The Upsider

A Kansas City technology, media, and marketing blog by Tyler Hillsman.

July 26, 2012
by Tyler Hillsman
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Google Fiber details leak before announcement

Just a few hours before the Google Fiber announcement in Kansas City, details of Google’s plans leaked on Reddit. In the Kansas City subreddit, redditor gentlytakemyskull posted a link to a live page on Google’s Fiber site Wednesday night. The page quickly went down, but the same user was able to grab a screenshot, which he shared early Thursday morning.

The screenshot confirms the original poster’s claim that Kansas City residents will be able to pre-register for the service by paying a refundable fee. This fee applies to the user’s first bill. Google has turned this process into a competition between neighborhoods and promises to install Fiber in the neighborhoods with the most pre-registrations first. As an added incentive, the neighborhood with the most pre-registrations will get Fiber provided to a local school for free. The pre-registration contest ends September 9.

None of the other pages on the site were live, according to the original poster.

April 25, 2012
by Tyler Hillsman
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Examining the relative importance of the iPhone

As of this morning, all the major US carriers who sell the iPhone have released their Q1 2012 earnings. The carriers usually provide unit activation numbers at this time. Intrigued by news that the iPhone made up 60% of all (not just smartphone) activations on AT&T, I put the numbers in a few graphs that show the relative importance of the iPhone.

The iPhone is selling better than all the other smartphones on each of these networks combined. Additionally, it’s amazing to see the growth of smartphones in the total market. Both networks sold more smartphones than feature phones in this quarter. (Sprint is not included because they did not release smartphone or total phone sales numbers.) Amazingly, these percentages are calculated on units, not revenue or profit. With iPhones being one of the most expensive phones, the dollar amounts may be even further disproportionate.

Additionally, I compared the three major carriers on a unit-by-unit basis:

Verizon, the second largest carrier by users, actually sold the most phones in the quarter (units are measured in millions), but AT&T retained its lead on iPhone sales. It is important to note that AT&T sells three models of the iPhone (4S, 4, 3GS), while Verizon and Sprint sell two (4S, 4). Additionally, AT&T has had a head start as the former exclusive carrier. Verizon started selling the iPhone in February 2011, and Sprint started in October 2011.

All data comes from the respective companies’ Q1 2012 earnings releases.

 

April 15, 2012
by Tyler Hillsman
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KC Film Fest, Day 4: Bucksville, The First Season, Dirty Energy

On Saturday, I saw three feature films during KC Film Fest at Mainstreet 6.  Here are my reviews:

Bucksville

In Bucksville, Presley is a member of a secret brotherhood, the Lodge, whose members “stand up where others have fallen down”, which is to say they kill undesirable people – child molesters, prostitution ring bosses, and the like – who they deem have been “underpunished” by society. Although Presley has doubts about the morality of the group’s service, he can’t really leave: his father is the chief of the brotherhood and his uncle and cousin are also members. But everything changes when his father dies and his uncle takes over the leadership position, affiliating the group with other militia groups around the country and taking “assignments” from a mysterious leader called “the Patron”. When their first assignment goes awry, Presley plans to leave with his former girlfriend, possibly go to the German Alps he’s always dreamed of.

In a small town, everyone knows everyone and Bucksville is no different. Presley’s ex-girlfriend is the daughter of the mayor (a Lodge brother) whose wife runs the cafe that serves the town which is patrolled by the sheriff (a Lodge brother). And I’ve already mentioned the family connection within the Lodge. Most of the women in the town seem unaware of the Lodge’s presence, a point that drove Presley’s mother and sister to leave his father years ago. The film uses the relationships to produce conflict, and that is in no short supply.

This film is extremely good at introducing you to the town and the characters, pulling you in, and keeping you engaged the entire time. I related to Presley and felt genuinely terrified by the actions that transpire. There is a substantial amount of subplot that develops the characters and introduces complexities; it is extremely well-written and effective. As tempting as it would be to leave an unresolved ending, the filmmakers create a clean resolution.

Bucksville is an extremely well-written film with great acting to match. Intense and dark, it keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. I was completely entertained and empathized with Presley. As suspense/action dramas go, this has to be one of the best I have seen.

