A Summer of Balance

When I have a large chunk of downtime at any point during the week, one of the first ideas I always have is to put up a blog post of some kind.

I have rejected that thought for 17 straight weeks now. Until today.

Summer has been an adventure so far. The times I enjoy most in life are when I have the opportunity to wear a lot of different ‘hats’ while still having the freedom of downtime. The school year always allows for the former, balancing being a student with coaching and whatever work I am doing, but rarely allows for rest. Of course I always have time to spend with friends and rest no matter what time of year it is. But being away from school allows for more ‘disconnected’ time where I am not worrying about when my next assignment is due. It is during these periods of my life that I find I do the most reflecting, the most reading and in turn the most growing.

I am blessed to have a summer that blends both of these halves. This five month break has me coaching, continuing my work with AIA, taking a class and doing a lot of travelling. A blissful combination.

My coaching situation is perhaps the one that has people most interested. My club season wrapped up in May, which found me returning as the FVVC 16U coach. We made a sweet run at the end of the year, winning provincials and coming within a hairs breath of winning nationals, eventually finishing with a bronze medal. I will pass on recounting the entire season here but I did upload a highlight video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPrwHsCvyqg). Incredibly gifted group of athletes.

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Where typically the end of the club season means either an entire summer off or at least a couple months of volleyball, this year has taken on a different shape. As the MEI Senior Boys coach I found out in March that our team was invited to compete in an international high school tournament in China this July. After a ton of legwork done by the administrative volleyball staff at MEI we have somehow made the trip happen. The worst part of the process being the selection of 12 athletes out of a whopping 25 that tried out. Hardest cuts I’ve experienced. Since the end of the club season, however, we have been training five days a week in preparation for the big tournament. No idea what to expect other than this incredible itinerary they sent us.

Other small tidbits that make the trip crazy: 12 of the top 16 FIVB nations are represented at the tournament (Russia, Brazil, etc), the tournament organizers are paying for our in-country expenses, an anonymous donor donated $12 000 to help cover our flight costs and we are doing this entire trip, plus 40 training sessions, all before the start of the season in September. Bound to be the trip of a lifetime for this group.

So clearly a big part of the summer, and thankfully my work is able to fit alongside of it. I am continuing my role as the Marketing Coordinator for AIA Volleyball through training for China. In fact I was recently offered a one year extension on my contract which has me very excited. I am currently continuing to cement the online presence of the organization, examples of which can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, the blogosphere and a variety of other places. This has been a bit of a dream job as I have been able to work on telling the story of an organization that has desperately needed it while simultaneously learning a ton about what it takes to do this job ‘right’. I have had a ton of flexibility in the way I do my job with the primary of instruction of adding value where I see fit. A challenge that has been a joy to pursue.

To top it off I am spending three weeks in August travelling South America with my girlfriend Jenelle and her family. A dream trip that they have been waiting to take for a long time, spurred on by the fact that her sister/brother-in-law are currently in Bolivia doing long term missions. We will be visiting Bolivia of course, as well as Paraguay, where Jenelle’s father is originally from. It is sure to be a trip we will never forget as the eight of us we spend three weeks seeing the origin of the ‘Franz’ family.

Although this sounds like a hectic summer, it wonderfully spread out to allow for plenty of time to read, see friends and just generally refresh. A unique time in my life and one I will not take for granted. Excited for the travel that is laying ahead but equally enjoying this time of growth while pursuing many of my greatest passions. I will be sure that this blog is continously updated throughout July and August as I visit two continents in a three week span.

Until then!

Day 1 + 2 from CIS Nationals

One way to adjust to a new time zone is to not adjust to it. Laying in bed after two consecutive nights of falling asleep at 4AM, it is clear my body has chosen that route.

Backtracking on our trip, we arrived in Quebec City on Tuesday night. To get here we had to make a layover in both Calgary and Toronto before getting in.  We are staying at the Hotel Universel which is the official hotel of the tournament. My room consists of the ‘scrubs’, with Ben Ball, Danny Grant and Devyn Plett. Always nice staying in a room where the ability for the athletes to get rest does not fall on you.

