January 16, 2008
Chilling Upstate New York
I'm heading to upstate New York, Richard Russo's stomping ground and the area that most inspired his work. While I miss this area on occasion (a number of family members still reside here), I don't miss winter visits, especially January/February winter visits, which are very different from December and March winter visits.
In other words, I may as well be traveling to Alaska or northern Maine because that's what the wind chill feels like. Apparently it was 7 degrees yesterday and now they're having a heat wave (18 degrees but the weather report says it feels like 10. READ MY LIPS - it should say 10 below zero).
I know global warming is real but it never 'feels' real when I'm in upstate New York in the winter. I love fresh fallen snow, pond ice whether its for fishing or skating, sleigh riding at midnight to a full moon and all those things that made CHILDHOOD grand.
Now when I feel the cold, I don't think of great childhood memories at all - I just think "this is insane, why subject yourself to this level of discomfort on a regular basis?" HA - something clearly has happened between African, European, Israeli, Australian, Floridian and now California living that made me say, "my bones can't take this cold NOoo mooorree!"
Yet I have no doubt, I will have some of those grand childhood moments while I'm here and they may even be of the callibre that great novels are birthed from.
December 05, 2007
ACG's DealMakers Dec Event in Boston
ACG Boston's December DealMaker's Breakfast is on Thursday, December 13, 2007 at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Featuring The Partheon Group's Partner & Chief Economist Roger Brinner, who is well known as an expert economist and articulate analyst of the U.S. and international economies, he'll focus on issues relating to enterprise strategies and planning.
October 14, 2007
What Makes New England New England
On New England trips, I try to incorporate visits to Dunkin Donuts, CVS, Boston suburban driving ranges that feel more like the backyards of country inns, and farmers markets that have as many varieties of pumpkins and apples as they do tomatoes and onions.
What I always long for more of are walks, walks of any kind. Walks down Boston's Newbury Street, a visit to the cheese and chocolate store in downtown Concord, fresh fish and margarita's along Newburyport's waterfront, bicycle rides through Marthas Vineyard's narrow lanes, lazy afternoons at various lobster shacks up and down Maine's Route 1, oyster happy hours in Bar Harbor, farmhouse B&Bs in Vermont's countryside, outlet and fireworks stores in New Hampshire and the ever-engaging combined old-world library coffee shop in Northhampton. The list goes on. And on.
It's not just these references that remind us of what New England stands for and IS; its the conservative, intellectual, old-world, predictable culture that surrounds all of these colorful and delicious visual moments.
Some of these cultural nuances which end up being mismatches for free spirits, are of course what drove me to leave New England, the resistance to change being one of those, a natural death trap in the technology industry.
Yet, living day-to-day in an environment that not only welcomes change and spontaneity but proactively encourages it through consistent actions, leaves one longing at times for a society that does honor commitment, loyalty and predictable lifestyles and behavior.
This my friends, is New England.
The predictable presented at times in the most uninteresting and puritanical manner and at other times, in a way that feeds the soul at the deepest and richest of levels. This is why those born and raised in New England who are natural free spirits come back for a feeding as often and quietly as they can, hopefully unobserved by their aggressive, business-loyal, transient west coast pals, who will never quite understand its unsurpassed value, regardless of how many photos and stories you present.
Walking down the street of a small New England town on a late Halloween afternoon, you'll find carved pumpkins on porches and stairways, in yards and gardens. You will also find children riding their bikes amidst a flurry of brightly colored dried leaves falling from the trees.
The same could apply in December with the freshness of the season's very first snowfall. Something in the air arouses and inspires. It reminds us who have endured the harshness of New England's toughest season that we are born to endure more than we are born to succeed and thrive.
It's an attitude not that far afield from post war Eastern Europe and England. Somehow, it trickled across the Atlantic and settled into the walls, cracks and stone exterior of our Victorian townhouses and turn of the century wooden homes, the kind with the wrapping porches, hanging hammocks and potted geraniums.
This, my friends is New England.
When I first moved to San Francisco, I was adamant about finding a place in the city, where I could hang one of my three hammocks that I have collected over the years. While it was a challenge, I finally found a house that not only has a protected courtyard in the rear with plants and herbs that thrive year-round, but a front porch with a view of both bridges, a porch that would finally home my New England hammock.
My grandfather warned me of such shifts. He told me that the sun wouldn't set the same way on the west coast, the moon would feel different, the stars would not be quite so dark, and the air would mess up my sensibilities for years to come.
Yet, as the land of untapped opportunities and some tapped but not yet refined, he didn't ignore the value of heading west, just as they all did in the Gold Rush. The Tech Rush followed a century and two generations later, and the same types of people who had the courage and adventurous spirit to make the journey west for a perceived better way of life then, are making their way west today.
But, these people don't write letters on a piece of handmade paper from some factory in Cambridge or stationary store in Vermont. These people don't send out old fashioned holiday cards, or bake cookies from scratch in beat-up pewter trays that their great grandmothers owned.
These people don't tear up when they read Thoreau or accidentally find an old arrowhead on a walk in the Adirondack Mountains that may or may not have belonged to a Mohawk Indian. OR, recall with passionate energy a time they ran over lilly pads or saw trout in an inviting but flowing river as they made their way down its winding path in an Old Town canvas canoe.
It's dangerous to so wildly exaggerate is it not? Of course there are people country-wide who have had such moments, but that's not the point. My point is about what is consistently conveyed on a regular basis, day in and day out, that formulates a culture. What a culture was, is today and what part remains in years to come.
