Rob Simons Says

Entrepreneur + Technology + Economics + Photography + Food

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What Losing My iPhone 4 Taught Me About The Upcoming iPhone 5

September 28th, 2011 · Technology

Accidents can lead to unexpected insights. That was the lesson I learned when my trusty Apple iPhone 4 suffered a “lake incident” three weeks ago. Since the nucleus of my daily activities is the iPhone, my first reaction was to run out and purchase another iPhone 4. But because the release of the iPhone 5 is imminent (recently confirmed as October 4), I decided to revert to an old iPhone 3. My experience over the next few weeks reminded me how far iPhone technology had progressed in one version.

This experience has also given me insight into what we’ll see in the next generation smartphone from Apple. And I’m not talking about general hardware features, you can find that on many websites. I’m talking about the famous Apple user experience when you move up to the iPhone 5.

It’s All About The Feel
The first thing I noticed with my old iPhone 3 is the feel. I had forgotten how much plastic was used in that phone – it just feels cheap. Of course, when it was released, the iPhone 3 felt like the coolest, sexiest device ever built. Eventually, I bought a case for the iPhone 3 because it was so easy to scratch. Something about the iPhone 4 just screams bullet proof (but obviously not lake-proof.) While I was immediately turned off by the squared profile of the iPhone 4, it really grew on me as a beautiful piece of hardware.

So what does this tell us about the future? I believe the iPhone 5 will be another evolutionary step in hardware design. Apple seems to pull a rabbit out of the hat with each product cycle. Even when I look back at a MacBook Pro from a few years ago, it looks like a VIC-20 compared to my MacBook Air. Based on past experience with Apple’s design team, I imagine the iPhone 5 will have fewer parts, a smaller profile, but more strength and durability.

I Feel The Need For Speed
The most pronounced change in the user experience of downgrading to an iPhone 3 is the overall reaction time of the phone. Just waking the device from sleep and entering my passcode is frustratingly slow. Every application, every form, every feature seems to be slower on the iPhone 3. Almost painstakingly slow. In typical Apple form, the iOS software eventually advances to the point where a step up in hardware performance is required to allow for a good user experience. When Apple added the multitasking version of the iOS, it basically required an iPhone 4.

With the iPhone 5 and imminent release of iOS 5, I expect the same step up in speed. You probably won’t notice a major speed upgrade from the iPhone 4. But if you’re on the iPhone 4 (or, God forbid, an iPhone 3) with the new iOS 5, you’ll find yourself waiting for the device to respond. And the integration with Apple’s iCloud will certainly demand the higher processing power of the new iPhone 5.

Say Cheese
Even before the iPhone 4, I thought the camera on the iPhone 3 was completely unusable. I rarely used the iPhone 3 as a camera. But when I got the iPhone 4 with the upgraded camera and an external flash, everything changed. In fact, I went completely paperless with my life. Every bill, receipt and letter I receive was captured quickly with the DocScanner app on my iPhone 4. I then file the doc electronically on Google docs. It’s simplified my life and reduced the clutter in my home office. Having been forced back to the iPhone 3 has put my paperless lifestyle on hold. The camera on the iPhone 3 is just awful.

All the rumors have confirmed what is obvious; the iPhone 5 will have a better camera with a higher resolution and probably a better flash. I’m hoping that we’ll finally achieve a quality level that will eliminate my need for the pocket Canon point-and-shoot digital camera I carry on trips. I also think capturing video will continue to integrate into our lifestyles with the evolution of cameras on our mobile phones.

It’s A Phone Too
It has always been ironic that the iPhone was never good at being an actual “phone.” Many people blamed the constant dropped calls on AT&T. But after downgrading to the iPhone 3, I can confirm that the problem was really the earlier models of the iPhone. Regardless of the iPhone 4’s antennaegate, I had very few dropped calls on my iPhone 4 compared to the iPhone 3. Since the lake-imposed downgrade, my percentage of dropped calls has tripled. In general, the iPhone 3 has weaker signal strength in most areas. And I’ve noticed the speaker volume is not that good, especially in “speakerphone” mode.

