I am a midwestern son. There’s a sequence in the documentary ‘Life Itself’ that suggests that Roger Ebert styled himself as a Chicago journalist in an archetype of public figures like Studs Turkel. He was, for a time, hard drinking and hard living. Enjoying life in it’s ups and downs in a way that is both uniquely human and uniquely American. Seeing this film as I have now, in a time in life where for unrelated reasons, I’ve recently had to explain and often defend being both a New Yorker and American, it has given me pause to reflect on my midwestern-ness. It’s a claim I don’t often make about aspects of my personality and to say they are at best unsettled would perhaps be an understatement.
I’m so excited to finally see the finished version of my comic project that I’ve been working on with Kim Gee for the past two years. It’s been quite a job but the finished work is fantastic. I hope that people find this new approach to web tech concepts as fun and entertaining as it is educational.
Amazon has it on sale right now if you preorder
Here are some pages from the finished product.
Last year I attended Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit for the first time. I was ushered to Portland by my colleague and friend, Jim Hopkinson who simply said, “you have to go!” To be honest I didn’t quite know what to expect. Jim and I had co founded a conference Reboot Workshop the year before encouraging others to live outside the 9 to 5 and I suspected that WDS might attract the same kind of aspiring entrepreneur. Employees working full time jobs they hate and can’t wait to leave to start their own companies. That group attended WDS for sure, but was just one small group amongst many successful artists, world-travelers, adventure seekers and a wide spectrum of people doing the most imaginative things. WDS isn’t just for entrepreneurs, current or aspiring, but for any creative thinker looking to squeeze just a bit more out of life.
Surprisingly, being around a lot of non-traditional creative types gave me quite a bit of perspective on my career. It wasn’t just an industry conference like SXSW. It was a life conference. Now in my 3rd year of running my own business, I’m one year ahead of where I was at the last WDS and so I’m curious to see how the people I meet and the experiences I have will shade where I go in the next year.
Like any endeavor without a definite end goal, it’s easy to get mired in the day-to-day. Last year I was still fleshing out my role as a teacher. I had some classes under my belt and some semblance of financial security but now I’m 100% on my month to month finances. Teaching has become my sort of “part-time job” that lays in a solid foundation that keeps my finances from fluctuating the way they did when I relied only on freelance work. Still this has come at the expense of taking on new projects. The time spent for preparing for class and working with students sometimes takes away from hustling for new business or launching new projects. When I conducted the New York City StartupBus in March I woke up to the fact that I really love being an entrepreneur and I want to build my business more. But I want to do it in the right ways.
Often failure to take the next step isn’t for lack of options but for lack of the right option. I hope that with WDS this year I can find new inspirations and ways of looking at projects that excite me and change the way I’ve been thinking about what I’m capable of.
As some of WDS friends know, I’ve been working on a new beta project that I’m excited to debut at the World Domination Summit. It’s called Lemur and it’s the embodiment of a lot of the best things that I’ve done in my business over the last three years. It’s a product and a coaching service and it’s
San Francisco is an eclectic city. Proof of this concept is the breadth of differnt songs written about it. How can writing about the same thing spur such diverse output? In no particular order here are four songs about San Francisco.
Lights – Journey
The song is a ballad about Journey’s city of origin, San Francisco, although it was actually written in and originally intended to be about Los Angeles. It was one of Steve Perry’s first Journey songs, and was recorded soon after his joining the band. In an interview, Perry said, “I had the song written in Los Angeles almost completely except for the bridge and it was written about Los Angeles. It was ‘when the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on LA.’ I didn’t like the way it sounded at the time. And so I just had it sitting back in the corner. Then life changed my plans once again, and I was now facing joining Journey. I love San Francisco, the bay and the whole thing. ‘The bay’ fit so nice, ‘When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay.’ It was one of those early morning going across the bridge things when the sun was coming up and the lights were going down. It was perfect.”
