Sunday, July 31, 2011

Technology That Matters - #0001

My first experience with Technology That Matters


When I was growing up, technology never really impressed me.

Walkman? I did appreciate portable music, but it wasn't a wondrous, amazing, "magical" experience. Mix tapes were a chore, pencils had to be angled ‘just right’ to wind them after tapes got eaten, and lyrics were sung at 1/2 speed as the batteries slowly died skiing down the diamond slopes (I know. Weird kid: Side A: Shooting Star. Side B: The Great White North, “Take Off”…Bob and Doug McKenzie! "Black Hole, eh?").

Computer? My dad’s PC did help me organize my ever-growing stamp and coin collection when I was 10. But hours vaporized making the computer do anything productive for me (although I did achieve a Zen-like relationship to a DOS-based database that cross-referenced 1,539 stamps from dozens of countries!)

MIDI? Even as I got into composing and recording, MIDI mapping, analog synth programming, and drum machine 'coding' took hours to make it work before creativity could flow. Once I did that, it did provide hours of awesomeness...but it didn't 'just work'. (Although, to be fair, the knowledge gained was pure gold in future Up With People tours)

None of the technology I encountered impressed me…

...Until that Blessed Day...

I remember it clearly. The sun was just a bit more sunnier, the roads were just a bit more road-trippy, and the angels were guest BGV's to my amazing car-karaoke vocal rendition of "Beautiful Girls".

I pulled into KwikTrip in my Dodge Daytona (T-Tops of course) to get my normal processed coffee, when in the distance I heard some excited whispering...

...then a bold statement:


What could be the cause of such a grand statement? Could it be the iPhone? No, that wouldn't be invented for several years. The self-tuning guitar? No, Gibson will try but it’ll be put on a lame ax.

I walked towards the small crowd and stared in awe at the object of awesome – shimmering like a 24th century replicator:

The KwikTrip Smoothie Machine.


I know. I know. You had the same experience. We might as well refer to our lives as BESM and AESM (Before Encountering Smoothie Machine, After Encountering Smoothie Machine).

Let me take you to the moment of my conversion:

1) Choose
Reflecting Biblical-based free-choice doctrine, I can freely choose flavor and style: frozen cappuccino flavors, smoothie flavors, or milkshake flavors. My excitement grows...

2) Open
Uh-oh. Doubt sets in as I open the lid. Surely this bucket of hard-as-ice-frozen-potential isn't going to turn into anything but freezer-burn-sadness. I push through on the promise of what is foretold...

3) Blend
I put the bucket into the machine, and quickly discover a secret second choice: Consistency. Stunning. How can a mere machine automate how thick or smooth the frozen-yet-liquid perfection gets?

I push "Smooth": The magic machine raises the bucket and starts. I will someday learn more about the magical technology that at once heats, mixes, cools, and delivers the finished smoothie. For now I will assume it involves galloping hamsters, baby dragon’s breath, and diamond dust.

2011-07-16 Davids Cabin3

Then the machine stops.

I bathe in the glory of a perfect smoothie that was moments before a frozen cylinder in the freezer.

Not only is the consistency perfect, the flavor is exquisite. AND, there is no freezer burn (job well done, baby dragons!).


…and not a This-Is-Pretty-Good-I-Should-Maybe-Get-Another-Someday kind of YUMMY, but a This-Is-So-Good-I-Sure-Hope-The-Government-Doesn't-Force-Me-To-Choose-Between-This-Smoothie-And-My-Kids-Because-I’d-Sure-Miss-Them kind of YUMMY!

I leave a changed man. Soon after I, too, start inventing.

I only hope that one day I will give back to mankind a fraction of what mankind has given to me that day..


So, have you encountered a technology that makes you stop in your tracks?

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Really Good Day: PRS Experience - September 22, 2008

"Let's give away a guitar!", said Paul (owner/founder of Paul Reed Smith guitars)

Thus began the end of a really good day.

