The Pendulum Swings of Autism

Autism is generally referred to as a “spectrum disorder”. All this means is that no two cases of autism are exactly alike. It manifests itself in different ways, in different people. After the weekend we had, I wonder if we could also categorize each day living with autism as “spectrum” days – no one day looks exactly like another.

On Friday night, Melinda and Anna’s school had a fundraiser walk/run. We had paid $30.00 to enter and participate in the activities. Unfortunately, we got to the school and Anna refused to get out of the car. By the time we figured out we weren’t going to make the event, we were stuck as they had closed the roads leading in and out of the school for the walk/run. So, basically we paid $30.00 to sit in the parking lot for 20 minutes. Lovely.

Fast forward to Sunday. Someone at church gave us tickets to see “Disney on Ice”. With excitement, mixed with fear, we accepted the generous offer and drove into Nashville. This time it was different. She not only went, but she had a fantastic time. As a matter of fact, she woke up this morning happy as could be, begging to go again.

I can point to dozens of other days where she is fully engaged and cooperative, and others where she refuses to do anything. We just never know which day today is. I can’t explain it, just like I can’t explain why she can do some things other kids with autism can’t, or they can do things she can’t.

Now you know why the international symbol for autism is a puzzle piece.

Exceeding Your Customer’s Expectations

I’ve been expecting a package. This package was shipped via FedEx by their “Express Saver” service. By definition, Express Saver by FedEx has a 3 business day transit time. That’s the expectation. In my case, my package was shipped on Monday evening, so FedEx estimated my package would be delivered today, Thursday.

Now, being the eager person I am, I kept track of my package all through the delivery process. Imagine my surprise when the package showed it had arrived in my area yesterday and was on a truck for delivery at 8:26am. Yea! I get my item a day earlier, and FedEx earns some brand equity.

Imagine my disappointment when the very next entry for my package was that it was scanned back into the local facility at 11:09am with the explanation of “Package not due for delivery”. What?! My package arrives not 5 miles from my house, and FedEx decides, with a perfect opportunity, rather than exceeding a customer’s expectations, they will only meet them.

Granted, if I challenged FedEx on this, they would simply say they were delivering the package within the expected transit time. And they would be correct. However, to have the package ready to go out the door, only to recall it simply because it’s “supposed” to be delivered the next day, equals a missed opportunity in my book.

Which brings me to a very simple question – what are you doing to exceed your customer’s expectations?

Google Music Beta Review

As I said in my previous post, I’ve really been enjoying some new (and old) music services lately. There are pros and cons to each, so after my summary post, I wanted to go into a little more detail about each service. Up first is the Google Music Beta.

Google Music Beta

Let me just say right up front that I LOVE this service. I said it last time – it’s easy, it’s all of my favorite music, and it’s everywhere I want or need it to be. What more can you ask for? Well, we may find one or two things.

Admittedly, it takes some effort to get to the “easy” part of Google Music. First you have to sign up for, and wait for, an invitation to the service. Think everything else Google has done – Gmail, Google+. They are creating demand as well as rolling it out to chunks of people as they work out the kinks. This one is slightly different in that I can’t invite someone to the service. You have to sign up yourself. Oh, and you have to have a Google account (i.e. – Gmail or Apps account). Once you get the invite, however, you still have some work to do – you have to get your music into “the cloud”.

The “cloud” is what makes this worthwhile. You store all of your music on Google’s servers so you can access it anywhere. If you are afraid that someone might find out you have the soundtrack to every High School Musical movie, this may freak you out. Google’s invasion into every portion of your life, though, isn’t the subject of this post. We’ll save that for another time.

You get your music into the cloud using the Music Manager. Download the program to your computer and pick a folder(s) where your music is stored. For me (and I expect most people) it’s in iTunes. I just pointed the music manager to that folder, not really knowing what to expect. For one, I have a lot of music I have purchased from iTunes. How would Google handle that? Interestingly enough, fairly well. There were some free songs that wouldn’t upload, but otherwise only one album didn’t upload at all (citing DRM in the file as the issue). To solve this, I simply made an audio CD of that album and re-imported it into iTunes as MP3 files. Boom. Google picked it up and now virtually all of my almost 7,000 songs are ready to go to the Google Music cloud… which leads to snag number two…

Once you select the folder where your music is, you have to upload it. It took me close to three days to upload all 7,000 songs. Yes, I said three (3) days. If you have an extensive music library, be prepared for a long time, and a ton of computer resources, to go into getting this set up. Once you do, though, it is well worth it, in my opinion.

One of the first things Google Music does is ask you about your music preferences. It will then add music to your library in those genres for your listening pleasure. My guess is that this is a pre-cursor to a music selling service, but it’s cool nonetheless. It even creates a playlist called “Free music” so you can see what was added, and listen to just those tunes.

To listen to your music, fire up a browser and navigate to music.google.com. No downloading, no installation. The Music Manager program only has to be on one computer. You can install it on any computer, so that it can upload music from multiple locations (like a laptop and a desktop), but all of my music is in one place so it wasn’t necessary for me.

Your music is broken up into the following categories: Songs, Artists, Albums, and Genres. Click on any of these and the usual options are available – listen to an album, all from one artist, or shuffle, etc. Fairly standard stuff here. There is also a standard search bar to make it easier to navigate to a specific album, artist, or song and the ability to make playlists. You can also ask Google to make playlists for you based on a song. It will scan your library and make a playlist full of music similar to that tune. Just think Genius in iTunes, and you get the idea.

Now for more awesomeness – the Music app for Android. Install this app on your phone, and all your music is available to stream through your mobile phone via 3/4G or wireless. Obviously, if you are streaming it via cell signal make sure you have the data plan to back it up. Thankfully, I have Verizon’s “all-you-can-eat” plan before they jacked up all their data plans.

Granted, I’m not an audiophile, but I am really surprised at the quality of the music, even over a cell signal. It’s crisp and clear, with virtually no hiccups. I now have my entire music library with me, everywhere I go, without having to carry another device. In the car, at the mall, mowing the grass. It’s all there, all the time.

One last note on mobility – it should go without saying you have to have an Android phone to use the mobile app. If you don’t have one, the benefits of the web-based program are still well worth checking Google Music out.

Of course, you have to remember this is a beta, so it isn’t perfect yet. For one, there is no audio leveler. That means tracks play at whatever volume they are originally in, so some are loud and some are soft. I am constantly having to turn the volume either up or down, which is a pain. I would also like to see the number of plays for a track sync to the cloud. Currently, it keeps a separate count on my laptop, desktop, and phone. Finally, at this point, you can upload up to 20,000 songs for free. Who knows what the future holds, but I imagine this won’t last forever. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy it, though!

Overall, for me, the benefits far outweigh those few negatives. I can’t imagine a more perfect storm of everything working together in such harmony. Google may not be the king in the social media space (yet), but they are on top in email, and are well on their way in music.

Have you used Google Music yet? What do you think? Is there anything better out there?

Some Thoughts on Music Services

You may have heard that a new music service has entered the fray. Well, it isn’t new, just new to the United States. It’s been in the UK for a while. It’s called Spotify. I took a look and quickly dismissed it. I have been using the Google Music beta and LOVING it, and felt Spotify had nothing to offer over this and/or Pandora Radio. After using it a little more, I may have been hasty. I don’t think it will replace either of those services for me, but I do think it could have it’s place. Below, I give a quick overview of each service, and some of the points I believe make each unique.

Google Music: I got in on this service fairly early (LOVE being an early adopter!) and almost immediately it became my music service of choice – to the point that I haven’t touched my iPod in a couple of months. Why? Google Music is everywhere I am. Because my music is on “the cloud”, I can listen to it on any computer, any where, on any browser. On the go, it automatically syncs to my Android phone. That’s why I haven’t needed my iPod. It also solves another long-time problem I’ve had – one device. I’ve loathed having to carry two devices (a phone and an iPod). Now I only have one.

Pandora Radio: I’ve enjoyed the Pandora service for a long time. It allows me to pick a song, artist, or genre of music and it will create a “radio station” of similar music for  me. I get to discover new artists, or hear old favorites, effortlessly. Pandora also lets me listen at my computer, or on my phone. The logic is smart, i.e. – it really does play everything in a similar vein as the station I created. But, with the incorporation of a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” button, I can easily tell it what I like and don’t like, and the service learns my preferences.

Spotify: You can also discover new music with Spotify, but it isn’t as “smart” as Pandora – one of the reasons I didn’t like it at first. However, I discovered something it does incredibly well that Pandora doesn’t – it will play all the songs from an album or artist. Pandora, by default, will only play different songs. Which is great, but here’s an example of the difference. Recently I wanted to listen to music from Star Trek (say what you will about me being a nerd, but the music from the shows and movies are excellent). I don’t own any of these soundtracks, so I have to go to Pandora. However, if I create a Pandora “Star Trek” station, it plays a Star Trek theme, but then starts playing music from different soundtracks (including “Fiddler on the Roof”, which I like, but wasn’t what I wanted for this station). However, with Spotify I can search for Star Trek and listen to an entire soundtrack, or create a unique playlist from different shows or movies. This does take a little more effort than Pandora or Google Music, but meets the need. Spotify does have a mobile option, but you have to pay for it.

And that’s what it comes down to for me: effort. Here is a summary of each, with the focus being on effort:

  • Google Music – MY music, when and where I want it. Period. It’s free (for now).
  • Pandora Radio – discover new music with little effort, when and where I want to. It’s free (unless you want to go add-less)
  • Spotify – Play (almost) any song, artist, or album but with some effort. Mobility costs extra.

Obviously this isn’t meant to be comprehensive, just to give an explanation of why I may have dismissed Spotify too early. I also don’t’ have a firm understanding of everything Spotify offers. Over the next few posts, I want to dig deeper into each service and give a little in-depth explanation of each, with pros and cons.

Finally, if you want to try Spotify without having to wait for an invitation, click here.

What is your experience with Google Music, Pandora Radio, or Spotify? Maybe you use something altogether different?

The Last of the Firsts

Today marks the one year anniversary of my position being eliminated from Thomas Nelson, and the end of an almost sever year run with a great company. After I was let go, I almost immediately began marking time in milestones – the first sales conference I missed, the first time I didn’t go to this type of meeting, etc. I would actually call my old number to see if it was still active, and mourned the day it came back as “invalid”.

I guess this was one of the ways I coped with the shock and the disruption to my routine. I would go to Christian bookstores and look at the product I helped place on the shelves. I followed ministries closely to see the custom product I had created for them. I would keep in touch with as many people as I could. It was my way of validating myself during a very trying time.

A lot of this was thrown back at me as I went to my first NRB last week since not being at Nelson. Seeing former co-workers and clients in my new role was awkward and difficult, but I was proud to represent my new employer well. I even got a compliment on that from my former boss at Nelson (the one that let me go). That felt good.

So, today puts the proverbial nail in the coffin. It’s the last of the firsts. Maybe now I can truly move on, as I no longer have milestones to measure. I guess we’ll see.

Is there anything you’ve been hanging on to for a little too long?

What the iPad is NOT and Why Knowing Will Make a Difference if You Want One

I know that was a long title, especially for me. I like short titles for my posts. But I digress…

First, I have to give a little background. For the first five years of my career at Thomas Nelson, I was in the “electronic” division. I was there as it was morphing into what is now known industry-wide as “digital publishing”. Yes. That is how NEW all this is for publishers and consumers. All that is to say, I have a little history here. While I spent the last two years of my Nelson career in Ministry Development, I followed (and still do) digital publishing closely.

Now, to the iPad. Here’s the “a ha” moment for you – the iPad is NOT (repeat NOT) an ebook reader. I’ll even say it again for overkill emphasis. The iPad is NOT an ebook reader. The iPad is the next generation of computer that happens to have ebook capability.

The Apple iPad

Desktops are already dinosaurs (with a few exceptions) and laptops are getting there soon. As smartphones become smarter (i.e. – smaller in size, but bigger in memory), you can do everything you need to (for the most part) in the palm of your hand. What you are seeing with the iPad is what every single computer and smartphone will become in the next 5 years. No longer will you have at least three separate devices (phone, music player, computer) you will have ONE device that will be ultra-portable and will have every single function imaginable included. As cloud computing takes over, and wireless technology advances, you won’t even need a hard drive.

So, if you are looking at the iPad as a souped-up ebook reader, it definitely falls short. But if you are looking at the iPad for what it is – the first generation of the future of computing and communications – then it is the most exciting and innovative piece of hardware to come out since the first iPod (which we all thought was a brick, but revolutionized music and the music industry).

Take a second look at iPad with new eyes. You might just find that you want one after all.

Go Tell It On the Mountain

In Luke 2:17 we are told that after the shepherds went and saw the baby Jesus, they were compelled to tell everyone they saw what they had just experienced. As I was pondering this, I thought to myself – who was it the shepherds were telling? I love the way The Message puts is – it says “They told everyone they met…”. Everyone! But what were these people doing that the shepherds were telling?

Go back to Luke 2:1. Of course we know this is how the story starts – with everyone going to their own city to be counted. The towns were bursting at the seams. I imagine it was crowded, busy, tempers may have been short, and people were probably pretty self-absorbed. Shopping and traffic had to be a nightmare as this influx of people strained the infrastructure of these towns. And, yet, during all of this the shepherds told them that the Messiah had come in the form of a baby. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? You bet it does!

But even in the face of these obstacles, the shepherds were still compelled to tell. They had experienced something that was life-transforming to the point that they left their sheep behind and braved the crowded malls, ahem, towns and told everyone they met about Jesus.

What about you? Have you encountered the Baby in the manger? If so, who have you told?

FREE Music!

In the last week or so, I’ve had several links come my way for some free music. Most of this is Christmas music, but it’s free! I thought as an early Christmas present to you, I would share the links. Did I mention the music was FREE! :)

  • Amazon’s 25 Days of Free Christmas – Each day Amazon.com reveals a new Christmas MP3 for you to download. Although it is in Amazon’s MP3 format, you can download a little manager that will import the songs into iTunes or Windows Media Player.

WARNING! When I was first given this link the songs seemed harmless, but Amazon has slipped in some, ahem, “interesting” songs. Your level of comfort may differ, but I wouldn’t let kids get on here without supervision. I was a little miffed that bands like Casting Crowns and Jars of Clay were lumped into the pot with some of this “music”, but my friend Jeff Brown had this to say about it “I think it’s absolutely fantastic that in the midst of downloading free songs, the average user (and probably not a believer) is exposed to Christian music they’d likely never otherwise hear.” Great perspective, Jeff. Thank you.

  • iTunes Holiday Sampler – a GREAT collection of Christmas songs, most of them by artists you actually know! This one you, obviously, have to use iTunes for.
  • Fisher Christmas MP3’s – Until now, I had never heard (or heard of) this band before, but based on these songs I can’t wait to pick up a couple (or all) of their albums. These are MP3’s. Use, as you will, in any MP3 player.
  • David Archuleta Free Christmas Song – no link for this one, but if you take a look at the iTunes free song this week (they do one every week), it is David’s version of “Joy to the World”.
  • INO Records Free Music Sampler – Although not Christmas, there is some good Christian music here. Another one that requires iTunes.

I hope you enjoy these! Feel free to share if you have any others I may not of heard of.

As a closing question: What is your favorite Christmas song/carol/album?

Blogging Makes Me Feel Like Charlie Brown

I mostly keep this blog for me. It’s a way for me to put down some of the random things bouncing around in my head.

That being said, it’s nice to know that someone actually looks at my blog. Maybe even a few someones.

Remember how Charlie Brown keeps looking for Valentine cards that never show up? That’s what looking at my blog stats feels like. I keep hoping that there are more hits, but they never show up. Like Charlie Brown, soon I get a complex.

My busiest day on record for my new blog (and the one on which I have been more consistent in posting) was 23 views. Big whoop. I’ve had even less (WAY less) interaction. I’ve started to question the material. I’ve started to question how many people even read what I post on Twitter (most of my referrals come from Facebook). All in all, it’s a very demoralizing experience.

I have to keep reminding myself – this is for me, this is for me. But it would be nice to know that more than 3 or 4 people care, and if they even like what, or how, I write. I’ve even had people comment about my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter, but not on the blog.

I know I sound all whiny, but don’t we all want/need to feel validated? It reminds me of this post, from a man who has no need to whine about his blog traffic.

So what can you do to help me? First and foremost, comment on my posts! Tell me you love it or hate it. Tell me you agree or disagree. I promise I won’t be offended if you don’t like it or don’t agree with me.

Second, if you do like what I write, tell others about it! Let them know to check it out.

Third, subscribe. You can enter an email address (on the right side) and get a notification when I post. That way you don’t have to remember to come back and check to see if I put up anything new.

Finally, validate someone else. We all need it.

One last thought – why have my last two posts used cartoon characters to draw analogies?!

I’m sure there is a blog post about that in there somewhere… :)

Maybe What Christianity Needs is a Grinch

You remember the story of the Grinch. Yes, the one that stole Christmas. I was thinking about the Mean One and one of the reasons why he hated the Who’s so much. It was the noise, noise, NOISE!

As you recall, the Grinch then proceeds to remove all of the objects of irritation to him from the houses of the Who’s. After he has stripped them of everything, he expects a wail of dismay to erupt from the town of Whoville. What he gets instead is a united chorus of celebration. Something so unexpected it swells his heart and causes him to turn from his old ways.

As I reflected on this, I thought of Christianity and how our rights are being stripped away by the world (the Grinch) simply because we are an irritant to them. But as I thought a little more, I wondered if maybe they are right? Maybe we are a source of irritation to them simply because of the fact all Christianity appears to be is cacophonous noise. We don’t agree on anything, we are constantly bickering over little matters, constantly forcing our rules on them. When you look at it that way, I can understand a little of their meanness toward us.

So what will it take for us to be unified as believers? Will it actually come down to the “Grinch” stripping everything away from us before we realize that what binds us is more important than what divides us?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating we water down the message of the Gospel. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that the Gospel is what, together, we need to sing at the tops of our lungs from the center of our towns, like the Who’s did on that Christmas morning. THAT is what brings us together – not petty arguments over music, clothes, food, etc.

Jesus said it best when he was asked what the first and greatest commandment was. Jesus could have answered anything. He could have pulled from any of the many Old Testament laws (He wasn’t limited to just 10). Instead He chose to answer this way in Mark 12:29-31 – 1) There is only one God, 2) You should love this God with all your soul, mind, and strength, and 3) You should love your neighbor as yourself. Wow.

I think we, as Christians (no matter your other “label”), all better start showing some unified love. Otherwise, the Grinch will come and steal everything, forcing us into it. I would rather choose it. What about you?

How are you loving the one and only God today, and, in turn, showing that love to your neighbor?

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