I expect the iPhone 5 will finally put to bed any of the lingering perceptions that the iPhone is a bad “phone.” Apple just keeps perfecting the hardware with every evolution.

Where Am I?
The GPS on the iPhone 4 is wonderful compared to the iPhone 3. Similar to the camera, the GPS is almost unusable on the iPhone 3. As a runner, I got spoiled using the RunKeeper app on my iPhone 4 to track my routes and statistics. On the iPhone 3, I can’t even get a GPS signal strong enough to use the app. The iPhone 3 spends an entire 3-mile run looking for the GPS satellites and never captures any data.

The iPhone 5 should have a better GPS that will allow us to continue to find ways to integrate location-based data into our daily lives. My iPhone 4 was my turn-by-turn GPS device for my car, using the TomTom app. I predict more iPhone 5 users will turn to their phones as their primary GPS tool.

Charge Me Up
I forgot what a major upgrade the iPhone 4 made to battery life. With my iPhone 3, I’m constantly recharging. With a moderate amount of use during the day, my iPhone 3 will require a charge before the evening. With the iPhone 4, I could actually forget to charge the phone overnight and still make it through the next day.

The iPhone 5 should be another step forward in battery life. As proven with the battery life in the latest generation of MacBooks and iPads, Apple has invested heavily in extending battery life of mobile devices.

Ready to Upgrade
The last few weeks have confirmed my desire to place an order for the iPhone 5 the first chance I get. I remember when I received my iPhone 3, I thought I was experiencing a groundbreaking device. But that is obviously a distant memory after owning an iPhone 4 for several months and then being forced to downgrade. While I think the hardware evolution will be great, I expect the biggest evolution of the iPhone 5 experience will actually be in the software – the iOS 5 platform and Apple’s upcoming iCloud. The thought of having my digital life in the cloud and connected to my mobile device is extremely enticing. And thanks to that “incident” at the lake, I know I want to experience this evolution of the latest hardware Apple has to offer — the iPhone 5.

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Squirrel Hunting

September 24th, 2011 · General

A resident of Texas for over 20 years, I finally felt the requirement for a gun. And it wasn’t the need for personal safety that drove my desire to take up arms, it was squirrels. Those pesky rodents seem to get into everything around my lake house.

I have to admit, the first day after purchasing my firearm I was excited like a little kid on Christmas morning. It was my first chance to test my recently acquired sharp shooter skills honed on the range.

Early Monday morning, while getting ready for a meeting, I remembered a comment my neighbor Tyrone made on the range the day before, “I’m sure you’ll have a chance to kill a squirrel tomorrow. They’re always active in the morning…” So every time I walked by a window or a door, I paused and scouted the yard for a devious rodent.

On the third glance out the windows I acquired a target – an un-repentant, pesky, troublemaking squirrel.

“Finally.” I mumbled as I cracked a slight grin.

Weighing only a few pounds but certainly a mischief-maker, this male squirrel standing at attention on the railing of my balcony was clearly challenging me with his cold stare. Maybe he realized he was about to meet his maker… Or maybe he was startled by my striped blue and white boxer shorts. But clearly, he was in a state of shock.

My heart started to beat a little faster as I realized my opportunity to eradicate this rodent. And I quickly reviewed in my head the steps to get off a clean shot, “Comfortably rest my head on the stock; acquire my target in the scope; take a deep breathe; start to let it out…hold; then gently squeeze the trigger.” My day on the range had clearly prepared me for the responsibility I had to cleanse my yard of troublemakers.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. My inner voice mumbled, “Where’s my Henry lever action .22 caliber long range rifle with the blued-steel barrel and lever, with the straight-grip American walnut stock?” (Yes. That’s how the inner voice of a marketing professional talks.)

My killing machine was downstairs in the hall closet! “How long would this formidable foe wait outside my window while I armed myself?” I wasn’t sure, but I was convinced I didn’t have any time to waste.

So without making any sudden movements that would signal to my adversary my cruel intentions, I quickly headed down the stairs to grab my weapon. On the way I pondered if boxer shorts were proper hunting attire. But it didn’t matter, I couldn’t waste any time with pants. I had justice to serve. I continued on the path to my firearm.

