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Everything is Alive

Everything is Alive is my new favorite podcast.

They interview inanimate objects, like a store-brand can of cola and a streetlight. Except they look at every possible angle of what that conversation could be like. For example, in the cola episode, the cola brings up the point that no one really knows if he “is” the can or the cola inside. He mentions how his body could be recycled, but would “he” become something new or will he “go somewhere else” once his essence has been consumed (literally). The streetlight loves to watch movies through the windows of the apartment buildings nearby, especially Singing in the Rain since the street light is the real star of the show. It feels a little like an exercise from Creative Writing 101, but with this level of detail and humor, it works. There are only two episode so far, but so far it’s really great.

 

2011 Year in Review

2011 was a strange year for us.  It was sort of a plateau of meh-ness, followed by some fairly deep valleys of WTF?-ness, with only the occasional peak of awesome-ness in between.  It wasn’t a bad year, but it wasn’t a particularly good year, either.  Projects that we had high expectations for – selling our condo, portions of Andrea’s business, most of my writing projects – didn’t perform as well as we would have hoped.  Unfortunately, the ones we weren’t exactly expecting to be brilliant didn’t surprise us, either.  So it was a humbling and discouraging year to say the least.  Thankfully, as we head into 2012, I can sense that our spirits are still strong and we’ll continue to make strides in the new year.  I guess that’s really all you can ask for in life, huh?

Anyway, on with the Best Of’s, which I know is what you’re all here for anyway…

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Best Movie of 2011:
Attack the Block

You probably didn’t see this movie this summer, because it was only released in a few select markets by Sony.  Why?  Because the characters, a group of thugs from a rent-controlled district of London, have thick English accents.  The thing is, you don’t need to understand every sliver of dialog to watch giant alien gorillas stalk a bunch of Brit kids who aren’t going down without a fight.  The film is very funny, has some really great characters, and spectacular action sequences.  What more do you need?  For more, check out my full review over at We Love Cult.

Honorable Mention:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Like everyone else, I wasn’t expecting much out of RotPotA, which is probably why I was so impressed by it in the end.  Who knew that watching a monkey version of Shawshank Redemption could be so awesome?  Also, if you watch it back-to-back with the original Planet of the Apes, it’s amazing how closely the story of Heston’s Taylor and Caesar parallel one another.  Really, the only thing they can do with the sequel at this point is match the brilliance of this one or fail miserably.  Should be interesting.

Best New CD of 2011:
21 by Adele

I know, I know – this is the obvious choice.  But, damn it, I really liked this CD; I can’t help it.  Adele is one of the best new voices in pop music today and she has the devil may care sass to sell it.  I’ve listened to this CD, as well as her previous effort, 19, so many times this year I’ve lost count.  It’s a solid album and I hope it’s just the tip of the iceberg for this young, British diva.

Honorable Mention:
I honestly can’t think of any other new CDs this year that really blew me away.  I bought a few more, but none really knocked my socks off.  Or at least nothing else has been in constant rotation for me.  So, maybe next year.

Best Movie I Saw in 2011 That Did Not Come Out in 2011:
Norwegian Ninja (2010)

This was really the year of television for me, so I didn’t watch all that many older movies.  However, I couldn’t help but seek this one out after I started writing for We Love Cult this summer.  This is pretty much the definition of a cult film – quirky, smart, funny, and somewhat surreal – it tells the story of Arne Treholt, a real-life Norwegian politician found guilty of treason.  He was not, however, actually the head of an elite team of ninja commandos that was setup by corrupted factions within the government, as the movie would (jokingly) have you believe.  I can’t recommend this one enough, but know that you might need to make a few trips to Wikipedia to completely understand its brilliance.  For my full review, head over to We Love Cult.

Honorable Mention:
Mystery Team (2009)

I grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown books, so when I heard that there was a comedy that borrowed heavily from the genre of the boy genius detective I had to check it out.  Donald Glover and his Derrick Comedy sketch troupe pals play with the tropes of the genre to creepy perfection, acting as maturity-stunted adults who are stuck in the fifth grade, still solving “mysteries” like who stuck their thumb in Mrs. Johnson’s apple pie.  But when a murder lands in their laps, they attack it with the same level of naïve aplomb to hilarious results.

