December 2010 – Stay N Alive

Want to Give me a Christmas Present? Please Like This.

Fighting the homeless is something near and dear to my heart, especially when it’s at home.  I have a non-profit idea I’ll share here later which I may pursue at some time and I think could completely (or closely) eradicate the problem of homelessness.  This Christmas I’m thinking a lot of those that are less privileged, and even if not homeless, hungry.  That’s why I’m supporting the Utah Food Bank this Christmas.

If you give me anything this Christmas season, will you please just click like on this page, supporting Salt Lake City’s food bank?  If we can get enough people to like it Salt Lake City’s food bank earns $1 million to distribute to the needy.  This year is of particular need for the Utah Food bank.  In a down economy, they are seeing increasing need for help, with a shortage in what they are able to provide.  They claim this year to have a 30 percent increase in the number of families coming for food.

Will you please give to me this Holiday season by giving to the homeless and clicking “like”?  This will be one of the greatest gifts you can give to me this season, and even great would be if you could blog about it and share it to your friends as well.  Again, here’s the link – just click “like” on the following page:

To help, here is a box you can use to like it (just click “like” here!):


This Isn’t the Microsoft it Used to Be – My Full Circle Journey and Why I’m Back Again

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

You may remember my scathing blog post denouncing my Xbox 360 and swearing I was leaving Microsoft.  I still feel that way about my old Xbox 360.  It was a piece of junk.  I sold it, sold all the games, and sent my Windows 7 machine with Windows Media Center on it to the scrap pile.  The fact is Microsoft used to create junky hardware and software, and being big and experiencing growing pains they got lazy and stopped competing in a lot of the consumer market.  My old Xbox 360 died 4 times and they still weren’t willing to give me something better.  Windows Vista still crashes all the time.  The old Windows Mobile was out of its time.  IE is terrible and a joke in many circles.  I hate the old Microsoft.  For the first time in my life, being the company that got me into programming, I didn’t want to go back.  I was sick of the problems and didn’t want anyone to try and fix it for me.

All that changed when my kids convinced me to try the Kinect.  Enter the new Microsoft.  Everything is new now.

The Backstory

It started when I was throwing around the idea of getting a PS3 with the Move wand and camera.  It just didn’t seem to interest my kids.  My kids, Mario Kart junkies that could care less about graphics and more about what games they can play and challenge their friends on, are happy with just having a Wii (bless their hearts).  Something was getting to them, though, as they would see commercials on TV when Microsoft’s Kinect launched of people controlling a computer screen with their hands and legs.  That looked really fun to them!  This was something, finally, for their generation!

It was when they started asking me about the Kinect and not the PS3 that I started to realize I was going to have to reconsider the Xbox again.  So I started investigating.  I also started to see a buzz that I hadn’t seen since the Wii came out.  The 250 GB bundles, the most popular bundle, were near impossible to find in stores.  Friends were starting to talk about getting them.  My parents finally bought an Xbox just for the Kinect (something I was trying to convince them for years to do).  There was something special afoot, and I needed to find out what it was.

The Purchase

So I decided to jump the gun and at least give it a try.  It turns out Microsoft has a new Xbox console.  One that’s less-prone to errors.  So I went out, got practically the last Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle in the city (at Target), and brought it home, just in time for my family to play for Thanksgiving.  You should have seen the glee on my kids’ eyes when I walked in the door with this thing they were seeing on TV and now had in their house, in real life.  This was the future!  In their home.  For them to play with.  Yeah, the thing I took away from them just a month before (that didn’t work anyway).

I hooked up the new Xbox 360 – to my surprise it was quiet!  I could barely hear it across the room!  “Finally, a machine I can play movies and not degrade the experience because of the sound of Xbox fans,” I thought to myself.

The Kinect

Then we hooked up the Kinect.

“Simply Amazing” are the best words I can use to describe it.  I’ve never experienced anything like it.  Just ask my wife – I told her I never wanted to buy another game that requires a controller again.  We started by playing “Kinect Adventures”, which comes with the unit.  Immediately it recognized without any tuning that my daughter was a girl, and that me and my sons were boys.  It would immediately recognize when there was a second player and let them play against the current player.  We were very quickly, without prompting, playing as a family, together, laughing and enjoying ourselves.

The Kinect comes with a camera.  During the games, the camera takes pictures of you, just like those little photos amusement park rides take of you at your most embarrassing moments.  The cool part is you can share these to Facebook and Twitter though.  The games also replay the pictures at the end so you get to re-live the fun you just had during the game you just played.  Simply amazing.

