Introducing People To Dallas through a Taco Tour


The way I like to introduce people to Dallas is by neighborhoods, and the parts of town with their distinct identities. Dallas was built in the era of cars, and didn’t build up wholistic neighborhoods like Chicago or New York. Therefore we have less zones than older cities, and it’s relatively easy to share them with people.

Below is Chris Vogel’s wonderful visual interpretation of Dallas’s neighborhoods.

Chris Vogel’s map.

It’s easy to fall into going to just restaurants and bars, but those don’t vary as much from city to city as you might think.

This guide is from my perspective, and the parts of Dallas that I think are interesting, and want to show.

The Taco Tour

A Taco Tour is a tour or Dallas where you pile in a car, or all ride your bikes from one Taco place to another, getting one taco per person at each place. There are so many great places to get tacos in Dallas that the tour can be all over the place. Generally, these recommendations will be Mexican street-taco style. The tacos will be served on small corn tortillas, and generally be around $1-1.50 each. Most people will be happy eating 3-5 of them over the course of 2-3 hours.

If you’re dedicating an evening to it, here are some of the ways you can go.

  1. Start at Park and Greenville and work south. El Centro Super Market is a good place to start because it feels foreign, while being right in the middle of things. There is a Taqueria inside the grocery store, just like in most Mexican grocery stores. There’s a money transfer station and a boost mobile store inside. You have to walk past a fantastic elote stand most of the time. The selection of the grocery section is unlike anglo grocery stores, especially the meat sections.
  2. Drive past the Taco Cabana. Notable: They make tortillas in each one. This location is 24 hours, and they have a bar for sides, so if you want a pile of cilantro and onions on each taco, you can.
  3. El Rincon Villa / El Taco right around the corner just south of Park on Greenville is a decent taqueria. They usually have 2-3 interesting electronic items for sale at prices lower than Costco. They also have great music playing in Spanish driven by a phone that you could play with while waiting in line, but you’re more respectful than that. They have a great pineapple taco.
  4. Point out La Michoacana just north of Blackwell as you continue south on Greenville. You could stop there, but it’s going to be a lot like El Centro Super Market. This is the most southern hispanic business that I know of in the Park/Greenville area. That area I find defined by Park between Greenville and Abrams.
  5. You could detour back to Shady Brook Ln, and go through the Village Apartments, which is a huge apartment complex with its own country club. That one apartment complex on about 300 acres houses 10,000 residences, and is a pretty great place to live in your 20’s. The Village drives Old Town, which is the Greenville shopping district between Caruth Haven and Lovers Lane. This is the headwater section of Dallas’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which is one of the biggest events in Dallas, and one of the biggest St. Patrick parties in the nation. 125,000+ people come to the parade, and many stick around on Lower Greenville to drink all day long, much to the chagrin of the neighborhood that donates their yards to the cans/urine that come with that party.
  6. This is a great opportunity to stop into Central Market at Lovers and Greenville. You should be 1-2 tacos in. This will be a 30-45 minute detour. This will impress and amaze most out of town guests. If the most expensive block of cheese you’ve ever seen is less than $10 and the only place to buy “decent” wine is Walmart, it’s quite a thing to see a $600 block of cheese, or a $800 bottle of wine.
  7. Continue south on Greenville and stop in at Rusty Taco at University. This is the most Austin-style taco place I’ve seen in Dallas. The tacos are good, and split the price gap between the taquerias, and gringo-taco places like Velvet Taco ($3-4 each). This is the eastern border of the SMU area, which is just across Central. If you want fish or shrimp tacos, this is the one stop on this list to get seafood.
  8. Continue south on Greenville. After you cross Mockingbird, this is what is known as Lower Greenville. This is the western-most part of East Dallas. Drive past Granada Theater. This is one of the best places in Dallas to see touring acts. It was a movie theater until about 2001. Pass St. Martin’s Neighborhood Bistro, which is one of my favorite anniversary-grade restuarants in town. Belmont is the northern border of Lowest Greenville. Turn left on Richmond, and the park on the street right in front of Chichen Itza. This is my favorite taqueria in Dallas. The tacos are among the best, generally finishing second in the aggregated voting. They also have good coffees. Their biggest business is their bakery, which supplies goods to many local restaurants. Their speciality is a milenesa taco, which is a breaded and fried pork taco. World of Beer is right around the corner, and a decent place to stop and switch to drinking, as there are a number of great bars walkable around, including The Libertine, Blind Butcher, The Truckyard. From El Centro Supermarket to Chichen Itza is 4.1 miles.
  9. If you have continued, take a right on Ross. The first place on the right after the CVS is Tacos Y Mas, the best fast-food-style street tacos in I’ve had.

Moments of My Life Through Music

This is a collection of stories about songs that help tell stories from my life, to help my kids understand me, if they want to.

Bryan Adams – Summer of ’69

When I lived in Arizona, I spent a lot of time in trees and on my bike. We moved to Alabama just after my 8th birthday. I was part of a group where I needed to go sell magazines or other things, and I sold a lot. Enough that I got a transistor radio. It took a 9-volt battery. This was my first time to discover music on my own.

I loved to get my BMX bike going fast, and doing power-slides, where I would slam on the brake, and see how far I could skid, and if I could make a J shape in the asphalt. In a nearby cul-de-sac (S. Fern Cir, most likely), I would set up this radio, then ride my bike around it while doing tricks and power slides. My “power song”, the one I would turn up to the highest volume that wouldn’t create distortion was “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams. It must have been in heavy rotation because I don’t remember being frustrated waiting for the radio to play it.

Van Halen – Jump

I first heard the keyboard solo when a neighbor (Greg Beck) was playing this solo in his garage. It was amazing. I must have been in 4th – 5th grade. It made me want to play the piano.

The Presidents of the United States of America – Peaches

This song came out when I was shaping my independent music identity in high school. I was almost exclusively limited to “Alternative” music, and this song was on those charts. It was great because it is just a song about peaches. No subtext. No rebellion. Just stating facts about peaches.