The First Season

Paul and Phyllis van Amburg wanted to raise their children to know hard work, risk, and reward, so they quit their jobs, sold their house, and bought an old dairy farm in New York. In this documentary, we follow Paul and Phyllis through their first year, watching them spend their savings fixing up the farm, installing a milking machine, and feeding their livestock, before they can earn a penny from selling milk. We see them fall behind in debt as the season change, until they finally begin to break even in late summer. All the while, Paul, Phyllis, and their three (now four) children enjoy their time out of the city, earning their own living.

The First Season is about dairy farming like Marley and Me is about a dog, meaning it is but it isn’t. Rather, this documentary is about the family, growing together in the countryside. The most memorable scenes are those of the kids naming the cows, watching calves being born, and bottle-feeding the calves. Phyllis is pregnant at the time, and she shows more and more throughout the film. (We see their new son in a 18-months-later epilogue.) The couple home-schools their children, and they learn a lot from the daily experience of farm work as well. However, we’re never introduced to a story arc and the film is presented purely chronological with very few talking head shots, no voiceover, and very little on-screen text. It’s experience by immersion and not much of a story-telling plot.

I liked The First Season and enjoyed meeting the van Amburg family, however I felt like I was a voyeur, simply watching their day-to-day life. I appreciate the candid shots, but I would have liked to see a little more structure and story from the editing. The family is a hard-working one with an admiral goal, and that is evident throughout the film. I loved the family, but the editing could be improved.

Dirty Energy

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected the entire Gulf of Mexico region, and that’s what Dirty Energy is all about. The film focuses on a few main points: the environmental impact, the cleanup effort, the health impact, the negligence of BP, the failure of the government, BP’s reparation efforts, the death of the former Gulf culture, and fighting back to prevent it from happening again. The documentary interviews commercial fishermen, seafood distributors, activists, and more to tell their story about how the oil spill has affected them.

Although it does not show much of BP or the government’s point of view, it shows dramatic scenes of devastation and tells tales of the individuals in the region. The stories from fishermen and seafood distributors are heartbreaking and show the impact on the working class. The film also does a great job of explaining the long-term effects of the spill and discusses what BP and the government have done to compound the problem.

This film was extremely well done, packaged in an easy-to-understand format, with many valuable interviews. Though I would have liked to see a little more from both sides of the story, Dirty Energy proves its point. The oil spill’s effects are far-reaching, and the people in the film will be dealing with it the rest of their lives. This documentary was a powerful reminder of the consequences of this tragedy.

April 14, 2012
by Tyler Hillsman
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KC Film Fest, Day 3: Small, Beautifully Moving Parts, Corporate FM

I feel like I’ve been living at Mainstreet 6 this week (and that’s perfectly ok with me). On Friday, the third day of KC Film Fest, I saw two feature films. Here are my reviews:

Small, Beautifully Moving Parts

Sarah Sparks is a New York technophile who relates better with gadgets than humans. While she has a healthy relationship with her boyfriend, Leon, she rarely sees her sister in Los Angeles. She communicates with her father even less frequently, and she is estranged from her mother. When Sarah finds out she is pregnant, she decides to change all that, flying to California to get closer to her family before she has a family of her own. Her journey takes her to a baby shower full of strangers, meeting her father’s Brazilian Skype girlfriend, and to Las Vegas where Leon’s masseuse sister lives. From there she goes looking for her mom, trying to connect with her and learn about being a mom herself.

Although the plot was straightforward and predictable, the film was really an examination of all the characters that are well-crafted and rich. The relationships are deep and you feel like these characters have existed for years with their complex issues and history of heartbreak nagging at them. The film started off quickly as Sarah finds out she’s pregnant within the first 5 minutes. However, it really slows down once she gets to California. The conversations between characters are meaningful and reveal lots about the individuals, but they are a little dry to watch. They’re necessary to the story, of course, but they really slow down the pace from the early energy.

Small, Beautifully Moving Parts is a beautiful film, and the camerawork is great. The writing is very strong, and I connected with all of the characters. But I wish the ending was as fast-pasted as the beginning, with quicker dialogue. Still, it felt real and that’s all you can really ask.

Small, Beautifully Moving Parts has a second screening at 3:15 on Saturday at Ward Parkway 14.

