The Blurbification of Dexter Maxwell

So, if you follow me, or know anyone that follows me on Twitter or FB, you probably already saw that my first novel, The Last Iteration of Dexter Maxwell, is now available for order on amazon.?

The fact that this book I've been working on for years is out there in the world is extremely humbling. But I have to be honest, writing the novel came a lot more naturally than writing the blurb.

Granted, I don't write the copy on the back of the book all by myself. But I had to take a few shots at it. And in general, I get asked what my book is about all the time.?

For the record: I totally suck at this.?

Which is amusing. "Netting it out" in the biz world is one of the things I'm known for. 39 slides on the latest release of your complicated but important Enterprise Software, and you only have 10 minutes to talk to a room full of C-levels suffering from advanced EADD (Executive Attention Deficit Disorder)? No problem-- give it to Matt. 3 slides, all in picture format. Done.

But after a staring at, rewriting, editing, fixing, chopping, moving, re-reading, rewriting, and then re-fixing my novel over the past few years, I simply cannot get an elevator pitch together for my book.?

Imagine I'm at a dinner party. Someone who kind of knows me approaches and we get to talking. Here's how that conversation goes:

"My first novel just came out."

"That's great, Matt! Wow! So, what's it about?"

"?"

<other person starts to feel weird>

"?"

<other person gives an awkward smile and pretends to see someone they know across the room>?

Total freeze-up. Yeah, OK, its Science Fiction. But then what? Dive into the plot? It's a book with a ton of reveals that take the reader down the rabbit hole-- how much do I give away? Do I focus on thematic elements instead, or is that-- and let's just face it here-- a full-on D-bag move? Because it might go like this, then:?

"My first novel just came out."

"That's great Matt! Wow! So, what's it about?"

"Well, I really wanted to expose the hypocrisy surrounding any given episteme's dominant world view by contrasting the prevalent discourse against one that resembles medieval Western Europe."

<other person starts to feel weird>

"And not to go completely Foucault on everyone, I also attempted to reaffirm the progressivist ideals that move humanity forward while holding fast to the psychological imperatives that drive an individual to make particular decisions."

<other person gives an awkward smile and pretends to see someone they know across the room>

Yikes. Best to stick to what is actually happening, right? Okay, here goes:

"My first novel just came out."

"That's great Matt! Wow! So, what's it about?"

"See, there's this young punk hacker living 100 years from now. He's got some friends and they get into all kinds of trouble. But see, this young punk isn't who he thinks he is. Well, he really doesn't know who he is exactly, which is part of the problem. Anyway, he pulls a heist, and something goes wrong. Now I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say there's a little Rip Van Winkle event and then things get really interesting."

<other person starts to feel weird>

"So now this young punk is alone, and he's coming off cryogenic stasis-- that's when you're entire body gets shut down and frozen so you can be preserved for a long time without aging. Anyway, he comes off cryogenic stasis and there's this old guy talking to him -- I always picture him talking like George Takei-- and he's telling him? wait for it? that he's a clone!"

<other person gives an awkward smile and pretends to see someone they know across the room>

Right. Still not nailing it. So, this is what I've settled on:

"My first novel just came out."

"That's great Matt! Wow! So, what's it about?"

"Goddamn ninjas, swordfights, monks, and time travel."

"Holy shit! Where can I get some of that bad-assery!?"

"You're mother has a copy you can borrow. Are you gonna drink that?"

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I intend to work from everywhere, not just my house.

I haven't had to show up every day at an office building since 2002. Which is nice.

When I first did the WAH (work at home) thing back then, it was related to a geographical move that I was making for non-work reasons. The fact that I worked for a huge global enterprise software company meant that there was a willingness to experiment with WAH; I signed a contract saying I'd behave nicely without direct supervision, and they bought me a desk and a chair. The rest is history.

?When I took a position with a new company in 2006, I remained at home (the new company called this arrangement VO, for Virtual Office). ?The new company didn't buy me a desk, but they did reimburse my internet-- until they got thrashed by the changing economy in 2008, anyway.?

?But at the new position, there was always an uneasy relationship with VO. It spoke to a clear disagreement in the company leadership over the value of getting the best talent anywhere, versus getting decent talent but then having them collaborate from the same place. As I moved up the corporate ladder, I experienced this disagreement in person, and even contributed to the argument.?

?A few months ago, I took the third corporate job of my career, again working from the comfort of my home office. Now, however, I work for a company that puts At-Home work at the core of not just its culture, but its profit center. I like that. I like working at a place that has Virtual Office built into its DNA.?