The Experience

But the coolest part is not the games – it’s the overall experience the Kinect gives you on the Xbox.  By just waving my hand when I turn on my Xbox 360, it immediately recognizes me, identifies me through facial recognition, and logs me in.  No longer do I need to search for the controller to log into games – Kinect does this for you on compatible titles.  In addition, because the new Xbox 360 comes with ESPN 360, I get to watch all my favorite football games (especially cool since BYU Football, one of my favorites, will have an exclusive partnership with ESPN next year), pick the winning team and get Xbox points if they win, but challenge my friends as well and see how many of them voted for which teams.  Even cooler though, with the wave of a hand and some Jedi mind tricks (Jedi mind tricks unnecessary) I can pause, rewind, and fast forward my games, or choose a new game.  No remote necessary.

The new Xbox comes with all the old stuff – Facebook, Twitter, integration, and integrates really well with Windows Media Center on any Windows 7 machine.  Of course, this got me to kill my cable and turn on my Windows 7 Media Center box again.  Add to that services like Hulu integration into services like PlayOn, I’ve got everything I need for the full entertainment experience.  Microsoft has me in their clutches.

Because of Microsoft (with some help from my Apple and Google TV devices, which I’ll talk about another time), I disconnected my Blu-Ray player, and took back my Comcast Cable boxes.  Microsoft is back in the game!

The Change

Microsoft has changed my mind with the new Xbox so completely, that they are now one company, as Holden Page said earlier today, that I’m investing in for the year 2011.  In fact I predict their stock price will hit $100 per share in 2011.  I’m confident in that.  With the advent of the Windows Phone 7 (which I have many “normal world” friends looking already to convert), integration with the Xbox and games for the Xbox, with them showing they “get” the living room experience, Microsoft is finally about to hit a Nirvana stage where they have full control of the living room experience.

I’m a Linux geek.  I’m not supposed to like Microsoft.  But I like this Microsoft.  It’s a new Microsoft with a new attitude towards competition, and a new wave of modern technology, standards compatibility, and willingness to listen.  It brings me back to the Microsoft I loved when I started programming – one that was on the cusp of new technology, a leader, not a follower, and one that developers could feel comfortable innovating under.

I hope Microsoft can convince others that they’ve disappointed in the past as I’ve accidentally been able to discover that they’re a new company now – it’s a new brand.  Microsoft has some wounds they need to heal with their loyal customers first.  Assuming they’re able to do so, if I were Google I wouldn’t be looking at Apple as my primary competition – I’d be looking at Microsoft. In my opinion, Microsoft is the biggest threat to Google in 2011.  They owe that to the living room experience of which they have already begun to take ownership, and to being the only other major vendor to be focusing on software, not hardware for phones and succeeding at being innovative in doing so.  Google – don’t get distracted.  This is your real competition.  If you’re a blogger – don’t get distracted.  Microsoft is the real deal this year.  Let Apples be Apples (har har).

Microsoft, I don’t know how you did it, but your technology alone has completely turned me around and made me a fan again.  I can’t wait to see what 2011 holds.

Hey Zuck, You’re Not Making My "Answer" an Easy One

I’ve been going back and forth with Robert Scoble and others today on why I should use the emerging Question and Answer service, Quora, when Facebook Questions is already pretty effective for me.  I often post a Facebook Question and get answers very shortly after, often from very smart people already knowledgeable about the topics I’m asking about.  I find it especially good if the questions are personal, and related to every day life questions.  That’s why I found it surprising after looking at Mark Zuckerberg’s own Facebook profile, that he’s only asked 2 questions there, where he’s asked 5 questions on Quora.  Are Facebook Questions just not that important to Mark?  How about question sites in general? Quora certainly doesn’t have much use by the CEO either.

Robert Scoble insists that what makes Quora more powerful than Facebook Questions is the quality of people answering questions there.  While I don’t doubt that CEOs are using it and often answering questions on the service (it started exclusively with invites to bloggers and influentials), who are those CEOs?  Mark Zuckerberg has only answered 5 questions on the service, and even fewer on his own site.  Is Bill Gates answering questions?  How about Michael Dell, or Steve Jobs, or even Bill Clinton?  It seems to me that smart and perhaps even successful entrepreneurs are using the service – I’m not sure either services have hit full potential yet with use by real legends like those above.  That still doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be using it though.  Quora does have an excellent search, and seems easier to find interesting questions as a whole.