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
In August 1967, while sitting on a rented houseboat in Sausalito, Redding started writing the lyrics to the song. He completed the writing with the help of Stax producer Steve Cropper, who was also guitarist in Booker T and the M.G.’s. The song incorporates mimicked seagull whistles and sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. Tragically, just three days after Redding and band mates finished the final refinements of the song, Redding, five band mates (James Alexander, Carl Cunningham, Jimmy Lee King, Phalon Jones, Ronnie Caldwell, and Matthew Kelly) and pilot Richard “Dick” Fraser died in a plane crash that landed in Lake Monona, Wisconsin. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” became the first posthumous album to reach number one on the Billboard Music Charts.
We Built This City – Jefferson Starship
The lyrics describe a city built on rock n’ roll music. The lyrics explicitly mention the Golden Gate Bridge and refer to “the City by the Bay”, a common moniker for Starship’s hometown of San Francisco, California. However, the lyrics also refer to “the City That Never Sleeps”, a reference to New York City, and “The City That Rocks”, a reference to Cleveland, Ohio. Capitalizing on the ambiguity, several radio stations added descriptions of their own local areas when they broadcast the song, or even simply added their own ident in its place.
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)
The Bee Gees wrote their song “Massachusetts” as a reaction to this song. The Bee Gees’ song is about someone who has been to San Francisco but is now homesick for Massachusetts.
I wrote a blog post for the 1Million Cups blog on startup Beander. They were founded on the StartupBus out of Seattle for the 2014 North America StartupBus competition.
I can recall in my youth in Northern California a constant frustration called FOMO or fear of missing out. It is the anxiety felt that there’s someplace better you should be. You worry that you’re never where the cool stuff is happening. When I moved to the east coast and New York City seven years ago I felt that the big city had cured me of this ill. I was overwhelmed by all the choices, I simply had to deal with the fact that I would never be able to do everything. I learned that life is about making decisions. By making a choice you are inevitably missing out on the thing that wasn’t chosen. What moving to New York taught me was that wherever I was at the moment, was the right place for me to be. I brought the party.
During WDS we were in a space where what we said and did mattered as individuals
I’ve been back West many times to visit friends and family in the Bay Area and I brought with me my adopted New York attitude of nonchalance in the face of uncertainty or doubt. I brought the confident swagger that I had assumed New York had given me. I recently returned from Portland after attending The World Domination Summit (WDS), a two day conference built on the pillars of community, adventure and service. Attending WDS and finally seeing Portland, I realized something. It’s not about the space where you are but how the you change yourself in reaction to the space you’re in. In other words New York didn’t make me more confident. It was the permission I gave myself to see the confidence in me. At the conference much was made of the reactions of Portlanders to WDS attendees. I met some former Californians working in a food truck who claimed we were the nicest group they’ve ever met. Conference attendees heard this echoed everywhere, we were the kindest, most interesting and fun group they’d ever seen.
How did it happen? What was the magic that made WDS so worthwhile and impossible to describe to others? What caused this collective joy and positive outlook? As a teacher I’m often struck by the way the structure of a classroom affects the ways in which students interact. If I’m sitting at a table with my students, the questions I get and reactions to the material are much different than if students are in rows facing me at the front of a classroom. Reflecting on WDS I see this same sort of shift in how the space works to reflect back the attitudes of organizers, attendees and locals.
Two things, in my opinion, make WDS successful. One is that every attendee has a story. Not only were the speakers obviously very talented and amazing. It was equally engaging to hear the stories from attendees both on and off stage. Even the afterparty was interrupted briefly so an attendee could propose to his girlfriend.
In the past month I’ve experimented more with different kinds of teaching formats and curriculum. I also attended the 140 conference on Education where K-12 learning styles were discussed in the context of social media. I’m increasingly convinced that there’s a disconnect between theories of learning and the realities of modern media consumption beyond a K-12 level.
