Monthly Archives: April 2006

Brands Are Growing On Me

I have been thinking a lot about brands lately. I grew up poor, so brands didn’t mean a lot to me. I knew that Sony made better Walkmans than the no-name piece of crap I got from Target, but they were a lot more expensive. I knew that the generic cereal we had at my house didn’t taste as good as the real Frosted Flakes or Cap’n Crunch, but I didn’t get much say in the matter.

I started to think more about brands in my teenage years when I worked at Disneyland. Obviously Disney is nothing but brand. I learned that people will pay thousands of dollars to take a trip to So. Cal., put up with the complaining of their family, stand in lines on a hot day, and then happily fork over $40 for a t-shirt because it has Mickey’s face on it. As a teenager that grew up in Orange County, I was a little desensitized to the Disney brand, but I started to get it. They weren’t buying a t-shirt, they were buying something to remind them of their day. I was with Disney in the early days of the Disney Dollars, which to this day I think is the most brilliant scheme in history. They simply printed their own money, and people would buy this currency, and take it home where it has no value. They would actually pay $10 for a fake $10 bill. You have to love the margins on that.

A few years later, I had a child. Suddenly a new set of brands were thrown at me, and I was much more brand conscious. I purchased Dreft laundry soap because they advertised in baby magazines and had a baby on the box. Beachnut became a frequented brand, along with esoteric brands like Emmaljunga strollers. I was in a new world of consumerism, and brands were the only roadmaps I had. Michaels pediatrician found a lot of humor in my selection of laundry soap and bottled water (yes, I purchased Beachnut bottled water for him) and told me that regular, unscented Tide would be fine and that a baby can drink the same bottled water as the rest of us. It wasn’t only baby items that took on brand awareness, but other indirect items as well. I went from driving a small sports car to getting a very large Audi. It was big and safe. Having a child was my big step in brand awareness.

My recent interest in brands I think comes from simply spending more money, and wanting things of higher quality. I wouldn’t say I shop a lot. I shop less now than a few years ago, and being in a small town without a lot of stores has a way of slowing your spending. I’m no longer prone to the shopping addiction that an Ikea brings out in people. But, I do notice my brand awareness increasing.

Last year I decided that I needed a new watch. My beat up Fossil, which I got on eBay for $12, was getting a bit worn. USWeb has a client that sells pretty high end watches like Breitling watches, but I thought that dropping a few thousand dollars on a watch was a bit irresponsible. But they offered up a free watch. I never ended up getting the watch (not sure what happened there), so I decided to look into the watch market a bit. In the short time I spend online one day, I was able to become a watch expert. I know what a complications watch is, and a bunch of other terms for things I didn’t know had names. I decided on Bulova. I picked one up on ebay for under $200. I did some asking around and found that 9 out of 10 people I asked put Bulova right up with Breitling when it came to brand. They also believed that the price was comparable, when in fact it was about 5% of the price. I ended up pretty happy with the Bulova. The weight feels like it’s an expensive watch, the glass is cut in a way to make reading the watch easy with no glare, and the features were easy to figure out. I get a lot of complements on it, which is amazing considering the low cost. I’m now pretty stuck on the Bulova brand, and I simply don’t see the attraction to the Breitlings.

Another brand issue I have come across recently is airlines. America West was client for a while, but decided to not renew for a third year after their merger with US Airway. America West was the first airline I flew intentionally. I was a very price conscious traveler and used Expedia or Orbitz to book travel. But after flying an airline regularly, I started to see the advantages to being a frequent flyer, and I got very used to first class. But flying first class on United really changed my mind. I knew that America West was a budget airline, and that it was just a couple steps above Southwest, which I have come to hate. But I didn’t really notice the difference until I flew first class on United. Now my view on airline brands has been changed. I now fly united almost exclusively, and it’s hard to imagine me switching away.

In looking for a new baseball bat for Michael, I started by brands. He currently uses a DiMarini bat, which has been great for him. He needs something a bit longer for more reach this year. So, I started on the DeMarini site. But I found the length/weight ratios to be a little less impressive than what I was hopping for. So I started to ask around. Shaun recommended a Lousville Slugger TPX bat. I figured that was because he is from Kentucky. In my mind I put Lousville Sluggers as the top brand in wooden bats because they make the major league bats. But I didn’t consider them the leader in aluminum kids bats. I thought the technology had outpaced them. But looking at their site, I found that the Lousville Slugger TPX bat in the length he needed weighed less than his current bat. My outlook on the brand has been altered a bit.

