Who Gets to Drive?

I should start this post about by saying we are big “Game of Thrones” fans in our house.  My son and husband have read the books, and w we all watch the show together.  This morning, on Facebook, a friend posted:

GOT postI found this intriguing.  First of all, as someone who has written a book, I know while I consider my audience, I am writing the book as much as a way to get my ideas and views out there, as I am catering to a market of some sort.  As a result, my “art” is created for me, and then for my potential audience.  I have also learned, over time, that the audience is often amorphous and shifting- I may be shooting to appeal to one person, but another person I never expected might find the book helpful or intriguing.  As a result, the idea that a series as long as Game Of Thrones, in book or TV form, would be constructed to please an audience seems absurd.

That being said, I also know there is a distinct difference between the type of fiction I grew up with, and the type my kids read.  I grew up in the late 70’s and 80’s, so I read the trite teen novels of Judy Blume, everything written by Kurt Vonnegut, and then a variety of science fiction including Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Heinlein books like Stranger in a Strange Land. Then there were the sundry mystery series, but overall, things were largely upbeat, and not nearly as dark as the books my kids read.

My kids, by contrast, have grown up with Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and the Divergent series, just to name a few.  All of these books are far more dystopian than even Lord of the Flies. While I have a theory that the post-9-11 world is somewhat to blame for this bleak outlook, these books have also, in the world of Fan Fiction and the Internet, spawned a universe beyond the original medium.  A universe of adjunct writing, things to buy, purchase, and market, on levels ranging from small to theme park in size, have grown up to make these works of fiction real for people.  We are more intertwined with the work than ever before- somehow, visiting the Jane Austen museum is not quite the same thing as having Game of Thrones Monopoly or Dragon eggs on your shelf at home.

Like Game of Thrones, many of these books have killed beloved main characters.  It’s part of the plot, and usually is a foil to make the other characters mature, develop, or otherwise move on. Certainly, when Dumbledore dies in Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, we were all shocked.  People couldn’t believe it.  But it marked a way for Harry to separate and mature into his own man.  There was fan outrage, but we all still went on to read the remaining books and saw the movies, because we loved being immersed in JK Rowling’s vision of the wizarding world, good and bad alike.

Similarly, in Game of Thrones, I am always aghast when characters die, and often in the unpleasant way it happens as well.  But without this plot device, certain characters would get stuck and could not move on; certain story lines might stagnate.  Only George RR Martin and the writers on the TV show know where the characters are going.  We have willingly opted into their world and allow them to take us on a journey, for good and for bad.  It’s part of the thrill ride, and why we watch.

I would be severely disappointed if artists, novelists and musicians decided only to give us what we want as an audience.  If they aren’t creating something new, and taking us along with them on a creative journey, what’s the point?  In fact, I often worry that when a series becomes popular, the financial incentives to market the thing to death or simply just give people what they want- undermining the whole reason the series was interesting and intriguing in the first place. So while I understand the comment of “contempt for fans”- I believe that the author, or writers, need to stay true to their vision of the world, and not to what the people want.

Steve Jobs used to say that Apple was creating what they wanted, and they hoped everyone else liked it.  Frequently, the new phone, or tablet was dismissed as silly and pointless, but eventually, enough people agreed with the vision of this new thing they had never seen before, to adopt it and make it part of their lives.  If the devices had been a product of what people wanted, of focus groups and endless market research, we would have ended up with something much different.

Because the truth in all of this is that we don’t really know what we want.  We do, however, want to be taken on a journey, to be told stories, and to find our way into a new world, with all the good and the bad that is there.

As much as we love making things interactive, I’m still willing to let artists of all stripes drive, and I hope they do so, and strive to find their audience, without bending to the will of the audience.  While there may be room to make money in the short run, if you sell out to the will of the fans, you will surely lose what made the work unique and intriguing in the first place.  That’s something we all have to remember in everything we do- are we doing it to express ourselves, or merely please others?  If we do bend to the pressure to please and perhaps benefit financially, do we lose ourselves in the process

That’s something we all have to remember in everything we do- are we doing it to express ourselves, or merely please others?  If we do bend to the pressure to please and perhaps benefit financially, do we lose ourselves in the process?