Best CD of 2011 That Didn’t Come Out in 2011:
Illinoise by Sufjan Stephens

I don’t remember why I finally decided to check out Sufjan Stephens’ Illinoise, which was released back in 2005, but I’m glad I did.  Stephens’ voice is haunting and expressive, and the musical accompaniment is even more so.  With thought-provoking, yet catchy tunes like John Wayne Gacy, Jr. and Decatur, or Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!, I became instantly hooked.  It doesn’t hurt that the album is centered on the state I grew up in, so that many of the places and people he mentions have some built-in context for me.  Even without that, though, I can still understand why this has been on almost constant rotation for me this year.

Honorable Mention:
Geek Remixed Volumes I- III by Fatboy Roberts

I’ve already expressed by love for Adele’s 19, so I thought I’d throw in a sleeper hit from Fatboy Roberts, a writer/comedian/DJ out of Portland that has made three albums of pop culture-inspired music.  Borrowing heavily from film scores, TV theme songs, video game music, and sound clips, he uses everything from Night Court to Star Wars to the squeaks of sneakers on a basketball court to great effect.  His albums – all of which are available for free download by following the link above – have been the soundtrack to my writing for much of the past year.

Best TV Show That I Watched Live in 2011:
Game of Thrones

I didn’t know anything about A Song of Ice & Fire when I started watching HBO’s new series based on the books.  But none of that mattered, because I got hooked pretty quickly.  At first it was the fantasy aspect, but later it was the politics and the characters that brought me back for more.  And Peter Dinklage’s incredible performance.  I’m really anxious to start reading the books at some point, probably in 2012.

Honorable Mention:
A tie between Doctor Who and Parks & Recreation

After an impressive debut series for show-runner Stephen Moffat, I wasn’t sure if he could bring the excitement this year for series 6 of Doctor Who.  Thankfully, he did with room to spare.  Even the lesser episodes were a lot of fun and helped propel the overarching story of River Song to a satisfying conclusion.  I can’t wait to see what happens in the Ponds’ final series, but unfortunately it will have to wait until late-2012 when it finally airs.  Bummer.

I’m proud to say I’ve been watching Parks & Rec since the very first episode.  I was there through the rough first season, I felt pride when the show found its feet in season two, and now that it has become a bona fide great show, thanks in part to the Power of Swanson, I can rest assured that I’ve made the right decision.  The show really expanded its overall scope this year and gave some of its side characters room to breathe, preventing it from becoming The Leslie Knope Show that it so easily could have been.

Best TV Show That I Caught Up On in 2011:
This was the year of streaming TV shows for me.  Instead of watching movies, I got caught up on some of the more critically acclaimed series from the last few years.

Community

And now for a show that I watched when it first came out, but gave up on fairly quickly, and, in hindsight, wish I hadn’t.  When Community debuted, I was already sick of the “Starting a fake study group to get in the hot girl’s pants” storyline before the first episode was over.  Unfortunately I didn’t stick around long enough for it to get over those growing pains and become the meta pop culture show that it has become today.  Thankfully, though, we have a Hulu Plus subscription, so Andrea and I have been catching up on it with marathon sessions over the last few weeks when every season thus far became available.  Now I’m one of those people upset that it’s been put on hiatus and, most likely, will be canceled after the winter break.  I guess it will just have to join Arrested Development in the pantheon of Brilliant, but Canceled.

Honorable Mention:
A tie between Downton Abbey and Justified

As a 36-year old dude, I should not be so obsessed with Downton Abbey, a BBC series about early-20th Century aristocrats and their servants.  But this show’s characters, writing, and storylines are so engaging that I couldn’t help myself.  I can completely understand why it won so many Emmys and BAFTAs.

Last year around this time, it seemed almost every year-end list featured Justified, an FX series about an FBI agent that gets reassigned (AKA punished) to his hometown district in the backwoods of Kentucky.  The dynamics of the townsfolk’s relationships make for tense drama, with just a touch of bad ass-dom thrown in from Timothy Olyphant to make it exciting.  I’m really glad I got on board with this one.

Best Guilty Pleasure Entertainment of 2011:
Storage Wars

I know it’s staged.  I don’t care about any of the characters except Barry.  Actually, I have to admit I love watching Dave buy a locker filled with vending machines that everyone else thinks is a bust and turning around and making $70,000 on it.  He’s the only one who really knows what the hell he’s doing on that show and he’s supposed to be the bad guy.  Nice guys finish last, am I right?

