Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Since I was in college (maybe before), I found the concept of pillows strange. So, I started sleeping without one. I’ve always primarily been a “stomach sleeper” (which is a benefit if I ever do contract Covid, I guess). My normal sleeping posture involves my head resting on my left arm face down with my right arm curled up so that my right hand is curled just below my chin.

I’m not sure why I have such an aversion to pillows. I’m not alone, evidently. King Henry VIII banned the use of soft pillows for anyone except pregnant women.

Maybe it’s that independent streak I have and my assurance that I shouldn’t have to rely on things like external pillows for comfort and sleeping posture if I can do it all on my own. Which seems to be a good metaphor for this time in our lives where we are all forced to reconsider what is important and what we rely on to make it through our days and nights. Whether that’s the camaraderie of a busy office space with our co-workers, or meals with friends, or opening night of a major movie in a crowded theater… our brains are undergoing cognitive loads that many of us aren’t realizing but definitely feeling the effects in our day-to-day walk through life.

But in times of change and disruption, the creative spark is made more available as our brains try to make sense of a new reality. Perhaps that what’s the pillow was supposed to prepare us for over the last 10,000 years or so that we’ve actively been using them as human beings. Learning to find comfort in the dark and mysterious time of night with all of its dragons and witches and spells while we give our brains time to defrag from a long day of processing being human.

Most of us aren’t spending our days gathering barley, millet, and emmer or stalking a herd of antelope hoping for a successful hunt to feed our families and appease our gods… but 2020 is weird. Give your brain time to rest and process at night whether you use a pillow or not. Dream up new avenues for your own creativity whether you’re looking for a business angle, a sermon message, or just a new hobby to replace Netflix binging.

What I’m Thinking About Today

At Tuesday’s hearing, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, said the company would no longer make policy exceptions for Mr. Trump after he leaves office in January. During Mr. Trump’s time as a world leader, Twitter allowed him to post content that violated its rules, though it began adding labels to some of the tweets starting in May to indicate that the posts were disputed or glorified violence.

“If an account suddenly is not a world leader anymore, that particular policy goes away,” Mr. Dorsey said.

Well this out to be interesting…

This thing works like an iPad. That’s the best way I can describe it succinctly. One illustration I have been using to describe what this will feel like to a user of current MacBooks is that of chronic pain. If you’ve ever dealt with ongoing pain from a condition or injury, and then had it be alleviated by medication, therapy or surgery, you know how the sudden relief feels. You’ve been carrying the load so long you didn’t know how heavy it was. That’s what moving to this M1 MacBook feels like after using other Macs.

Instagram users’ ability to search is getting an upgrade. Today, the company announced that English-speaking users in six countries, including the UK, US, Ireland, and Canada, will be able to search the platform using keywords. Before today, they could only search for hashtags or accounts. So, for example, if you previously wanted to find “healthy recipes,” you’d only be able to search for posts that tagged #healthyrecipes or accounts with variations on “healthy recipes” in their name or bio. Now, however, Instagram will let people search the keywords themselves, meaning posts that feature healthy recipes should surface, even if the specific tag is missing.

This is super helpful for content creators in specific niches and should help elevate quality posts that otherwise get buried in heavily trafficked hashtags.

Well that’s interesting.

To be updated throughout the day

Monday November 16, 2020

This is something else…

Monday’s are always slightly (if not totally) chaotic here at home. Like many Americans, we’re homeschooling our children while working from home. After 8 months or so of this, we’ve gotten into a pretty good rhythm and everyone basically understands our schedules and roles. There are days when emergency client projects or calls or ZOOM meetings pop up alongside the occasional last-minute work emergency that throws off the routine, but for the most part we’re making our way through Covid-Times.

What’s fascinating for me are the institutions, businesses, and organizations that don’t express an understanding of the incredible amount of cognitive load that most of their employees or workers or volunteers are under. I’ve seen it with large businesses that I consult with, but especially churches.