Let the artists, writers, song makers and creators drive.  They know where they are going, and we can enjoy being along for the ride.  If I want to drive, I can go create my own art.  I don’t need them to perform on command.

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Apple Watch- One Month Update

I waited a LONG time for the Apple Watch.  It finally came almost a month ago, and it’s been attached to my wrist all day. every day. since that time.  What do I think about it after having more experience with it?

1. Upgrades- what band is best?  I bought the watch with the Milanese loop on the stainless steel watch.  I bought a white sport band and when it arrived, I switched out the loop for the sports band.  While I love the look of the Milanese loop and will wear it when I’m out for business, for day to day and for workouts, the comfort of the sports band cannot be beat.  It’s by far and away the best watch band I’ve ever owned.

I love the infinite adjustment of the loop band, but when I was playing squash with my husband, I found it would occasionally feel like it was digging into my wrist, and I would constantly be fussing with it.  I still adjust the sports band every once in a while, but far less frequently during the day.  (Your wrist does change size slightly during the day- this should be expected.)

2. The stainless steel watch felt heavy at first, but I no longer notice.  I’m glad I got the stainless watch from a fashion point of view, but it’s about twice the weight of the sports version- I think I could have been perfectly happy with the basic version, to be honest, and would appreciate the cut in weight, at least initially.  Again, since I’m running for office and need to look like a “Grownup” often, I’m happy, but between the cut in price and weight, the regular watch is just great.

3. It’s a conversation starter.  Since I am using Apple Pay on the watch, I have a passcode, and it locks when you take it off, but this then requires you to unlock it when showing it around to friends. (Slightly annoying, but a great safety feature.)  People do notice it, and ask questions.  The most frequent questions are about functionality and why.  And that leads me to:

4. Some apps are incredibly useful.  I love the health and fitness apps, including workout, with the reminders to stand, heart rate monitor, progress updates and awards.  These apps also sync with the health app on my iPhone, where I can see weekly and monthly trends.  I’ll update you next month with whether or not it has helped me lose any weight :)

One of my new favorite apps is Hours.  I can start and stop timers in an instant from my wrist, which is great when I’m tracking time on projects for work.  I can leave my phone in my purse, or plugged in, and still access all the info I need while working from the watch this way.  Also, Hours lets me look at my hours and graph them and print out reports, making sure I stay accountable to my boss for time spent.  This is incredibly handy, and works much better for me than when I depended on remembering to write down my start time, or opening up some app on my desktop.  It will also ask if I forgot to start a timer, which has also proved useful.

I’ve used Apple Pay a few times now, and it’s just a fantastic way to pay for things, especially for someone famous for digging through their purse for their wallet.  I’m looking forward to giving the travel apps a run through with upcoming trips, ranging from uploading boarding passes to Passport, using the Maps app to find my way around on public transportation as well as walking, and using Trip Advisor for restaurant recommendations while out of town.

The weather app, Dark Sky, lets me know of upcoming rainstorms, particularly helpful if your house is located in an area where you tend to lose power.  This taps me on the wrist, without requiring me to look at my phone or dig it out of my purse.

I also find I’m using Swarm to check in places more frequently, when it’s just a tap on my wrist.

Clear is a great to do list app, which is beautiful on the iPhone, and equally useful on the watch in keeping me on track.  Definitely a winner.

I did have to adjust my social media settings and reminders to make sure I was only getting important messages.  I really appreciate being able to send quick responses to texts, such as “I’m on my way” from my wrist at a stop light, in the store, or while in a meeting- rather than typing a whole response- it feels safer and more polite, especially if you are in a public setting.

I know more apps are on their way, and I’m sure many of them will be great.  But the apps that work best now are lightweight versions of iPhone apps that strip the functions down to essentials, and essentially allow the watch to be that “quick start” or remote button.

5. Safety features: I think the Watch will be particularly handy while traveling.  I tend to carry a lot of junk in my purse, and I hate fumbling for stuff – my wallet, phone, etc. while in public or at a register.  I feel a little vulnerable as well as disorganized.  By allowing the primary wallet  and phone functions to take place in the watch- payment, directions, texts, simple phone call response- I never have to have that feeling again.  If it gets to the point where you could have your driver’s license and public transport card on the phone as well, I might be able to leave my purse at home completely.  That would be a blessing.