It actually started the day before where I had finished giving a rousing presentation and demo at the IBM Future Interfaces Conference at MIT in Cambridge, MA. Which, by the way, had the best science lab I’ve ever seen:IMG_0367

I would tell you all about my presentation, but then I'd have to answer to Watson, and he's really not happy with me after I made fun of him.  But I can tell you that I was at an emotional least at that time I thought it was my emotional high for the weekend.

Boy, was I wrong.  :-)

The morning after my Future Interfaces success, I drove down from Boston to Stevensville Maryland (just next to Baltimore). Amazing drive! I fully under-appreciated how accessible the east coast is. Oh, and I had some quality time with my iPod :-)

My destination? The PRS Experience. Paul Reed Smith, founder of PRS Guitars, loves his customers and dealers so he puts on an "open house" with players (like me), artists (like Mark Tremonti, Johnny Hiland, and David Grissom:PRS Experience

I knew this was going to be a good day...

I knew my current emotional high would be carried through by what I was about to experience...

I didn't know just how good it would be...

I wake up and walk out of the hotel to wait for the PRS shuttle. 10 PRS fans await with me...the nicest group you could ever meet. Some have their own guitars to have artists and PRSh (Paul Reed Smith himself) sign. Some have shirts. All have a grateful attitude that this 2 day open house is free.

Amazingly, I meet a friend. I don't have good friends anywhere. I met one here. John. IMG_0371 Older guy who's wife died and has always wanted to own a PRS, and who's daughter urged him to come to the PRS Experience. We form a bond that I'll never forget.

I get off the bus, and receive a crazy-cool packet of PRS stuff: hat, shirt, stickers, keychain. I walk up to a tent and see an intimate session where Johnny Hiland is talking about his guitar...and playing some of the most amazing guitar I've ever seen (Watch this)

I walk to the 'spin and win' wheel...where Mark Tremonti walks by...I shake his hand and personally thank him for redefining hard rock for me...from an angry, tense experience...into a beautiful soundscape of hope, melodic lyrics, and rockin guitar you could sing to. Tremonti

Oh, and I spun and got some cool PRS guitar picks, and unfortunately get a lousy raffle ticket.

I spend the rest of the day amazed at how guitars are made, played, and got an education I’ll never forget.PRS Experience1

Then the evening approaches.

The main show consists of stunning music. All 1400 of us are at the same time both inspired to practice more, and depressed at how we'll never be that good that we think we may never want to play again.

My emotional high has not has been an outstanding day.

...It is about to change.

PRSh walks on stage...hushes the crowd. "This is the part of the the show that I am most excited about", he says with a big smile.

"Let's give away a guitar!", he shouts. 

We shout in agreement! Most of us are excited for some lucky fan...because we know we never win anything.

...the mood of the night is the closest to Heaven I've been in...we're all rooting for each other...sharing the love of a common instrument...and talking about how grateful we are all to be there.

His assistant walks out with a big, black case.

Paul opens it up, and pulls out a real beauty. "This is our new Starla. Fresh from the factory". Now, we're talking really fresh...the factory is only 100 feet away. Bigsby tremolo...a rare thing on PRS guitars, Cherry red, and custom pickups that sound amazing.

"Someone here will win this guitar months before it even goes on sale. You'll be the first in the world to own one". We all look around for some other that will jump at their name.

He raises a bowl 1/2 full of raffle tickets.... mind snaps to attention...the raffle tickets couldn't be purchased...only won from that 'spin and win' wheel...the same raffle ticket I was disappointed in winning...mind spinning...spinning...

He pulls out a single ticket.

"Hmm", he mutters to his assistant...asking how to pronounce the name? Sweet! My name is hard to pronounce...

"OK! We have a winner..."


"Wow, all the way from..."

At this point my mind... my heart...stomach...eyes, my whole being is spinning...



...but how many people traveled from Minnesota!?!

"The winner is... Gre..."

I don't fully recall when exactly I jumped up and shouted "YEAH!!!"...if I waited until my full name was said, but I truly only remember my first name announced...and the slow-motion jump that would have been perfect for an energy drink ad.

My new friend John was so happy for me.