Honorable Mention:
Glee

This show is a shell of its admittedly not all that deep former self.  It has become so utterly incoherent now, that every week is a surprise, because you never know what storyline is going to be suddenly brought up again after it was seemingly abandoned last season.  The songs are becoming less entertaining, and the characters so shuffled, changed, and marginalized that nothing makes sense anymore.  I watch now mainly for the train wreck aspect of the spectacle, rather than to gain any sense of actual enjoyment from the proceedings.  This show is going to go down as one of the biggest missed opportunities in television history.

Best Podcast of 2011:
Nerdist

Thanks to constant badgering from Andrea, I finally started listening to Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast this year.  And I’m glad I did.  Chris and his buddies, Matt and Jonah, are consistently funny, always have interesting guests, and have been known to offer solid advice on succeeding in your chosen geeky endeavor.  Every week is entertaining and, more often than not, inspiring.

Honorable Mention:
Tie between /Filmcast and Superego

I’ve been a fan of the /Filmcast for a few years now, to the point I donate $2 every month to the show without regret.  I couldn’t tell you how many new TV shows and movies I’ve watched thanks to a recommendation from Devindra Hardawar, Adam Quigley, or David Chen.  It’s a solid show with a solid group of guys who know their cinematic stuff.

Superego is hard to explain, which is part of what makes it so great.  It’s a monthly podcast featuring some of the best underground comedians taking on the roles of hilarious characters in adlibbed sketches.  It’s fast-paced, usually pretty offensive, and would probably get me fired if I didn’t have headphones on at work.

Best Book I Read in 2011:
The Hunger Games

Laugh all you want, but this series of books was pretty enjoyable.  This, the first one and my favorite, was a really solid bit of genre writing that borrowed from previously written stories, but put it all together into a really fun package.  The second book is a little weak, but things pick up again in the third one to help the series end with a bang.  I’m definitely excited for the first movie that will be out in just a few months.  I’ll be one of those teenage fangirls waiting in line on opening night, with my wife, an even bigger fan, standing right next to me.

Honorable Mention:
The Magicians

I kept running into The Magicians this year.  A bunch of websites I visit reviewed its sequel, The Magician King, to rave reviews.  They inevitably discussed The Magicians in their reviews, usually giving it a simple synopsis like “Harry Potter: The College Years”.  So I finally broke down and read it and I really loved this post-modern take on the fantasy novel.  A world where kids know about pop culture, where the realm of magic pokes through to our world in the form of a few spells from the Dungeons & Dragons Rulebook, and where college students go through the same growing pains we all do, only they can shoot fireballs and turn themselves in geese.  I’m just about finished with the sequel and am really looking forward to the third book in the series, which will hopefully come out someday soon.

Best Website of 2011:
mental_floss, Geeks Are Sexy, We Love Cult, Top Hat Sasquatch, and Mashable

I know it’s kind of a cheat to say that all the websites I wrote for were the best of 2011, but it’s true.  They’re all very unique, covering different aspects of the world we live in.  It’s been a real pleasure to write for them all and I’m very thankful for the opportunities they’ve given me.

Honorable Mention:
Dropbox

This website made my thumbdrive obsolete.  And I couldn’t be happier about it.  The ability to sync my writing assignments to more than one computer, download files to my phone or at the office, is such a time-saver, that I really can’t describe to you how much this website has changed my entire workflow.  I can now write anytime, anywhere, on any device we own – my phone, my wife’s laptop, my netbook, my work PC, and any other computer I need.  I love it.

Best New Obsession of 2011:
Podcasting

This year, an online friend of mine, Tommy Day, asked me to be part of a podcast he wanted to start called, Bubble Pipe Theater, in connection with his website, Top Hat Sasquatch, which I occasionally write for.  I jumped at the chance and it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.  I won’t say that I’m a brilliant commentator or anything, but it’s been fun to get into the world of audio recording.  I even produced my own DVD review for a couple of movies back around Halloween.  I’m really hoping to be able to make more time in 2012 for a regular series of audio reviews, as it’s something I really, really enjoy doing.  This is definitely an area I want to get into more next year.

Honorable Mention:
My Artwork

A while back I introduced you to this weird art hobby I have.  At some point in 2011 I decided to work on a similar drawing that I started and put down back in 2010.  It’s mainly been a really good excuse to force myself to sit and watch TV instead of writing, reading, or surfing from the time I wake up and the time I go to bed, though I don’t always succeed.  I’ve made some serious progress on this drawing, but I’m not finished just yet, so it’s not quite ready to show.  I’m hoping by March or so I’ll be done, and then I can start on the next one, which I already have planned.