At the same time I’m seeing great results from Facebook in the questions I ask there, and it’s already a part of my existing workflow.  For example, check out this question on my Ford F-150 truck’s lock problems, where with one answer I had a Ford certified technician providing me detailed howtos on how I could fix the problem I was having.  Or, check out this question on what speakers I should choose, and the audiophiles all giving me great feedback on my question.

I’d love to see Mark Zuckerberg show off how useful these questions services can actually be.  I’m having a really hard time deciding if I really need to add another service to my already busy and often distracting workflow when services I already use like Facebook  provide a tool I can use and potentially (assuming they eventually launch it to everyone, which they haven’t yet) have hundreds of millions see it, or if I should start another tool and have “smart people” and “CEOs” see it as Scoble implies he’s seeing on Quora.  Of course, the fact that Mark Zuckerberg himself is using Quora more than he is using Facebook Questions isn’t helping my quest either.

So Zuck, how about giving me some hints here – which one should I use, Quora or Facebook Questions?  In fact, I’ve created a Facebook Question on the topic – please vote and leave your own reasons why there: (only available to those with Facebook Questions enabled)

I’d love to see Mark Zuckerberg use his own service a little more to help convince me to stay with my current decision on Facebook Questions.  Or maybe it’s just an experiment at the moment and I need to be trying other services?  I can’t decide!

Howto: Getting the Logitech Revue (Google TV) to Work With Comcast Cable Boxes

As I’ve Tweeted, Facebooked, and Buzzed about recently, Google sent me a Logitech Revue Google TV unit shortly before Christmas which I will probably be using to write apps for.  There are many things I like about it, many I don’t, but I’ll save that review (no pun intended) for another date.  I did want to post briefly on an issue I came across that had me really frustrated, as there were no answers on the web.

The issue stems with Comcast Cable Boxes (mine was the HD PVR unit with HDMI out) not working well in receivers that have more than one HDMI cable input connected at a time.  I have the Harman Kardon AVR-247 and when I would connect the Comcast Cable box to my Logitech Revue unit, I would get Content Protection errors each time (HDCP – Google it, with “Logitech Revue”).  I tried every means of connecting, and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get it to display TV without the HDCP error, a big green message on top of the screen from the Comcast digital cable box.

I Googled it, and came across issue after issue of Comcast customers having similar problems with the Comcast Cable boxes, with no answers, and no response from Comcast (Many were complaining that Comcast was sending them back to Motorola, some saying Comcast was blaming Google, etc.).  The only answer I came up with was that the AVR (your receiver) did not work well when it had more than one input in the box, something that was necessary in my situation because I also have an Xbox, an Apple TV, along with a Blu Ray DVD player.  The Apple TV and Logitech Revue only have HDMI ports, while the others I prefer to connect via HDMI where possible.  The only solution I found was to connect the output of the Logitech Revue unit out to the TV’s HDMI input port, and the Comcast Box into the Logitech Revue, then using the Optical out port of the Revue to connect to the Optical input of the receiver, giving me the sound I need (you may have to read that a few times to get it).  My problem was that my TV is still pretty old (but can you argue with 65 inches???), and only has one input HDMI port, which is already being used by the receiver.

So I thought about it, and realized the problem was because I had 2 HDMI cables connected to the receiver.  I also happened to have an HDMI hub, which I purchased from Best Buy for about $100, but is also available in various forms starting at around $30 or so on Amazon and elsewhere.  I was using this already to power some of the other HDMI devices I was using.  So I disconnected the second port completely, and put everything into the HDMI hub.  Voila!  It worked!  No more content protection errors!

So if you’re seeing the HDCP Content Protection errors with your Cable box on the Logitech Revue, you may want to consider going out and purchasing an HDMI hub, get rid of all but one HDMI input into your receiver, and connect everything to your hub.  I’m pretty sure this method will work for almost everyone.  In the meantime, Comcast told me on Twitter that they are aware of the issue, and they’re working on a firmware fix to hopefully fix the issue on their Cable boxes.  It’s good to know they are now recognizing the problem, although they can’t give any ETA on a fix.

It was actually this problem that convinced me to just go get rabbit ears – with a Google TV, an Xbox and Windows Media Center, and an Apple TV, do I really need cable TV any more?  Assuming you do, well, here’s the answer.