?Because of the issues at my previous gig, I've read a lot about the movement to 'work from home.' How the percentages are changing. How just about everyone is doing at least part of their work from the house.

?But I think that a lot of this is missing the point, and it will be the next generation of workers that finally make it crystal clear to everyone:

?Its not about working from home. Its about working from anywhere.

?And here's our dirty secret: we already do.

?Over the course of the 15 years of my professional life, I've had to travel the globe-- from India to Australia to China to Hungary, and many points between. And I had to get work done at all those locations, as well as in transit to them.?

?Airports. Lots and lots of airports. And airplanes. And trains. Corporate office buildings everywhere. Hotel after hotel after hotel. Corporate apartments in Pune, India. Had to get work done in all those places.

?I've also been on lots of vacations where I had to get some work done. So I've had the, um, pleasure of figuring out how to take a call from mid-mountain lodges on ski hills and in the backseat of cars being driven across the US plains. I've spent weeks working out of my parents' basement in Idaho.?

?So my question to people who are still discussing if its important to work in office is: what planet do you live on? And, really, what industry? Cuz, and I mean this in the nicest way, you're about to get punk'd.?

?Don't get me wrong: having people come together is critical. Any difficult work that has a lot at stake and multiple, complex, simultaneous work streams should, nay, must have a face-to-face component.

?And if you are starting something brand new, chances are you need to be (at least at first) in the same room to get it right.?

?But trying to build IT solutions, business processes, or security practices that are based on everyone showing up every day at brick and mortar locations? Hate to break it to you, but you are doomed to fail. It's like trying to nail jello to the wall.

?It's time to embrace the workforce that is everywhere, that needs to access data anytime. Because they are going to be better and get more done anyway. It's not a hunch, its not a prediction-- its an observation of the last 10 years of global business.

?And let's all do ourselves a favor and stop calling it Work at Home, and start calling it Work Anywhere.

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Music as a Household Utility

You know you're old when you start running the math on how much music costs. And not only how much it costs, but analyzing music as a household utility. That uncomfortable feeling of oldness aside, if I analyze the music situation, interesting things occur.

First, here's the data:

  • 2 adults
  • 2 children (pre-teen)
  • 3 Macs
  • 2 iPhones
  • 2 iPods
  • 1 iPad
  • 1 Nexus 7

Current default music selection method:?

  • iTunes (kids)
  • Pandora (spouse)
  • Spotify (me)

First off, allow me to opine briefly on Spotify. If you haven't used it, its a streaming music service that's sort of like Pandora, in that it has radio stations that automatically generate next songs continually. It's also sort of like iTunes, in that you can add specific songs to playlists and then play them whenever you like. This second feature only works on mobile devices if you pay $10 premium (it works on computers for free).

  • Pandora only works when you are connected to the internet.
  • Itunes charges you per song or album.
  • Spotify, if you pay for the $10 a month Premium, lets you take all your playlists into 'offline' mode so that you can listen without being connected to the internet.

It is this last bit that turned me from a skeptic into an experimenter. I travel a lot. Whether its on a plane or driving across Kansas, there are large stretches of my life where the internet does not extend all the way to me. So, a streaming service that goes offline? Sign me up.

There's a lot to like about Spotify, but the number one thing I like is the musical promiscuity it encourages.

When you have to buy a song, or an album, you tend to get rather judicious. Do I really, really like this song? Will I want to listen to it over and over again? If I like the song, will I like other songs by the same artist, and therefore maybe spring for the whole album? (Bear with me, anyone under the age of 25: people my age still like to listen to entire albums. By the same artist. Weird, but true.) By definition, the process automatically curates the actual music that makes it into your iTunes library.

Spotify takes away the filter. I would never actually buy a Wiz Kalifa album, but hey, I'll add his Rolling Papers album as a playlist. Listen to it all the way through once. Pick a few songs I like. Maybe listen to them again. Would I have paid 10 bucks for it? No way.

But that same process helps me identify songs I will listen to over and over again. Somebody Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin is an infectiously awesome band, and I pretty much like all the music they make. But the name of the band alone would have kept me from grabbing the whole album and listening to it.

Even better, Spotify has allowed this musical discovery back into my life without making me abandon the library I've already built. The Spotify app has a link that leads back to my iTunes library, so I can listen to the songs there without switching between apps.