Better Than Ezra – Good

This song was on a sampler I got in high school, a period of time where I learned a lot of new music through CD samplers. It was a magazine called huh. It also gave me Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees  and Sinead O’Conner and Shane MacGowan doing Haunted. Actually, that song was introduced by MTV’s 120 minutes, but it was from the same period. This was an era of CD’s, but before the era of burn-able CDs and I liked variety. The way to get variety was to get a CD sampler. My favorite CDs were a few from huh. So I played this song a lot. My brother Alex’s worst memory of high school was when he woke up hearing the bass line from Good while in bed, and I was playing it on repeat. He thinks this is a testament of how incredibly charmed his high school life was, and he’s gracious about that.

Cake – I Bombed Korea

We went on a high school track trip to Florida when I was a junior, so 1995. We stayed in a hotel on the beach and had a balcony. At one point on that trip, there were sea gulls dive bombing past my window. It was amazing. Someone on a lower floor must have been throwing bread crumbs out for the gulls that they would have been grabbing in the air on their dive bombs. It was an amazing experience.

Cake, on their FANTASTIC album Motorcade of Generosity had a verse where John Crea recounted almost exactly the same story that I experienced. Hearing of this shared experience in song instantly cemented this as an iconic song for me.

Rancid – Ruby Soho

The summer between my junior and senior years I had a computer, and Tetris and Minesweeper. I got EXTREMELY good at both while playing Rancid’s And Out Come The Wolves on loop. That was a great album, and I spent weeks doing nothing but slightly improving on top scores. My Minesweeper best times were 3, 13, and 93. Later, in college, once I got an optical mouse, I got the scores down to 3, 9 and 72, but without the wheel mouse handicap. Ruby Soho is just one of the great songs from that album.

War – Lowrider

There was an alternative radio program that I could pick up in my bedroom on Sunday nights from Tuscaloosa. The DJ’s opening theme song for that program was War’s Lowrider. He always kicked in his introduction before the lyrics kicked in, so it was years before I learned that this was a real song and not just his amazing introduction. I tried to tune in every week just to hear it.

When I was in 8th grade, I wanted to quit track and field, and my dad let me pick something that I would get as a reward if I finished out the season. I picked an Emerson CD/double cassette/digital stereo from Walmart. I finished out the season and ended up being quite good at high school track, and then became a college track manager, then Sports Information writer, and got to know several olympians at SMU.

It was this Emerson stereo that I would obsessively wire increasingly gangly antennas to pick up radio from Tuscaloosa and Atlanta.

The Sunday night shows on 99X in Atlanta were my holy grail of listening, and I’d have friends over to listen to those shows. Ironically, Chad Long came over once, and we would have had much better luck tuning in from his house because he lived up on Sand Mountain, which was between Atlanta and Scottsboro. For some reason, this didn’t occur to me at the time.

One night, Pearl Jam played a live concert that I was able to catch almost all of. It was Easter, and a wonderful show. Eddie Vedder then DJ’d another 90 minutes after the concert that was magical.

After I got that stereo, John Akins sold me some CDs he didn’t want any more. They were Bon Jovi’s Young Guns II, Europe’s The Final Countdown, and two others that I’m shocked I can’t remember now.

For my birthday that year, Kireet Reddy gave me The 10,000 Maniac’s Our Time in Eden, Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, both of which I listened to hundreds of times each.

This was much more than just War’s Lowrider, but that song was a consistent part of my relationship with that stereo, which opened me up to being able to be in control of my own music choices.

Guns N Roses – Mr. Brownstone

One of the first cassettes I got my hands on was Guns N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. Adam Pierce got it for me. I don’t know what the terms were. I think I was in 5th grade. This was an album that had a parental warning on it, and I knew I was being naughty by having it. I would hide it in the cassette drawer and listen to it on my dad’s component cassette player. I think I got to listen to it twice before it was found. Some of the songs on that album were known, and played on the radio.

Mr. Brownstone was the first song that I remember thinking was catchy, or grabbed me, but wasn’t ever on the radio. I remember feeling special that I got to hear because it was an album, but not on the radio.

The liner art was legitimately disturbing to a fifth grader.

Wilson Philips – Hold On

The first tape I bought from a store was Wilson Philips’ Wilson Philips. I was 12 or 13. It was great. I thought Hold On was moving and inspiring. The way it broke down with drum break, then isolated harmonies was neat.

Phil Collins

I knew Phil Collins was a big deal in the early 90’s. One time on a family trip through Minnesota on the way to North Dakota, I was reading a newspaper and saw that Phil Collins was in town for a concert. I was amazed to be in a city great enough that Phil Collins would perform there. It never occurred to me that in large cities arena concerts were normal.

There really isn’t a song here, but it was a big deal to me.

Hamell on Trial – Big as Life

In 1993, at Music Midtown in Atlanta, I got up some gumption and went to the 99X table. Somehow I got a promo CD. It was Hamell on Trial’s Testimony, Words and Music Sampler. It is my favorite Hamell on Trial CD, because Ed Hamell gave an intro for most of the tracks. His stories and jokes were charming, and the music was amazing. I didn’t actually get to see him at that festival, and wouldn’t for about six years after that when Bryan Ellett and I were two of the (at most) five paying patrons of the show. He played for 2+ furious, sweaty hours, and it cemented my fandom of Ed.

Since that show in Dallas, I saw Ed play in Denton at Dan’s Silverleaf, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton, a Righteous Babe album showcase at a UT theater in Austin with Chris Banner,  in Chapel Hill, NC with David Daniels (who hated it), and in the summer of 2013 with Jason Hess at the Texas Theater where he opened for Hokie Fight.

He’s one of my musical and life heros.

Big as Life is a great song that epitomizes Ed’s tender rebellions against society’s norms by telling stories of the victims of bigotry.

Peaches – Fuck the Pain Away

Peaches was one of the first times that I was shocked and grabbed by a song after college. At this point, the internet was a great way to discover music, but I hadn’t experienced anything like Peaches. This was my first exposure to electronica, and one of the first albums that Emily and I bought and listened to after we were married.

Broken Social Scene – Capture the Flag

I had an amazing night in Dallas once when Emily was out on a trip for Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center. I was walking to Jenna’s All Good Cafe, from our apartment at The Kirby where Lizzy Wetzel worked. We went every Tuesday for 2-for-1 entree night. I was having a cigar on my walk and saw what appeared to be a confused homeless guy with a map.

I crossed Main St. and asked him what I could help him with. He was looking for a mom and pop place to have dinner. I invited him to join me, still having no clue who he was. Being that he looked homeless, I figured I might be buying him dinner, which would be essentially free for me, due to 2-for-1 night.