There are a number of variables, but I’ve heard horror stories from many employees and pastors of churches (caveat that my partner Merianna is a pastor and the church where she serves has been incredible through all of this) whose congregants or boards or deacons are acting out of an “individualist” rather than “cooperative” model of messaging to staff and the church community.

We all want to go back to “normal” but that’s just not going to happen anytime soon. That’s especially true with Thanksgiving and the Holidays ahead of us. Vaccines are months, if not years, out and in the absence of leadership we’re going to have to rely on ourselves to make it through this Winter, the Spring, and probably the Summer of ’21.

In the meantime, think about your messaging if you’re a church or nonprofit. Think about intentional communication, and realize that there are public health professionals who are experts on this topic. We should listen to them (and not just our Facebook news feed and social media). Use messaging and marketing as an advantage. It’s the only advantage that many churches have these days. But it’s possible to survive and thrive in a pandemic as many healthy congregations are learning. Don’t wait for “normal” to return before your church faces reality. And be kind to your pastors and staffs.

What I’m Thinking About Today

You Still Need to Have the Conversation – Culture Study

“Maybe you can promise a big gathering next year, or hours this year on the day-of playing Among Us or just watching a movie together. You can use the health of your own children or your cousin or your grandparents as a cudgel. Just remember that the most affective appeal to an individualist is always going to be from the people they care about in their immediate sphere. A state-wide lockdown might not change their behavior. An emailed article certainly won’t. But you might.”

Very important post that you should read before Thanksgiving. Don’t enable or assume. Confront people with facts and care.

Squarespace’s New Feature Could Help Businesses Survive the Pandemic – Fast Company

The company is introducing what it calls Member Areas—special sections of customer websites that are restricted to people who’ve signed up for a membership, which can mean paying a regular subscription charge, coming up with a onetime fee, or simply creating a login. The goal is to give Squarespace customers a new way to offer content to their own customers and fans, whether that’s fitness instructors providing paid online classes during the coronavirus pandemic, writers offering regular newsletters to people who provide their email addresses, or chefs sharing virtual cookbooks with onetime purchasers.

Interesting move from Squarespace… we use the platform for a few client sites still (mostly small business and churches). I’m technically a certified Squarespace Developer, but I’m not a huge fan of designing or developing there. Many of our clients who insist on starting with Squarespace “because it’s cheaper” eventually make the jump to WordPress and our hosting packages (don’t get me started on Wix). All that said, I welcome these sorts of new opportunities for businesses and individuals to utilize their own sites for these sorts of features rather than having to use a 3rd party service like Patreon etc.

You can now embed Apple Podcasts on the web – TechCrunch

Apple is making it easier to discover and listen to podcasts via the web. The company announced today an Apple Podcasts embed web player is now available, allowing anyone — including creators, listeners or marketers — to generate embed codes for the over 1.5 million shows available across the Apple Podcasts service.

Good on Apple. You can now embed Thinking.FM on your own site!

New Zoom feature can alert room owners of possible Zoombombing disruptions – ZDNet

The new “At-Risk Meeting Notifier” Zoom feature scans the internet and alerts conference organizers when a link to their Zoom meeting has been posted online.

That’s helpful… should have been developed and deployed a few months back, Zoom.

Open source: Better solutions and a more inclusive society – Yoast Blog

Volvo designed the first three point belt design in the sixties. It is patented, but open for everyone to use. Also, Volvo allows open source access to its crash-research data.

Big believer in open source technology (and knowledge rights) here. Super interesting post.

Vikings unwittingly made their swords stronger by trying to imbue them with spirits – Big Think

To strengthen their swords, smiths used the bones of their dead ancestors and animals, hoping to transfer the spirit into their blades.

There’s a little bit of magic in all science.