I opened the hall closet and found “Henry” waiting to be enlisted into action. With the confidence of a Navy Seal, I grabbed my widow-maker and headed back to the battlefront on my balcony.

As I approached the top of the stairs, it was clear that luck was on my side – the furry antagonist was still on the balcony.

As I slowly advanced towards the sliding doors, I smoothly removed the cover from my scope. Not that I needed it, the vermin was only 10 feet away as I started to slide the door open.

“Damn it!” My target noticed the boxer-clad executioner at the door and bolted for the safety of the nearest sycamore tree. But the villain rodent decided to taunt the grim reaper and stopped at the first major branch in the tree – he was now only fifteen feet away.

If anything, I had a better shot than before. The gray vermin was perfectly situated in the “V” made between the trunk and a major branch. I imagined how my convicted tree-dweller would look being blown out of the sycamore tree by my Super Colibri .22 ammo.

My heart raced a little more as I raised the rifle and engaged the American made, blued-steel lever of my assault rifle for the kill. I was breathing heavier by the moment, but I was focused on permanently removing Mr. Gray from my yard.

As I got the stock of the rifle to my cheek, my opponent repositioned himself on the branch…preparing to bolt up the tree to safety. I realized that I didn’t have much time to acquire the lakeside vermin in my sites and deal out justice.

With my finger on the trigger and my heart pounding, I positioned the criminal beast between the crosshairs of the scope.

Like a well-trained killer, I hit the checklist once again, “Breathe deep; start to let out the breath; hold it slightly; squeeze the trigger.” And then I remembered my tendency to jerk to the left on the practice range. My inner voice repeated the critical instructions, “Don’t jerk the trigger. Squeeze it.”

I took one last deep breath. Slightly exhaled and prepared to become judge, jury and executioner for this un-remorseful rodent. It was time to send him to his maker…




“Damn it!” I shouted.

No bullet.

My rival realized by my sudden outburst that his life was spared. He freely escaped up the sycamore tree to live for another day. And I was left standing in my boxer shorts with another item to add to my checklist.

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Apple’s iPhone 4 Review: A Roller Coaster First Week

June 30th, 2010 · Technology

Wow. What a first week! For all the people that were waiting for my review of Apple’s new iPhone 4, here it is – get ready for a roller coaster ride.

Before we start this journey, let me give the option to step out of line now. It has not been an enjoyable journey. Actually, it’s been very ugly in several places, with more twists and turns than I expected. And for an Apple diehard like me that’s experienced just about every Apple product since the Apple ][+, I didn’t see this ride coming. So if you’re still up for it, sit back and relax while we climb the first hill.

(Just to give you a sense of the tome I could have written, I was 2,000 words into the first half of the initial ordering experience when I decided to reboot.)

Ordering Experience

To keep this short, I’ll just say that the pre-ordering experience started out great, then quickly descended into hell. My first stop was the AT&T web site, but it was extremely unresponsive. So I decided to call 611 from my phone and order the three iPhone 4 upgrades directly from AT&T on the morning of June 17. The first AT&T rep was wonderful. If only that call had been the end of the AT&T experience.

Unfortunately, I needed to call back and make a minor modification to the order. What should have been a simple process evolved into 4+ hours of phone calls; several blatant lies from AT&T; an incorrectly canceled order; an AT&T manager that never called me back; a mysteriously re-instated order after I was told it wasn’t possible to get a new order; then the miraculous “early” delivery of my iPhone 4.

Yes. For some reason, I was one of the few that received my iPhone 4 via FedEx the day BEFORE it was released to the public. This later turned out to be a blessing and a curse.

Installation & Activation

After going from being told I wouldn’t get my iPhone 4 for several weeks, to receiving it a day early, I thought this was a sign from above that I need to pop open the box and accept the responsibility of being one the first to enjoy an iPhone 4. I even had hopes of writing an early review of the iPhone 4 before it was officially released. But my hopes were quickly dashed…

During the pre-order fiasco, one of the not-so-nice AT&T reps made a mistake that caused two of the three phones to be assigned to the wrong phone number. It would take another 2,000 words to explain the details of what happened, but let me assure that it took four lengthy calls to AT&T, a few more blatant lies and hours of frustration before we had the phones working. And because of another lie told to me by AT&T, we actually had to buy a fourth iPhone 4 because the numbers were incorrectly assigned. (Seriously, I’d lose all my readers if I tried to explain the details.)