Yesterday was spent adjusting to the new environment. We woke up for breakfast at the hotel and then made our way over to the gym. The great part about this year’s nationals is that the gym is a five minute walk from the hotel.  In fact everything we need is, which is why we did not need to rent vehicles this year. The gym which will hold the championships was not yet set up (pictured below) so instead we spent an hour and a half in a practice gym. Actually make that an hour and 22 minutes, as it was cut short by an ear-shattering fire alarm. We were told to vacate the gym, were held in a waiting area for 15 minutes and by the time it was done our practice slot was up. Odd practice time for sure.

Laval gym under construction

After our run in with the fire alarm system, we broke off and had lunch. Devyn made a great find at the university so we ate a dirt-cheap cafeteria with solid food. The afternoon was spent relaxing which I filled with statting out our opponent’s on Friday. It is that time of year to get to know our stats program very well once again.  We had a video session in the afternoon followed by preparing for the evening’s banquet. Again following the theme of convenience for this year’s tournament, getting to the banquet consisted of walking down the hall and taking a left. Couldn’t be nicer.

The banquet itself went well, if a bit long. Laval elected to make it a sit-down dinner as opposed to the more typical buffet style. Although the food was delicious, sit-down style caused the beginning of the awards ceremony to take an hour and 45 minutes to get to which was certainly stretching things a bit. The awards themselves went well. On the Spartans sides of things we were all very excited to see our own Nick Del Bianco take home a First Team All-Canadian award. He has had a stellar season with us, and looking at the Second Teams he beat out for the award it is clear the rest of the CIS appreciates his accomplishments as well. Very excited to see what he will do at this tournament against opponents who have not seen him before.

CIS First Team All-Canadians

The rest of the night was an insomnia-laden affair. We headed over to the nearby food court around 10:00 which stays open all night for Laval students. Devyn, Ben and myself settled down to get work done, briefly joined by Ben Josephson who is unlikely to be sleeping much himself. We finally made our way back to the hotel around 1AM in the middle of a snow storm, which made for a taxing time of trying to get back without being blinded by snow. The next three hours was spent staring at the ceiling wondering if my body will adjust to this new time zone.

And that takes us to right now. We have another video session in 10 minutes, followed by another practice.  The big Spartan news of the day is that our women’s team is playing their quarter-final match at 1PM Eastern against Dalhousie. You can watch that game, as well as ours on Friday, right here: http://www.cis-sic.tv/

Until tomorrow!

Looking forward to 2013…

If the last few days have been any indication, 2013 is going to be an exciting chapter in my journey through the “university years.”

As a brief post, I will save recounting the semester gone by, short of saying that it was one that ended with a lot of encouragement.  December was a month that began to demonstrate the pay off that will hopefully continue to come with the investments I have been making with my time over the past few years.  I have had opportunities arise that may become a factor after graduation, in the summer and one even in this new year.  It can be difficult to stay encouraged when the fruits of your labour are not always immediately noticeable but this past semester demonstrated that the patience might pay off.

This new year has me enthused about all of the new challenges that await.  I will once again be returning as the FVVC 16U boys head coach, which is as always an honor to work with some of the best athletes in the province and country.  With the last year’s 16′s we were able to win the 16U National Championship in Toronto (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whEv3PFCd6c) and this year’s group is set up with the talent to be in the mix once again.  Very excited to get back to building into these athletes in such a pivotal year in their personal and volleyball development.

The biggest new role I will be taking on this year will be in a slightly different vein.  Made official yesterday, I am taking on the position as “Coordinator of Marketing and Business Operations” with AIA Volleyball in Canada.  Outwardly my job will be to connect with the audience we have been ministering to already through different channels, specifically using social media to engage our younger members.  I have had plenty of ideas for a long time now and it will be exciting to finally execute on many of them.  Inwardly my job will be to bring efficiency wherever possible, be it in the financial or other general structuring within the volleyball end of the organization.  Additionally I will be working alongside others to help sort out how to best approach the new markets that will be entered in the summer with our camps.

