Can you help? I am cycling 2600km solo up the country. I am doing it all to get off of my arse and raise money for a good cause.
I am raising the funds for TASC, a fantastic charitable trust based out of the Spinal Unit of Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital, they help people with spinal cord injuries rehabilitate and get back into the swing of life. You can help them by making a donation (thanks to the team at Givealittle) by visiting http://nzuphill.8degrees.co.nz/donate or if you can help me if you have a bed available for a tired rider somewhere up the country. Everything helps!
I am currently almost one week into the epic journey and am in Dunedin. For the full rundown on my ride with regular blog posts, videos and
You know what they say, “You can take a geek away from his computer, but chances are it’s a laptop and he will take it with him.”
When planning my ride up the country I wondered if I should just leave all the gadgets behind me for two months and go cold turkey, but who was I kidding, not anyone who knew me that’s for sure. And so as I ride the length of New Zealand I will be blogging, tweeting and posting videos to YouTube. I may even chip away at the new start-up project that has been keeping me busy for a bit. The thing is, you can.
When I came back from overseas 9 years ago, freshly inspired by seeing the world and travelling, I set up my first business, which specialised in tele-computing and mobile computing, and at the time you could finally put together all the building blocks to achieve true mobile computing. The technology at the time sucked comparatively to what we have got now, and even what we have now sucks a wee bit and is slowly getting better, but it still let people operate and stay connected on the move. At the time everyone went on about the remote workforce, tele-commuting and the mobile office but people weren’t interested in implementing it. Companies didn’t want people to work from home, not because it was too hard, but because they didn’t trust them and it was too hard to keep an eye on them. This is all another story, which I may well come back to in the near future, but for now my point is that today it is really easy to get away from the shackles of your desk and do business on the road.
At work, we operate the Voom Studio office totally in the cloud. We use Google Apps for email and documents. We use WorkflowMax for job management and time tracking. All our billing and accounts are handled through Xero. The new software product we are developing is SaaS based. Our code repository is totally up in the cloud also so there is no physical reason to physically be in there. The only gear that sits in the office is a printer and an Apple Time Capsule used for storing any large files we are working with, but mainly for storing software, video and any other heavy files (games usually). For collaboration however you cant beat having a chat at someone’s desk or just calling out across the office. That and the fact that customers like to know you “exist” are probably the only reasons we have a Voom office at all.
Here is my mobile office.
My mobile office
This setup lets me do everything I would normally do from my desk, with the added bonus of taking video and photos, neither of which would be very interesting taken from my desk.
There is only one thing that bothers me about my mobile office setup and that is that everything on the left should actually be just one device. If I could have an iPhone that took HD video and let me access the net on my laptop via mobile data then I would be in heaven. In fact I would put money on Apple including fairly decent video camera in the next hardware version of the iPhone, then it would be the single pocket powerhouse computer you would need. Apple, please buy Flip. Samsung and LG are both on the market with a HD video phone, but they are not iPhones are they. The good news is all these devices charge via USB, so I can leave all their associated power cables behind.
The Flip Mino is my latest toy, and I had to ship one in from the US at the last minute when I discovered Flip had removed the off shore sales limitation on their products. It is pocket HD juiciness. I have already in one afternoon put together my first video as an experiment. 30 minutes of footage from a ride, condensed into 2 minutes with voice over and music, thanks to the brilliance of the Mino, and the magic of iMovie. The Mino HD can record on device an hour of video at HD resolution. The brilliance of the Flip cameras are their easy of use and convenience. Smaller than your average cellphone, and lighter, with a single big red button that makes it really easy to point, click and you are recording your next YouTube masterpiece. No fiddly focus rings, or zoom buttons. No back light controls and no on camera effects or editing. Just record. When you plug it into your computer, you can suck off all the video and fiddle with it in your video edit suite of choice. In my case I have a mac so it is iMovie, which does the job just nicely. Today our home computers have plenty of grunt to process video and audio and all we want from a camera is the data.
On my ride, for the mobile data side of things I am using a vodem, and I will pop my SIM card out of my iPhone and use that so as to not have to maintain two data accounts. Hopefully this works. I have tried it out and I could connect from my MacBook, but knowing Vodafone and their screwy data connection settings, my usage may not be billed against my iPhone data allowance.
Finally my iPhone will be my phone, GPS and map, and email and twitter on the go.
All this fits into a surprisingly small bundle. I have water proof bags so no need to stress about being caught in the rain. So I can be anywhere and do everything I would normally need to do on any given day. Customer meetings will be a bit of a pain, but otherwise it will be just like I am still at work, but with 7 hours cycling each day. Now if I could figure out how to type as I ride then life would be just grand.
Here is my first attempt at filming and editing on the go. I hope its not too cheesy. I am calling this the preview. The real footage starts April 20 and will be posted to http://nzuphill.8degrees.co.nz as I go. Anyone got any movie making tips?