In the end, I think part of the problem was that I received the iPhone 4’s early. I’m using the word “lie” pretty loosely here. I realized when I was talking with AT&T that they weren’t completely prepared with all the necessary steps and procedures to make simple changes, like moving a phone number from a pre-assigned SIM. I finally talked to one knowledgeable rep that recommended I just take everything to the Apple store and let it fix the problem. Nice service AT&T.

First Impressions

Enough about the ordering and activation hassles; it’s time to talk about the phone itself. Here is a collection of my first impressions during week one with the iPhone 4:


  • It’s sexy. Flat out gorgeous product design. Later a friend countered my enthusiasm that it didn’t really matter if the “new” design was the iPhone 4 or the iPhone 3, we are always going to say the “new” design is the coolest. Apple just does that to consumers.
  • Surprisingly, it doesn’t feel quite as nice in your hand. I think the softer curves on the old iPhone are a little more comfortable. Especially if you put it in your pocket.
  • The now infamous antenna band going around the phone looks really nice. I like the metal buttons for the volume and the mute. It just feels more substantial.
  • The new glass front and back panels are much more impressive than the plastic on the old iPhones. It’ll be interesting to see how they hold up against scratches. I easily scratched my old iPhone 3 case before I bought a protective cover.
  • For some reason I was expecting it to be noticeably thinner. It’s not. It looks and feels about the same.
  • The weight is almost identical to the old phone.


  • The quality of the screen is absolutely amazing. This is probably the highlight of all the new iPhone 4 features. I was skeptical when I heard Steve Jobs claim that your eye couldn’t distinguish individual pixels. Damn! He was right.
  • Reading text on the new iPhone is enjoyable. I can’t believe how much more polished the entire interface is at 326 pixels per inch. I remember that the first laser printers imaged on paper at 300 pixels per inch, so this screen is like reading paper.
  • One of my favorite stories from the first week was showing a proof of a business card to a client on my iPhone 4 – it was incredibly sharp and readable. Coincidentally, it was almost actual size. Very cool.
  • Photos and video are significantly better with the new resolution. Anyone that uses their phone to show off pictures of their kids, pets or latest vacation, will enjoy the new screen.
  • The screen is noticeably brighter, too.


  • The iPhone 4 seems significantly more responsive. It’s hard to do a time test, but just bouncing around apps and the web, it feels a lot faster.


  • It definitely has more battery life. But I haven’t been able to determine in the first week how significant is the improvement. My usage varies dramatically from day-to-day, so it’s hard to give a definitive answer. But I’m NOT getting the 20% and 10% battery warnings as often as I did with my 3G.


  • I use the map and location-based apps frequently on my iPhone. The new version feels much more responsive. I remember my first iPhone 3 was a dog with GPS. So it’s nice to see that GPS is now functional and responsive.


  • To the everyday user, I’m not sure the new IOS 4 operating system is noticeable.
  • The FaceTime feature (video conferencing) is useful addition to the phone. I think it will be heavily used once non-iPhone devices can connect to FaceTime, and Apple/AT&T remove the restriction to WiFi only delivery. It’s nice that you can switch between the forward and rear facing cameras. This video conferencing feature has a tremendous amount of potential. And like most products from Apple, it’s easy to use.
  • I’m glad to see the ability to multitask applications, but I’m not really sure how to use it, or if applications are really taking advantage of the feature. In fact, I had to do a Google search just to figure out how to access the multitasking features on my iPhone – basically you double-click the home button to access all currently running applications. You can close the apps by click-and-holding for a few seconds, until you have the delete (negative) icon. I think we’ll learn more about the power of multitasking as applications start to take advantage of it.


  • I’m not really sure what to do with a six-axis, real-time gyroscope in my phone, but it sounds cool.
  • Make sure you purchase the Gyroblox app so you can play with the gyroscope.
  • Similar to the multitasking feature, I think game developers will eventually blow us away with the gyroscope. But for now, it’s just there.


  • I was really looking forward to having a usable camera on my iPhone, especially with a flash. But so far, I’ve been very disappointed. Maybe I just know too much about photography, but the lens is very slow. So unless your subject is perfectly lit and not moving, the camera will deliver blurry images. Overall, it delivers very mediocre photo results. It’s more for “documentation” than artistic capture.
  • I’m probably more impressed with the video capture. The 720p HD video capture is remarkably usable. Again, good lighting conditions are required, but the video is nice.
  • The flash is very weak. It doesn’t have much of a range and tends to cause some serious color distortion. It also has a serious lag time from when you cue up your subject and the shot is taken. I’ve had numerous “missed shots” because of the delay in the iPhone 4 taking the picture.
  • In the end, the camera and flash are a major improvement, but I don’t expect it will replace your digital point-and-shoot camera.

The Disappointments

At this point in the roller coaster ride you realize that having a chili cheese dog and fries for lunch was a bad idea – I was close “losing it” a few times based on these turns. In one week, I’ve experienced all three of the major “known” issues with the iPhone 4. I’ve already placed several calls to Apple and AT&T support; plus one visit to the AT&T phone center. And I’m not done yet…as you’ll soon read, I have to make another call/visit to Apple. So here are the three major issues and one “bonus” disappointment:


  • I’m glad I read online about other iPhone 4 users having this issue; otherwise I would have thought I was crazy. The issue is that when you place a call and you put your phone up to your face, the proximity sensor is supposed to disable the touch screen so your cheek doesn’t start pushing buttons. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced several phone calls where I pull the phone away from my cheek to see that I’ve accidentally initiated another call (!), or changed “settings” on my current call. It’s very frustrating. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to happen all the time. I haven’t had time to deal with this issue (because of other concerns, keep reading.)


  • I have experienced the freaky Vulcan phone grip that causes the reception bars to plummet to nothing. If you’re not familiar with the problem, basically the metal band surrounding the phone is three antennas. And some combination of grip, sweat and location can cause the phone to lose reception.
  • It’s very inconsistent. It seems like whenever I try to demonstrate the issue, I can’t force it to happen. If I’m just randomly holding my phone and not paying attention, the reception bars will occasionally start to drop.
  • Considering the amount of negative coverage this problem is receiving, I imagine it will get resolved soon. I hope so. I actually haven’t noticed an improvement or decrease in the quality of phone calls. So far the quality of the calls are fine, as long as I’m not disconnected…

iPhone4 No SIM Card InstalledNO SIM CARD INSTALLED

  • This issue is the deal killer. Randomly, my iPhone 4 will display an image that says “No SIM Card Installed.” And the SIM card is what provides the phone with call service. To make matters worse, it seems to happen in the middle of phone calls!? On Monday, eight of my twelve phone calls were disconnected mid-conversation due to this problem.
  • The temporary fix is to turn on Airplane mode, wait a few seconds and turn Airplane mode off. This occasionally resolves the problem.
  • The next possible fix is to turn your phone off, wait a few minutes and turn it back on. This “almost” always fixes the problem, at least for a short period.
  • The next fix is to remove the SIM card, inspect it for damage, and carefully re-seat the card. This also will occasionally solve the problem, but it makes you consider carrying a paper clip to quickly eject the card.
  • The next fix is to drive in a massive downpour to the AT&T store and get a new SIM card. (Okay, the massive rainstorm is optional, but it adds to the excitement.) This fix worked for less than 24 hours for me before I started getting the error message again.
  • The final fix is to replace the iPhone 4, which I haven’t done yet. Ugh!
  • The biggest issue with the above sequence of events, is it usually happens in the middle of a really important phone call. At one point, I was so desperate to call back the associate that was so rudely dropped by my SIM card, that I downloaded, installed and purchased credit on Skype so I could make a call from my laptop. A few choice words were lobbed at Apple during that process.
  • I’ll post another entry with the finale of the iPhone 4 replacement saga.


  • It didn’t occur to me until I placed my new iPhone 4 into my TomTom car cradle that the new dimensions and shape of the iPhone 4 could be detrimental to many existing iPhone accessories. I had purchased the TomTom cradle (a GPS booster) and related application for traveling. I really like the software and hardware. As a bonus, it provides charging and a Bluetooth hands free device while driving. But the shape of the new iPhone 4 doesn’t work with this expensive accessory. So I’m SOL. I’ve seen a few hacks to fix this problem, but I’m hoping TomTom will come out with a reasonable “upgrade.”

Missing Items

In addition to the serious issues mentioned above, the iPhone 4 is still lacking a few features that I think are important, including:


  • It would be an incredibly practical tool to be able to use the iPhone’s 3G data network and WiFi abilities to setup a mini MiFi network. It would be the perfect compliment for a WiFi iPad. For a variety of business reasons, I’m sure it will never happen. I was jealous when a friend recently used her Palm Pre device to setup a MiFi network for her iPad.
  • My alternate solution for this situation is the Sprint Overdrive device. You can read my review about it here.


  • The next best option to a MiFi network is Data Tethering – the ability to use your iPhone 4 connected via USB to your laptop to connect to the Internet. While it’s been announced, it hasn’t arrived yet. And that still doesn’t solve the problem for iPad owners. Not to mention, the price from AT&T looks expensive.


  • Considering my experience with AT&T customer service, I’m all for an expand base of carriers to choose from. It’s been rumored that Verizon will start offering the iPhone 4 as soon as January 2011. The only hitch is that you’ll need to buy a new iPhone 4 that has the correct hardware to connect to Verizon’s network.


The iPhone 4 has to be one of my biggest disappointments from Apple in their long history of exciting product announcement. My conclusion is based on a combination of really poor customer service (primarily from AT&T) combined with some serious, nagging technical problems. When 60% of my calls in one day are dropped because of the SIM issue, it’s just not a useable device. Hopefully I just got a lemon iPhone 4. But I’d hate to recommend the phone today to anyone until I knew that these issues are an isolated incident, or that they have been resolved. So the end of the ride is actually another call to Apple support. For some reason, I have a bad feeling in my stomach about climbing this next hill.

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Book Review: “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” by Seth Godin

April 17th, 2010 · Book Review, Economics, Technology

The Boss Said Put Something Up, So We Did Sign

I happened across this sign while I was in the middle of reading Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. It was perfect timing and I had to take a picture to include with this review.

It’s safe to assume that the owner of this restaurant in the Texas Hill Country probably needs to read this latest book from Seth Godin. While the intent of the book is to inspire individuals to recognize and adjust to the new economy, I read the book from the view of an entrepreneur. Spoiler alert: I want all of my employees to read this book.

Linchpin clearly lays out the changes in the economy and the labor pool over the past few decades and argues that any job that can be described with a set of step-by-step instructions is now a commodity. He introduced a new view of the labor force that I had never considered: during the industrial revolution, manual labor (blue collar workers) became a commodity. The assembly line was nothing more than the act of improving productivity by simplifying a job to a set of instructions — hence, the need for unions to protect their positions (a discussion unto itself). This approach is a complete departure from the master craftsmen of an earlier era that produced handmade goods and services. Seth argues that the technology revolution of the past 30 years has basically made most white collar jobs a commodity too.

Seth also states that mediocrity is no longer accepted, by consumers or employers. In a commodity driven world, someone is always ready to produce or provide a service faster, cheaper and better. At first glance, this sounds like a gloomy state of affairs, but it also means that it’s easier to stand out when you do have a better product, service or skill:

The Internet has raised the bar because it’s so easy for word to spread about great stuff. There’s more stuff than ever before, more lousy writing, more pointless products. But this abundance of trash is overwhelmed by the market’s ability to distribute news about the great stuff.

This statement is exactly what has created tremendous change in my industry – advertising. It’s no longer enough to have great branding, marketing messages and a solid advertising campaign – all products and services have to be outstanding, too. Anyone can Google or check with their friends on Facebook to find out if product A is better than product B. Word of mouth recommendations have never been easier, thanks to the Internet. The world has changed, and for the better.

After perfectly setting up the new environment for employment, Seth proceeds to layout the steps for any individual to become a valuable member in the new economy – to become a Linchpin. He states to succeed you need to…

Be remarkable.

Be generous.

Create art.

Make judgment calls.

Connect people and ideas.

At first, I thought the idea of suggesting that all people can “create art” was a bit hokey. But Seth explains that art is really the act of giving something extra that the recipient was expecting. He states, “Art is the product of emotional labor. If it’s easy and risk free, it’s unlikely that it’s art.” And it’s important to create and give art without expecting anything in return. Once you expect something in return, it no longer becomes art.

The book also explains that a lot of the norms in society are set up to prevent us from becoming a linchpin. For years, our school systems, jobs and incentives have kept us from achieving this status:

Schools have figured this out. They need shortcuts in order to successfully process millions of students a year, and they’ve discovered that fear is a great shortcut on the way to teaching compliance. Classrooms have become fear-based, test-based battlefields, when the could so easily be organized to encourage the heretical thought we so badly need.

Similar to the findings in the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. Seth points out that the motivators that truly bring out the best work in people are rarely money. In fact, it’s much more about personal satisfaction.

The book continues with a discussion about our “lizard brain.” This part of the brain contains our most basic survival instincts. He argues that our survival mode prevents us from taking risks. We tend to avoid the anguish of trying something new and instead we listen to the demon inside our head that tells us to stick with something safe. We procrastinate, rationalize and ultimately succumb to doing what’s safe. That’s why it’s so much easier to follow step-by-step instructions, the lizard brain knows it’s not your fault if things don’t succeed. To tie this back to Seth’s earlier message that “mediocrity” is no longer acceptable, it’s our lizard brain (that’s been around for millions of years) that fights us and prevents us from being exceptional.

Every good concept needs a Venn diagram, and Seth delivers with an overview of the linchpin’s characteristics:

Linchpin Venn Diagram

The final third of the book gives examples of how to get past the negative effects of the lizard brain and become a linchpin. This is the real meat of the book. And Seth convinces the reader that anyone can become a linchpin in almost any organization. (Note: If you’re in one of the few organizations that doesn’t want you to become a linchpin, you need to find a new job.) Here’s Seth’s explanation of how the linchpin becomes critical in an organization:

The boss gives you an assignment; you do the work. In return, she gives you money. It’s an exchange, one not so different from shopping at the local store…

Of course, if the store charges more than the competition, you’ll switch and buy from someone cheaper… (Not unlike an employer.)

So what’s missing?

The gift.

If you give your boss the gift of art, insight, initiative, or connection, she’s less likely to shop around every day looking to replace the commodity work you do, because the work you do isn’t a commodity.

And finally, Seth describes in detail the seven abilities of the linchpin:

  1. Providing a unique interface between members of the organization
  2. Delivering unique creativity
  3. Managing a situation or organization of great complexity
  4. Leading customers
  5. Inspiring staff
  6. Providing deep domain knowledvge
  7. Processing a unique talent

I really enjoyed this book. It actually was a great follow up to Daniel Pink’s book on motivation which looked at the same issue from the employer side. Linchpin is from the viewpoint of an employee. As an entrepreneur, I think they both provide a valuable perspective to help become successful in the new economy. I highly recommend Linchpin for your reading list.

Maybe next time I stop by that restaurant in the Hill Country, I’ll drop off a copy of Seth’s book.

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Sprint Overdrive 4G: The Common Connection for your Gadgets

April 16th, 2010 · Technology

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked about my Apple iPad is “Did you get the 3G version?” or ” How much do you pay a month to connect to the Internet?” My answer has surprised many people. So the following is a quick post about why I purchased the WiFi model of the iPad and how I connect to the Internet while traveling.

My Overdrive and iPhone - for size comparison.

After researching my options, I purchased a Sprint Overdrive™ 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot by Sierra Wireless. The device is slightly bigger than a deck of cards and allows up to five WiFi devices within 150 feet to connect to the Internet through a 3G or 4G connection to Sprint’s network. The device has a basic interface with only two buttons: Power and Mute. All settings are configured through a web Interface that you can access from any browser after connecting to the device.