While brands like Apple, Pixar and BMW are of course cemented in my mind to equal quality, I’m a little amazed how new brand exposure really make up the way I think about things. What brands do you believe in? I would love to get feedback on this one.

My addiction begins

As someone who works in the Web space, I think it’s important for me to experience popular things on the Web first hand. Sometimes I like them (RSS, del.icio.us), sometimes I just don’t get the appeal (myspace). One area I haven’t really gotten into is World of Warcraft, or WoW for us in the know.

My cousin likes these games, but I have never really felt compelled to play. And hearing about people like Leo Laporte having to remove the game from his machine made a little nervous about the possibility of some sort of addiction. But, I don’t really dig those type of video games. I prefer the simple fighting, shooting games like Mortal Kombat, and Quake. Most computer games just seem to involved. I like games I don’t have to install, and I don’t have to read anything beyond the simple label instructions above the joystick.

But after my son saw Shaun installing this game on his computer, he wanted it. Since Michael’s birthday present was a brand new iMac, he had the computer to handle it. And Shaun convinced me that it wouldn’t be bad. The game has a lot of reading, so it would help him practice, and get exposed to new geeky words.

So after Shaun installed a trial version of the game, and we decided that he liked it enough, we picked him up a copy.

But I still had little interest in the game. After watching Shaun play a bit, and then trying to help Michael figure out some of the areas, I decided to hop on and give it a try myself. I am embarrassed to say that I made it to level 7 in my first day, which according to Shaun is pretty good. And according to Michael, who is not big into sharing his new computer, I already play the game too much.

I can see the addictive nature of the game. Even now I want to go and try out the new weapons that I got.

I have decided to not install the game onto my new Macbook Pro. I just don’t want the temptation of switching over to play it “for a few minutes” and have the entire day pass me by.

And I think I just found another thing I have to monitor Michael on. But do I count this towards hi alloted TV time? If I’m trying to get him to be more active, is clicking keys that much better than staring blankly at a monitor. I thought about it, and I think the game is much better than TV. He has to use some problem solving skills for the game. Even just to figure out how to play it by himself. To be honest, I don’t see much of a difference between the game and reading a fantasy book. I guess we will just see as we go. As for my early signs of addiction, I’m just going to leave it on his machine. I get the feeling Michael will let me know if he thinks I am playing too much.

Introducing gCal

One thing I really like about Google is that they are making their services very open for now. Of course I’m sure there will be a financial full moon where Google will change into money sucking leaches like Micorsoft. But for now, they make even Yahoo look evil.

The fact that I can use Gmail to check email for my own domain, and download it through Pop3 is great. Now they added their own calendar feature that actually syncs with iCal. I have not been very happy with Google’s lack of support for Mac (still no Google Talk for Mac, but we already have iChat), but this is great move.

One issue we have had with USWeb is the idea of sharing calendars without using Exchange. I hate Exchange, but we do use the shared calendar and tasking features. It would be nice if this was turned into a simple syncing service. But for the record, as a stand alone Web calendar service, I still prefer 30 Boxes.

Below are instructions on how to sync Google Calendar with iCal. I got this from TUAW.

HOWTO: Subscribe to a Google Calendar using iCal: “

Filed under: , ,

So Google
has released a web calendar that supports the iCal format.
Big deal, right? I use iCal, so what do I care? Well, you can use iCal to subscribe to any share Google Calendar, and it
works like a charm, though keep in mind that Google Calendar doesn’t support Safari (I used Camino to make this how
to).

In order to subscribe to your own Google Calendar, first log into gCalendar (as I like to call it).
You’ll notice the Manage calendars link on the left hand side of your calendar (highlighted in the picture to the
right).

Go ahead and click on that, and continue reading this tutorial, after the jump.

After you click on ‘Manage calendar’ you should be in the Calendars tab of the Calendar Settings screen.’ Click on
the ‘Sharing’ setting as highlighted below:

This whisks you to ‘Share this calendar’ where you can
pick to publicly share a calendar (as we have done below) or share it with only certain people. I have decided to share
all my information with the world because everyone is always hounding me for appointments (Steve, I’ll pencil in lunch
with you next time I am in Cupertino, I promise!).

Now just click on the Calendar Details tab, and you’ll
see a whole bunch of info about the calendar you are currently in. The part we care about is the ‘Calendar Address,’
which is the web address that iCal needs to subscribe to your calendar. Simply click on the green ‘ICAL’ button shown
below.