A little while ago I saw a fantastic TED talk by Jacek Utko, who told us how through design he helped turn around flagging newspaper readership numbers in Eastern Europe through good design. He basically turned what was your standard boring and drab newspaper format and turned them in to a more designed and visually rich experience that readers wanted to hold, read and enjoy.
“Design can change not just your product, it can change your workflow, it can change your company. We just need inspiration, vision, and determination to operate at the highest level. To be good is not enough.” – Jacek Utko
It is no secret that newspapers are facing extinction in the print form. People are looking online for their source of news and current affairs and they don’t want to read yesterdays news any more. The monopoly on news is no longer tightly controlled by the media agencies. Each day they lose a little bit more control to independent blogs, websites, twitter and Facebook, although slowly, one by one the media agencies are buying these up in an attempt to maintain the control. No surprise there but they do this so they can continue to replicate a formula that has worked pretty well for them so far, which is.
Write some words about something topical which could be news, or opinion
Take a photo to make it more interesting (so it isn’t all just words)
Add lots of ads
Now, in an age where your teenage kids are producing videos, 3d animations, flash movies, and mashups in their bedrooms, why god why are the online “newspapers” not doing the same thing? Why must they cling so dearly to their archaic model for presenting the news? White paper, serif font, colour photo. Sure they have made the paper digital, but it is the same ole same ole when it comes to content. In fact, the print editions are more interesting and interactive, with their big awkward pages, and the occasional multi-page feature which has some nice colourful graphics.
For the online edition however, I would much rather look at something that is designed, and crafted, to stimulate and engage me. Just as Apple made a portable music thing-a-majiggy an object of desire through design, newspapers should try to do the same with their news. Seriously, lets take Jacek’s ideas another step further.
There is so much the format of the web allows you to do. For example, imagine if you can, a digital version of the traditional two-four page spread analysis piece. This digital version could be well designed visually to stand on its own as sort of a feature portal. It could be interactive, media rich and highly informative. Imagine still (are you still imagining?), as an actual example, a dedicated feature on the global financial crisis. This is a complicated story to report on because there are so many different levels of complexity to it, and it means different things to different people in how it effects them. Business readers will want to know different things to say, an at home dad, but both are desperate to understand the topic. Now you could give them a series of individual and non-connected articles on a daily basis that use text and a photo to communicate, or you could:
Provide interactive graphs, and timelines demonstrating the scale of the crisis detailing critical events and the impacts on world markets over time. A nice interactive draggable graphic timeline would do this nicely. Here is a nice example at the NYT (its a nice start).
Embedded YouTube style video of analysis. Here is a good one.
Provide links off to key news articles elsewhere within the site about the same topic. Link them coherently, like “To read more on the effect on the New Zealand economy…” . Visually group the articles together under subject headings so you can see related articles at a glance.
Wrap the whole feature up in a great fully themed design that stimulates you visually, and entices you to explore, and be informed. Make the whole thing an experience.
Or you could do this:
What is wrong with the above (the idea, not Kermit)? Well for one, newspapers are geared up to write text articles. They employ journalists and photographers. They syndicate text and photos through existing channels, that are used to text and photos. To start producing video, Flash, and other media formats they, the news agencies, would have to evolve considerably. How would the editorial process work? What are the costs involved? Could they outsource the creation of such things to people who are good at doing media rich content? Possibly. There is a whole web full of content out there that the online newspapers could be using, but by including information from various sources, feeds and other websites they are potentially losing control of your viewer-ship. They fear that you may wander off to the sources directly (the Internet lends itself well for this you know) and that means you may look at and click less ads in their website. Or worse, you might discover another site that is more informative and interesting than the newspapers.
For a newspaper to change from the crap format they have right now, and their sole reliance on advertising to something better and more engaging online, it will cost them. But, is this a new opportunity for them? Would you actually pay to be better informed and to get your news presented well?
What if they offered a free “news and ads” version of the site (this is pretty much what you get now). Then, what if for a month by month subscription you can get access to media rich, and more comprehensive detailed analysis on the news and current affairs. I want to be informed and to learn. I want the information in forms other than text and photos, and I understand that this costs money to produce. I am immune to online advertising anyway so they need a better model to earn revenue. I want to be entertained, and enjoy the news. If they priced it right I would pay.
Lets say they charged $4 a month (or a dollar a week), and perhaps 5% take up this new news+ option. If your online readership is 600,000 unique browsers a week/month/year, lets say that adds up to $100,000 a month in news+ subscriptions. That is $1.2M extra for an online news site like nzherald.co.nz, and for that money you can generate a lot of nice content. For you at home, for the price of a cup of coffee a week you can get your news looking better, more coherent and interactive. I would pay it.
Will it happen. I think it has to. News content on the Internet could be really interactive, engaging, and informative, but at the end of the day it might be hard work and they might need to adapt to new ideas. It will take some balls to change. Anyway, I made my New Years resolution to not read online newspapers. It might take a few more people to do the same before they change their ways.