For those of you who know me it will be immediately evident that this a position that I have great enthusiasm for.  It is a combination of many skill sets that I have worked for quite some time to develop and will finally have an official job to work them out in.  Additionally being able to do this within an organization like Athletes in Action makes it that much better.  I have been a part of AIA in the volleyball community for over 3 years now and I believe so much in what is taking place.  I hope that the work I will be doing can continue to enhance the ministry and connect in even greater ways in the lives of those involved.

All of this alongside being involved with the Spartans Men’s Volleyball team and another semester studying Business at Trinity Western.  I am as enthusiastic as ever and look forward to all of the experiences that are bound to come from this year.  I am also making it my goal to post with some regularity about general musings in the world of consumer technology as there seems to be so many exciting advancements happening right now.

And with a deep breath it is time to get at it.  Bring it on 2013!

And here’s to another summer…

I’m starting to realize more and more why we are told at every point in our lives to savour the moment. Life flies.

It would be safe to say this summer started with a bang.  As I began my employment with Vin65, my 16U FVVC club volleyball season was wrapping up.  After a second semester full of preparation,  the first weekend of summer featured the provincial championships hosted at the Tradex in Abbotsford.  The team had an excellent tournament and avenged an earlier season loss to Kelowna in a semi-final win on their way to win the provincial title.  Training continued two days later, as the big prize was waiting in Toronto at the first ever 16U Canadian Open championship.

Long story short the tournament went exceptionally well.  3-0 on the first day in our pool and the same 3-0 during our second day power pool (including salvaging a match that began with a 25-12 first set loss).  The next day began with a quarter final match up against Pakmen which could have easily been the final (though that is true of any of our day three games).  We came back from a big deficit to win the first, dropped the second and won the third after defending a match point against.  The semi-final against Winman was a very complete match, winning it in straight sets.  The final against Ottawa Fusion was a back and forth match similar to the quarter-final, and we ended up winning 15-13 in the third to bring home the banner.  An exciting showing at the largest volleyball tournament Canada has ever had.  You read more about the win here or watch the day 3 highlight video here.

An obvious highlight to the summer but I was very thankful to be able to go back to work at my summer job with Vin65 and take a break from volleyball.  Many people ask me what exactly I do here and I have a hard time answering them as it seemed to change every day.  It ranged from bringing content over from one site to another, to cropping bottle shots to upload to the web, to assembling a computer cradle that took awhile to get the hang of.  Regardless of the task I was assigned to, I would not say the work I was doing was my biggest takeaway from my employment with the company.  Rather it was the experiences I had working with such a successful company in the middle of a high growth period.

In my time with Vin65 it was acquired by WineDirect, hired four employees and had changes to the management structure.  As valuable as it is to read about these practices in business class, working through them sheds an entirely different light on things.  Yet in spite of the rapid evolution taking place, the company culture and quality of the product did not change.  Our daily morning stretching/goal setting sessions continued, the kitchen remained stocked with junk food and glasses of wine still got poured (though I still don’t have much of a taste for it :( )  It is encouraging to see a company have success and not begin taking shortcuts or begin cost cutting measures that hurt the employees.

And now my time with the company is complete.  I am sad to see my time with what is clearly such a special place be over, but I feel refreshed and prepared for another year at TWU.  This is shaping up to be my most ambitious semester yet which has me excited for a new challenge!  I have taken the MEI Senior Boy’s Volleyball coaching position which is sure to be an excellent experience.  We have been training for about a month and a half and it looks to be another strong season for the program.  With the Spartans we will be hosting the U23 Pan American Cup at the end of September which has us all very excited.  And for school I will be taking primarily marketing and business law classes as I get another year closer to graduation.

So here is to another great summer.  Lots of experiences to learn from and take forward into the next school year.  But the sunny beaches of Osoyoos call, so until next time…

Waiting for the shoe to drop on Kickstarter

Every time a Kickstarter project goes mainstream a part of me cringes inside.