It turns out it was Andrew Whiteman, the guitarist from Broken Social Scene. They were touring from Toronto down to Austin for SXSW. The rest of the band had gone over to see Modest Mouse in Ft. Worth. Andrew got to hang out with me.

He told me the story of the band, which was briefly that a bunch of professional musicians in Toronto would get together and eat and jam on Sunday nights. On a lark, they recorded an album. On a lark, they submitted the album to press. On a lark, a reviewer at Pitchfork reviewed it. It stuck in that reviewer’s craw and it got one of the best reviews up until that point. They went from being jamming friends to a band on the strength of that review.

Now, they’d been touring and didn’t “need” SXSW.

This was all amazing to me, and I didn’t really believe that I’d like the band.

That night, I took Andrew to The Doublewide. He loved it. Two people down from us at the bar was a woman with a Canadian accent. Andrew started talking to her. It turns out she was BSS’s publicist and press agent, and she was at The Doublewide with a friend on their way to SXSW. She had a national radio show on CBC, and had never met Andrew. I had to be at work at 7 am the next morning. They went out to more bars, but Andrew pledged to put me on the list the next night.

The next day, I went to the BSS show at The Curtain Club, where I was, indeed on the list. I had to skip out after the opening bands to go pick up Emily from the airport. We went back to the venue just in time to hear “Thank You! Good Night!” Emily got to meet Andrew.

The next year, we went and saw them play at The Gypsy Tea room for an amazing show, and I got to say hi to Andrew again.

A couple years later, I was in Toronto doing work for The Royal Bank of Canada and got to catch BSS do a festival show, which was another amazing experience, and the last time I saw them.

The Tragically Hip – Scared

Growing up in Scottsboro, AL had many perks. One of the best in the ’90s as a music-hungry teen was the used CD section of Unclaimed Baggage. For $2.50-$5 per disc, you could buy music that people cared enough to travel with on airplanes.

I built most of my CD collection from those used bins.

One time, I saw that there were about 6 different albums by a band called The Tragically Hip. This was an indicator to me that someone loved that band and lost their entire collection. I started with Day for Night. It was incredible. The guitar sound they have is great. The lyrics were poetry.

There is a song on that album Scared, that I’ve listened to heavily in about three periods of my life. Each time, my interpretation of that song has changed. It’s a beautiful song that has the vocals end about half way through the track and I’ve always used that time to contemplate the lyrics and be taken away to a world of thought.

I went back to UBC and purchased the rest of their albums.

I got to see The Tragically Hip at Trees in Dallas in about 1998, and then again at the Gypsy Tea Room in about 2000 with Emily. We also saw Gord Downie play for about 40 people at the Gypsy Tea Room on the Coke Machine Glow tour. That was great.

 Wilco – Spiders (Kidsmoke)

Some of my favorite music reviews have aired on NPR’s All Things Considered. I was obsessed with Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the year after I graduated from SMU. That album got a lot of press, and there was a painful documentary about it, and all the frustrations releasing it. There was a significant rift with one of the members of the band who added a lot of instrumentation to that album and there was some suspense to what their follow-up album would be like.

The NPR reviewer highlighted the song Spiders (Kidsmoke) and it’s long and daring guitar parts. I bought the album based on that review, and enjoyed it.

When I was traveling for work a lot, I made a habit of bringing one CD, or buying a CD on the trip, and therefore associating the CD with the city/trip/rental car.

Gwen Stefani’s Love Angel Music Baby is strongly associated with a trip to Tampa/Sarasota to visit Nathan Frantz, Jared Morrison, and James Ehnes. A story from this trip would win me dinner in a bet with Mark Murphy.

It was a trip to Jackson Mississippi. I had a rental of an Accord Coupe, which I loved. Spiders (Kidsmoke) was on repeat for almost the entire trip at a loud volume and it was a joy.

The MOG Playlist

The MOG playlist for my kids can be found here:

In a Forest Dark and Deep, Second Thought Theatre Response: Identies of Women in the Context of Blurred Lines, and Society’s Judgement

So about three months ago, I finally realized that my time on earth is dwindling and will end. That’s been kind of all consuming, but I think I’m moving past it, into things like this. Since my posts here are so infrequent, I’m going to include lots of time-sensitive information that will help me understand this point in time when I read it later.

The incomparable John Gorman let me and Daniel Miller know about the Robin #THICKE “no-clothes” version of Blurred Lines on a bike ride last month. This was during a two and a half week cycling vacation that I took before and after work and on the weekends while the rest of my family was summering on Lake Erie.

After the bike ride, I watched the video on my new Chromecast. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s basically three guys singing their side of a “have sex with me” come on lines while looking suave. Gorgeous women wearing only thongs disinterestedly prance-stomp around the set while assuming the attitudes of disinterested house casts who have just been fed and groomed.

I found the Blurred Lines video thought provoking. The fact that the women were naked*, but not being sexual was interesting, and I think healthy. There has been much written about this video, and its connotations. In my opinion, the video is a statement that women, regardless of their undress, can be oogled and pursued as sex objects without engaging in their standard role as sex objects. Women can carry on with their lives and be themselves without being defined by the interest in their sexuality. The fact that they’re naked does not not change their behavior or self identity.

There has been much written and commented about the video, much of it highly negative of the women being objectified and the song’s intent as lyrically encouraging rape. The commentators who are complaining about it provoking rape culture seem to be misplaced to me. It seems to be a song where a guy is trying to get a girl to leave the guy she’s with to go have sex with him. He’s giving her the opportunity to say yes. That’s not rape. But he’s expressing his sexual interest in her. We have no idea what her response is. So, although it’s not chivalrous, and would likely cause a quarrel between  him and her current lover, I think it’s incorrect to attribute it to promoting rape culture.

In my opinion, presuming the helplessness of women is a demeaning assumption introduced by the commentators. So it’s the commentators and not the lyrics or video that are demeaning to women.


That said, I’ve enjoyed the discussions that Blurred Lines has brought into society about sexuality. I think it’s healthy for society to discuss things like this.