Corporate FM

When it comes to radio, the Telecom Act of 1993 changed everything. Before it, radio was largely a mom and pop business: local, relevant, and chart-forming. After it, eight stations in a market are owned by the same corporation, computers play more songs than DJs, and the songs that are played come straight from the charts. No longer to call-in requests help determine airplay, no longer do regions have distinct musical tastes. According to Corporate FM, the consolidation of radio has homogenized radio and eliminated competition. Radio stations don’t help independent bands rise to the top when the corporations who own them require airplay of bands with national labels. These points and more are at the forefront of Corporate FM.

This documentary, really an expose, of the current radio industry is hard-hitting and raw, taking the audience into the homes of the disc jockeys laid off in the name of efficiency and standardization. We hear from independent artists who were given a chance on radio (Jewel) and those who will likely get no such chance (Antennas Up). The filmmakers explain that the death of locally-owned radio has hurt local charities and driven away listeners. Less a radio-vs-internet-music and more a local-vs-corporate-owned argument, Corporate FM calls for a return to the days where local DJs ruled the airwaves from morning to the late night, and, yes, even on weekends. It is masterfully filmed and edited, proving its point quite aptly and efficiently.

Corporate FM has a bone to pick and it does that extremely well. While it does not provide much of the “other side” of the issue, it doesn’t pretend to. It’s a David and Goliath story told from the perspective of David, and the film explains extremely well why the little guys deserve to win. The passion of these filmmakers is very evident, and I can’t wait to see the discussion this film causes. Definitely try to see it, if you’re interested in the radio industry at all.

Catch Corporate FM at 3:45 on Saturday at Ward Parkway 14.

April 13, 2012
by Tyler Hillsman
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KC Film Fest, Day 2: Love Stalker, Easy Life (shorts)

On the second day of the KC Film Fest, I was able to attend two events: a feature and a shorts program. Here are my reviews:

Love Stalker

Pete is a a player whose life consists of picking up girls at bars, going to his boring office job, and repeating the cycle the next day. Occasionally accompanied by his much less experienced pal Tony, Pete hits up the St. Louis bars with his well-honed spiel designed to get to as many girls as possible. One day he meets a girl, Stephanie, who seems a little different. Straying from his philandering ways, Pete realizes that she is worth taking things slow for and begins a real relationship with her. Things are going swimmingly until she discovers Pete’s womanizing past. She abruptly cuts him off and ends the relationship. Peter finds himself in a position he’s never been in before and tries to express his feelings in increasingly creepy ways.

As much as I wanted to like this film, I really couldn’t. It tried to be part comedy, part suspense, but it fell short on both counts. I can’t say too much without spoiling the plot, but the action really petered out. The last scene tried to come full circle, revealing a small twist that could be guessed early in the movie. Additionally, some of the dialogue seemed forced. I caught myself thinking, “no one says that in real life.” The main character is a real Nip/Tuck Christian Troy type, but I couldn’t connect with him.

The entire film was captured on digital SLRs (Canon 5Ds and 7Ds, according to director/writer Bowls MacLean) in St. Louis (the City Museum plays a large role in the film) over approximately 30 days of shooting. The entire budget was between $5,000 and $10,000 and a high percentage of that was raised on crowdfunding site IndieGoGo. The filmmakers do a great job of varying lenses, giving the view a variety of shots: shallow depth of field, long-distance shots, even the occasional fish-eye. I also enjoyed the editing; Love Stalker is fast-paced through the beginning, and I loved the quick cuts around Pete’s environment (especially when the shots explain his daily bar/sleep/shower/work ritual).

In the end, I enjoyed the production, but I was put off by the acting and story. The premise was a twist on the traditional romantic comedy, but I don’t think it went as far as it could have. The concept was an interesting one, but I could see it better served as a 30-minute short. Stretched it to a feature length, it kind if ran out of steam.

Love Stalker has a second screening at 12:30 on Sunday at Ward Parkway 14.

Easy Life (shorts program)

Life is Beautiful – This short is a beautifully simple film about Natalie, an attractive young toll collector who seems to relish every interaction she has throughout the day. She meets many people, and at the end of the day, she imagines herself driving away with one of them. It has very little dialogue and the entire four-minute short is accompanied by piano music. It was incredibly simple, but I loved it.

