Food allergies, meet technology

Both our kids have food allergies, and our oldest has such a severe reaction to milk we carry Epi-Pens everywhere. We are all thankful we've never had an event that required we use them, but since she's in early elementary school she'd never be able to give herself an injection.

The last time we needed to update her prescription our pediatrician asked my wife if she'd heard of the Auvi-Q. It was completely new to both of us. Jen texted me about it, so I did a quick search and came across this video.

That's crazy! It's easy to see how many awesome changes have revolutinized lots of everyday products (think iPhones or Tesla) and forget how many are stuck at 'good enough.'

To quote Amy Hoy, "The things we use every day are so disgustingly terrible, there’s unending opportunity."

I'm really glad we can have Epi-Pens within arms reach at all times, but we needed to practice to prepare to use them. There's no way our daughter would be able to give them to herself, and a chance she'd have to wait for an ambulance if she had a reaction and we weren't around.

The Auvi-Q solves all of those problems. It's a great reminder that just because something is functional, it doesn't mean it can't be better.

Now we just have to get our insurance to pay for it. :-)

The art of plussing it.

Walt Disney was famous for pushing people who worked for him to "plus it." Here's how Ward Jenkins described it:

"Walt Disney coined the term plussing as a way of making an idea even better. By telling his workers to plus it, even when they think they nailed it, gave Disney that extra edge when it came to quality animation back in the day. Pixar is a staunch believer in plussing their work. And it shows."

This is still something that lives on in the culture at Disney. One well known example comes from this clip from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

Did you notice the number of times where Roger, the animated character, interacts with physical objects? Roger knocks over the boxes before Eddie touches them. When he looks out of the peephole he knocks over a beer bottle. Roger takes his hands out of the handcuffs, and they move from mid-air to flat on the table, then he picks his cuff up and puts it back on.

'Bumping the lamp'

I used to miss all these little details, until I worked at Fuge camps during the summer of 2003. They taught us about a concept they learned from Disney corporate training called bumping the lamp. The idea is to look at your work and ask yourself, what could I do to make this the best work I could possibly do.

In the words of Walt Disney, how can I plus this work.

It's good work to make the animation of Roger Rabbit squash and stretch, stage it well, and make it believable and funny. It's bumping the lamp when you do good work and make Roger interact with the physical world to take the illusion of a talking animated rabbit to the next level.

Magic moments

At the end of August I started a new job, and I spent a week on a retreat planning the next 6 months while getting to know my new friends. It was awesome. Everyone at Wildbit is a clean-up hitter, great at their job and just plain fun to be around.

To start the week all 18 of us were sitting around a table, and we did an ice breaker where we were all supposed to share something interesting about ourselves.

Because of where I sat, I ended up going somewhere close to the middle. And man, there were cool stories. I mean cool stories. They aren't mine, so I'm not going to share them here. But as everyone shared their interesting fact, I sat silently racking my brain to think of an interesting thing to share while still paying close attention to what everyone else was saying. As my turn approached, I decided to tell everyone I love Disney World.

It's true, but it's not particularly interesting. When the attention from the table turned my way I didn't help make my fact any more memorable. I said something like, "We love to take our kids to Disney World. A lot."

I don't think it was quite that lame, but since then I've returned to this moment and rethought how I would have conveyed what makes my fascination with Disney World interesting.

Sure, I enjoy navigating enormous crowds to maximize the amount of fun we can have in a limited amount of time. My competitive nature emerges and I keep track of how many attractions or events we make before lunch time. There's a small pleasure in knowing I'm working the system to avoid the 2 and half hour wait for Peter Pan's Flight.

But those aren't the reasons I love going to Disney with our kids.

We have a knack for finding moments where plussing it creates stories I'll never forget.

On our first visit with our little girl, we took her to a princess breakfast in Cinderella's Castle in Magic Kingdom.

Pretty awesome right?

We were there early, and our reservations meant we were the first people in the Magic Kingdom. The cast member checking us in asked our daughter if she wanted to be princess of the day. She was two and half, so I'm sure you can imagine the depths of excitement she displayed in the span of a heartbeat.

On another trip during the holiday season, my wife and daughter visited the Christmas Shoppe while I rode Haunted Mansion. As they were looking around, a cast member asked if they would like to decorate their Christmas tree for the day. After they were done, the cast member gave our little one a special ornament so she could remember decorating the Christmas tree at Disney World.

On one trip we opened Camp Mickey and Minnie, and our family got to sit on the front row for Festival of the Lion King. If you aren't familiar with this show there's signing, fire dancing, gymnastics, and more singing. The theater is divided into four sections and each section is asked to imitate an animal from the Lion King.

Want to guess what happened next? Yup, a cast member asked our daughter to help lead the giraffe section during the show.

On our last trip in May the kids wanted to check out the Sword in the Stone. I've always liked the movie and when it was re-released recently we all watched it together. There was a line of families waiting for their kids to have their picture taken pulling on the sword. When it was their turn, our kids ran up to test their strength. I'm snapping pictures, and they start yelling "It's moving!!!!" Sure 'nuff, they were pulling the sword from the stone.