In a Forest Dark and Deep, and it’s relationship to sexual identities of women

Last night was the last performance of this season at Second Thought Theater, where I’m a board member. The play was In a Forest, Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute, directed by Reagan Adair, with set design by Drew Wall, and acted by Heather Henry as Betty and Jeremy Schwartz as Bobby. It was in the top tier of theater productions I’ve ever seen. There are about five that I’ve seen in that tier of overall experience, most recently Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph, also in the 2013 season of Second Thought.

What I took of the story of In a Forest, Dark and Deep is that it’s an examination of a woman who has defined herself through her sexual exploits throughout her life. Men being sexually interested in Betty is empowering to her. Betty ignores the effects of her reputation, marriage, stability, work fulfillment or general human trust on how she defines her identity. Instead she focuses on episodic trysts that help her feel empowered and in charge of her life, regardless of what her family or other lovers (including her husband) think of her actions. It’s as though new sex partners is her confirmation that, as Dorothy Gish would say, “she’s still ‘got it'”.

Betty, at the age of 45 (per the script), is still self-defined by her ability to sexually attract and fulfill lovers. The world also defines her this way, but she doesn’t care about that. What happens when a much younger lover becomes the less interested partner and the more sexually interesting of the coupling? It crushes her.

LaBute makes a fascinating point about how women, even those who are accomplished as university deans with marriages and children, can be caught up judging themselves primarily as sex objects against college students and women who are at the pinnacle of their pure sexual attractiveness. She cedes her best attributes to focus on one that is diminishing.

Betty could assume her rightful place as a role model to young men and women. Instead, she insists on competing in the same sexualized playing field as they are, when there is a much more important one that she could participate in, where she is at a much stronger advantage.

Is real life so scary that Betty can’t address it? Are trysts her coping mechanism that help her keep from grading herself by mature and responsible terms?

It’s easier for Betty to validate herself in ways that she knows than to re-define her grading scale and place importance on her influence on the future of society.

The Conclusion: Sexual Power is Fleeting

So, if you want to have actual clout, then do important work, and make appropriate money for that work, then focus your energy on being healthy and doing that good work. Take care of yourself by finding pursuits that are meaningful to your own definitions. Don’t distract everyone (mainly yourself) with the fragrance of your sexual readiness. If you over-invest in your expressions of fertility, your forties and beyond are going to be terrible and the people who invested in self improvement, careers and families will not empathize with you at all. They’ll wonder why you’re so grumpy and pathetic, which will mean that your only outlet for happiness will be television that shows how dumb young people are.

My paternal grandmother apparently hugely invested her identity in her appearance. I’m grateful for my dad discovering this and letting me know the context of her grumpiness toward the world. When she was young, she was the attractive one among her sisters. There was a car crash at some point, and she become the one who was once attractive. She lost her identity in her twenties rather than forties, and apparently carried a strong resentment toward everyone for the rest of her life.

She had friends, three generations of family she lived within two miles of, a business in her home, yet was defined by an anger borne out of her loss of sexual attractiveness. She could have re-framed her existence, and didn’t.

My maternal grandmother seemed to be completely unaffected by vanity, and was a delightful woman who relished her family and grandchildren. She was a joy to many, and honored others. She loved to teach and listen and participate. She went down large slides, played golf, and frisbee with us when she was in her 80’s. She loved Jesus and others and never showed any scars of life that I could see. I doubt she ever read Cosmopolitan, and was likely far better for it.

I know that her grandchildren and children are far better off having a strong female role model who rooted her identity in family, religion, work, hobbies, charity and happiness.

A key difference between my grandmothers is how much of their lives they invested in watching television. It’s hard to look at how they lived their lives without coming to the conclusion that television was a source of tremendous sadness and frustration.

I love that there are plays out there that are so thought provoking, and that I have friends to engage in meaningful discussions with.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to serve at Second Thought Theatre that brings art, cautionary tales, and comments on society in such unflinching ways. I hope that you all will chose to share in the 2014 season that starts in January.


Thoughts like these come out of conversations with my wife and friends, and I am so happy to know them. These thoughts have been spawned influenced by interactions recent and not with John Gorman, Steve Guthrie, Second Thought Theatre, Alice Sheldon, June Guthrie, Iain Michie, Daniel Miller, Emily Guthrie, Marisa and Mark Elmore.

Is Google Serious about Selling Hardware?

Google’s approach to selling devices is beguiling, and although the volume of Android-based devices is impressive, Google seems to be leaving a lot of opportunity on the table by not extending much past code.

I bought a Nexus 4 yesterday. This was my second time to buy Nexus devices from the Google Play store, and it was just as bad as the first time.

My first purchase from the Play Store was a Nexus 7 and Nexus Q on release day: June 29th, 2012. Many things about that purchase were frustrating enough to make me hesitant about recommending it to others.

The email receipt didn’t come promptly, and that lack of communication was worrying to me. Then, there were no updates on shipping. Then, other people began receiving their Nexus 7’s and bragging about it on Twitter. Then, people would go into Staples and buy one. I still hadn’t gotten word.

It turns out that since my order included a Nexus Q, which wasn’t ready, the whole order got held up. Google ended up shipping the Nexus 7 separately from the Nexus Q, and sending me a Nexus Q for free, because it wasn’t ready. Apparently, when the Nexus Q is ready, I’ll be billed and get another one. It’s been five months, and there has been no word on its status. It’s taken long enough to resurrect it that I’m guessing that Google ends up abandoning it.

I finally received my Nexus 7 on September 2nd, but it’s remarkable how the delivery experience shaped my overall satisfaction with the product.

So two and a half months later, I guessed that Google would sort things out. They’re Google. They get things right. They improve things.

On 11/13, I went to the Play store to get a Nexus 4. I went through the order process 3-4 times, and finally got to the confirmation page. It looks like the bumper sold out while it was in my cart, and held up one purchase. I’m guessing that the lack of error handling to account for that messed that one up. I’m guessing that another one actually went through, but the confirmation HTML didn’t post correctly. When I finally got to look at my orders, I had two orders that had gone through. So I cancelled one.

Hopefully the money was refunded correctly.

Hopefully it ships on 11/15 as stated on the receipt. If Amazon were doing the fulfillment, I would have it ON 11/15. Google’s devices has created a strong doubt.

On the “order status” page, there is no estimated ship date. There is no progress indicator. There is no “feedback on this order” option.

All of this points to Google caring about innovate products, but only to the point that they are “developer finished”, as in: “The developer says they’re finished.”