To be updated throughout the day…

Friday, November 13, 2020

It’s been a week but still relevant:

Here in South Carolina, I’m seeing a mix of responses to the spiking Covid rates. Some of our friends (especially parents of young children) are full of despair and “over it” to put it lightly. I also have clients in-town who seemed confused when I say “No, I can’t come to your office for that meeting. We’re still hunkering down and trying to avoid indoor spaces when possible.” But, there’s a general feeling that we know the worst is yet to come and people are taking masks seriously (distancing not so much) in public spaces and in grocery stores etc. Let’s keep it up. We won’t see a vaccine for months (if that), so it’s on us to not have “pandemic fatigue.”

Business wise, there are many small businesses, nonprofits, and churches (big and small) that I know are hurting. I find it astonishing we don’t have something like a second federal stimulus package. To leave it up to cities and states seems like a complete hand-washing from our federal representatives. We need another stimulus package. I’ve done more pro-bono work for church and nonprofit clients in the last couple of months than I should have, but it’s heartbreaking to hear the constant stories of pure budget fallouts (along with volunteer hours etc).

Be kind to each other out there.

Today’s big puzzle has been trying to figure out how to display post time (not just date) on a WordPress post… there has to be a PHP function for that and I’m completely blanking on it. I’ll blame it on being Friday. But I’ll figure it out.

What I’m Thinking About Today:

Maybe it’s the pandemic and my Aunt passing away last week, but death and dying has been on my mind a good deal recently. I had an email yesterday about my life insurance policy, so that didn’t help change my brain. We have so much work to do with rethinking and reconditioning how we think about the process of death in our country. Particularly from the balance between spiritual development and scientific/medical understandings, there seems to be a real need for people to find balance. I highly recommend reading the Emanuel piece above. Good stuff.

Big Sur hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts. I always caution friends and clients these days to wait a little while before installing the new iOS or iPadOS or macOS update because Apple has proven time and again that launch day is a precarious time if you’re running updates. It’s a fantastic operating system, though. Once things get ironed out, make sure you update if you have a modern Mac (you know, if you don’t mind your computer phoning home and compromising your security and all).

It turns out that in the current version of the macOS, the OS sends to Apple a hash (unique identifier) of each and every program you run, when you run it. Lots of people didn’t realize this, because it’s silent and invisible and it fails instantly and gracefully when you’re offline, but today the server got really slow and it didn’t hit the fail-fast code path, and everyone’s apps failed to open if they were connected to the internet.

Oof. Must read for the “APPLE IS MORE SECURE THAN OTHER OPERATING SYSTEMS!” crowd and the rest of us.

Radiant now sells a stripped-down Samsung smartwatch as a social distance monitoring tool. When an employee wears the watch, it constantly searches for other similar devices worn by other employees, and estimates their distance based on how strong that signal is. If a strong signal is detected for more than 15 minutes, the interaction is recorded and uploaded to the cloud for the company to reference later if a worker tests positive. In addition, an employer can opt to use the device to monitor the specific location of individual employees.

I don’t ever want to work in an office building “for” a company again. I fear this sort of thing will become much more mainstream during and (eventually) after Covid.

The year 2020 has been kind to Turchin, for many of the same reasons it has been hell for the rest of us. Cities on fire, elected leaders endorsing violence, homicides surging—­­to a normal American, these are apocalyptic signs. To Turchin, they indicate that his models, which incorporate thousands of years of data about human history, are working. (“Not all of human history,” he corrected me once. “Just the last 10,000 years.”) He has been warning for a decade that a few key social and political trends portend an “age of discord,” civil unrest and carnage worse than most Americans have experienced. In 2010, he predicted that the unrest would get serious around 2020, and that it wouldn’t let up until those social and political trends reversed. Havoc at the level of the late 1960s and early ’70s is the best-case scenario; all-out civil war is the worst.

Turchin is certainly a polarizing figure. I admit that I’m a passive fan of megahistories (being a mostly-white male and all), but I do think there’s something to the idea of applying mathematics to history and liberal arts. Maybe I’ve read too much Asimov.

I can’t stress this enough and tell my clients this all the time… make sure you have your Google My Business listing set up and connected to a GMail or Google Suite/Workplace account that you trust and will keep for a while. Don’t just assume that you don’t have to do this. Google is placing a high amount of energy, time, and resources to developing and promoting My Business, and if you run or are a part of a business, group, church, organization etc… make sure to claim and keep up with yours.