These stories are tangible reminders of how a little thought and extra effort can make anyone feel special. They remind me to try and find ways to make small improvements that add up to big moments.

I guess my interesting fact is I can see how they make the magic happen and I keep going back for more.

The T-shaped superhero: Flash and the art of doing one thing really well

The Flash

The new Flash show premieres tonight, and I couldn't be more exited. He's my absolute favorite superhero, and I really hope this new show nails everything great about the character.

How the Flash became my favorite superhero

In 2005 I started reading comics for the first time. Really reading them.
If you can set aside reality and accept the conceit of a world where men and women wear tights and routinely save the world from apocalytic disaster, comics are a lot of fun.

Like almost everyone I know, I already knew who the major players were (thank you SuperFriends). I used Batman and Superman as a starting point and expanded my reading from there.

As I started reading, something started bugging me about most superheroes.

Look at Superman for example. He can keep pace with the Flash, shoot lasers from his eyes, keep your ice cream cold on the way home from the store, and fly.

Superman is the complete package superhero. Which is why he's so boring. There's no problem he can't solve, or enemy he can't crush. Telling a great Superman story is the Gordian knot of storytelling. It's not impossible, but can only be accomplished by the best of writers.

Contrast Superman with the Flash. He's got basically one power: he can move faster than the speed of light. No laser vision, no turning back time, just pure raw speed.

He has to get creative, and sometimes moving really fast isn't enough. My favorite Flash story is found in Flash: Fastest Man Alive. It follows Bart Allen as he moves from Kid Flash to take on the mantle of his mentor Wally West. He's forced to deal with an unsolvable problem and his speed is the only thing he can use to save the day.

The T-shaped superhero

I spend my days working in marketing, and one of the big pieces of advice passed around over the last few years has been to become a T-shaped marketer. The idea is this: build a little bit of knowledge about everything related to marketing, but focus on knowing everything about a limited number of subjects.

The Flash doesn't work in marketing, but he is the ultimate T-shaped superhero.

A New Chapter

5 years ago I sent a tweet asking someone at AppRiver what I needed to learn to get a job in their support department. I got a reply telling me they focused on helping customers and asked me to send them my resume. A few weeks later I signed on as a support tech. I’ve always loved tech, and working at AppRiver has been a dream gig. I’ve had a blast getting to work on a bunch of different projects, especially during my time as Services Evangelist in our marketing department.

Because I’ve built so many great friendships the last few years, and AppRiver has grown so much during that time, I wanted to take some time to let everyone know Friday will be my last day at AppRiver. Next week I’ll be joining the team at Wildbit to work on marketing their apps — Beanstalk, Postmark, and Dploy.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve lived with the tension of a couple of emotions. Excitement to take on a new challenge and start off on a new adventure, coupled with a bit of sadness to be ending my time at AppRiver.

I like to avoid cliches when I write, but for some reason last night when trying to write this post I kept going back to lines from 90’s songs. Here are a few examples.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.

End of the road.

What is love, baby don’t hurt me.

Just kidding, I had to throw the Haddaway in there to see if anyone read this far.

In all seriousness, I’ll always be grateful for the generosity of everyone at AppRiver. Please keep in touch, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Juicing Your Search-fu With DuckDuckGo

I read a great post by Danny Schriber over at the Zapier blog on setting up Google Chrome for Marketers. Don’t miss how he uses Chrome Profiles, it blew my mind.

I do have one slight improvement to one of his suggestions, and that’s using DuckDuckGo to power custom search.

If you aren’t familiar with DuckDuckGo, they are a search engine. Their claim to fame is they don’t collect or retain any personal search data. They’ve capitalized on this policy when Google and other search providers have made the news regarding changes to their privacy policy, or anonymized search data has been used to connect searches with people who performed them. Be sure to check out their privacy policy, it’s great.

Getting Started With DuckDuckGo

The first thing you’ll need to do is set DuckDuckGo as your default search provider in Chrome. DDG has made this pretty easy. Head over to https://duckduckgo.com/ and click on “Use in Chrome” at the bottom of that page.

Don’t forgot to go to chrome://settings and make DuckDuckGo your default search engine.

DuckDuckGo uses !bangs, so you can modify your searches and send them to a different search engine. If you don’t find DDG results helpful, try your search again and add “!g” to the end. This bang will send your search to the Google result page for the term you entered. If you’re looking to buy a book, enter the title in the Omnibox and add !a to send your search to Amazon.

My Favorite !Bangs

Here’s a list of DuckDuckGo curated !bangs, but here are a few I think you’ll use most often:

  • !g => search google.com
  • !i => search google.com/images
  • !a => search amazon.com
  • !yt => search youtube.com
  • !down => search downforeveryoneorjustme.com
  • !whois => search whois.domaintools.com
  • !so => search stackoverflow.com
  • !tw => search twitter.com
  • !fb => search facebook.com
  • !li => search linkedin.com
  • !gmail => search gmail.com
  • !giphy => search giphy.com
  • !flickrc => search flickr.com for CC licensed images

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my default search engine for a couple of years now and it fits perfectly in my workflow because of !bangs. Be sure to check out the entire list of supported bangs, and let me know if there are any essentials I left off my list.