Best Freelance Article of 2011:
Pinterest: A Beginner’s Guide to the Hot New Social Network

I can’t say if this is actually my best-written story of the year, but I can definitely say that it was my best-received story of the year.  My second feature for Mashable was a pretty big hit, thanks in part to the topic – a new, very popular website called Pinterest that has been rapidly gaining traction online.  In about five days time (it was just published on 12/26), the article received over 4,000 tweets, nearly 1,500 Likes on Facebook, almost 1,600 shares on LinkedIN, 230 bookmarks on StumbleUpon, and even 220 +1’s on Google+.  Now factor in all the people that read it but didn’t tweet, Like, share, bookmark, or +1 the article, and that’s a whole lot of eyeballs looking at something with my byline on it.  I’m pretty happy with that.

Honorable Mention:
A tie between 10 Peanuts Characters You’ve Probably Forgotten and Muppet Babies: An Adorable, Deplorable Legacy

10 Peanuts Characters was probably my biggest hit on mental_floss this year.  It was the perfect combination of obscure facts and pop culture that the readers seem to love nowadays.  I was really happy with it myself, too.

The Muppet Babies piece was just a lot of fun to work on.  Researching the vast number of “kid” spin-offs or reboots of popular franchises after the success of Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, was a blast.  It seemed like every time I’d find one property that I couldn’t believe had been “kid-ified”, some other tidbit would come up that was even more egregious.

Proudest Moment of 2011:
Seeing my name in a mental_floss book

Earlier this year I had the most surreal feeling of going into a Barnes & Noble, opening the latest book from mental_floss, and seeing my name as a contributor.  I had five stories chosen from the website to be included in the Best of 10th Anniversary publication and I couldn’t have been happier about it.  I think the only thing that will ever top that feeling is when my daughter is old enough to appreciate the fact that her dad’s name is in a book that’s sitting on our shelf.

Honorable Mention:
Watching Harper Paint for the First Time

Andrea was working on a project earlier this year and it required her to break out her paint and brushes.  Harper got really interested in what she was doing and begged to be able to try.  Immediately upon sitting down at the table with a blank piece of paper in front of her, she dipped the brush in and began to spread color across the page.  We didn’t have to show her how to hold the brush, to dip into the paint just a little, how to wash the brush or anything; it was like a natural instinct for her.  She has continued to paint on paper, but she also paints ceramic figures and wooden animals that we get from Michael’s, often in a wild array of colors.  I’m not claiming she’s the next Monet or anything, but she picked up on it so quickly and gets so much joy out of it, that I can’t help but be excited to see her anytime she picks up a brush.  I hope it’s a love that stays with her forever.

Project I Have the Most Hope for in 2012:

Podcasting

I really want this to be a focus for me in 2012.  I want to get more comfortable writing, recording, editing, and releasing audio content.  Whether it be movie reviews, editorials, mental_floss-type articles, or continuing to podcast with the guys from Bubble Pipe Theater, I want to gain more experience in this field.  I think it’s something I could be good at if I keep working on it, and it can lead to so many great opportunities.

Honorable Mention:

The National Film Registry Project

It might take me longer than one year, but I hope to really dig my heels in and kick ass on my latest writing/movie blog concept, The National Film Registry Project.  THe idea is to watch and write about all 575 (and counting) films that have been deemed significant by the National Film Preservation Board as national treasures.  Click here for more information and click here to follow my progress as soon as I get started after the first of the year.

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I think that about wraps up 2011, folks.  It’s been a real up-and-down year for us, but I hope that the lessons we’re taking into 2012 will lead to an enlightening and enriching year ahead.  And here’s hoping the same for you.

Happy New Year!

Why Google+ is Better Than Facebook, Twitter, and Everything Else

NOTE: This review was written when G+ first came out, so much of the information is either outdated or, quite frankly, incorrect.  I wrote this while I was still learning the ins and outs of G+, so much of how I thought things worked is not, in fact, how things work.  I’m leaving it here as an interesting footnote on the topic of social media, but I would not view this as an accurate depiction of G+ vs Facebook vs Twitter.

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The first round of Google+ invites went out a few weeks ago. I was lucky enough to get in fairly early on, so I’ve been able to spend some quality time with this new social media offering from Google. So far, my experience has been pretty great and I only see good things coming down the pipeline if Google can continue to stabilize the site and work out just a few kinks in the system.