In this Best of Whiteboard Friday edition, Tom Capper explains how the sessions metric in Google Analytics works, several ways that it can have unexpected results, and as a bonus, how sessions affect the time on page metric (and why you should rethink using time on page for reporting).

Good video here on Sessions in Google Analytics… my clients typically are suprised when I show them how useful having an understanding of Sessions can be for their overall digital marketing campaigns.

The platform saw a spike in users, doubling from roughly 4.5 million members last week to about 8 million this week, and surging to 4 million active devices from 500,000 two weeks ago, according to Parler chief operating officer Jeffrey Wernick. He added that daily active devices are up approximately tenfold and session growth is up 20 times on the app.

I’ve been monitoring Parler (Twitter alternative), MeWe (Facebook alternative), and Rumble’s (YouTube alternative) growth over the last few months. There’s also banned.video that was created by InfoWars / Alex Jones after he was banned from most mainstream social media platforms. The growth on all of these “conservative-friendly” social platforms is astonishing and a sign of virality. I know a number of prepper and Q themed groups jumped over to these and that’s only accelerating. Will they have sticking power? That depends on a number of variables from how the transition of administrations occurs, whether Parler figures out its own internal bugs and advertising, and if Trump manages to congeal a media empire and stay relevant in the coming months.

To be updated throughout the day

Instagram’s New Home Screen and Importance of Reels

Today we’re announcing some big changes to Instagram – a Reels tab and a Shop tab. The Reels tab makes it easier for you to discover short, fun videos from creators all over the world and people just like you. The Shop tab gives you a better way to connect with brands and creators and discover products you love.

Source: Introducing a New Home Screen for Instagram

Instagram’s new layout announced today isn’t a massive overhaul and most people will probably adjust just fine… but the inclusion of Reels as a separate tab is super interesting and yet another way that Facebook and Instagram are looking to capture some of the virality and buzz around TikTok.

There’s not much conclusive data on Reels’ success or adoption so far (released back in August), but it is notable that it now has its own tab in an interface that hundreds of millions of active users visit daily (or hourly depending on your demographic).

Shopping also gets its own tab. Again, like the talk late in the summer about how Wal-Mart was interested in acquiring TikTok due to its ability to be a platform for e-commerce, Instagram is making it easier for users to make direct purchases from their app rather than the janky “link in the bio” workaround we’ve been using for years. I know I’ve personally made a few impulse buys of new camping gear or knives (looking at you, Smoky Mountain Knife Works) because of an Instagram Story or pic.

But take note that the landscape is changing ever so slightly from Instagram (and TikTok) being places of consumer-generated content to consumer buying and selling. That will continue, especially as we all hunker down in our homes this winter to avoid Covid outbreaks.

ZOOM and Google Calendar

Just received this email from ZOOM regarding changes to how Google Calendar allows for default conferencing options…

ZOOM Google Calendar

Many of us in the post-Corona Virus world have learned to love the integration between Google Calendar and ZOOM available in Google Suite / Workplace. Google evidently has noticed that and is pushing out a change that makes its rebranded Meet product the defacto option in scheduling calls and chats within the Google Calendar interface.

It’s not deal-breaking or a huge deal necessarily, but it does show that Google is noticing how important conferencing has become. For many of us, the default is ZOOM, and it’s obvious Google wants to use the (very) popular Google Calendar platform to push more of us towards using Meet. Which is totally appropriate since it’s their playground and all.

I’ll be interested to see if Meet actually takes off in popular usage now.

Embrace Spontaneity in Your Zoom Calls

Most surprising, he said, was how much his students came to enjoy brief appearances from his pug puppy, Gus. Warner hasn’t decided yet whether Gus will continue his cameos, but the response was a good sign that spontaneity still has a place in Yale’s classes.

“It acknowledges that we’re all doing this from various spaces and that we can embrace it,” Warner said.