For a successful product launch, products need to be “consumer finished”. That means that consumers need to think that the product is finished, or be persuaded that the product is finished. It needs a communications strategy around communicating that idea.

If Google was good getting products “consumer finished”, device manufacturers and carriers would have their influence squeezed out, and consumers could have better Google-based products.

As it stands, Google leaves most of the packaging and delivery of products up to their partners, rather than being a product provider. Logitech, LG, Vizio, and HTC are product providers.

Google isn’t a product provider.

Google is a platform provider, and they make samples of how that platform may be delivered in product form.

Key parts of how a product is delivered is in the documentation, PR, sales process, fulfillment, retail partnerships, marketing, and ongoing support. Logitech does all of that except for the PR well. Apple does all of it well (Maps rollout excluded).

Since the manufacturers can’t trust Google to provide a finished product, they have to, they take on some of the platform responsibilities as well. HTC,  Motorola, and Samsung all put their own UI on top of Android so they can deliver a consistent experience to their customers, which also serves as a bloat-ware platform.

People like me, who care about getting the latest in the platform improvements, and not having our updates filtered through the Google –> Samsung –> Verizon path, can get Nexus devices directly from Google. But we have to put up with buying them online without a way to interact with them first, or get the pure device subsidized.

And then there are devices like the Nexus Q, which are interesting, and do some things well, but don’t support standard accepted tasks, like Bluetooth streaming, or screen mirroring. Mine is collecting dust while my Logitech Boombox is used all day every day, even though I’d prefer to use the Nexus Q.

And then there’s Google TV, which Logitech lost over $100M on. That device wasn’t finished, didn’t feel finished, but had a TON of potential. Part of the problems was Google’s inability to make partnerships with content providers, and the pipes that deliver that content. They seem to be attacking the problem from a different angle through their product roll out in Kansas City. But Google hasn’t given up on GoogleTV, but their approach is now integrated into TVs, much like Android is integrated into phones that they don’t make.

The end result is that Google creates interesting and powerful software platforms, but seem to leave the delivery of those products up to the grownups who can release them to consumers as finished products. It ends up getting Google software into the hands of many people, but it isn’t executed in a way that Google ends up having as much influence as they could, and consumers end up having confusing affiliations that are watered down.




Windows 8 Upgrade Experience

In 2007, I bought a Dell Latitude XT because I wanted a computer I could use on the couch. Really, I wanted an iPad, but those were a couple years away.

I never used it that way because Windows XP Tablet edition wasn’t much of a Tablet edition. Neither was Windows 7.

But Windows 8 appears to be more of a tablet edition.

Is use a Windows 7 machine at work, and a Macbook Air at home. I generally prefer Windows 7 to OSX, and each platform has its strong points.

The fact that Microsoft released Windows 8 at $40 was low enough of a threshold for me to buy it for my old Latitude XT.

Some things have gone quite wrong, and the upgrade experience has been highly time consuming.

Here are the steps that I’ve gone through. Trouble spots are far more notable pleasure spots because one “I can’t proceed with anything at all” far outweighs a few “Well this is nicer than before.”

  • Purchase Experience
    • My purchase appeared to be from Microsoft, but the email labeled the seller as some unknown company in California.
    • The welcome email had a bunch of German in it.
  • Download and Install Experience (Friday 9 pm – 1 am)
    • I only have a 32 gb SSD in this machine. It takes a ZIF drive, and nobody has ever made ZIF drives that are comparable to 2.5″ drives.
    • The Windows 8 install helper required me to free up 5 gigs of space.
    • Once I removed a bunch of files, I freed up 5.1 gigs and started the installation.
    • After ~4 hours, the download was complete, I was uninstalling everything I could and the installer seemed to be about 20 minutes from starting.
    • I killed a process called “web-config” so I could uninstall Adobe Flash (Yippee!)
    • The installer crashed.
    • Restarting the installer had the required step of buying the product again.
    • The web was no help. This was release day.
    • I had to call Microsoft support.
    • They didn’t open until 11 am on Saturday.
  • Call to Microsoft (Saturday 11 am)
    • The hold time was under a minute
    • If my representative was not US-based “Angelo”, he may as well have been. He was great.
    • Angelo directed me to this website to download the Windows 8 installer that wouldn’t require “purchase” as a step:
    • That got me on my feet again.
  • Run the new installer (Saturday 11 am – 10 pm)
    • I fired up the new download and left for the day.
    • When I got back around 8 pm, this installer required 20 gigs free.
    • I tried deleting everything I could, but couldn’t get more than 9 gigs free.
    • After fiddling with some of the options, I found one that moved the installer to a USB drive.
    • This took 2 attempts and about an hour.
    • Running the installation within Windows 7 still required 20 gigs free.
    • There was no indication I could boot from the drive, but I altered the bios and tried anyway.
    • It worked.
    • Windows 8 installed in about an hour, and I reformatted the C drive.
  • Windows 8 setup (Saturday 10 pm)
    • Everything seemed to go pretty well with the configuration.
    • The importing of Flickr, Facebook and Twitter sources was nice.
    • The common apps within the Windows marketplace went well: Netflix, a Twitter client, mail.
    • The synchronization of those accounts in a separate area was redundant, but integrated more soundly than any other platform I’ve experienced.
    • I started fiddling with tiles, and found some of the experience very nice before it became frustrating.
  • The Drivers and Common Tasks
    • It literally took me 3 minutes to figure out how to reboot the machine to apply updates.
    • The only resolution option is 1024×768.
    • The ATI drivers from Windows 7 don’t detect their own card.
    • I’m using a Microsoft basic display driver from 2006.
    • My native resolution should be 1280×800, and everything is blurry.
    • This Dell has a touch screen. Windows 8 doesn’t detect it.
    • The Dell installer for the touch screen from 2008 fails immediately.
    • The Dell display driver from 2008 is three times as big as the ATI driver and two years older. I tried anyway. This took ~10 minutes, and failed immediately.
    • I tried again later, and it worked.
    • Browsing both folders and trying all the .inf files as a manual driver override all failed.
    • Internet Explorer doesn’t run as a Metro app. Retaining that experience would be the ONLY reason I would switch from Chrome. I do enough stuff that requires Webkit that there would be no reason to switch other than beauty and rewarding novelty.
    • There is an interesting integration with my Microsoft Live account. I used to use MSN Messenger exclusively, but then more and more spammers were my main interactions there, so I went exclusively to Google chat.
      • Microsoft syncs with my Live account deeply, so deeply that it’s my machine login. That’s weird.
      • I can’t disable the account. And I got hit up by a spammer using some Asian characters.
      • It’ll be interesting if this revitalizes the Live platform.
  • The fun bits
    • The video camera recording software is far and away the best I have ever seen. Your video is full screen. Clicking ANYWHERE starts and stops the recording. The “Recording Active” indicator is a counter. Perfect. This is the only task this machine has had for the last year, and now it can do a far better job.
    • There was no installation of the web cam. It immediately worked. I was braced for the common driver hunt, but pleasantly surprised. Brilliant.
    • The internal wifi in Windows 7 would stop working after about 10 minutes of usage. So I had a USB wifi adapter with a big cord. In Windows 8, it’s stable. Huzzah!

