I'm utterly stunned over and over by how wonderful she is to ME, especially on those days when "brain-dead, blithering idiot" is the nicest description I deserve. We've had hard times and good, and we're still figuring out what it means to be "us", but I LOVE the journey we're on. Being her husband can be something easy to take for granted, because her presence has become something like air - always present, life giving, and something you don't think about always. But on today, this day when some Saint did something special that I have no clue about, I get to bring this love to the forefront and shine a big ol' cyber-spotlight on it.

Happy Valentine's day, darling. I love you.

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VIDEO: Uncommon Art From Uncommon Means

Your average art is just that - average. It comes from an average medium by average artists using average methods that have probably been broadcast on PBS at one time or another. Art of this quality seems to become a wash. It's as nondescript as Muzak and just as tolerable. Good examples would be any of those "films" with the name Uwe Boll anywhere near them.

And then there's greatness.

Art that isn't just phenomenal because of what it is, but also because of how it was made. Any of us can appreciate a good beat, but done A Cappella? Now you got yourself some interesting art. And it's with that focus on the unconventional that I present you these fine examples.

Bob Staake Illustrates in Adobe 3.0

Bob Staake is a fantastic graphic artist, with an immediately recognizable style. He does a lot of work in "traditional media", but sometimes he busts out his digital studio - an installation of Adobe Photoshop from 1995! For those of you who don't have your jaws on the floor yet, imagine Leonardo da Vinci creating the Mona Lisa with a box of 24 crayons. It's utterly amazing what this guy can do with a tool that seems so limited by today's standards.

Guitar Zeros

Unless you're living under a rock, you've heard of the amazing game called Guitar Hero. (And unless you're me, you might even own it already.) Not many people would call what comes out of that game to be "art" - it's more like a highly interactive karaoke. BUT, what if you truly could rock out with the plastic guitar? What if you could make this medium your own outside the game and enter actual rock stardom??

These guys do just that. Take one (or more) guitar controllers, add laptops and custom software, and you've got yourself some original and house-shakin' ROCK!

Underwater Astonishments from David Gallo

The greatest art of all is, of course, found in nature. Man simply can't recreate the work of God found in both flora and fauna. Underwater is prime real-estate for these kinds of wonders, and only recently have we captured some of these phenomena in video to bring back to the surface.

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How I Know I'm Such A Dad

The dear Spouse of Swan and I were able to spend a weekend alone together, thanks to her wonderful parents taking our son (aka Spawn of Swan) for two whole nights! It's the longest and farthest we've been apart, and yet, I think we all needed it. Getting a break like this gives you a chance to take a step back and realize how far you've come. We've been together for almost 10 months, the three of us, and it's been an amazing journey - even in such a short amount of time. Sure, we've all had extreme changes to our lives (like our son starting his!), but sometimes it's the more trivial ones that I take a look at. The ones that give you an interesting angle of life-perspective, and a little chuckle too.

I know I'm such a Dad because:

1. I can hum almost all of the major classical pieces in human history, but only 15 second snippets. And I can't tell you the work or composer, just which toy they came from.

Hey, I'm a fan of Baby Einstein, and my son is too. But sometimes I think they take this classical music thing a tad far. EVERYTHING with their logo on it ONLY plays shorts from composers with fake, powdered wigs. And, since they've become THE name in baby entertainment, all the other baby toys do, too! Personally, I'm ready for a toy to snap off with some Led Zeppelin, or some Sgt. Pepper - Tom Petty maybe? Can a Dad get a little "Free Fallin'"??

On the same lines, I've taken it upon myself to expand my son's musical horizons. He can have a main diet of the "classics" (classicals?), but like any diet, variety is necessary. A couple days ago I put in Blast! during dinner time, and he was riveted. Just tonight we were dancing to "Drumbone" from hThe Complex Tour Live by the great and incomparable Blue Man Group. (Did I mention they have onesies, anyone?) I can see it now - my boy's going to be the only kid in kindergarten with a penchant for everything from Dave Matthews Band to Daft Punk.

2. I've never paid more attention to burps, farts, poops, pees, laughs, cries or giggles before.

I have to laugh at myself with this one. It's unbelievable how important those bodily functions we take for granted in adults become when you're watching your own child grow. And it's amazing how stupid and silly I would act when my son was just becoming vocal to get even the slightest hint of a laugh. (These days I only have to be mildly silly to get laughs, and sometimes I get laughed at for what seems like no good reason at all!) If baby laughs at it, you'll keep doing it until YOU'RE exhausted because it's so rewarding to see him so happy.

On the other hand, you get to know your own kid's cry REALLY well. I always thought that took years, but it didn't take us long at all to be able to recognize his cry, or decipher some of the basic messages he was giving us. You know - "I'm hungry", "I'm tired", "I hurt myself", and "I think what's in my pants really need's Mom's attention." At least, that's what I hear when he's getting kinda odorous. ;-)

3. I'm redefining what I believe to be dangerous

We were trying to figure out which superheroes all the kids in our church small group best represented, and I christened my boy Baby Daredevil. The kid has NO Fear! Stairs? No problem. Balancing myself by holding on to a swinging chair while wearing socks on a hardwood floor? Bring it on! Cats, with potentially dangerous claws and teeth? Playtoys!

Now, to the credit of our household felines, they've been FANTASTIC with our young one. I think they realize that he's a baby, and just know the rules are different with him. Ember, my black tomcat, just runs away whenever he crawls his direction. Ember's far too aloof to play with a baby, much less let himself be caught by one. But Melody (the one pictured here)? Stays right there! Our dear child will crawl over to her (laughing the whole way and going faster than you'd thought possible on hands and knees) and do his best imitation of petting her - which basically means grabbing her tail in a vice grip. Mel will meow a mildly plaintive call, but she won't fight back at ALL. She'll stay there and let him tear out fur if he wants to. What's more, when we put him to bed, she'll stay in his room until she's sure he's asleep, THEN come settle down for the night at the foot of our bed. She's our own version of Nana!

and of course....