Turns out, everyone was so happy for me! what I imagine Heaven being like. I walk towards the stage...I'm getting cheers, back slaps, hand shakes...the fellow PRS fans are truly happy. Not even teasing "in fun".

I get on stage and shake Paul's hand. He hands me the guitar. He asks, "You dig Bigsby!?!"

I say, "Yeah, I dig Bigsby!"

"What? You hate Bigsby!?" PRSh shouts...I hope he's joking...

"NO, I LOVE BIGSBY!". I shout back over the laughing crowd…He winks.

He puts the guitar in the case, hands me the case, and asks for another round of applause.

Now, in my dreams I would have either bowed, or pulled the guitar out and started to play "Garden of Eden" by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (Seriously. Listen to it. It rocks!) to the cheer of the crowd. Instead I just walk off stage with Paul's assistant...

...a huge smile...

...and my new guitar.2008-09-15 Boston and PRS Experience

Later, I ask her how I should bring this on the plane for my trip home. She says, "Oh, heavens. Let us ship it using our secure shipping boxes". So nice.

I arrive home, await for my guitar (much like Doc Brown waiting for Marty McFly at the end of Back to the Future), and play it the next Sunday. The sound is truly amazing. Rich, thick, with what I can only describe as "Ballsy". It shimmers with the tremolo, and it tunes down to dropped-D wonderfully.

It is now my favorite guitar for hard rock songs.


Someday I'll be asked what the best day of my life was...I'll probably answer with the words 'wedding' or 'birth of a child', but somewhere deep in my mind...I may just be thinking of this day.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Lake Effect

I don't own a cabin on a lake.

I don't own a boat.

I don't own a jet ski.

I don't even take my family to the river an hour away to 'get away' for the day...

...I think that might change.

We just finished a weekend at my brother's cabin on Long Lake in Wisconsin. It is a beautiful lake, pretty clear, deep, lots of room to swim, boat, tube, kneeboard, and have lots and lots of family fun.

But what surprises me is what effect the whole experience has on our family.

She gets to enjoy the sun, relax, and let others take responsibility. Sure she 'owns' prepping one of the meals, but she doesn't have to handle the kids and the house. She can chat, play, ride, and swim when she wants. I think that's what she likes the most...doing what she wants on her own terms.

Oh, and she smiles. A lot.

He gets the best of what he loves most: Both laying around, and being extremely active tubing and knee boarding. On one hand he can sleep in, eat a fantastic breakfast (egg bake), play video games. He can take the time to learn magic tricks and try them out. You see, there's enough time in the adult's schedule to try out tricks and learn. Finally, he can exert every ounce of energy tubing and knee boarding on the boat. He loves that. I think it gives him a release from his normally deep-thinking brain. He can just focus on one thing: Staying above water!

Oh, and he smiles. A lot. And talks to me about all kinds of things.

My oldest (by a minute) girl. She gets to test the limits of her capabilities. And she pushes herself to squeeze the most adventure out of her weekend. She likes to win, try new things, and take walkabouts. She got up on the kneeboard the first time she tried. She went canoeing, and loves her independence.

Oh, and she hugs me a lot. And congratulates me on my 360-kneeboard turn.

My youngest (by a minute) girl. She just soaks it all in. She loves to talk, laugh, find critters, fish (caught a nice sized perch), canoe, and bounce around on the tube. She was also up on the knee board the first time, but something about her just likes to experience it all, and not worry about excelling. However, that doesn't prevent her from doing just that...she is quite excellent at most things and is giving Spitfire a run for her money.

Oh, and she laughs. A lot.

My young son. So much like me. So independent and wants to prove himself to his brother and sisters...and his father. He gets tired of me directing him and LOVES it when he can just be a boy: Catch crayfish, canoe, bring a clam home for a pet, use a small fish he caught as bait for the bigger fish he wants to catch. He is afraid to try new things because they sounds scary. Today he did NOT want to get catapulted out of the pontoon by me and my brother, but once he did...and flew several feet to a grand an glorious splash in the water, he said "THAT WAS GREAT! LET'S DO IT AGAIN!" (same experience with the kneeboard the next day). That's what I want him to bring home with him. The wisdom that most things worthwhile in life are scary when he first tries them, but once he does, he'll love it. 