So, I have a down-resolution laptop running Windows 8. It’s touch-capable hardware on a touch-capable OS, but the hardware and OS don’t agree that the touch-capabilities are there. So I’m now orphaned.

These are the critical failures that have led me to the path where I just spent $40 on webcam software that took 5+ hours to install, rather than considering buying new hardware that is running Windows 8, and that my Windows 7 setup on the same hardware was better (except for the webcam software, and stable Wifi):

  1. The post-purchase emails were unprofessional.
  2. The web installer didn’t have a method to recognize that I’d already purchased it, and allow me to skip that step.
  3. The backup web installer required 4x as much free disk space
  4. The experience of getting the display drivers working was bad, and I can’t believe it worked. (Ubuntu rocks at this)
  5. There aren’t drivers that allow me to use the touch interface (these work in Ubuntu right out of the box too)
  6. The installation process takes an hour (Ubuntu is far faster)

All of those things could have been fixed by Microsoft before launch. Microsoft should have known that they scrimped on the install tools and purchase process and had people logged into chat 24/7.

The only thing that should be working, and isn’t, is the NTrig touch interface.

At the end of the (two) day(s), I’ve enjoyed learning the new interface. It has potential.

But the pitfalls have cooled me enough to the device that it will likely continue as a webcam recording device and not graduate into my gateway drug to Windows 8 computing. Without those hiccups, I would be far more prone to attempt to make this my primary machine, and more deeply explore all the other Microsoft offerings.

But Skydrive, Live, Bing, Bing Maps, etc, I’m probably not going to fiddle with this operating system enough to dive into your live tiles. Hold the UX and execs over the Windows 8 installation responsible.

Reasonable Suspicion

The US Government is a mess. Congress is full of a bunch of ideologues who refuse to compromise. The cynical view is that they’ve all been bought, and there is a good chance that’s correct.

A good place to start considering how to fix corruption is to look at how to measure it.

A good place to look for the source of corruption is the combination of advertising and lobbying. Off the top of my head, the industries that seem to participate in both are:

  • Processed Foods
  • Mass Retailers
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Fast Food
  • Wireless Telephone Companies
  • Car Manufacturers
  • Dairy
  • Banks

Further research on lobbying and advertising show the following that should have been more obvious:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Insurance
  • Realtors
  • Macro-Brewed Beer
  • Tobacco
  • Guns
  • Home Builders

There are a few key reasons for these industries to lobby:

  1. To keep favorable laws in place
    • Macro-Brewed Beer – Protecting the silly prohibition-era laws that let Anheiser Bush own the beer distribution and retailing markets
    • Real Estate laws that protect their 6% a new home purchase price
    • Mass Retailers and Fast Food who rely on government subsidies and minimum wage levels to support their below-poverty level wages
    • The  dairy industry who has built a market based on lies
    • Home Builders who need a country that encourages suburbia laws and highways to keep new housing prices low enough to justify long commutes
  2. To prevent potentially damaging laws
    • Fossil Fuels that benefit from a lack of environmental focus that dooms us to burn up rather than invest in alternative fuels and laws that support a life on earth beyond 50 years from now
    • Insurance who doesn’t know what government might do, but whatever it might be is scary.
    • Meat who faces risks from environmental impact, animal rights, and nutritional advocates
    • Tobacco to slow the destruction of their industry
    • Guns to prevent regulations that fuel their market through the their ability to fuel mass murder
    • Banks who don’t want regulations or reasonable incentive pay changes to encourage prudence over risk

When looking for a recipe that encourages corruption, the intersection of advertising and lobbying is a great place to look.

Something that allows lobbying to persist is the public votes of legislators. That allows lobbyists to get confirmation that they were able to buy their votes. With private voting by legislators, they would be more reluctant to pay a lot of money to legislators to buy their votes.

Republicans seem to have found a recipe to court a lobbying juggernaut of lack of regulations that allows big businesses to profit at the expense of general welfare (minimum wage, environment/pollution/global warming) by leveraging public paranoia on social issues that encourage the suppression of weaker political groups (homosexuals, blacks, hispanics) as justification for them to be able to get elected.

I’d be interested in the relative amount spent on buying the two political parties, and the number of people who are the beneficiaries of those purchases.

Minimal research has pointed to as a great resource for looking at lobbying data.

Defining “Good Sports”

Something I love about the Olympics is considering what is a good sport, and what is not.

My keys for makes a “good sport” are loosely:

  • There are men and women who participate in the sport
  • Most humans will naturally discover if they are good at the sport relative to their peers
  • A large number of countries field athletes in the sport

Based on those rules, it’s good that baseball and softball were dropped.

  • The barriers to entry should be low, and equipment should be inexpensive (running/soccer = good, horse jumping = bad)
  • The competitors per square foot should be high when a dedicated field is required (basketball/badminton/boxing = good, rowing = bad)
  • The more uses a field of play has, the better (volleyball, track, soccer, field hockey, badminton = good, Canoe Slalom = bad)
  • You can see the competitors, and judge relative strain (track, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, weight lifting = good. Fencing, swimming = bad)
A rant against Canoe Slalom

Canoe Slalom is my target for the Olympic sport that needs to be killed off. I actually like it as a sport, but it shouldn’t be an Olympic sport. The fact that the courses are man made, and need to be pumped seems to be a huge waste. If you’re going to do white water rafting, it should be done somewhere where it naturally occurs.