The first time I had this feeling was with the Pebble watch.  Although initially a slow burn, tech enthusiasts began funding the project in droves seemingly without doing too much research into the group they were backing (as there was little info about them at the time).  Since the Pebble funding-frenzy, the makers of the product have gone public with their plans of production and everything seems above board.  And yet delays plague production which serve to bring a reality check to the backers; you aren’t buying a product with hard deadlines when you give money to a Kickstarter project.  You are an investor with perks if it turns out.

The Ouya rang similar, though even stronger, alarms bells for me.  The prospect of a $99 home console is attractive and given its presentation it should not be surprising that it broke Kickstarter records.  And yet when all of the promise of this open gaming platform is put in perspective, the device suddenly looks much less appealing.  First off, although the $7 million of funding it has reached thus far is impressive, it will need to sell at least 2 million devices to make it a profitable platform for developers.  Additionally the $99 hardware is made up of smartphone components that will be outdated on launch, if the device even hits its launch date.

And even with taking those two points into account, it is the “if” that has the potential to be most damaging.  As it stands, the Ouya is nothing more than vaporware.  The software shown in the video is a mockup, the hardware design has yet to be finalized and the much-lauded controller is nothing more than a non-working prototype.  For all of the praise the system, and potential corresponding ecosystem, is receiving, it has yet to prove that it will be anything more than an attractive concept.

Unlike others however, I do believe that this Kickstarter project will ship.  It is too big to fail given its level of publicity and Kickstarter will likely be supporting the makers through whatever means they can. Over time as Kickstarter leverages its momentum and continues to grow however, they will not be able to watch over every large scale project.  And then one will fail.  And then reality will hit.

Kickstarter, as previously mentioned, is a platform for investors.  Yet as it is currently presented, it would be easy to confuse the service as pre-order e-commerce.  Pledge perks are clearly listed on the right side each project, with each ascending donation bracket being more enticing than the last.  These perks do not clearly state that the pledge may not be filled.  And if the creators of the project decide to walk after the money is received from their backers, they have nothing stopping them.

It seems like a matter of time until the right (or in this case ‘wrong’) project comes along.  The intro video will be flashy with a charismatic project manager describing the potential of the revolutionary product.  It will hit all the right notes and promise big without any indication that it might be anything less than perfection.  And after the funding goal is reached, that will be the last you hear from them.  Suddenly all of the overwhelmingly positive buzz surrounding Kickstarter will begin swinging the other way.  The hope is that Kickstarter is able to survive this inevitability and continue to provide its excellent service for the many more budding entrepreneurs to come.

Implications of the ‘New’ iPad

While watching the keynote for the new iPad it was difficult to avoid the discomfort the presenters seemed to have with the new name.  I had the sense that they were holding back to announce a new naming structure to go along with a second iPad product class (the iPad HD vs iPad Air, for example).  In retrospect I am not surprised they avoided the splintering of their product classes with two new iPads, though the new naming scheme Apple is following has some interesting implications.

With certain classes of products, a numbering scheme helps to differentiate iterations for many reasons: It makes comparisons easier, creates a more distinct chronological product line and helps with creating buzz.  One only has to look at the iPhone 4 vs iPhone 3GS for a prime example.  The numbering system helped to articulate a clear disconnect between the iPhone 4 era and the products which came before it.  This aided in creating a premium class and a budget class that would be far more difficult if it weren’t for this easy separation.

The introduction of the new iPad throws aside that naming convention, and I believe that means more than dropping numbers from the end of the name.  It seems that Apple believes they  have created a class of product that finds distinction unnecessary.  This approach to the iPad seems to be a much more mature handeling of the category.  No longer with the tension exist like it did between the iPad 2 vs the original iPad (and like it does in the mobile space), rather all that will matter is whether you have an iPad or not.  I don’t often get asked if I have the “Macbook Air 4″ because all that matters is that I have the best Ultrabook in the market (it’s true).

Finally I wouldn’t be surprised if the iPad now sees a different refresh cycle.  As opposed to constant refreshes in the late March/early April period, it will likely have more iterative updates throughout the year (or possibly fewer updates every few years).  This will allow Apple to focus on smaller improvements rather than having to constantly re-invent things every two years worthy of creating a blockbuster keynote around.

