Christmas Tree Lane

Over the weekend I got to play dream maker again. Each December, my street transforms itself into a carnival of lights. Each house on the 3200 block of Thompson Avenue in Alameda drapes itself in lights including the big pine trees down the center isle. This is a tradition that has been going on since the 1920’s and people come from all around the Bay Area to walk down the street each evening to take in the sights. Also part of this tradition is that all the dad’s volunteer to play Santa for visitors to the block and this past weekend was my turn.

We’ve been on this block since 2004 and each year the spectacle gets a little richer. This year was our first time back after two years away, and it’s clear that things have definitely turned up a notch.

The Blacktop Knights roll down the street

Christmas Tree Lane (as our block of Thompson Avenue is called) now has a Facebook page, reviews in Yelp, and even some intrigue as thieves hit some houses on the street last year to making off with some of the decorations. Thankfully, the community rallied even stronger and a dancing troupe called the Tap Dancing Christmas Trees raised everyone’s spirits and raised funds for those that lost their decorations. This year the Trees came back for another performance, this time they are raising funds for a trip to London for the 2012 Olympics.

One of the great things about being Santa is that you get an intimate glimpse into the hopes and dreams of kids today. Lots of requests for BeyBlades and iPods but also some challenging ones (a real dragon? a reindeer?) that require some quick thinking. I’ve learned to repeat loudly the presents the children ask for so a quick sidelong glance up at the parents tells me whether that new bike or ‘puter is a go or no go.

A couple of kids wondered where the reindeer were (they were “resting up”) and then there was the precocious young man who, after asking him what he wanted, replied, “Don’t you remember? I just told you yesterday!” and glared at me until his parents quietly reminded him that Santa sees lots of kids leading up to Christmas and tends to be forgetful. All the more reason to write a letter.

There are some challenges. The child with a mom, reeking of vodka, trying hard to make the best of it, and the young girl who couldn’t stop frowning. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she wanted her grandma back from Christmas.

Some glimpses of hope too. A few kids asked not only for something for themselves but also wanted to make sure that I remembered what their kid sister or brother had on their list. One boy even reminded me that her mom wanted a necklace which made her (and Santa) smile.

Very much worth it and a great way to kick off the holidays.

Being Santa

Also see my post, Playing Father Christmas, from 2004.

Jafet = Speed

Tyler’s soccer team this past season had a secret weapon. Jafet Oidor is a striker on the team who, when he wanted to, could turn on the jets like no one I have ever seen. Here he is blowing past four defenders who get ambushed and then left in the proverbial dust as he moves on to score a goal. It was a joy to watch him play.

The season ended on a high note. The coaches did an amazing job and we feel really lucky that Tyler was on their team. He didn’t know anyone in the beginning but over the weeks the team came together so that by the season’s end they were really playing like a team. During the final tournament they were beating teams that they lost to earlier in the season and beat easily teams that had much better records then them. Going into the second day, the team was leading their flight and only needed to tie to advance to the semi-finals but, unfortunately they lost by one point.

Coach Mark & Jerry

Great season Alameda Rebellion and thank you Coach Mark & Jerry!

Yelp Release Notes go Political

I always make it a habit to read the release notes of apps when they push updates to see what’s new. Usually it’s pretty dry stuff, what’s fixed, what’s new. Yelp is always good for a few laughs too and their latest release pokes fun at the latest Rick Perry gaffe.

For those that haven’t been following along, here’s what is being referred to.

Jack Dorsey the Zen Master

I had a great day yesterday at the GigaOM Roadmap conference. The agenda had a number of great speakers including Brian Cheskey of AirBnB and Tony Fadell of Nest, the red hot company that is re-defining what a thermostat should look like.

The thesis the conference explored is one that Om Malik (now my boss) has put forth a number of times. If you think of the steam engine as the PC of our age and the portable version of this technology, the locomotive, as the mobile phone, what does increasing bandwidth and the enabled mobility mean for society and businesses going forward?

Each speaker chipped away at this thesis with their own slant but Jack Dorsey, as he described how Twitter has enabled empathy on a global scale and how Square has removed the barriers of a Point-of-Sale system and the, “massive counter” that sits between a customer and the vendor, more than anyone else opened my eyes to the incredible transformation going on around us.

Yet, in light of all these incredible transformations, Dorsey challenged us to maintain a balance between the “sleek, modern perfection and the rustic, zen-like chaos” and to build products that maintain this “balance in-between”. He referenced the Japanese design aesthetic of wabi-sabi (if you want to read a great book about the topic, I highly recommend Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers).

In the end, Dorsey advised all product managers to guide themselves with these two principles.

  1. Simplification, work real hard to get technology down to its essence (of an interaction). Take away the “conceptual debris”
  2. Make things fun, remember to be human, relate, “have some whimsy” in your application and make it human.

The whole interview is worth a listen. I’ve embedded it below.

Watch live streaming video from gigaomroadmap at livestream.com

Digital Cartography

Eric Fischer takes large datasets and turns them into art. His flickr stream is a collection of fascinating time-series maps plotting data over time to draw out shapes which take on a greater meaning. Weather it’s a map of taxis in San Francisco or an overlay of flickr metadata on top of NYC, Eric’s creations are at once beautiful and informative.

Last month Eric was able to use an open-sourced version of Chrome’s language detector library to parse a week’s worth of geo-tagged tweets and identify who what tweeting in what language, where. What you see above is is the result. Note how languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, English, Dutch, Italian, Swedish, and German stick to and define the borders of their nations. Within each country, major transportation hubs are lit up like avenues. One can only imagine it is the result of people tweeting while enroute somewhere on a train or bus.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

There’s the 10 o’clock news and then there’s the sound of helicopters over my house as they fly back and forth to the airport so they can refuel and go back and watch.

It’s now past midnight and #occupyoakland and #occupysf are flowing with updates from hundreds of cell phones out on the streets. There is a video livefeed streaming over on weroccupyunited.com – the tv stations are running repeats of earlier news as the anchors have all gone home. People around the world bear witness to prevent a repeat of the tear gas and concussion grenades from the night before.

Gil Scott-Heron warned us that the revolution would not be televised. It’s happening all around us right now. In real time, live, and all at once.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers; the revolution will be live.

Chris Poole on Identity

Chris Poole (4chan, canv.as) spoke about identity at the Web 2.0 Summit going on right now in San Francisco. Many point to his talk as the most impactful and thought-provoking.

Facebook and Google do identity wrong, Twitter does it better, and I want to think about what the world would be like if we did it right.

Flaming Lips makes the upsell into an art form

I’ve written about the innovative use of the premium upsell as something instructive for anyone selling premium content. I just learned about the Flaming Lips Gummy Bear skull which they released earlier this year which has turned the whole premium upsell thing into an art form. I love it!

Embedded inside a 7-pound gummy bear skull is a USB stick with an unique set of songs from the Lips. The catch is you need to eat your way into the skull to “extract the music. As front man Wayne Coyne says, “You’re gonna eat it, you’re going get a stomach ache…but you’re gonna love it!”

And here is a clip showing Wayne dropping off the first five to buy the Gummy Bear Skull at a record store in Oklahoma near Wayne’s house.

Google Wallet in the Wild

OK, call me an idiot if I missed something but I just saw a headline speculating on rumors about a launch date for Google Wallet. Everyone’s searching around online for leaked memos for clues but meanwhile, in the real world, at the Peets in downtown SF, I already see a Google Wallet reader right there at the register.

Google Wallet

I snapped the photo above on Friday but saw it on Thursday as well. I asked the barrista and he said they were put in on Thursday but were still waiting for instructions.