There are downsides. Much of the accessory world depends on Apple's iTunes+Music to work. But the biggest issue is that?I never own any music anymore. I just rent it. The minute I cancel my Spotify membership, all the music disappears. I am giving up ownership the same way I give up ownership of books when I read them in iBooks or Kindle.

Still, for $10 a month, I really like Spotify. I'm sold. I haven't opened iTunes in 3 months. But... well...

Spotify, like so many cool things that come from smart young people, is engineered at both the technical level and the business model level to be consumed by an individual.?My hat goes off to them for what they are doing, but people don't listen to music by themselves.

And no, I don't mean social networks here. I think the Spotify integration with Facebook is way creepy and I turned it off. I don't want FB "Friends" to see the names of songs I'm listening to. (My kids want to hear Gangnam Style. So I play it for them. It does not mean I want people to know I listened to and therefore in some perverse Facebooky sense of the word endorse Gangnam Style.)

No, I'm talking about families. All of us listen to music, and quite often we are all listening to the same music at the same time. But sometimes we listen to different music in four different places at the same time. Sometimes we share musical tastes, sometimes not so much.

But you can't share Spotify Premium. You can't use the same account and log in four times. Spotify quits working in one location the minute you start listening at a different device.

I get it, I get it. I understand why they do this. But it means the economics will drive me back to iTunes, and its really basic arithmetic: at $10/month, I'm paying $120 annually for music. On iTunes, that's roughly 100 DRM-free songs or 10-12 albums. By itself, it seems like Spotify is a pretty good deal. But if I have to pay for everyone in my family, Spotify is suddenly $40 per month, or a whopping $480 a year. Nearly $500 dollars annually for a music rental service? That's 400 songs each year that could be owned and shared among a family of four. And I don't have to keep paying to retain access to those songs.

So even if I have to pony up $1.29 for Gangnam Style, I still have $478.71 left to go get all the Taylor Swift, Flo Rida, and Maroon 5 my kids want. Then go get the Civil War, Iron and Wine, and Bronze Radio Return that the grown-ups want. And we can all listen to it whenever, wherever.

Now, its hard to tell in the modern age how much we are actually spending on music. Whether I'm buying music, a book, an app, or a movie, it all shows on the ledger as 'Apple Store.' And, if you've been to a kids birthday party or really even Christmas you know that iTunes gift cards are the de facto gift for anyone age 8-18. So, current spend on music is tough to accurately quantify.?But I'm betting that even with more promiscuity on iTunes, it still wouldn't add up to $480 a year.

So what's the solution? I'm thinking, take the free Spotify and the free Pandora. Put up with the adds for Netflix and VistaPrint. If you need your music offline, mobile, and add-free, turn those curated Spotify playlists into purchases on iTunes. It'll still be cheaper than the annual rental fee.

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A monogamous relationship fall apart

No relationship starts and stops on a dime. No matter what anyone says, it just doesn't work that way.

?

For instance, I have this relationship with a special someone in my life. I've been devoted to her for years.

?

But when I first met her, back in 1998, I wasn't sold. Sure, she was better looking than everyone else. But it just didn't seem like she respected herself. She wasn't living up to her potential, and frankly, I couldn't tell if she ever would. Worst of all, I just didn't know if we could last together. I'd seen signs that maybe she wasn't really in it for the long haul. She seemed interested in living in the now and was selling herself short.?

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It turned me off. Besides, I was just out of college and just finding my way in the world.

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A few years later, I met her again. What a difference a few years made! She'd hit rock bottom since we last ran into each other, and she'd took a long hard look in the mirror. She found a new life coach, a guru of sorts, and put her life on the right path. She looked great again, but it wasn't just looks. She was acting as smart as we all knew she could be. She went back to school. She simplified her life.?

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To put it bluntly: I fell in love.?

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It was still a few years before we finally sealed the deal. But after that, we became inseparable. I let her into so many aspects of my life. And it just kept getting better when she decided to become a musician in 2002.

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In 2007, she took our relationship to a whole new level. we really began to communicate. My desire new no bounds.?Since then, she has worked her way into nearly every corner of my life. I take her everywhere I go. And I've loved it.

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LIke I said, no relations starts on a dime. And no relationship ends on one, either.

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So, sadly, I must finally admit that my monogamous relationship with Apple is starting to fall apart.?

?

Lately, it feels like Apple doesn't want me to hang out with anyone else. She doesn't want me seeing my other friends. She only wants me to rely on her for anything that I need. Its starting to freak me out a little, how she wants to control every aspect of my life. I guess I brought it on myself, how much I had relied on her for everything.