Source: A look at Yale’s classes, labs, and libraries for fall 2020 | YaleNews

As I’ve been living on Zoom and Skype and WebEx and Google Meet when it comes to client conversations these last six months, I’ve come to embrace the fact that our Great Dane or 19-month-old or 4-year-old will inevitably make an appearance.

Wear a tie and a jacket if you feel the need, but don’t make your Zoom calls so stagnant that they are sanitized beyond the point of engagement. All of our brains are still adjusting to this, and the appearance of pups or kids or spouses won’t lead to you losing a deal.

About the Microsoft and Walmart Acquiring TikTok Deal

The idea would be to help turn TikTok U.S. into more of an e-commerce app for creators and users, much like what TikTok parent company ByteDance does with a similar app in China.

Source: Microsoft working with Walmart on TikTok deal – Axios

One of the main reasons TikTok has taken off with influencers, soccer moms, niche businesses, and aspiring dance stars here in the US is that it “feels” like an indie app that isn’t owned by Facebook or Google.

TikTok very much has that Instagram feel from about 2013 (I remember when an 8th grader first showed Instagram to me and explained why it was so much better than Facebook or Twitter and wasn’t owned by a big company).

With the ongoing speculation that Oracle is somehow involved in the attempts to acquire TikTok from the Chinese company ByteDance at our current administration’s behest, the CEO resigning last night, and now the two COOLEST brands in the United States… Microsoft AND Walmart!… I just don’t see how TikTok retains that feeling. Especially if this odd consortium of mega-companies turns it into an “e-commerce app for creators and users.”

I think we’ll look back on this period a few years from now and use it as a cautionary tale for huge companies looking to make a play in a hot space.

Yes, there are some previous examples of successful transitions for creative-focused apps and services that kept the mojo after being gobbled up, such as when Google acquired YouTube for $1billion in the mid-2000’s. But then, Google wasn’t quite the behemoth it is now, and YouTube sorely needed the backing of a Google to stay on the web given the legal and logistical load it was rapidly taking on. But then consider services like Flickr or Tumblr that had a diehard communities before being subsumed into the Yahoo! debacle and mismanaged into oblivion.

All that to say, I don’t see how Oracle / Microsoft / Walmart pulls this off and pivots TikTok into a successful “Made in America!” platform while keeping the hotness of the app.

Chalk Apocalypse

So, when Hagoromo announced that it was going out of business in 2014, it caused a rupture in the math community.”

I referred to it as a chalk apocalypse,” Conrad said. In a panic, mathematicians across America began stockpiling resources in preparation.”

I calculated how many boxes I would need to last 10 to 15 years and I bought that many boxes,” says Lieblich.Dave Bayer took things even further. “I single-handedly bought the rest of the Amazon supply in the middle of the night,” he said.

Source: How a brand of chalk achieved cult status among mathematicians – CNN

I was gifted with an old sliding blackboard in my 2nd year of teaching (and my first year of teaching Physical Science). I loved that board and was sad to leave it later in my career when I went to a new school.

There’s something special about chalk covered hands and the feel of writing on a blackboard to make a point about F=MA or the structure of an atom.

Now I want to go stock up on some Hagoromo and find a good blackboard for my children.

Maybe George Lucas Was Right

I’ve been rewatching Star Wars with my 4 year old son the last few weeks. We started with A New Hope > Empire > Jedi then worked our way back to Phantom Menace and now Attack of the Clones (with Revenge of the Sith then Clone Wars after that).

I have to admit… after the debacle that was Episodes 7-9, the Prequels actually hold up. I haven’t touched these movies in years but they feel more familiar now.

Maybe George Lucas was right.

Rise of OnlyFans, Decline of Influencer Marketing

Interesting dynamics for the marketing world (something I’ve been arguing for since “influencer marketing” became a thing years ago) as we continue to see re-evaluations of things like Google Ads and social media marketing as well. The landscape is changing rapidly and I’ve been on a ton of strategy calls with clients lately trying to help them make sense of it all.