Twitter Misleads. Bloggers Take the Bait. About that Facebook vs. Twitter Infographic…

Back in April I shared how Twitter was misleading the media and its users into thinking the numbers it was reporting were comparable to Facebook’s.  The deception stems from a report by Biz Stone at Twitter’s Chirp conference that Twitter has 105 million users.  It appears that in the last day or two many of the most popular tech blogs on the internet are taking the bait, including at least one blog that focuses specifically on Facebook, reporting an entirely inaccurate infographic, with absolutely no clarification in the matter.

The Infographic, created by Digital Surgeons, which is supposed to be a “Digital Marketing Agency”, boasts a whole bunch of figures based on a total user base of 500 million for Facebook, and 106 million for Twitter.  The problem is that Facebook doesn’t have 500 million total users.  According to Facebook’s own statistics, Facebook has “more than 500 million active users.”  For any agency in the know about Facebook (I argue if they’re making Infographics like this on such a huge statistic they aren’t), Facebook’s stats are a reflection of the total active user base and not total user base.  In fact, I was discussing with a (recently) former Facebook employee at one time how The LDS Church‘s has the largest database of online profile data in the world at 1 billion, and they suggested if Facebook counted their total user base (rather than active), Facebook’s number would be at closer to a billion users or more, not 500 million like Facebook is honestly sharing.

In SocialToo’s database I keep an ongoing cache of users based on the users we have and their friends.  That number, as of a few months ago, was a sample of about 5 million users.  Of those 5 million users on Twitter, only 30% of them had more than 20 status updates over the life of their account.  Assuming that statistic scales, that would mean Twitter’s number, as comparative in this diagram, should be closer to 30 million, not 100 million, making the entire premise of the graphic inaccurate.  Now, of course, I don’t have Twitter’s own numbers on me so I may be completely off, but I think it gives us an idea.  If Twitter’s numbers are bigger than mine, why not share them?

I sincerely hope this agency updates their infographic to a more correct number base – for something that is usually generated for mostly SEO purposes, it’s a pretty crummy thing to allow inaccurate numbers float around the web. Hopefully others can see through that (and bloggers do their own research), but mostly, I hope this agency notifies bloggers of their serious inaccuracy.  And lastly, I sincerely hope Twitter can be a little more honest with their numbers.  Listing “total users” when all your competitors are listing “active users” is a deceptive practice, and if you don’t have anything to hide, why not report the full number?  As long as Twitter isn’t you’re going to continue to see misleading infographics like this.  Then again, I’m sure that’s exactly what Twitter wants.

Here’s the infographic (note that I’m changing the title and file name to accurately report for SEO):

Digitalsurgeons Inaccurate Stats

Paying it Forward

Based on my last post I know you commenters and readers are out there.  My last post was all about me.  This post is, quite sincerely, about you and I hope I can see the same response from my commenters as I did that last article – I really mean that.  The Blogess recently wrote an incredibly heartfelt post that really inspired me.  If you haven’t read it yet, please go over there, read it, then read the comments for the article, which are the best part.  Because of one sincere offer by The Blogess to offer free gift cards to her readers, people are coming out of the woodwork, sharing such touching stories of poverty, need for this season, daughters who plea for their laid off fathers, wives who just want some groceries this season.  I admit I cried a little when I read it.  I realized I owe it to my readers to share, at least a little of what I have to those of you in need.  I’d love to see a Techmeme meme around other bloggers doing the same – we owe it to each other.  These are tough times.

I’m going to do the same thing as The Blogess.  I am definitely not wealthy, and I have a family of 6 (soon 7) to pay for this Christmas, but I want to give at least what I can of the good fortune I have.  I do feel really blessed, and a lot of that is because of you.  If you and your family are in difficult circumstances this Christmas, please let me know and I’ll give a $30 Amazon Gift Certificate to 3 of those who seem worst off in the comments.  If you don’t want to reveal your name, please use a fake one (I use Disqus, but you can create a fake Disqus profile – if anyone has difficulty with that please email me).  Just use your real email address, which no one but me sees, and I’ll email you the $30 Amazon Gift Certificate, no questions asked.

A lot of you are really in need this Christmas.  This is the best thing I think I can do at the moment – I know it’s not a lot, but I do feel like I need to pay it forward.  At the same time, if you, my readers would like to donate to any of those in the comments in need, please let me know in the comments (again, including your email), and I’ll arrange to have your gift sent to those who have needs.  Let’s help each other out this Christmas.  The economy is dismal at the moment.  I know many of you are struggling.  Please, let me, and my other readers help.