The Sydney games course only cost $6M, which is less than I expected. The Lee Valley White Water Centre for the London Games cost $50.2M, which is more in line with what I would expect.

The number of listed competitors for Canoe Slalom is 84, and I think is the only discipline that uses that venue. Based on that calculation, that venue cost $600,000 per competitor.

The Canoe Slalom is an event that almost nobody is going to naturally discover a talent for. It’s much more likely that it has competitors just because it happens to be an Olympic sport.


Analysis of Gowalla and Foursquare at WWDC. Not Apples to Apples

Apple’s World Developer Conference is going on right now. It is the epicenter of the app creation world and should represent the greatest collection of taste makers and thought leaders in the mobile space.

This seemed like the perfect opportunity to read the tea leaves of the Gowalla vs. Foursquare battle.

I started tracking the check-ins 30 minutes before the keynote. This started at 8:30 am pacific in San Francisco.

Some information about the setting: this event for 5700 sold out in 8 days. People from all over the world come in for it. The people I follow in Twitter who are there are from UK, Netherlands and Frisco, TX. The line to get in wrapped around the entire building. People are most likely to check-in when they have downtime, and want to advertise where they are. In line at WWDC is ideal.

Once the presentation started at 9:00 AM,  people are most likely absolutely riveted by the presentation. These are people who live and breathe apple and this is a big deal.

Searching Google News yields 2,104 Foursquare mentions vs. 264 for Gowalla. So Foursquare gets about 10x of  the press, and that generally reflects market share.  “Ford” yields 17,693 results and GM yeilds 14,988. When compared, that’s a rough anagram to their market share.

So, given that information about the scene and news coverage, who won the checkin war?

Well, 30 minutes before Steve Jobs took the stage, Foursquare was ahead 286 to Gowalla’s 187 check-ins, or 60.5% of the total. That doesn’t quite live up to the 10x media coverage.

If you were going to get into the keynote, you were likely there 30 minutes before. I wish I had started watching this comparison sooner.

By 9:00 am, Foursquare was up 332 to 199, or 63%. Why would they be building share?

Now, 1 hour into the presentation, and 1.5 hours after I started tracking, Foursquare is up to 67% of the checkins.

The interesting thing is that in the 30 minutes up to the keynote, Gowalla went up 6% and Foursquare 16%. Ok, so maybe Foursquare users are tardy.

In the 30 minutes after the keynote started, and everyone who is there would have checked in, Gowalla went up 2.5% and Foursquare went up another 6.5%.

An hour in, Gowalla went up another .5% and Foursquare went up 7.6%.

Why would Foursquare get 24% of its checkins in the hour after the keynote started while Gowalla only got 3% after the keynote started?

Because 24% of the Foursquare users are not there! They’re cheating and diluting the experience for everyone else, and Gowalla’s users are actually there and paying attention to the presentation.

Ok, so that was the theory. How do you go about checking that?

Both Gowalla and Foursquare have checkin pages that you can monitor. Check Foursquare’s here and Gowalla’s I figured I’d check out where people with the most recent checkins were from.

As I suspected, I had to go through 20 Foursquare users to find one from outside San Fransciso and only 3 Gowalla users.

To take out less chance, of the last 10 checkins for each (84 minutes in)

Gowalla 01011 01100 = 50% based in San Francisco

Foursquare 11111 11111 = 100% based in San Francisco.

Since Foursquare has less control and precision requirements than Gowalla, you have to be somewhere to check in. With Foursquare allowing users to check in places that they aren’t, the temptation to lie is too great and many people will.

This rings some bells for me.

History Repeating Itself

Something else like this came along 3-5 years ago that is remarkably similar. MySpace was the first breakout player in social networking. It started out simple enough. Then, people got the ability to customize their pages, and it got awful. It’s amazing how awfully most people will decorate when given the chance.

Facebook came along with less ability for people to muck things up and trounced MySpace.

This is just a fun opportunity to link to ugly MySpace accounts: 1 2 3 I would have added more, but the last one started playing awful music loudly.

What Wins, and Why

In the long run, I see quality outpacing quantity, and it will be more so for the location wars. If I’m going to be connected to someone on a check-in service, I want to know where they actually are, and not simply where they want to say they are. Those who “fake check-in” will turn their friends off and ruin their experiences.

Foursquare could tighten up their requirements, but they won’t. They have too much of a precedent for flexibility (positive spin) or sloppiness (negative spin). I don’t think they have the guts to remove the ability to lie.

Gowalla does this right, and as long as they keep doing it right, hopefully the press and the user base will support them.

Advertisers and investors should care about reaching the people inside WWDC and not the people outside, who are just lying about being there.

Raw Data

Timestamp Gowalla Foursquare Relative use G Late Checkins F Late Checkins
8:29 187 286 60.47%
8:41 192 310 61.75%
8:44 192 311 61.83%
8:51 196 322 62.16%
8:53 198 325 62.14%
8:58 198 332 62.64% 6.0% 16.0%
9:07 199 346 63.49%
9:14 201 353 63.72%
9:28 203 369 64.51% 8.5% 22.5%
9:39 203 386 65.53%
9:57 203 410 66.88%
10:04 204 413 66.94% 9.0% 30.1%
10:23 204 424 67.52%

Leveraging Collective Insight with Twitter via Collecta

I enjoy news, especially fascinating stories. The New Yorker is chock full of fascinating stories. The New York Times is well written and generally interesting and covers significant stories of the day. There is not one written source that covers everything that I’m interested in. Over the years, I’ve had a set of sources that I go to to try to cover my interest. Some others include Salon, Track and Field News and Engadget. These sources also provide a significant amount of information that I’m not interested in and have to weed through to find stories that resonate with me.

Cable news has never served my needs unless there is a significant event, like the State of the Union or a congressional election. This is mainly because they have time to fill and ratings books to bolster. This is mainly done by sensationalizing single events that don’t point to a larger point. Overblown stories: Natalee Holloway, Terri Schiavo anything to do with Sarah Palin. The Onion had a great parody of this mindless babble in a video “Breaking News: Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere.”

Over the last six to eight months, the people I follow on Twitter have become the primary source of content that I read. Most of the people I follow are people who I leverage as thought leaders. My Twitter feed is by far the best filter for interesting and relevant information I have ever had.

It would be great if I could filter my own twitter feed for just links when I’m ready to consume information, but I haven’t found it.