We in the US are living in a time of unprecedented access to information and at the same time that information is changing rapidly. Skills to prepare one for this new techno-savvy future were not entirely evident in the later part of the 20th century. In the 1990s much was theorized about our new media future and projected upon. So much of what I’ve been taught about how adults learn center around hands on training activities.
I quite enjoy doing classes in this format when I have the opportunity and I’m presented with an engaged audience. Far too often, however, I find that it’s more of a challenge to get adults to follow along with what you’re doing and get them to do the work in a hands on fashion. I can’t say that I blame them. I tuned out from hands on learning activities when I left grade school. What always captivated me in classes in college was a gripping lecture punctuated with solid examples.
I know lectures aren’t for everyone and I’ve slept through my fair share, but how can we look at the success of TED or talks from the Royal Society and honestly say that lectures are outmoded or don’t work? With the explosion of online content providers like Big Think serving up content in short video chunks, in addition to bite-sized articles and essays delivered to our phones and Kindles, it seems to me that far more of us are not learning by hands on but instead by collecting bits and pieces of information and deep-diving on the topics later.
This has always been my approach to the classes I offer. I cringed for months when my web concepts classes Website Bootcamp and Website in a Box were (and often still are) labelled ‘HTML’ classes. Anyone who’s serious about learning HTML knows that you don’t need to pay money for a 3 hour class to learn it. That information is freely available online. What I offer in my classes is a base level of HTML and CSS that are core to what I’ve had to use repeatedly in my past work experience. It’s just as important to me what I’m not teaching as to what I am teaching. I also bring in concepts like SEO that students are inevitably curious about, but that often don’t get touched in HTML basics classes. We’ve segmented the topics to such an extent that to realize their connection takes years of working experience.
Right now there’s an explosion of online training and extracurricular learning especially in the tech world. Yet we’re still using terms like “hands on” and “hard skills” rather than thinking of the student, our
Social media is abuzz with how Microsoft is (again) derivative and playing the copy cat and how much “cooler” Apple is. In all of this posturing and finger pointing a few familiar photos kept cropping up and it’s sparked a revelation from my Apple days.
In Steve’s Hands
I remember watching the presentation of the first iPad launch and thinking something was odd about the placement of Steve’s hands. Something seemed so unnatural and odd. It wasn’t until I saw photos from Sunday’s presentation that I realized what Steve was up to. Look at the placement of Steve Balmer’s hands underneath the Microsoft Surface tablet. You see it again in Steven Sinofsky’s hands in the Internet explorer demo.
Everything we need to know about these products are communicated in these pictures. Steve Jobs’ iPad seems to float in the air, suspended lightly from either side. While the Surface is light enough to hold with one hand, the weight of the product is communicated in the posture of those who hold it. Those of us with an original iPad know it’s not light as a feather but Steve Job’s posture and position seem to communicate something futuristic and etherial about the iPad. In fact the iPad 1 is heavier than the Microsoft Surface but one wouldn’t know it from Steve Jobs’ posture. If this were any other technology company I wouldn’t think to analyze such a minute detail but knowing what we know about Steve Jobs I’m sure most of us wouldn’t put it past him. Did he really think about how the photos of the iPad would appear in every article published? If so it’s a marvelous coup where Steve’s able to best his competitors even from the grave.
via I’m Yours
Last night I had the pleasure of presenting on my recent Kickstarter success at the New Work City member Show and Tell. I got asked an excellent question from the audience afterwards. In my presentation I had shown that I did my homework about what works: price points, network effect etc but, some one asked “Did you look at any failed projects to see what went wrong?” I answered with my typical response when I don’t know the immediate answer “That’s a great question.” In those brief seconds I had to think of a response, I actually experienced dread.