If you share any blog post of mine I beg you to share this one.  This, to me, is one of the most important posts I’ve ever written, and it’s my gift to you.  Please retweet it, share it on Facebook, Google Reader, or tip it on Techmeme. Please do it for those in need.

How will you give up your Christmas?

Help Me Pick the Picture for My Next Book

My sister-in-law, a few months back, took these amazing pictures of me to use on Facebook, Twitter, and also for my next book, Facebook Application Development for Dummies.  Her name is Megan Stay, and she’s really good if you want some great portraits or headshot photos taken.  She travels as well.  Be sure to check out her site at

I need to pick one of these for my next book.  I’m a horrible judge of how I look – I figure I’d let you be the judge.  Which picture should I use in my next book?  Please post your favorite in the comments and I’ll choose the one that has the most comments.  Oh, and don’t forget to check out my Sis-in-law’s site!:















Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s "Hallelujah Chorus"

This video, featuring Handel’s Messiah by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was put together in partnership with BYU TV just for Youtube.  I think it’s a beautiful piece.  Many people, Christian and not, can’t imagine the holidays without this amazing Choir.  I think back to “Mr. Krueger’s Christmas” (with Jimmy Stewart), something close to my family, which my Grandfather (and namesake) produced – perhaps one of the most famous cameos by the Choir.  Their weekly broadcast, “Music and the Spoken Word”, recently won a Radio Hall of Fame entry for being the longest running Radio Show in America.  You’ve seen them singing around the world, in front of the Whitehouse, at the Olympics, and even comforting America after 9/11.  Ronald Reagan called them, “America’s Choir.”

It’s been an honor working with them recently, although I admit, working with them has been not anywhere near as effective as just letting their talent and beautiful voices speak for themselves.  Please enjoy this video and, if you like it, share it with someone else you think it might touch:

Are You Inspiring Others This Holiday Season?

When I was about 16 or 17 years old I liked to sing in the car. A lot.  One time I was driving somewhere with my parents and they had a song, of which one I can’t really remember, but I started to sing along with it.  It was probably one of many times I would sing along in the car with my parents, but this time my parents complimented me.  They said, “Jesse you’ve really got a nice voice.  Your singing is really good.”

That compliment really stuck with me.  I had never heard those words from them before about my singing.  I probably wasn’t really as good as they said I was, but the fact was they complimented me and gave me a sense of confidence I never had before.

I came upon the same type of opportunity today as I saw my son singing to some Christmas music we had on for the family (We reserve Monday nights for family in our home – a tradition held by many Mormons).  Truth be told, to my more experienced ears (to the extent you can call, “experienced”) it didn’t sound very good.  But I noticed he was trying.  I took this same opportunity to tell him, “Tom, you have a great voice – you should keep practicing what you’ve got going for you.”  I noticed a little gleam in his eye, a kick in his step as he sang louder.

I wonder if there are times in our lives when we could be complimenting and inspiring each other more, sharing opportunities of encouragement when they come.  I wonder if there are times when we could be lifting up each other, giving each other that little “kick in the step” they need to keep trying harder.

I have entrepreneurs that present new ideas to me all the time.  It always pains me to be honest with them when their idea, at least I feel, is not quite one that will succeed.  Instead, I often point out the positive points of their ideas.  I find areas of inspiration to give them to work harder, ways they can grow their idea and work harder.  Truth be told, they’re going to learn their mistakes on their own, and when they come asking for new ways to improve I’ll be there to help them along the way.  But at least this way I’m giving them the motivation, the encouragement and inspiration to improve.  I’m giving them that extra “kick in their step” to make them work harder, and they’re doing it on their own.

Some times the entrepreneurs I help are like my kids in many ways.  Even though what they’re doing may really be bad I can at least give them the confidence they need to keep trying.  Maybe we need more of this for this Holiday Season.  I’m vowing to try to be more inspiring, more encouraging as I post here, and as I help others in the future and throughout 2011.  It really doesn’t matter if your idea stinks.  What matters is that you feel okay to keep trying.

As I finish up I can hear my son humming the tune to the song we’re hearing now.  He’s trying, and I’m a proud Father.

P.S. – if you really want more inspiring articles like this I highly recommend you check out Brett Nordquist’s blog – his is chock full of these!

Picture of boy courtesy

Kids and Christmas

We recently produced this at the Church (I am in charge of Social Media Strategy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).  It’s a culmination of an amazing team that I think did a great job on this.  This is one of the cuter videos I think we’ve produced, and it has a great message.  Enjoy, and please share!: