Connecting people and ideas through improvisation

First thoughts with my shiny Pebble smart watch

Pebble in the box

Pebble in the box

I finally got my Pebble!

Pebble is a “smart watch” launched by the most successful Kickstarter Campaign to date. I was one of the first backers, so have been looking forward to playing with this thing for over a year. I had to wait even longer than some people because I’m a fan of color and chose the red version. Most people chose black (yawn), so I had to wait until all the black watches were made shipped until they got around to the color ones. Late last week my patience was rewarded and my watch finally showed up!

It came in a nice, compact box with the watch, rubber watch band, and the custom charging cable. It reminded me of the efficient packaging Amazon uses on their Kindles. Simple, clean, and effective. I had it up and working in about a minute.

Why use a smart watch?

Google Glass gets a lot of press, but I really have no interest in it. I have no desire to document every second of my day, and I don’t need to constantly be connected online. I simply want seamless, easy access to the information and tools I have, which is why Pebble appealed to me.

Pebble is a nice looking watch that connects to my iPhone via Bluetooth and acts as a convienient extra screen and mini-remote control from my phone. Nice and simple. Check out the Pebble Kickstarter video for more details.

If my phone is in my pocket or bag and I get a call, the caller-id shows up on my Pebble and I can press a button to answer or ignore the call. If I get a text message I can look at Pebble to read it. I can control my iTunes app and change my music if my phone is out of reach. Those are just the basic features so far. The people who make the watch have created an software developer’s kit (SDK) that will let developers write their own apps to take advantage of the watch.

Pebble also lets you load custom watch faces onto the display, which is a minor but fun feature. There is already a website full of custom Pebble faces you can add to your phone. I’m hoping that sort of community creation starts hitting apps soon and gives me all sorts of things to tinker with.

Running with Pebble

Pebble with RunKeeper

Pebble with RunKeeper

One of the first third-party apps to support Pebble is the popular RunKeeper fitness app. I already use RunKeeper for tracking my cardio, so even though my back was a little sore I decided to take it out for a run and see how the new integration worked.

The RunKeeper app saw my Pebble, which lit up with my run time, distance, and current pace. Since this was the first major app to support Pebble I was prepared for a little tinkering to get it to work, but was happy to find it worked seamlessly. The display on my wrist was much handier than trying to see the screen in the armband, or use the voice over status. I think it will be even more useful when I get back to regular runs and want to check my pace over different intervals.

My only gripe is that it doesn’t allow me to change the song that’s playing while running, which is a shame. Fortunately I’ve already cultivated a few good playlists for running that don’t need much editing.

Verdict: Fun but still limited

Right now it is a fun toy, but without a lot of apps out there yet it is hard to say if it is a game changer. If I had to bet, I would say that Pebble will likely become a handy convenience in a lot of small areas rather than a killer must-have accessory.

Lots of other companies are rumored to be looking into smart watches after seeing how red-hot the Pebble Kickstarter became. Unless you love being an early adopter or like toys, I’d say wait until the Fall and see which apps are available for the Pebble and which other smart watches hit the market.

Pebble Smart Watch: $150 at GetPebble.com

 

What the bleep is a Bitcoin?

It’s been around for years, but it’s only recently been getting mainstream attention. Depending who you talk to, Bitcoin is either the next generation of currency, or just a crazy, unsustainable experiment. Either way it’s utterly fascinating.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that exists only online. It has an exchange rate like a regular currency so you can purchase them, trade them for goods, and do most of the things you can do with traditional money. Instead of being printed on paper or minted in metal, a bitcoin exists as a set of very complex algorithms that is virtually impossible to fake or forge. You may see pictures of “bitcoins”, but these are either just models or special coins that refer back to the virtual coins.

Bitcoin was created in 2009, and has been use ever since. It’s gained enormous popularity recently with investors in Cyprus grabbing Bitcoins to get their wealth out of the financial mess their country is in. The result has driven the value of Bitcoins from around $15 at the start of 2013 to over $200 as of this moment.  If you look at the bitcoin value over the past few months it’s easy to see why people are buzzing. It’s serious enough that there are sites that track the Bitcoin exchange rate, and there is over one billion dollars worth of bitcoins currently in circulation.

What can you buy with Bitcoin?

bitcoinPurchasing things has been tricky, but it is getting easier. You can use third party sites to convert them to things like Amazon gift cards, and there is a growing list of places that accept bitcoins directly.

One of the first purchases via bitcoin was in 2010 when someone paid 10,000 bitcoins for a pizza. It was mainly done to prove it was possible to use bitcoins as “real money,” but people like to point out that at the current value that was a $1,000,000 pizza!

Having more places accept bitcoins is one of the biggest things bitcoin supporters push for, so expect this to keep growing.