A Senior Moment – Easily my favorite short of the evening, this six-minute comedy shows that you’re never too old to send awkward text messages. One woman in a retirement home receives her first text from Ernie on the other side of the room, asking if she is going to Bingo. She consults her friends to compose a response, and her efforts not to be “too forward” end with a hilarious result. I don’t want to spoil it, because I would recommend seeing this short. It made the entire theater laugh.

Pensou – Do the Good – In this Indian computer-animated short, Pensou, a “flamboyant and useless” pencil  dances and shows off on a desk, much to the chagrin of Rubby, the eraser, who erases the doodles Pensou left on a piece of paper. This provokes Pensou, and he dances even more until he breaks his lead. Rubby calls on Sharpie, the pencil sharpener, who fixes Pensou, sings a song, and helps convince Pensou that he should use his potential for good (writing) instead of squandering it (doodling). I am a huge fan of Pixar’s shorts and Pensou somewhat resembles them. I’m sure some of the dialog was lost in translation, but it was a fun little piece that shares the Ghandian principle of being the change you want to see in the world.

Another Dress, Another Button – This fantastic stop-motion short was created by local filmmaker Lyn Elliot, and shows what leftover buttons from shirts and dresses do when they aren’t being used. As soon as their owner leaves the room, this forgotten collection of buttons come to life, dancing in fun patterns and playing games (Duck, Duck, Goose and Pong seem to be their favorites). Their fun ends, however, when the owner comes back and they file back into their bowl. This amazingly simple and enjoyable film is extremely well done, reminding me of Marcel the Shell, but more complex.

Wana Dubie’s War – Chief Wana Dubie (that’s his legal name) is a marijuana proponent in Cooper Hill, Missouri, and this documentary describes his efforts to legalize pot and secede from the United States. In 1993, after hearing about the War on Drugs, the Chief (formerly Joseph Bickell) wrote a Declaration of Independence in which he seceded from the nation, changed his name, and declared war on the United States because he believed the country “declared war” on him. Next, he established the Cooper Hill Pot Party (his version of the Boston Tea Party) and invited the world to plant marijuana. A few months later, the police showed up, uprooted his plants, and arrested the Chief. He served five years in prison and has since run for Missouri House of Representatives and plans on running against Roy Blunt for the US Senator position in 2016. This documentary covers an extremely interesting individual, interviewing neighbors, friends, and government officials. Well done, this short is a factual presentation of Wana Dubie’s efforts and the government’s response to him.

Busted Walk – In this 13-minute short, we are introduced to boy walking through the city with his dad, out of school on a suspension for possessing marijuana. One of his legs is disabled, but proves to his father that he can still bend over to pick up items off the ground. At the same time, we meet a girl bringing home groceries who later does drugs in a bathroom stall. These two plot lines never intersect, and I felt like I saw two contextless snippets into the two parties’ lives. Maybe it is above me, but I felt lost.

Incest! The Musical – Alex is the popular guy, the class president, and Katie, his sister, is the valedictorian. Prom is coming up and everyone has their dates figured out except Alex, who has suddenly developed feelings for Katie. The plot follows to a predictably outrageous outcome. Oh, and did I mention this is a musical? The whole thing unfolds through remarkable catchy songs. This satire of Glee and High School Musical (Ryan and Sharpay, anyone?) takes an odd topic and makes the most of it. Much laughing and head-shaking was done.

Easy Life was a great collection of shorts. From beautiful to hilarious to fun, the program squeezes in a variety of shorts and leaves you smiling. If you missed it, check out a second screening at 4:35 on Sunday at Mainstreet 6.

April 11, 2012
by Tyler Hillsman
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KC Film Fest, Day 1: Nailbiter

Every day of the KC Film Fest, I will be reviewing the films or shorts I watched that day. The fun started today, and I was there for the official kick-off film. So without further ado…

Nailbiter

I never want to step foot in Wellsville, Kansas. In Nailbiter, a woman and her three daughters head to Kansas City to pick up their father, a returning war hero, when a severe storm crosses their path. Forced to abandon their car in a ditch and run for the cover of a farmhouse (which is locked; they settle for the cellar), the four hold each other tight and ride out the storm. But their plans are complicated when they discover a tree has fallen on the cellar doors. Of course their cell phone doesn’t work and when they try knocking on the floor of the farmhouse above them their pleas go mysteriously unanswered. When one daughter volunteers to climb out of the cellar window, things begin to go horribly wrong, and the family realizes that their nightmares are about to come true.