A remote control for your phone sounds silly, I know.  But it’s amazing, especially for women who tend not to carry a phone in pockets as much as guys do (Heck, much of our clothing comes without pockets) how much you can do simply on your wrist.  And for anyone who has ever said “Where did I put down my phone?” the ability to ping the phone from the watch without using Find My Phone on another device is helpful as well.

I’m still happy with the watch and eager to find new ways to further expand its use, but right now, it’s a big win for me.


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Apple Watch update, Day Six

I’ve been wearing the Apple Watch all day for six days now.  I have to say that the advanced reviews I read that said it took a few days to get used to were true. I do feel like we’re still in the early days of courtship, as we get to know each other better.  There are pros, cons, and things that need to be tweaked over time to get the watch to work best for you. I’m not particularly surprised, since this happens with any device, including phones, as you learn new features and ways to get things done efficiently.

Word to the Wise. Watch the Videos.  I’m serious.

I’m usually not one to sit through “intro to your new gadget” videos, so I skipped them at first with the watch.  This is a bit of a mistake, since the hints they give you will really make learning how to use the watch a LOT easier. Save yourself some frustration, and watch the videos.

One of the first things to know is that most of the adjustments to the watch apps actually takes place on the iPhone watch app, including adjustment of where the app icons appear, and which ones are shown.  Watch versions of apps I already had on my iPhone were automatically downloaded, but many of them I don’t need to see on a daily basis.  For example, several travel apps, including a map of the London Tube system and currency exchange apps, I don’t use every day, so those can be safely “not shown” on the watch. I can always add them in right before a trip.

High Points:

Some apps, designed especially for the watch, are wonderful.

  •  For example, I have to keep time on several projects I work on, so the watch/phone app Hours, is perfect.  I can set up a few categories, and then as I start to work, just tap the timer, and then tap it again as I finish working on that particular project.  It is so much easier than opening and closing other time keeping programs.
  • The Activity app is doing a great job reminding me to stand and move around more with a gentle nudge, and I love that.  When we moved mulch yesterday, it recorded all of that activity, and steps exercising on the treadmill- it is like the Nike Fuelband with more two-way communication.
  • I downloaded the Water Balance app, and that’s helping me keep track of water vs. other beverages and is encouraging me to drink more water, so that’s a plus as well.
  • I haven’t had a great opportunity to use Apple Pay yet, but I am excited to try.
  • Messages has been a useful way to quickly dictate a text or send a quick reply without digging out the phone.  The voice recognition seems a bit better than on the phone alone.
  • I’ve enjoyed messing around with the different watch faces, but I have to say, I love the flower face the best.  I also have another face customized for more business purposes.
  • Only one of my friends currently has a watch, that I know of.  Sending sketches/nudges, taps from here to Boston is fun.  However, I think you could find this “silly” feature very useful in meetings, where you want to let your coworker know something without being obvious about it. Think drawing a circle with a slash like a no smoking sign to let them know an idea is a no go…I can see this being useful when there are several folks with watches around the office.
  • The maps app is really useful, but the ways to interact with it through hard pushes, etc. aren’t always intuitively obvious.  This is one of those examples where watching the video is incredibly helpful.
  • The To Do list app called Clear works well on the watch and is one of my favorites as well.

The ability to quickly ping the phone when it’s somewhere in my purse, making it easier to find is a nice, simple touch I appreciate.

Because the watch keeps track of events and sets those little physical reminders before meetings, it’s causing me to be better about keeping all of my calendar dates written down, rather than counting on my memory alone to remind me.  It’s also super easy to add things to the calendar with Siri on the fly.

Glances are little information screens you can see without launching the whole app.  You can add and re-prioritize the order of Glances on the iPhone watch app, and it will be reflected on the watch itself.  I’m still moving things around to find the perfect set of glances for daily use, and I’ll get there soon.