Oh, and he laughs a lot at the lake. His brain gets fed. He loves exploring, finding, adventuring on his terms. Basically he can finally do life at "The Speed Of Jaxon"...which is the way he loves it.

I get to loosen the reigns on the kids. They love it. I love it. Why don't I do it more? I get to do 360-degree turns on the knee board, and have my whole family clap for me. I think I gained more respect in that one moment than any amount of hours of accomplishments at work. I get to read, write, talk, listen to my dad, watch my mom and dad's still-as-70-somethings-obviously-in-love marriage. I get to hear my brother tell stories of when we were my kids. I get to spend time with my whole family (notice in this photo my dad, mom, brother...with a pontoon with our wives, kids/grandkids in the background).

Oh, and I smile a lot. I get to hug my kids a lot. I get to see my family smile, squeal, play hard, sleep hard, and become a tighter family.

That's why I think we might find ourselves at a lake more often.

How about you? Where do you and your family go to connect?

Friday, July 8, 2011

2011-07-05: Our U2 Adventure

07-05-2011: U2
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago
Went with: Wife

"It was one, magnificent, beautiful day in the city of blinding lights. With pride, we were in the promised land. In mysterious ways we did go crazy tonight in the streets with no name. With or without you we got on our boots and walked on to one tree hill, and, at that elevation, was the moment of surrender."

If that's all you have time to read, it sums up the show...and our adventure. That, and this footage of my favorite song of the night from our seats (section 126, row 18, seats 17, 18...a mere 6 seats less and we would have had a spotlight tower blocking our view of The Edge...phew that was close!):


Our U2 adventure was over two years in the making. 

From the excellence of the show, I'm convinced U2 decided to practice just a little extra for us. 30 years of practice to be precise...each tour and album improving upon the last where they would be better than ever by the time they hit Chicago in 2011...just so we would have the show of a lifetime.

But that seems normal for what U2 does: They put every ounce of energy and creativity into every facet of the show so we could have a U2 adventure we'll never forget. The whole experience was like a masterclass in never letting up on being as excellent as you can. 

Our adventure started when we tried to get tickets for the first "360" tour show in Chicago back in 2009. No luck. Sold out by the time general public tickets were on sale.

Solution? Join the U2 fan club for $50. We got pre-sale codes and an exclusive remix CD. We were ready in early 2010 to buy tickets and decided on spending $100 each vs. $250 each (reality has to seep in at some point), Reserved the hotel, and waited.

Then Bono had to hurt his back and the whole leg of the tour was rescheduled for 2011.  

Fast forward a year...different hotel (Hilton Garden Inn...excellent price, location, and rooms!), same tickets, and we were off on our adventure!

On our way we stopped for Rocky Rococo pizza (the best pizza ever...partially because Rocky's is where we would go when we dated: Sunday night dinner, then a walk around Lake Calhoun...perfect combination for falling in love). Arriving at 4pm we had just enough time to relax and get ready for the show.

Nothing gets you familiar with a city like its subway system. We took the Red Line south to Roosevelt, then walked to Soldier Field.

But not before having a quick bite at a local sandwich shop, where we were entertained by a local singer...who performed a GREAT acoustic version of "Magnificent" (...and since Bono didn't sing it, we were glad we heard it live during dinner)

Our walk to Mecca, er, Soldier Field with 64,000 of our closest friends ended in some pretty good seats and a sense of wonder at the huge-ness of the facility and stage apparatus. 

U2's attention to detail continued to amaze. For example, we were far enough away where the audio was 1/2 measure behind the guys on stage (I noticed this during sound check). But, the jumbo-tron was on beat. I thought it was great that they delayed the video feed to synch up with the audio coming at us. I suppose  they figured those close enough to the band wouldn't hear delays and wouldn't bother with the jumbo-tron.  Pretty cool. The band played wonderfully and the mix was great. Light show was spectacular and the whole spaceship-stage-thing had plenty of surprises. Again, it was like they said "This stage looks great. How can we make it excellent?" 