This film does a very good job of spiking your heart rate, keeping you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Although it relies on a supernatural twist, once you buy into the premise, you’re hooked. I enjoy psychological thrillers infinitely more then slasher gore flicks, and Nailbiter perfectly bridged the two genres, keeping me interested while the row behind me winced at the sight of blood. There’s never a dull moment, and all of the haunting characters are perfect villains.

From a production aspect, this film was wonderfully made. The filmmakers made the most of a small budget. Special effects (especially the tornado) and makeup were incredible, and the score did a fantastic job of building the tension. I loved seeing the familiar floor of Kansas City International during one scene, and the film credits proudly pointed out the the entire film was shot in Kansas and Missouri. (Even local weather-copter pilot Johnny Rowlands flew the helicopter for some overhead shots!) In a post-screening interview, director Patrick Rea confirmed a sequel is in the works; I hope the same team reunites for another quality production.

All in all, Nailbiter is a great horror film that can definitely compete with what the big studios are putting out. (I’d watch it over Hostel or Saw any day.) The characters are relatable, the villains are terrifying, and the premise is a unique one. If you like scary movies, this is one to see. If you don’t, stay far away.

If you missed it tonight, check out the second showing at 12:15 on Sunday at Ward Parkway 14.

April 10, 2012
by Tyler Hillsman
3 Comments

Lights, Camera…

Last week I wrote about my plans to attend the KC Film Fest. Well, the day is almost here, and I could not be more excited. I have finalized my selections and determined which films and shorts I am most excited to see.

Nailbiter – This film was chosen to be the festival kick-off, and it looks like a thrilling start to the weekend. The premise is a promising one: taking cover from a tornado, a family hides in a farmhouse but discover they are not the only ones there. Directed by local filmmaker Patrick Rea and filmed entirely in Kansas and Missouri, this film should start the festival off right. Check out the movie’s website. I will be seeing Nailbiter at 7:00 Wednesday night at Mainstreet 6.

Love Stalker – Billing itself as an “unromantic comedy”, Love Stalker promises an interesting twist on the traditional rom-com. When a perpetual player unintentionally falls in love and gets a broken heart, he will stop at nothing to get her back. Unfortunately, his efforts seem more and more like stalking. Check out the trailer on the film’s website. I will be seeing Love Stalker at 6:45 on Thursday at Mainstreet 6.

Easy Life (shorts program) – A collection of light-hearted shorts, Easy Life seems like a fun event. A few specific shorts I’m interested in: A Senior Moment (about an elderly woman learning to text), Incest! The Musical (what would happen if HIgh School Musical’s Sharpay and Ryan Evans were romantically involved), and Wana Dubie’s War (about a Missouri man gung-ho about legalizing marijuana – I’ve actually heard of this guy before). I will be seeing Easy Life at 9:10 on Thursday  at Mainstreet 6.

Small, Beautifully Moving Parts – When a tech-geek finds out she’s pregnant, she discovers she is “more interested in ultrasound technology than in what’s being ultra sounded” while her boyfriend is excited. I’m interesting in meeting the characters of this film that will take us on a journey through pregnancy in the modern age. Check out the film’s website. I will be seeing Small, Beautifully Moving Parts at 5:45 on Friday at Mainstreet 6.

CinemaJAZZ (shorts program) – This collection of jazz-themed shorts seems like a lot of fun, and I am very excited for The Collegians, one of the four shorts in this program. It is a story of trumpet player in college during the depression who leads a group of musicians to raise money to save their school. I will be seeing CinemaJAZZ at 7:30 on Friday at Mainstreet 6.

All The Darkness Left (shorts program) – These intensely dark shorts should be a change of pace from the previous items on my schedule. Especially of interest is Rook, a murder mystery that pits a detective against a serial killer. I will be seeing All The Darkness Left at 9:30 on Friday at Mainstreet 6.