Low Points:

  • Mail- don’t think you are going to get anything useful out of having email notifications on your wrist.  You will get a snapshot of your email, but other than letting you know whether something important has been sent, any real interaction is still going to need the phone itself.
  • Do not think of web browsing on the watch- that’s not what it’s there for.  You can get Siri to fetch sports scores for you, or even look for a restaurant and provide directions, but web browsing is for your phone or tablet.
  • You will need to adjust your social media notifications so your wrist isn’t buzzing all the time.  I had a bunch of notifications I just didn’t take the time to adjust on the phone because it wasn’t important, and they were easy to ignore.  On the wrist, harder to ignore, but on the plus side, I am saving battery life on both the phone and watch now by getting rid of all those useless pings.
  • I love the look of the milanese loop band, but I think I’m going to appreciate the sports band for most day to day use.  Also I think the lighter, aluminum model, while less stylish, is actually a great choice- the stainless steel version seems a bit heavy sometimes.
  • You can quickly answer phone calls on your wrist, but the sound is horrible.  It’s good for quick triage of incoming calls but you’ll want to use your phone for longer conversations.

Overall impressions:

I do like the watch, and it’s clear we’re forming a long term relationship. I’m not all the way to love, because we’re still getting to know one another.  But I find that I’m not grasping for my phone all the time because I’m getting updates on the watch for important reminders and nudges, and I feel like I am already a little more active and more productive as well from this new “wrist coach”.  I’m more likely to check my activity level, or make sure I calendar everything, because it’s just easier, with less steps, with the watch than the three or four screens on the phone to do the same task.

I’ll keep you updated, but so far- much more useful than Google Glass, less socially isolating, and has lots of potential, especially with travel.

What questions do you have about the Apple Watch? What do you think?

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First Thoughts on the Apple Watch

IMG_5217I just got my Apple watch this afternoon.  While it’s early to give any sort of formal review, I thought I would share the first thoughts after having it on for a few hours now.

1) If you get a notice your watch is shipping, update to the latest iOS version on your phone now.  This will save you time and headaches when the watch prompts you to update your software first.

2) Many of the apps you already have on your phone can be added onto the watch.  Some of these you may or may not want on the watch, so keep this in mind- editing your iPhone apps in advance might be a good idea.  A great example of this for me is WebMD- I don’t mind having the app on my phone, but I would never use it on the watch, so having to go through the process of removing it is just one more step.

3) Think about the notifications on your phone.  The watch will nudge you when you have a notification.  I let my phone ping me about some things like Twitter updates, for example, but I don’t need to be pinged on the watch, so I had to go back and turn notifications off.  I am sure the battery life on my phone and watch will be grateful.

4) Do watch some of the set-up videos.  I watched a few, and I have been messing around a bit, getting used to things. How to change the watch face, for example, is not immediately obvious, but once I got the instructions, it was simple.

5) You are limited with the number of friends, so choose wisely.  It looks like you are initially limited to 12 friends you can contact easily through the watch interface, so choose carefully.  Obviously, my family is there first, and then close friends who I can “signal” through the watch :)

6) Making calls is possible, but the audio isn’t great.  While driving, I made a call from the watch.  My phone usually “hands off” to the bluetooth hands free speaker in the car, but it didn’t automatically do this from the watch, so I will have to figure out if this a setup error on my part or not.  The other party could hear me, but it was not crystal clear.

7) Apple Watch vs. Google Glass  I bought Google Glass, in part to see what the future of wearables was all about, and to experiment a bit.  The watch notifications with the taps are a much better and subtler attention getting mechanism than the changes in the Glass screen.  Both technologies depend highly on the phone as the work engine for set up and main functions.  In many ways, the phone as the main interface for the device is very reminiscent of Glass.  However, the watch is certainly less “obvious” to everyone else around you than a face full of technology, which is a plus.  There are fewer fit issues with a watch than trying to get glasses that adjust to an individual’s eyesight and facial structure.

Am I saying the Apple Watch is Google Glass on the wrist without the camera? Maybe.