Anyway, you’re here for a comparison of the big social media sites and why I think Google+ (herein referred to as “G+”) could be the best of the bunch now and for the foreseeable future if they play their cards right. I’m going to break these down by each site’s pros and cons, to make it easy to see why G+ is the best of all three (and more) social worlds.  By the way, this will not be a teaching tool as to what G+, Twitter, and Facebook are; it’s assumed that you’re fairly knowledgeable about these social media services.  That being said, if you have any questions or need an explanation, leave a comment and I’ll try my best to help.

Why Google+ is Better Than Facebook, Twitter, and Everything Else

Twitter
Pros:

  • You can follow anyone – celebrities, politicians, newsmakers, and experts in the fields you care about. This also gives you unbarred access to them to add your voice to the conversation, but to also interact with them one-on-one. For example, I’ve had conversations with director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs the World); , actress and social media powerhouse, Alyssa Milano; cult favorite funnyman and knower-of-all-things, John Hodgman; and numerous people who write for websites that I really respect, who could be considered “internet famous”.
  • Share links via your own posts or “retweet” (RT) someone else.

Cons:

  • The 140 character limit can make it difficult to get the point across.  The shortened language needed to effectively communicate is not always easy for everyone to write or understand.  Unless you’re a pretty decent writer, you might have a hard time shortening what you want to say to less than 140 characters.  Furthermore, even with URL-shortening services, the 140 character limit is a pain to work around.
  • The 140 character limit is an antiquated limit put on the website from its infancy, back when people were only using the website or receiving text message updates from the 10 Followers they had.  Now that most people Follow hundreds of other Twitter users, very few people get text message updates anymore, but the site still insists on using the 140 character limit.  Most people (54% according to Twitter) use an app on their smart phone,  third-party apps on their computer (like the recently-purchased-by-Twitter TweetDeck), or the website itself to access Twitter, so there’s no good reason to keep the 140 character limit, yet they have.
  • There’s no good way to organize the hundreds of people you Follow through Twitter.  Yes, there are Lists, but Twitter has never really done anything with them, so people don’t really use them other than for about the first week they were announced a few years ago.  Lists are definitely not touted as a “feature” of the service by any means.
  • I often check Twitter when I can’t necessarily view everything that’s linked to.  For example, I usually read Twitter while eating lunch at work, but videos are disabled there.  Or I’ll check it on my phone while standing in line at Walmart and I don’t necessarily have time or want to read an article on my phone.  So I use Favorites to set a bookmark that I can return to the tweet later and watch the video or read the article when it’s best for me to do so. Twitter has never really done anything with Favorites (it took Fav.Star for some people to even know they existed), so most third-party apps don’t even show you the tweets you’ve favorited. This means you have to go twitter.com to actually see your Favorites.
  • Retweeting is great, but when there are a handful of different ways to do it, it can be confusing to newbies.  “RT @username”, “via @username”, or the copyright lawsuit-saving Twitter retweet format that doesn’t do any of these, but instead makes a person you don’t follow suddenly show up in your Twitter feed, are just some of the ways RTs are handled, which can be confusing even for a Twitter pro.
  •  Every tweet goes out into the ether to be read and seen by anyone. Your friends, your family, your co-workers, total strangers you didn’t know were following you, and anyone who happens to find your Twitter account. The only option you have is to lock down your account by going Private, which takes you out of the conversation quite a bit and makes using Twitter almost pointless. Privacy is very all-or-nothing on Twitter. If you don’t feel like you can share whatever you’d like because it’s not private, you won’t share anything at all, and you’ll stop using the service. But if you feel like you’re just screaming into the void by having your account locked down, you’ll stop using it, too.  Again, all-or-nothing.

Facebook 

Pros:

  • Everybody’s already on it.

Cons:

  • Everybody’s already on it – including your mom, your dad, your grandma, your grandpa, your Great Aunt Betty, your cousin three times removed, that old high school friend you haven’t spoken to since graduation, co-workers, your boss, ex-co-workers, people you met at a party, and plenty of people you just don’t care to interact with. I’d love to see statistics on what percentage of Friends people actually interact with and how many are hidden.
  • There’s no privacy. If you post about a new movie you just saw, everybody is going to see how you feel about it, which is fine. If you post what you had for lunch today, everybody is going to see it, which is fine, but stupid. If you want to tell your friends/family about the new job you were just offered, everybody is going to see it, including your current boss, current co-workers, and your cousin three times removed. If you post some crazy pictures of the “Clothes Optional” party you went to last weekend, everybody – bosses, co-workers, grandma, mom, and your cousin three times removed – will see them.  Just Google “Fired because of Facebook” and you’ll see why this can be a problem, even if you think you’re pretty social media savvy.
  • Not everybody wants to read your thoughts on what you feel passionate about (particularly religion and/or politics), but they would like to know when your infant son starts walking, how enchanting your daughter looked in her prom dress this year, and what tropical hideaway you and your wife visited for your 10 year anniversary. Overload them with your opinions on stuff they don’t care about (Your love or hate for Obama/Conservatives/Liberals/God/Jesus/Allah/Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/Oprah/Tom Cruise/gays in the military/the music of ABBA/the current cuteness rating of your six-week old kitten/etc.) and they’ll block out all the stuff they do care about, which negates the whole reason of having a social network to begin with.
  • You can Like a post, but good luck finding it again if you want to come back to it later, making it pretty useless as a bookmarking tool.
  • The status updates from your favorite brands, websites, celebrities, family and friends are all in one stream of data. You could easily miss something that’s important – a baby being born, a death in the family, your cousin three times removed coming out of the closet – because your stream of information was clogged up with a brand new promotion to buy Charmin Toilet Paper, which you only Liked six months ago because they were giving away a free roll to the first 1,000 people on their Fan page (you were unknowingly #500,726). There’s no way to separate the crap from the stuff that’s actually important in life; it all just gets vomited on the page and you’re supposed to pick through it to find the chunks (Wow, that was a pretty disgusting, but surprisingly apt metaphor).
  • The website is not very user friendly. It’s difficult to adjust your privacy settings (especially when they keep changing them every other week), uploading pictures is a pain in the butt, and don’t even get me started on using Facebook Pages tied to your personal page.

Google+ 

Let’s start with the Cons in this case, because there are so few.

Cons:

  • It’s only two weeks old.
  • Branded accounts (companies, websites, etc.) are not officially on G+ yet.

Pros:

  • No character limit to posts.  Say goodbye to now-arbitrary 140 character limits.  Say as much as you need to get the point across or fill in the details.  Why say, “I really h8 when peeps be up in my grill jus cuz I <3 M&M Blizzards @dairyqueen instd of Bttrfngr” on Twitter?  When you could say, “When it comes to +Dairy Queen’s frozen, Blizzard treats, I much prefer the +M&M variation over the +Butterfinger.  I catch a lot of flack for carrying that opinion, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to change it.” on Google+? Brevity is the soul of wit, but text-speak is the soul of idiocy.
  • You can follow anybody, just like on Twitter. If they have something they want the world to know, they’ll post it to the Public Stream and you can reply. Also just like Twitter, you do not have to follow everyone that follows you, nor do they have to follow you back, unlike Facebook.  And if you’d rather they just not interact with you, Block them.  They can still read what you say Publicly, but they won’t be able to reply, +1, Comment, or Share it.  I have a feeling Google will eventually make these settings even more customizable, but that’s what we have for now.
  • Security settings are simple – post to Public, post to Circles (all your Circles at once), post to certain Circles only, post to certain people only. You decide who sees what – it’s not the entire world like Twitter and it’s not your boss or your cousin three times removed like Facebook.
  • Putting people/brands into subject-oriented Circles makes it easy for you to geek out on those topics and share information that only those people will have an interest in. I like movies, so I have a bunch of movie bloggers in a Circle I’ve called, appropriately enough, “Movies”.  Once business accounts are added to G+, I’ll have movie sites like /Film, Redbox, CHUD, and more in this Circle, too.  So whenever I want to read what’s going on in the world of cinema, I can just click on the Movies Circle in my Stream and not only read individual bloggers’ opinions (like on Twitter), but also essentially get an RSS feed from my favorite movie sites, replacing my need for Facebook, Twitter, and GoogleReader, all in one fell swoop.  And I can post stuff that only movie buffs are going to care about to the people I have in those Circles since I know that’s something they’re interested in, too.  That way my wonderful wife won’t have to start reading and then just ignore my geek out over whether or not Spike Lee should direct the Hollywood remake of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy.  Google+ is all about making your posts focused and relevant.
  • It makes collaborating with others so easy.  If you’re part of a special project at work, put your teammates in the “Project X” Circle and then you can communicate through posts to only that Circle (and the rest of the world won’t see about your super-secret Project X, either). No more back-and-forth emails that will only get confusing as the conversation goes on. Plus you have a timeline of ideas ready at your fingertips, because you can narrow down all of your posts to only those that were shared with that Circle. Start a Hangout, invite only those people, and you can video chat with each other across multiple offices or if colleagues are on the road.  Why have a separate Skype account and software that you never use when you can just use your existing Google account?
  • Separating the people in your social circle ensures you’ll never miss something that’s actually important. Only want to see what your Friends have been up to? Click the Friends button on the Stream and you won’t miss the post from Susan saying that she got a promotion at work. On Facebook, Susan’s good news could have been buried under posts from BoingBoing, CNN, Charmin, Bob’s Pizzeria, and those damn Farmville requests.
  • Sharing is the same across the board.  No more conflicting, confusing Retweet (RT) formats to confound everyone.  You don’t have to have a PhD in Twitternomics to understand what the hell is going on.
  • Adding pictures/videos is incredibly easy. You literally select them in Windows (and Macs too, I assume) and drag them to the Upload Images screen in G+. You can rename the album right there or add them to an existing album. If you have the G+ mobile app (right now it’s only for Android), any picture you take on your phone will be uploaded to a special, private album on Google+. Once you get home, you can sit down at your computer and share the images you like without having to use your phone to post them individually or worry about sending them to an email address so you can download them and then share them. Don’t want to Share an image from your phone? Just delete it from your special Google+ album and you’ll never see it again. This is so easy, it could make Tumblr obsolete too, especially once they come up with a Chrome extension that will allow you to easily Share content online and schedule your posts for the future.
  • It can replace your LinkedIn profile. Find old co-workers and business contacts and add them to a Circle. Share updates to your resume, your latest projects/publications, etc. with that Circle, just like you do on LinkedIn. Make your resume a Public GoogleDoc and link to it directly from your G+ Profile. Best of all, by commenting on someone’s post that’s in that Circle, you might actually make a business connection, unlike on LinkedIn, which requires Invites and unnecessary formalities.
  • Once they have it working (the infrastructure is in place and it works for websites, but not for G+ posts yet), +1’s will be a great way to bookmark things on the web.  While in front of your computer, +1 a post on Mashable.com so you can come back to it later when you have more time.  Then, while standing in line at the DMV, you can +1 a different post on Mashable’s Google+ page and read it later too, all from one convenient screen.  Once this feature has been properly added to G+, you’ll be able to put all of your “Come back to it later” bookmarks in one place, rather than have to go check Twitter Favorites, Tumblr Likes, GoogleReader Stars, and Evernote/Delicious/Diigo bookmarks to see everything (I’d include Facebook, but there’s no good way to go to the pages you’ve Liked recently, so it’s not even worth it).

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of Google+ and I see a lot of potential in the service.  Is it perfect?  Definitely not.  Will it ever bring down Facebook?  I doubt it; at least not anytime soon.  Mainly because of people like my dad who will happily post about the weather or that he’s disappointed the Cubs lost yesterday without worrying or caring who’s reading it.  He doesn’t really surf the web much.  He doesn’t use RSS feeds.  He doesn’t need to collaborate with anyone for any super secret Project X, nor is he looking to make a career change at his age.  For what he needs, Facebook is fine.

But for teenagers and 20-somethings, for whom social media is pretty much a way of life, I could see this being very useful once it has matured a little.  Even for “old” social media power users like myself (I have about four or five Pages linked to my personal Facebook account, have been on Twitter since 2007, on Tumblr since 2009, FourSquare since 2010, and just recently started a Pinterest board), Google+ should be a service worth considering.  It does everything the other social media services do, all in one place, and better in a lot of ways – and it’s only two weeks old.  It may never get to 750 quadrillion users like Facebook, but for those people who need this type of social media segregation and integration, it could be an invaluable tool.  Again, it’s not perfect, but, it’s only a newborn in social media age (and even in human age for that matter), so give it time to grow and learn from its mistakes; it’ll get there.

Finally, I hear a lot of people already giving up on G+ simply because “there’s nobody here”.  The only reason that’s a disappointment for those people is because it’s a big name like Google.  If it was some other little social media site – like Pinterest, which I’ll bet many of you have never even heard of – they wouldn’t have the same complaint.  They see Google and they assume everybody they know is going to have an account.  Google is rolling this out slowly so that they’ll get it right.  Give it six months or a year and those same people complaining “no one’s here” will come back and say, “Oh, wow, this is so much better than Facebook”, even though nothing has changed in the core services or functionality of the site, it’s just that all of their friends are here now, so they’re willing to take the time to explore the wonders that are Google+.