Anyways, the new iPad is here and it is amazing.  With its introduction, alongside the simple ‘new’ prefix, the iPad is entering a state of maturity in Apple’s product line.  That bodes well for investors, as their confidence in the product means it is a market they will continue to pour resources into.  For their competition, this is signals the beginning of another year of scrambling to catch up to the behemoth in the industry.  Good luck.

Apple’s Technology Bottleneck

Quick Note: I wrote this a while ago but never quite finished it.  Just decided to wrap it up and throw it online for the heck of it.  Not my best piece, but I wanted to get it up to use it as a jumping off point for future posts.

Several months ago my one-year-old Macbook Pro decided it had better things to do than operate as normal.  To my misfortune it fell quite a ways outside of the standard Apple warranty so off I went to purchase a fresh 13-inch Macbook Air.

There I stood in the store with my head shifting back and forth between two models: 128 and 256 GB.  While I knew the 256 model was the practical decision (I have a ton of media sitting around on external hard drives) I decided to buy into the Apple vision of the cloud.  I pocketed that additional $300 and walked out of the store with the lesser hard drive.

First off it must be said that the Macbook Air is a fantastic purchase; its slim, fast and completes the daily tasks asked of it without breaking a sweat.  And as evidenced by the new “ultrabook” genre, Apple has once again carved out a new market with a product launch.  Unfortunately I find myself in the middle of a technological bottleneck; Apple has laid down its cards as to what its future cloudy plans are, but the tools to get them there are yet to become available.

The first obstacle is a lack of proper infrastructure.  With entire regions of the United States still finding themselves accessing the Internet through dial-up connection, change can only be so minor.  Apple needs to begin using its relationships with the cellular providers to put pressure on their ISP counterparts.  If AT&T (or Verizon or anyone else) wants to be a part of the iPhone 5 launch, they need to begin putting measures in place to get everyone on the broadband train.  I realize the cellular and broadband divisions are separate entities, but they are still a single company.  And although this movement would be mutually beneficial for all workers in the cloud, it is a greater good that would benefit Apple deeply.

After getting the entirety of the United States up to date, Apple will need to compete aggressively in the sector.  With Dropbox and Skydrive type services aplenty they will be entering a crowded market.  Unfortunately Apple’s current vision of iCloud is a feature-lacking competitor to the aforementioned alternatives.  The types of files that are compatible are limited and there is no proper folder architecture to organize your data the way you want to.  Additionally, to add extra storage space, you are paying considerably more than with the others.  If Microsoft is able to give you 50GB for free with Skydrive, it should not cost $100/year with Apple.

Where this comes into play the most is with their iTunes service.  As it stands there is no way to upload the DRM-protected content online to keep it off of internal/external hard drives.  This is maddening.  When a single episode of Breaking Bad in HD carries a 2GB footprint, my Air fills up quite quickly.  If Apple is going to remove optical drives from their computers, they are going to need a more intuitive solution for this problem than using external hard drives.

This is a technology bottleneck.  Apple has a vision, but their current resources are not allowing them to carry out their plan.  As a consumer this is abundantly clear and definitely felt.  The Macbook Air feels like a super-powered shell of the typical laptop (in terms of design and connectivity) but Apple’s offerings currently do not make up for it.  Instead iCloud is a carrot that dangles in front of the consumer’s face, hinting at what could be that currently is not.

With that said, I understand the current primary purpose of iCloud is to “sync” as opposed to “store” but there is no reason the two should be exclusive.  Once the proper infrastructure is in place, and their new data centers are running at full capacity, this needs to be Apple’s next priority.  Apple is about efficient, elegant design, but as it stands the current base Macbook Air does not meet this standards when dealing with their own ecosystem.  If and when Apple does make their one-two punch of the Macbook Air and iCloud service fully functioning, the rest of the computer industry will have a lot of catch up work to do. And this time it might not be a bad idea to have their heads stuck in the cloud.