I imagined myself preparing to launch my Kickstarter filling my head with all these stories of failure and negativity. I thought about what Chris Gillbeau (author of the $100Startup) said in the same space just two weeks before. Some one in the audience questioned his focus on successful entrepreneurs. To paraphrase Mr. Guillebeau, “failure is overrated. Don’t get my wrong. Failure is a good thing to experience because it gives you a learning opportunity.” The important thing is to iterate. Some have the tendency to emphasize the problem over the solution. This can lead to inaction.
Happstr is an example of vindication for the optimist.
It’s been less than 3 months since I stood up at 5 am on a bus leaving New York City and said something like, “Have you ever been fucking depressed? Like, go through moments of darkness? I want to build an app that encourages happiness. You tap a button and your happiness gets mapped out for others to see and get inspired by. If you aren’t feeling happy you can search a map and go to where people are happy.” After three all nighters and a whirlwind tour through the south, five amazing, wonderful people built that very app. We called it Happstr. The app continues to gain steam, has almost double my Twitter followers despite still being a prototype and not ever being officially launched. It was recently nominated for an award for humanizing technology (a personal victory since I teach technology to humans).
Happstr is an example of vindication for the optimist. I’m not always overly optimistic. Like everyone I experience periods of doubt and regret but I try not to project that to others — especially those I first meet. My job is to teach beginners about tech and too often people outside the world view it as closed off and inaccessible. They’re afraid of making mistakes. I don’t blame them. I have a lot of friends who build apps and websites for a living and it’s not uncommon to hear “That’s a dumb idea” or something close to it. The tech world venerates lean, fresh, new and most important ridiculously high-performing products. There is no second place. If you don’t have the hottest, newest exclusive technology you shouldn’t even bother.
From years of teaching people technology, however, I know that the trouble for most beginners is overcoming their fear of mistakes. Giving a beginner enough room to try it out themselves
I went to two events this past weekend that helped form some thoughts about my relationship to my work, teaching students. The first, on Friday was “Rise of the Independents,” a crash course into the coworking world with Chris Guillebeau author of the $100 Startup. The second was The Brooklyn Food Coalition Conference in Greenpoint.
In the $100 Startup Chris Guillebeau interviews entrepreneurs who either left their job by choice or were let go and found themselves with the opportunity to pursue an independent career. I see Chris’ book as almost the polar opposite of the Lean Startup, which is focused heavily on high-growth startups. $100 startup instead looks at people who are figuring out how to make a living on their own with little or no capital investment and with a minimal trial and effort strategy. At the event on Friday, Chris talked a lot about the idea of value. If you are adding value, providing a good or service people want then you can make a profit. If things aren’t going the way you’d like, you can adjust to figure out what the value is and how to better provide it. The book $100 startup chronicle everyday people making decisions like this some are indeed making lots of money on their businesses ($1M+ per year), but they’re doing so with little to no capital investment or traditional business loans. Tony Bacigalupo underlined the work of the book in his introduction by describing how this major shift towards microbusiness is happening despite being under-reported in the media.
At the Brooklyn Food Coalition conference there were workshops on everything from why you shouldn’t eat meat to food politics and policies to navigating the minutiae of government red tape to build a rooftop garden. It was clear that no matter which side of the argument you were on over whether food is a basic human right and shouldn’t be subject to market fluctuations, that most of the action was in the local organizing. Every where you turned you saw t-shirts and fliers for local gardens community coops, CSAs and meetup groups for neighborhoods. Just like with the microbusiness revolution described in the $100 Startup the talk is important but grossly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of action happening on a local level. While at the conference I took a workshop on food security and profit where the conversation quickly turned to a discussion of GMO labeling and concerns about the safety of food, and how to protect against contaminants. I’m always struck in these conversations how closely it mirrors discussion of software patents, DRM and file-sharing. Companies want to protect IP to the detriment of the spread of ideas. Rebel farmers share seeds illegally circumventing copy-protection measures put in place by these large corporations.
There used to be an understanding that college was a four year phenomenon followed by lifelong employment with little to no variation until retirement. It’s almost laughable to type such absurdities now. The realities