Corporate FM – One of the programs I’m most excited about is Corporate FM, a local documentary about the death of traditional radio. Created by a group of Kansas City filmmakers, I’m excited to see KC citizens and familiar locations. (I am also interested in the two short films the feature is packaged with: Clocked In and Randy Parsons: American Luthier.) Check out the Corporate FM site. I will be seeing Corporate FM at 3:45 on Saturday at Ward Parkway 14.

The First Season – In this documentary, a family moves to a defunct dairy farm to raise their children. They deal with hardships and trouble while trying to pursue their dream. Check out the film’s website. I will be seeing The First Season at 6:45 on Saturday at Mainstreet 6.

Dirty Energy – Another documentary, Dirty Energy, promises to show the side of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill that we haven’t seen. Interviews with Gulf Coast residents show the effects of the spill on the economy and shed some light on one of the largest environmental disasters ever. Check out the Dirty Energy site for more information. I will be seeing Dirty Energy at 8:15 on Saturday at Mainstreet 6.

Small Pond – Kirsten works at Shakespeare’s Pizza in Columbia, Missouri, and all the college kids are home for the summer. When one of her long-time friends comes to town, the summer becomes a memorable one. Check out the trailer at the film’s site. I will be seeing Small Pond at 12:00 on Sunday at Mainstreet 6.

Dear Chelsey – An inspirational story about one man’s quest to help kids fighting Cancer, this documentary tells the true story of Kevin Kline and how he decided to start running for Chelsea Campbell and others like her. Check out more information here. I will be seeing Dear Chelsea at 2:45 on Sunday at Mainstreet 6.

The Last Frontier – An international entry, The Last Frontier tells the story of missionaries in Mongolia, spreading good in the barren land between Russia and China. I will be seeing The Last Frontier at 4:45 on Sunday at Mainstreet 6.

This weekend should be extremely interesting and I am very excited about seeing all these films. Feel free to join me or see any of the other films being shown. For tickets, check out the KC Film Fest site or show up to the theaters any time this weekend. Hope to see you there!

April 4, 2012
by Tyler Hillsman
4 Comments

KC Film Fest kicks off in one week

I’m the kind of guy who gets excited to see the previews at the movie theater. I’m also the kind of guy who never gets to see every movie he wants to. Tonight I was invited to the media preview of the KC Film Fest – basically an hour of previews for short films and features that will be shown during the festival from April 11 to April 15. And I’m extremely excited that I get the chance to watch a good handful of these films.

The festival will kick off next Wednesday night with Nailbiter, a work of local filmmaker Patrick Rea, and continue throughout the weekend. More than 100 short films and full-length features will be shown at the luxurious AMC Mainstreet 6 and AMC Ward Parkway 14 theaters. Tonight I saw previews for more than two dozen of these flicks, and I’m having a hard time choosing which ones I can squeeze into my schedule. The films run the gamut from inspiring (Dear Chelsey) to goofy (Incest! The Musical), educational (Dirty Energy) to terrifying (Predaturs). There are local films like Corporate FM and Small Pond, and foreign films like Grenouille d’Hiver. Tonight I got to sample the buffet, and I’m preparing to gorge myself in a week.

I will be blogging throughout the festival, and I encourage you to join me downtown (or at Ward Parkway). Tickets to single shows (either a feature or a shorts program) are only $10, with Silver Passes (10 shows) going for $80 and Gold Passes (all-you-can-watch) at $120.

100 miles of fiber are in place in Kansas City

In a new Google Fiber blog post, Community Manager Rachel Hack answers a few questions about Google’s fiberoptic installation in Kansas City. The biggest takeaways are that 100 miles have already been hung and the crews are working in both KCMO and KCK. Hopefully we’ll get answers to the “when?”, “how?”, and “how much?” questions soon.

Bump Pay could be the new way to pay off debts

I’ve been a big fan of Square since it was released (and it’s still my favorite mobile vendor payment system), but this new app from Bump could be better for peer-to-peer money transfers. I’ve gone to dinner with people, paid for all of it, and had them pay me with Square before, but Bump Pay looks like an easier, more accessible method. Many more people have iPhones and Paypal accounts than Square scanners.