4. I'm finding myself WAY too busy to blog!

Sorry about being away for a while, kids. I'll try to get back in the swing of things here. Thanks for stopping by!

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What's Kept Me Busy

So what in the world have I been up to for a month? What's so busy to keep me from blogging? Well lemme tell you, Sweet Cheeks I've got some good reasons! Let's check in on what I've been up to:


Courtesy bulldog7897

We all have it, we all do it. And yes, it can be an amazing joy or a terrible beating - or somewhere in between. December was an absolutely insane month for work, because we were making some HUGE changes to the site I work on. For those of you who haven't worked on a site for a large corporation, you may not be able to imagine the logistical, political, technical, spiritual, ecumenical and grammatical issues that you have to overcome to make ANY change, much less a dramatic one. How dramatic? Well, we were going from...

...including all the look & feel for every page in the site. It's quite a bit of change. So much, in fact, that we had to bring the entire site down for about 12 hours to implement the change. And, since it wouldn't be nice to pull our online rug out from under our customers' feet, we took the site down at 10pm CST and brought it back around 1pm CST the next day. (Yeah, that's longer than 12 hours, but we had to test the thing internally before "going live.") I must say, though, our Project Management team really came through on that all-nighter. We camped out in a big conference room, each of us working on our respective elements of the site, and we were STOCKED with coffee and food and cookies and fruit and desserts and everything else one could want when trying to say awake. It was hard, but I must say it reminded me of those glory days in college of all night LAN parties.

*Sigh*, those were the days.


Since I have a kid these days, the Holiday Season has become radically different. I'd probably even call it better, because kids make any family get-together so much richer - so much more. Lukas was just an amazing Christmas baby (note: link goes to an embarrassment of cute baby pictures), and everyone had fun.

But more than just the joy of watching a baby try to eat tissue paper or being more entertained by the $4 teether than the $30 rolly-ball, the Holidays became infinitely more filled with logistics. All you people that have been parents for Christmases Past are now giving me that "Yeah, NOW you get it" look, complete with the Knowing Nod, but give me a break. This is my first time through this rodeo.

And speaking of rodeo, it's like cat wrangling to get a baby ANYWHERE to spend longer than 4 hours. You gotta pack up the Pack-N-Play, clothes, food, toys, diaper-changing materials, perhaps even a high chair! Lemme tell ya, we have since invested in a portable high-chair/feeding station solution, and I'm very excited about its prospects.

Oh, and coming home from Mema and Grandad's house, I thought we were going to have to strap some items on the roof, Griswold style. Note to self: if you're going down to Houston for a Christmas-like celebration, make sure and leave plenty of room to bring stuff BACK.


No, not his toys, MINE! Even though The Squid made out like a bandit, poor ol' Daddy wasn't ignored, oh no. Plenty of cash came from my parents (and I thank you deeply) that I plan on investing in some new domain names and web hosting. I don't have a good personal portfolio site, and if people are gonna take me seriously at all as a Web Guy, I gotta get that taken care of. Plus, I've had an idea I've wanted to pursue for quite some time - another web site/blog - and hopefully I'll get to tell ya'll about that soon as well.

But the in-law parents came through with flying colors as well, by bestowing upon me this little device you see to the right. Yep, I've joined the ranks of the iPod People, and of course, I love it.

Walk in to any Apple store or pick up any Apple product, and you'll be tempted - you'll be tempted to "drink the Kool-aid" of Apple fan-dom. I've always resisted this, even to the point where my first MP3 player was actually an Archos (yeah, you haven't heard of them), not an iPod. Now, my Archos was pretty nice. Good form factor, nice features, even had a slot for CF cards so you could dump your photos directly on there. But let's all face it - the sexiest and easiest music player in the world is an iPod. You may not have to drink all the Kool-aid, but you gotta have at least some, 'cause it's REALLY good.

So now I'm spending all my time getting set up with iTunes and the iPod. I've got 20 GB of music files from my old player, and none of it has album art. Only some of it has reasonable Artist/Album/Genre info, and even less actually has the track numbering in there. And, as any good geek would wanna do, I REALLY want everything in there to be PERFECT. I've become addicted to Discogs.com, because I can go there and pull album art for even the most rare of singles. "Now let's see, do I wanna use the US single art, or perhaps the US Radio Edit? Maybe the UK or Japan releases??"

So, that's just SOME of what's been keeping me occupied. Sorry for the delay, Sweet Cheeks, and I hope we can talk more often in the New Year.


The Strike is Over! Our Writers Return!

DALLAS (SwanSpeak Networks) - After weeks of stalemate between the Writers Of Blogs On Swans Association (WOBOSA) and the Producers of Swan Related Content (ProSwaReCo), the two sides finally reached an agreement just before midnight Monday, January 14. The parties' main disagreement was over the use of revenue from The Google Ad Block (TGAB), and other unconventional means of income. Before this agreement, writers did not receive any portion of this revenue, but were sent a new Squishy Ball every month the blog was profitable.

"I'm still using the same Squishy Ball I brought with me from home when I was hired," said one writer, "and at at this point, I'm not even sure I want their stinkin' new Squishy Ball anymore!"

The producers responded in kind. "Don't want a Squishy Ball? Fine. We're taking you off our Christmas Breath Mint Gift List from now on."

Obviously, there's still quite a bit of rancor (no, not that Rancor) between the two sides. Time will only tell if the blog's performance will suffer from this rift.