?

It takes two to be codependent.

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I guess it would be okay, but she's not very good at some of this stuff. I mean, Dropbox is way better at cloud storage than iCloud. And let's not even go near the map debacle, shall we? Even something like web browsing feels more? confident in Chrome. And as much as I have loved my iPod+ iTunes over the years, I haven't left Spotify in three months.

?

Look, she still makes the best laptop. This MacBook Pro is the best. And call me old-fashioned, but a man still needs a keyboard and an operating system that let's me flush memory manually and install whatever I want. So its not like I'm going straight tablet anytime soon.

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And my iPhone 4S is fine. It does all the things I need, still fits in my pocket, doesn'tt look ridiculous when held to my ear, the screen is fantastic, and I really appreciate the nice camera.

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But the new Nexus 7 just arrived in the mail today, my first non-iOS device since the Palm Treo blew my mind in 2005 (it had a camera! and did email!). I hardly dare bring it up with Apple. I know how much she hates Android. But the fact is, I don't think I want a single relationship in my life. It's just not healthy.?

?

I still want to hang out with you Apple, but you're not the only girl for me anymore. I'm sorry. Sometimes, these things happen.

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No, Google, my name is not Lily

My daughter is finally at the age where she has irrational mood swings, hates her clothes, worries about her complexion, and fights with her friends. Other than this being the point where my brain starts to melt, it was also time for something else we'd put off around my house:

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The sex talk.

?

Haha, just kidding. I'm not going to talk about that.?

?

I'm talking about email. Yes, my daughter's other friends had email, and it was time to get one.

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Naturally, I thought of gmail. Yahoo is on the verge of collapse, and their email sucks anyway. I still have an allergic reaction to Microsoft products. So, free mail? Google.?

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A little background:?My relationship with Google is best described as "at arm's length." I use Google exclusively for web search and maps. I don't even mess around otherwise. Google has found a way to anticipate what I'm thinking when I start to type in their little box, and I like that about them. Same with maps: deep down, Google knows where I want to go. Thanks guys.?

?

But I don't use Google Apps, Google Earth, Android, Google+, Google Play, or Gmail.?

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I have five email addresses, which is an accomplishment for me that I've kept it so low. I have my work email, my ego email (matthew-hart.com), email at my publisher, my primary non-work email, and of course one gmail account.?

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Why the gmail account? I wanted to reserve a decent name. but I never use it.?

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Then there's google+. As someone who is ambivalent about Facebook, but also fascinated with social networks, I did create a google+ account, and went so far as to put my picture and up-to-date info about me on it. But I never post. I've never even taken the time to dual post from Facebook or twitter. I just don't use it.

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Back to my daughter's email. Gmail seemed the right idea for her. So, I went to gmail.google.com, and I started typing in possible addresses. And there was a great one for her! Her actual name! Not too long, not to short. Within seconds, I'd been able to get what I came for. As I moved through the sign-up stages, Google asked me, innocently enough, if I wanted to link this gmail account with my google account. Looking up to the top of the browser, I noticed it had me "signed in" (read: left a cookie) to google+, so it knew me as Matthew Hart.

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What a great idea, I thought. Link my daughter's email to my account so I can easily keep track of it. I clicked yes and moved on.

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Email created.?

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Ridiculous Google behavior initiated.?

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My Google+ account was not associated with my gmail address, but with my non-gmail personal address. So, when I associated my daughter's gmail address to my google account, Google made my daughter's address my primary email address, and her profile became my primary profile data.

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  • It did this without warning me before-hand it would do this.
  • It did this in a way that cannot be reversed. Ever. Trust me (and my afternoon of research) on this.

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What kind of smart company like Google would allow me to irreversibly corrupt my own customer data? Here's my opinion: the kind that is hell-bent on coercing me to be all-Google, all-the-time.?

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The only way out was to permanently delete my daughter's awesome gmail address, which is also permanent, by the way. There is no way to disassociate that address with my Google Account.?

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My wife has a a web hosting service that comes with a bunch of free email addresses. My daughter has an email address over there now. Gmail not required.

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Two morals of the story:?

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1. Companies that are trying to muscle into every corner of every digital interaction cannot help but display terrible behavior.

2. The problem with free services is there is absolutely no way to get the company to help you with a problem that isn't on a FAQ. Because no money exchanges hands, you have to live with whatever service you can glean from the net.

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