Anyway, that’s my two cents.  Tell me yours.  I’m sure you’ll all have an opinion on how wrong I am because, after all, this is the internet.  But if you like what you see, add me to G+ (http://gplus.to/RobLammle) and we can share in our G+ lovin’.

(Oh, and even though I’d love for anyone and everyone to switch to G+, I don’t have time to invite all of you, so please don’t ask unless I already know you via Twitter, Facebook, or IRL. Thanks.)

Little People, Big Hit

I’ve had another good week at mentalfloss.com with my latest story, “Little People, Big Fun: A Brief History of Fisher-Price Little People”. As of the time of this post, I’m sitting at 72 comments on the story, which is still a little bit behind the 84 I had for my Controversial Candies post, but I’m still not complaining. By the way, Candies did wind up being the #1 story that week it ran, so I’m pretty happy to have reached that level again.

I’m actually working on new story right now that was a request of mental_floss from a pretty big website. I don’t want to say anything more right now, just in case things fall through, but it would be a nice addition to the ol’ resume.

And with that, I’m going to go write another entry in my 100 Novels Project, which I’ve been neglecting since July or August, but am finally making the time to come back to. Check it out when you have a sec.

Two Months!?

Yes, it’s been two months since my last update. I’m sorry to both of you who read this website, but my life has simply been too crazy for words – written or otherwise.

We are currently going on week three of living in a hotel room while the contractors rebuild our condo. It could be a lot worse – we’re in a two-bedroom suite with a fridge, stove, dishwasher, three TVs, two bathrooms, three beds (and a pull-out couch if we really needed it) – so we have plenty of room to spread out. But it’s still not our home. We’re looking forward to getting back into our place as soon as we can, though we just got word this week that we’re looking at another two weeks before that can happen. The transition has not always been fun, but I feel like we’ve fallen into some good routines and a comfortable mental place that has made the transition a little easier. But, again, it’s still not our home.

Of course through all this, I’m still writing for mentalfloss.com. I wrote some of our Watercooler Ammo emails, so I can’t show you those, but I’ve been writing my regular entries, too, so I’ll post those real quick (these are in chronological order, oldest to newest):

Roll Over Beethoven: 6 Modern Deaf Musicians – This one was fun and got a few good comments and links. Can’t ask for much more.

Large-Scale Legos: BrickExpo 2010 – This was a quickie post I did that was a pretty decent-sized hit. I love how the ones that take me an hour to write end up getting more hits than the ones I spend a week researching and writing…

Phony Philatelists: Four Stories of Stamp Forgers – I really liked this one, but I think I was the only one. This was the start of a slump for me, unfortunately. I was writing what I thought were some really interesting topics, but the readers just didn’t agree. I think they might have been better fits for the magazine, perhaps.

Under the Sea: 5 Underwater Human Habitats

10 Postmasters General Who Weren’t Boring – This was part of mentalfloss.com’s 10/10/10 celebration, where the whole day was filled with 10 Lists. I’d actually written this article about a year before when I was pitching for a similarly-themed issue of the magazine, and, due to all the crap we had going on with the condo, I had no choice but to just turn this in instead of coming up with something new. I always liked this one, but it was a bomb. In fact, pretty much the only comments I got were people telling me I missed something or I was wrong about something. Thanks, folks…


Nectar of the Gods: Alcoholic Mythology
– This was the start of my recovery from the depths. It wasn’t a huge hit, but it got some really great comments from readers.

Sex! Drugs! Racism! 8 Controversial Candies – This one was inspired by my lovely wife. Her initial thought was banned candies, but I had to adapt it to controversial ones because there aren’t all that many candies that have actually been banned. This was my return to good standing. I think 82 comments (currently) might be a new record for me. I think I was most proud of the comment from one of the inventors of my childhood (and adulthood) favorite, Big League Chew, a product featured in the article. That was pretty cool.

So, yeah – writing, living in a hotel, and just generally getting by. That’s the story of our family right now, which is about as exciting as it reads on the screen. I wish I had more to tell, but, well, now you know why I haven’t written in two months. That being said, I’m working on another long-form blog entry, which I’m going to try to get to soon. Or maybe it’ll be 2011 by the time I write again. You can never tell around here, ya know?