Other observations: Bono and Edge seemed visibly moved when we all sang along. He thanked us. He could have said, "sing louder" or, "not as good as it could have been", but he just said, "Thank you"...with his hand on his heart.

During "Where The Streets Have No Name" when Bono sings about started to rain. Just a few drops for a couple minutes. Then when the song did the rain. I'm still wondering how Bono did that.

The last song of the show, not played live since 1987, was a tribute to a friend that died...25 years ago that week. Amazing song...I had never heard it before...but I'll add it to my playlist now (Take a listen to hear a great impromptu song from our show).

Last observation: My wife's iphone 4 takes great video. Take a look at the highlights of the show...

Once the show was done, we had a choice: follow 64,000 fans to the Red Line and wait an hour to get the train back to the hotel, or just walk.

We decided to walk.

Perfect decision. BEAUTIFUL summer night, walking with 1000 of our closest friends (including some Irish folks...did they fly here just for this show?). The lake was smooth, air was warm, and my concert companion was simply lovely.

The next day was just as beautiful. We found more adventure awaiting us in Chicago. 

From the river

to Millenium Park's wildflower garden

to the Bean

After a great walk-about, we headed back home (with another stop for Rocky's), and returned to another 2 days of vacation. After all, I'm just following Bono's direction: He said he talked to the Mayor of Chicago and he extended Independence Day to Independence Week. 

Thank you Bono, Edge, Larry, Adam. Thank you Chicago. Thank you Rocky's. You exceeded our expectations and gave us memories to last a lifetime.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunset Chair Adventures: Reservoir Hunt

Let me take  you on an adventure inspired from my Sunset Chair Clarity post.

The Reservoir hunt.

It started with a stated goal to “have a grand adventure and discover what’s out there”, and a hidden goal to create memories with my youngest three while my oldest was creating his own memories in Canada.

Here’s what we found:

Finding #1:
A fallen cottonwood tree is a perfect source of summertime snow. PLUS, it is soft and fluffy and very much feels like a tree-full of kittens (Now if I could only invent that, I’d be rich!)IMG_2663

Finding #2:
Meadow creek. Soft mud that oozes between your toes in a way that doesn’t feel icky…instead strangely comforting and therapeutic. Almost like we’re reconnecting with our love of nature (That, or we’re just a really weird family that likes to get dirty)IMG_2666 

Finding #3:
Storms can bring down trees and leave quite a story. The evidence the littles gathered showed that the tree fell within the past few days (green leaves, freshly mowed path…under the tree) and lived a happy life with lots of friends (caterpillars). The imagination of the littles theorized that while happy, the end was abrupt and sad, when, upon falling, the tree realized that it did not, in fact, have 1000 little green wings that would lift it up, up, and away if only it could rid itself of its rooty prison chains.IMG_2667 

Finding #4:
A rocky creek bed can be the foundation for adventure, creature habitat, and, of course, a make-shift fashion show catwalk.IMG_2669 

Finding #5:
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but an organic gymnastic beam routine, squealy fun, and the thrill of watching water rushing under feet while suspended does. Oh, that and “weird mushroom thingys” (scientific name according to middle little).


Finding #6:
Time machines do exist. They’re called ‘watering holes’. Kids can step into one and travel back to experience how kids of all ages have been splashing, swimming, mudding, and all-out enjoying them since the year 37 AD. Of course we all know why…the year 36 AD was when the dinosaurs had enough of hiding from us humans and relocated to subterranean Antarctica…where they spend day after day basking in the 72 degree glow of the underground lava streams. Amazing what you learn from Wikipedia.

Finding #7:
The dirtier the fingernails, the happier the heart. The smaller the creature, the bigger the smile. The wigglier the tail, the gigglier the laughter.

Finding #8:
I love these littles (and their oldest) much more than I ever thought I could. Today I looked at them filled with love and full of pride as we walked home from our adventure. They really soaked it all in (figuratively and physically)!     IMG_2685

I can’t wait to see what adventure awaits just around the bend…

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