For a traveler that has multiple devices (laptops, netbooks, iPads, iPhones), the Sprint Overdrive makes it a wonderful solution for providing an Internet connection on one account. Here are some examples of how I’ve used the Sprint Overdrive in the past few weeks:

  • While at a client’s office, I was able to setup a WiFi network for my MacBook Pro, iPad, iPhone and the MacBook Pro of a co-worker. We didn’t have to connect through the client’s WiFi.
  • While at home I’m able to setup an Internet connection on my Sprint Overdrive. I don’t have an Internet connection at my condo, so it’s one less Internet subscription in my life. Streaming videos from ABC on my iPad is seamless. I can watch an entire hour long show without a single hiccup.
  • While in a New York Taxi, an associate and I were able to stream live video of the Masters golf tournament on the iPad and two iPhones simultaneously. You can see the video here.
  • While at a local restaurant in San Antonio that doesn’t have WiFI, I was able to activate the Sprint Overdrive and leave it in my car and then I was able to surf the Internet on my iPad from inside the restaurant.
  • While driving I had a client call and ask for some large files, I was able to pull over, fire up the Sprint Overdrive and connect via my laptop and send the files. I regularly drive to Austin with several coworkers, I can see using the Sprint Overdrive as a solution to let everyone in the car connect to the Internet.

So far, I’ve been very pleased with the functionality of the device. And the 4G network is very fast! Here are the results from while connected to 4G from my condo:

While the upload could be faster, for most applications the above speeds are great, even for multiple devices.

The device is extremely simple to use. It has a single Power button that does what it says. And a switch that controls the audio interface of the device. With the audio turned on, the device will “announce” through a series of distinctive beeps when it has connected/disconnected from 4G/3G networks and when devices connect/disconnect via WiFi. It’s pretty annoying to have the audio interface on for very long, but it’s helpful when you are troubleshooting connections.

The rest of the options are configured through a very comprehensive web interface. The primary need for using the configuration tool is to setup a password for your WiFi network. The password is displayed on the front of the device so you won’t forget it.

The device also has a slot for a MicroSD card so you can share a common storage device on your mobile WiFi network. I haven’t tested it yet, but it’s certainly a cool concept.

Unfortunately, the Sprint Overdrive has a few issues that might make you think twice before signing up for another monthly service account – $59.99/month. Here’s a few of the issues that I have experienced in my first 12 days with the device:

  • Battery Life – The battery life is about 3-4 hours. While that’s not terrible, it will keep you looking for an outlet wherever you travel. I purchased a car charger (USB) for the device and that helps. It’s worth noting that accessing the battery is easy. For those that travel a lot, it would be a good idea to invest in a second battery.
  • Slow Bootup – It takes between 90-120 seconds to startup. While that doesn’t seem terrible, if you just want to check a quick email, it seems like forever.
  • Power Button – The single power, push button is odd. You basically have to hold it down for several seconds to either turn it on or off. I can’t explain it, but some times it just seems hard to use. I wish they just a simple slide on/off switch.
  • Glitches – In two weeks, the device has locked up a total of four times. Just completely locked up (the WiFi network shows up, but the clock on the device and the connection to the Internet are unresponsive.) I’m guessing that a software update for the device will be coming out soon.
  • 4G Availability – In my home town of San Antonio, I’ve been able to connect to 4G everywhere I go. In Chicago, I was able to connect to 4G. During three days in New York, I didn’t find a 4G network once. When a 4G network isn’t available, it switches to a 3G connection, which is considerably slower.
  • Price – The device is only $99, but I now have another $59.99 per month account. Unlike having a dedicated connection on an iPad 3G, at least I can use it with multiple devices.
  • Data Limits – The $59.99 monthly plan has an upper limit of 5gb of data per month (before they start charging per megabyte.) I’ll report back later, but I can easily see hitting the 5gb limit, especially if multiple users are accessing the device.

Overall, I really like this device. It’s perfect for the business traveler that has multiple devices or commonly travels with coworkers. I think this device would also be great for a family that has multiple laptops or iPads. It would provide an easy way to let everyone connect. I wish that AT&T had a solution. I really didn’t like having to open another account at Sprint, but that was my only option. I considered Clear, but they’re coverage isn’t as extensive as Sprint.

As I get more experience with the device, I’ll provide more updates. If you have any questions, please contact me at

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