The fit and finish are amazing.  The packaging is top notch and incredibly special.  I like being able to adjust the milanese loop to get a perfect fit, where I would find my Nike Fuelband would end up being too tight or too loose from time to time, making it slightly annoying.  The haptic nudges are adjustable in terms of strength, so I will have to play with that as well to get it to optimal strength to notify but not distract.

I’m looking forward to getting the know the watch, and further adjust and customize the settings until I get it optimized for me.  However, my first favorite feature is being able to leave my phone charging across the room, but still get notifications, without scrambling to go check the screen.

I’ll let you know how the experience is as we go along- I’m eager to try out Apple Pay, and eventually, the ability to use a boarding pass or hotel key with a flick on the wrist.  The first impression overall is that I’m intrigued by the possibilities, but I also know that it will take a little time to become in sync with all the features and possibilities.

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Bragging on our Local Schools

We’ve lived in Kennett for over a decade now.  Like most people who move across the border from Delaware, we did it for a list of reasons, including the schools.  We also said to ourselves that if we ever felt the need, we would move our kids to private school- whatever was best for them.

Both of my kids have attended Kennett Consolidated schools- James starting in fifth grade, John starting in first.  John is finishing his Junior year at Kennett High School, and we only have one more year as Kennett Parents left.  I have to say, I really could not be happier with our experience.  James, who needed an IEP during school, had great support from the learning support specialists along the way, and overall, most teachers worked very well with the accommodations he needed – especially substituting typing for handwriting, which was critical.  John has found teachers at every level who have mentored and guided him along the way, and he found a real home in the music department at the high school.

John wasn’t interested in music lessons in elementary school, and as a victim of forced piano lessons myself, I wasn’t going to revisit that issue.  However, freshman year, he decided to take music theory and keyboards (the piano).  Rapidly, he fell in love with the instrument, and I found myself with a kid asking for a piano for his birthday when other kids were asking for an Xbox.    Fast forward a year, and John had joined jazz band and at the urging of the band director Mr. Romano, started playing in a jazz trio with his friends Jake and Dennon.  They were good, and now a year later, they are frankly, great.  They have started playing paid gigs in the community as well- a statement of how far they have come in a short period of time.

Where many parents are worried about how much screen time their kids have, my kid has largely given up video games for music.  When we went to London, John wanted to go to TiN Pan Alley and we went to the Steinway store where he played the pianos for about an hour.  His favorite music on his iPhone is Louis Armstrong and Cole Porter tunes.  His friends say things like “All the best music is from the 40’s.”  Now they also like a bunch of other eclectic music- they are still teenagers- but I would never have thought in a million years that this would be where we would be now.

I have been incredibly happy with our experience with the Kennett schools.  I’m not sure John would have gotten the opportunities he had to discover piano or have a jazz trio had he gone to a private school in Delaware.   Academically, both boys were challenged and had teachers that took a genuine interest in them as people, as well as students.  That kind of caring is rare, and really can’t be bought.

I sit on the professional development committee and tech committee for the school district as a parent/community member.  Even behind the scenes, I see faculty and staff trying to make thoughtful and forward thinking decisions that look at continuous improvement in a fast paced world.  For example, the District is looking at the scope and sequence of skills like online research and understanding plagiarism, so that it can be taught at the earliest stages and reinforced over time, now that kids can access so much more information online and need to parse quality resources with a careful eye, long before they would ever have a course on critical literature.  The decisions being made look across the whole curriculum, so as much as possible, skills are introduced early and mastered over longer period of time, not isolated to Elementary School, or Middle School or High School.

There are always challenges.  Not everything is perfect, and in a world where technology evolves almost daily, keeping up and on top of things is difficult in the best of circumstances.  We are so fortunate to have administrators and teachers that are taking a look at the big picture as well as the day to day, and making thoughtful decisions about everything they do to make sure our kids are as prepared with foundational skills that will serve them well, even when things are in flux.

I’m incredibly happy with the education both of my kids have received at Kennett schools, and I’m amazed at the opportunities they have both had to meet inspiring teachers and staff who take an interest in the kids beyond the classroom.  That’s what makes our schools so special.

Thank you to everyone- parents, teachers, students, staff, administrators- we’re all in this together, and while there are always challenges, it’s important to also remember how very lucky we all are to be in this together.

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