Contributing to the rise of OnlyFans is one harsh new reality: the “influencing era” is ending. Travel influencers can’t travel, lifestyle influencers can’t live lavishly, and fashion influencers aren’t being sent clothes without any place to wear them. The economic downturn has caused companies to dial back marketing budgets usually spent on sponsored content and, during a global disaster, followers are craving authenticity over “picture-perfect” life.

Source: OnlyFans, Influencers, and the Politics of Selling Nudes During a Pandemic

“Reopen” Domain Surge

Propaganda and misinformation are easy to propagate on the web as one of my mentors, Wayne Porter, would frequently show me. Now is not the time to let our guard down.

That lookup returned approximately 150 domains; in addition to those named after the individual 50 states, some of the domains refer to large American cities or counties, and others to more general concepts, such as “reopeningchurch.com” or “reopenamericanbusiness.com.”

Source: Who’s Behind the “Reopen” Domain Surge? — Krebs on Security

Facebook Launches Messenger Rooms to Go After ZOOM’s Market Boom

Interesting play that was pretty predictable. But I do wonder if Facebook’s presence with nonprofits, churches, and small businesses will mean that Messenger Rooms takes off on a steep path of adoption? I think it just might because so many people in those areas are “already on Facebook” and comfortable with the platform as opposed to say, ZOOM or Google Meet.

It should be interesting to watch the adoption curve…

Of everything announced today, Messenger Rooms promises to be the most significant. The feature, which Facebook says will be available in the company’s products globally sometime in the next few weeks, will allow up to 50 people to join a call. The room’s creator can decide whether it’s open to all or lock it to prevent uninvited guests from joining. You’ll be able to start a room from Messenger and Facebook to start. Later, rooms will come to Instagram Direct, WhatsApp, and Portal. Guests can join a room regardless of whether they have a Facebook account.

Source: Messenger Rooms are Facebook’s answer to Zoom and Houseparty for the pandemic – The Verge

Google Slashing Marketing Budget

Read the tea leaves, folks. Things aren’t “re-opening” anytime soon. This is a long term situation and those at the top of the food chain are very much aware of the coming choppy waters…

Google is slashing its marketing budgets by as much as half for the second half of the year, according to internal materials viewed by CNBC.

Source: Google to cut marketing budgets, hiring freeze expected

When companies like Google start slashing marketing budgets, it’s a direct pointer to the tightening of belts and awareness of bad things ahead.

Buckle up.

Episode 160: Gesticulating Wildly

This week we take a look back on a fascinating week of religion news and discuss how to talk to people who don't think the same way you do before closing out with a little history lesson on Acts 4-5.

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Episode 158: We Don’t Talk About That in Church

This week, Revs. Merianna Neely Harrelson and Sam Harrelson discuss canonization, the politics of commentaries, Jonah's Whale, interpretation history, Doomsday Clock, Harrowing of Hell, and masturbation lessons from Sunday School.

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Google’s Ads Updates in Search Results

We manage a number of Google Ads campaigns for clients. We’ve definitely noticed an uptick in desktop CTR’s since the updates (same as what happened with mobile last year). But a Google Ads campaign is only as good as the conversions it drives. If the quality tanks b/c of more junk clicks, ad spends will go elsewhere. All that to say, I don’t view this as cynically as the article here states:

Last week, Google began rolling out a new look for its search results on desktop, which blurs the line between organic search results and the ads that sit above them. In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white “Ad” icon next to the former. It’s been formatted to resemble the new favicons that now appear next to the search results you care about. Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads.

Source: Google’s ads just look like search results now – The Verge

Episode 157: Talking To Our Younger Selves about Religion

Sam is joined by The Rev. Merianna Neely Harrelson to discuss how she approaches Acts in church Bible studies, canonization, ascension vs resurrection vs transfiguration, the problem with a seminary education, and 4 listener questions.

Music from https://filmmusic.io
"Ancient Rite" by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com)
License: CC BY (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

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