There are some times that there are real-time stories that I am interested in that my contacts are not tweeting about. For situations like these, I turn to Collecta.

Collecta is a “real-time search engine”. Like any good tool, it can have a variety of uses. I use it to cloud-source my reading on a certain topic, or to get collective feedback on a real-time event.

Examples of how I’ve used Collecta:

Al Franken

When Al Franken finally got elected, it was a big deal. It had taken a long time with lots of boring legal challenges, but immediately gave the Democrats their “fillibuster-proof” 60 seat majority. This was an ideal time to turn to a real-time source which has been the sweet spot for cable news. They intersperse stock footage with “experts” who are talking heads keen on self promotion.

I turned to Collecta and searched “Franken” to see what people were reacting to, and to get the general tone of their responses. To go deeper, I added a “http” requirement, which yielded only links people were sharing about Franken. This yielded an up to the moment stream of articles that people had deemed interesting enough to share. After about 10 minutes of this, I’d gotten a feeling that I understood the story and could move on.

The result of this was that I’d had time to get the reaction of the populous and read 3-4 quality articles by reporters. Cable news in that same time would have been the same stock footage several times and inane babble between arguing pundits. Winner: me.

Sporting Events

When I’m interested in a sporting event that I can’t get access to, Collecta essentially provides play-by-play by very colorful commentators. I especially enjoy getting the instant emotional feedback. I did this after Vanderbilt lost in the NCAA tournament on a buzzer beater. The only way I could have felt more emotional response from it would have to been in a sports bar with a bunch of emoting fans.

So Twitter and Collecta have been significant additions to my life. For anyone who enjoys consuming information with a real time aspect, and who is willing to read, I wholeheartedly recommend this system.

Gowalla: Why I Use It, and Prefer It to Foursquare

Gowalla is a mobile check-in application, and a competitor to Foursquare. It’s something that I didn’t understand at first glance, much like Twitter, and have come to appreciate immensely, like Twitter.

This is essentially a reasoned sales pitch from someone who is invested from the standpoint that I’m a user, and nothing beyond that.

How I Use It:

Like all social networks, Gowalla can be used in different ways. It is often marketed as a game, but I don’t get that. I use it primarily as a sticker book. Everywhere I go, when I check in, a stamp is placed in my “Passport” for that place. Looking back at my passport is a nice way for me to be able to re-live trips and adventures.

For example, today we took a family trip to Uptown Dallas to ride the trolley. We took a camera and had a lovely day. I used Gowalla to check in at the Transit Bike Company, Cafe Express, Cityplace Trolley Stop (created) and North Dallas High School. Anyone connected to me in Gowalla could have seen those check-ins real-time and if they were in the area, we could have met up.

The main value to me is the ability to augment my memory of today by looking in my Gowalla history to better remember today, especially to add context to some of the pictures that I took with the real camera.

Now that more of my contacts are actively participating in it, it’s fun to be able to share in the travels of my contacts. One of my contacts is involved with college sports and travels quite a bit. It’s fun to see where he is going in more detail than the selective posts to Facebook.

Gowalla also makes it easy to share your experiences with friends who don’t use it by adding easy integration to Facebook and Twitter.

Felix fell in a fountain today at Cafe Express.  I took a picture and could have uploaded it to Facebook directly. Instead, I added it to Cafe Express’s Gowalla spot, and shared it to Facebook. By using Gowalla to post the photo, it is inherently real-time and location specific, which automatically provides more context than I could have via Facebook directly, because even if I had stated “At Cafe Express, Uptown Dallas, right now”, I could be lying.

The ease of posting pictures/location status updates that easily, with that much context makes it more likely to share things that I may not have thought of, or taken the time to before.

Why I Find Gowalla Preferable to Foursquare

Mainly, Gowalla is prettier in all aspects. Pretty things are more fun. It has custom icons that have a certain cache for marquee spots. It’s easy to navigate and understand. People have profile images that are easier to process than their name.

The experience is far less cluttered. Foursquare doesn’t feel as thought out or polished. It encourages over-checking in through it’s point system that increases with every check in you do during the day. That sort of quantity over quality diminishes the application for me. The abusers of Gowalla stick out like sore thumbs. Lance Klien and Skip Norton, I don’t like all the clutter you’ve put all over Dallas by checking in everywhere. In Foursquare, that sort of behavior is encouraged far more than in Gowalla.

Gowalla integrates features intelligently, in a well thought-out, well-executed way. They have recently added the ability to attach photos and comments to “spots”, comments on check-ins, and for extra slides to come after check-ins. The extra slides seems to be the main way that Gowalla is integrating advertising. Today, after checking in at the Apple Store, I got a link to Twitterific and a custom item for them. It was  a nice little perk that made me feel better about Twitterific.

It’s not that I have any bad feelings about Foursquare, it’s just that the application of Foursquare is more haphazard. Foursquare has found the one of the best tones to communicate with their user base and their founder, Dennis Crowley is a cult of personality who comes across as both an expert and fun.

I strongly dislike the concept of “Mayor” in Foursquare. That title goes to the person who has checked into a spot the most. To me, it encourages over-use bordering on spam. Also, with Foursquare pushing perks for the mayors of places, it’s going to be worse. At the Las Vegas Hilton, there is a sign stating that the Mayor of that hotel gets something special, a discount or something, I don’t even remember. How is that relevant at a hotel? Does the Hilton now need a policy where employees can’t check in there leaving the Mayorship to some local who is the Vegas equivalent to Lance Klien, the Dallas-based Gowalla over-checker-inner? It is irrelevant and sloppy. I much prefer Gowalla’s individual rewards. At SXSW, I won a free taco, along with a bunch of others at a taco stand across the street after a lucky check-in. It felt like a great reward, and there were several other happy Gowalla users at that taco stand redeeming tacos. If the Mayor of the taco-stand got a discount or perk with a purchase, I can see how that may be appealing to just them, but not a larger user base. To me, the Mayorship is exclusive rather than inclusive.

The haphazzardness of Foursquare feels fun, like anything is a possiblity, but it doesn’t match the applied uses that Gowalla does. So, if you have an iPod Touch, iPhone or any Android device, I recommend Gowalla. Please add me. I’d love to see what you’re up to. Search “Ben Guthrie” and I should come up.

Feedback is welcome @benguthrie

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