Why do people like Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is not backed by a Government, and is controlled by a decentralized system of computers to prevent any one group from manipulating it. The way bitcoins come into existence was determined when the system was first made, and only about 21 million of them will ever exist . It’s similar to gold in that at some point there just isn’t more gold being mined, and the value is determined by what people will pay for it.

Supporters claim no Government can regulate bitcoins or devalue them by printing more (like they do with their own money), there is no tax on bitcoins (just a transfer fee), and it is very, very anonymous. These all make bitcoins a popular tool for people engaging in activities they do not want the Government to track. If bitcoin keeps its popularity, though, I will just about guarantee Governments will start getting involved in some form, and it will be interesting to watch.

How can I get a bitcoin?

To get a bitcoin you need a virtual wallet. One choice is to download bitcoin wallet software you can run on your computer. The advantage to this approach is that it is more secure, but if you lose your computer or the file, you’re out of luck. There is no bank to go back to who will fix it for you. The other choice is to register for a virtual bitcoin wallet online. The advantage here is access from anywhere, and you’re not tied to one computer. The downside is that these sites are the subject of malicious attacks and if they disappear so can your bitcoins.

Bitcoin’s popularity has already spawned hundreds of conversations in governments, magazines, and businesses around how currency works in a digital age. The Royal Canadian Mint even has their own digital currency project called MintChip now.

Will bitcoin be an interesting bubble or change the face of currency? It’s way too early to tell, but either way will be amazing to watch.

Life is tastier when you take risks – Breakfast With Strangers

Breakfast With StrangersBack in December of 2012 I saw a thread on Reddit from two people who were driving around the country and trying to meet interesting people for breakfast. They were wondering if anyone in Phoenix could help them out.

Let’s see… random connecting with people, looking for good food, a chance to show off Phoenix? I was made for this like cheese for mice! I gave them a call and swamped them with ideas for places to eat, drink, shop, and visit, and a nice list of people they could meet with.

It turned out these fine people were Courtney and Matt from Breakfast With Strangers from Portland, Oregon. After getting married they launched a Kickstarter to help fund a trip around the US to have breakfast with interesting people everywhere they stopped. They had a rough travel plan, but mostly it was they two of them driving back and forth across the country in their van, the USS Pancake, and throwing out open invitations to the wind.

You can hear their thoughts on their trip and they people they met in this video they did with AOL. My favorite part is at the end where they talk about the most important thing they learned:

In Phoenix they ended up breakfasting with the most wonderful Jenny Poon and her husband, Odeen, at Matt’s Big Breakfast. Apparently they had dined at many IHOPs across the US and I could not, would not, let that happen in Phoenix.

I met up with Courtney and Matt later that night for drinks at OHSO Nanobrewery to show off some Arizona craft beer, and I ended up being dubbed the Breakfast With Strangers Moment of the Day back on December 6th, which was rather nice of them.

Now they’re working on a book of their adventures, and I’m looking forward to hearing the things they learned along the way as much as the people they met. You can follow their future exploits on their blog or on their Facebook page.

I love their entire project, but my favorite aspect is how they trusted themselves and others to put it together as they went. They could have scripted this out from Oregon before they left, but they would have met the majority of the amazing people they did, like Barry, the curator of the National Mustard Museum. As they said in the video, the happiest people they met were ones who took risks.

Plan less and see where the world takes you, but always eat a tasty breakfast.

Tips for First Timers and Indie Authors at SXSW

I will sadly not be making the trip to SXSW this year for scheduling reasons, but my past posts of tips and suggestions for people have proved popular so I figured I’d continue that tradition in spite of my absence.

First Time Attending SXSW

Most of my advice from last year’s A Beginner’s Guide To SXSW still stands, except for the links to the specific tools and forums. My top three tips would be:

1. Wear Comfy Shoes – Seriously, you are going to be on your feet constantly. Bring something you’re comfortable putting some miles on.

2. Pick People Over Panels – There are great sessions there, but always take a chance to make a connection with an interesting person doing something fascinating. The friends and good connections I’ve made there outweigh the memorable panels.

And the third tip that almost nobody ever listens to:

3. Go To Panels You Don’t Know Much About – Everybody’s first reaction is to look at the schedule and pick panels in their core area. Then you’ll go, learn a little bit, and be underwhelmed. Why go all the way to this convention to talk about the things you talk about all day long? Go to LEARN! Find panels where you have just enough of an inkling what the topic is to be interested, but still feel a bit like a fish out of water. This will expand your view of the world and your list of connections. Catch up on your own industry in recaps when you get home.

For another great list of tips, check out Andrew Hyde’s 2013 SXSW Guide.

Indie Authors Attending SXSW

It looks like the schedule of indie and digital publishing sessions out there is just as scattered as last year, but we have a list of 5 Tips For Indie Authors at SXSW posted over on Google+. It’s a good list, especially the tip about leaving your books at home. Seriously, just don’t even bring them.

Check out the list and let us know if there are any sessions or technologies you’re excited to see.