Clicking on the ICAL button will result in this pop up (remember this doesn’t work yet in Safari);

That’s
the address we need for our iCal calendar. Copy it, and create a new calendar in iCal. Command click on the newly
created calendar and pick ‘Subscribe’ like so:

Paste the web address you got from clicking on the
green ICAL button into the ‘Subscribe to’ field:

Give it a name (I’m so clever with my names):

Click
‘OK’, and there you have it! Events you add to your Google Calendar will now show up on this iCal calendar (though you
can’t actually add events using iCal, which is kind of a bummer).

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(Via The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).)

Baseball Begins

Michael had his first little league game of the season. He is on the Cardinals. He did well, but they did not win. They lost 8 – 13. But on the up side, he did bat himself onto base each time, which is more than can be said for most of them.

We tried to get him to play catcher last year, which I think is the coolest position of the game. He started to get better, but seemed to lose interest. He never stays interested in a sport very long, which is the same problem I had.

Most of the sports he has played have not really been well suited for him. He is not very athletic. He can hit the ball well, but he is not a runner. I think a large part of the problem is motivation. He really wants to play football, which I’m not too thrilled about, but he will do that this year. Last year he couldn’t play because he was “too big” for the team. I found it interesting that they didn’t have a min. size limit for football, but they did have a maximum. That rule goes out the window this year because he is in the school leagues, not the wimpy pop warner league.

I should really be spending more time with him on this stuff, but I was never really that into mainstream sports myself. I was never in a school long enough to really get into sports. And when I did, I went for these weird sports like fencing, boxing and water polo. That’s right, I said water polo. Which means there is a picture somewhere out there of me in a speedo.

He did do very well in his karate classes. That was something I could get into. The sparring competitions were great. I think that winning first place against hundreds of other kids in sparring was his proudest moment. In a rather contradictory story, he also won a silver medal for figure skating. He was in hockey at the time, so I’m okay with that. It’s funny that at 7 he had more trophies than I ever had.

I think I’ll pick up a glove to play some catch with him today. He claims he needs a new bat anyway. Then we are off to see Ice Age 2.

Time To Buy A Mac

Yesterday’s announcement from Apple was probably the most blogged about press release in history. As you have probably already heard, you can now easily run Windows on a Mac.

This of course if not the first time this has happened. True cross-platform integration has been the holly grail of Mac users for some time. Even though we think Windows sucks, we sometimes need to lean on the flawed OS to run some software.

I have been pretty vocal about my feelings on Mac vs. Windows, and here is what I tell people.

Take a look at what software you run now. Minus out anything that doesn’t really work anyway. Then take a look and see if that software runs on Mac, or there is a Mac alternative.

Here is what I see most people running.

1. Office (Word, Outlook, Powerpoint, Excel) – Microsoft make Office for the Mac, and most people agree that it’s actually better than the Windows version.
2. Browser – No one on any OS should be using Internet Explorer. It’s just not a good idea. Firefox is great, and cross-platform. And it has some great extensions.
3. AIM – If you like getting a ton of ads at start-up, and you can’t live without the constant update demands from AOL, then AIM is for you. But if you want something that lets you have access to the AIM subscribers, and something that works perfect for chat/audio/video, iChat kicks everyones ass.

There has only been one market that Mac has been left out in the cold on; gamers. Computer games is a huge market. And it’s also dominated by Microsoft. Most game makers do not find the time to port their games to the Mac because of the small market share. Big titles like WoW, and Doom of course get there, but rarely at the same time. And VirtualPC is great for running Windows applications on the Mac, but VPC doesn’t access the video card, so games have always been out of the question. But now with Boot Camp, you can just boot up in Windows when you want, and run any game out there at the top quality the game provides.

Today a company, Parallels announced their OS integration of WIndows and OS X. Unlike Boot Camp, you do not have to re-boot your computer into the other OS. Instead you just run the OS like an application. And unlike VirutalPC, this is not an emulator, so you have better graphic and video ability.

So, you can run Office, your browser, email, iChat, iTunes, and anything else you may use on a daily basis. Plus, you can play every game you want, at great levels of quality. There is very little left you can’t do on a Mac. Actually, quite the contrary.

Some of my favorite apps are now Mac only. This posting is being written on MarsEdit, which plus into NetNewsWire. These are blogging applications that run only on the Mac, and are the best apps for reading RSS and creating a blog. I also use my Backpack widget for my 37 Signals Backpack application. This is a great little tool for staying organized. And of course there is the whole issue of iTune and the iPod, which most people agree at the most important part of owning a computer these days.

There is simply no excuse to not own a Mac. And if you are complaining about the price, realize that you really do get what you pay for. You can pick up a Mac Mini for around $500. That is better than just about any Windows machine.