Hanging onto what was in years gone past, isn't a west coast cultural trait. There, its about change, movement, growth, opportunities, progress in whatever form that may take (entertainment, film, technology, sustainable building and so on).
So in addition to the sameness, which is a positive and necessary part of what creates and maintains a community, is New England air. There is most definitely a distinct New England 'air', not to mention other quirky things you don't quite expect, like a parade of ducks on a lake or pond.
You watch them pass by and somehow you notice that they have a different energy from the ducks you just saw in Montana or Nevada a couple of months earlier.
This trip east leaves me very little time in Boston itself, but not by accident. Somehow I felt the desire to retreat to rural areas near the water, as quickly as possible.
And retreat I did of course, after a visit to an old friend's place on Marlborough (which parallel's Newbury Street), where I recall countless summer dinners on his deck.
Having dinners outside on the top floor of his Edwardian-style brick building meant that we could easily see everything and anything that the general public has come to know as Boston, i.e., the Hancock Tower, and the CITGO sign in Kenmore Square, where on my first night in town, the Red Sox playoffs were stopping traffic on both Memorial and Storrow Drives.
I found myself on Charles Street for the first time in years where I discovered a new bistro called Bin 26 Enoteca (formerly Torch). The term enoteca has several definitions— wine shop, wine bar, and wine library, among others.
They extend all of these meanings into their restaurant with a flavor of all things wine that encourages you to sample styles you wouldn't normally try. The ambiance is also eclectic, exemplified in one room by hundreds of open wine bottles hanging top side down from the ceiling. Along Charles, Todd English' Figs remains a regular fixture.
Boston, like Newport, Providence, Portland, and even Portsmouth, has their fair share of great restaurants, but what is really magical about New England is not its urban centers.
A relatively unknown gem not far from Boston, is a small pond in Pembroke where my friend Mark completed a home restoration in the past year. It is a rural town on the way to Cape Cod that may not be a destination choice for anything other than a place for a peaceful read in an Adirondack chair on a summer day or a walk through the woods pretty much anytime of year.
Here, in what was a small boxed wooden home that resembled a fishing shack in rural Maine, we created feasts and drank wine with such vigor and attention to detail that even the finest chefs in a trendy urban restaurant would smile with approval and delight.
Whether it was a late summer barbecue where we all gathered outside to grill various kinds of fish, chicken and steak, or huddled inside by the old stone fireplace, the lack of refinement of the place went entirely unnoticed by anyone who was fortunate enough to be invited.
Sometimes Mark, who divides his time between writing about wine and teaching classical guitar, would bring out something to surprise and further our senses, like Francisco Tarrega's Doce Composiciones.
Fabulous wine from various parts of the world would continue to flow and it was a salon like no other I've ever attended. This was because it wasn't trying to be a salon - it had extended beyond what we have experienced of such events in a 'trying to re-establish' salons world.
The fisherman's shack that I had grown to love, had recently been demolished, and in its place, a natural wood shingled house twice its former square footage, was built.
It is now draped with long slender windows, has a front and back door, a square wooden deck laced with potted herbs, and a 'made-to-entertain' kitchen with stainless steel appliances, perfectly facing the pond while you cook.
No classical guitar came out on this most recent trip and we didn't start-up the fireplace. While larger in size with what would appear to be cold Italian tiled floors, the place warmed up quickly between the active oven, the incoming crowd of people, and the heated tiles which rose through the floor boards, and up through your stocking feet. It was the kind of warmth that accompanies a child's smile on Christmas morning.
This kind of day and evening in late October could only be experienced in this way in New England. The air, the pond, the ducks, the pumpkins, and the homemade squash and bacon soup was all a reminder that it was so. And that we were here.
The quivering leaves that were aching to drop held on tightly to their branches. Because of the drought, they still rose above us, greener than I've ever seen this time of year with no sign soon that they were on their transitional journey into reds, oranges and mustard yellows.
Ask any New England child of their what appears to be a mandatory school project of ironing their favorite colored leaves between waxed paper and how long their works of art hung proudly on their home refrigerator or on the whiteboard of their dad's office.
This, my friends is New England.
East Coast or West Coast in October: Not a Hard Decision
I don't come east nearly often enough. New York is an easier destination since there are enough business related events throughout the year to get me on a plane, but Boston, despite the fact that its a technology hub in this country, rarely gives me reason to visit.
They may think that they don't compete and they don't really, but both events draw a lot of the same people, including the likes of me, who ultimately decided that Maine in October was far more interesting than the center of San Francisco the same time of year. And so, the East Coast it is.
October 12, 2007
Dunkin' Boston Style
When I think of my old haunt, in other words my old hood, in other words Boston, the first two things that come to mind is heading home late at night along Storrow Drive and Dunkin Donuts, which remains an East Coast institution, an institution very different than its newer rival Starbucks. Yet Starbucks drinkers wouldn't touch a cupa Dunkin Donuts and vice versa.
When I was barely old enough to work, I served Dunkin Donuts coffee behind the bar and stuffed donut holes with extra fillings late into the night before the 4 am truck drivers came in for their jelly donuts and glazed twists.
Seeing countless Dunkins on so many corners repeatedly brings a smile when I'm on the East Coast, moreso in the greater Boston area. I think perhaps because it seems as if its woven into the New England culture somehow. Long live Dunkin Donuts coffee.
September 12, 2007
How Corporate America is Using Social Media
If in Boston next week, try to catch an event addressing corporate America and social media on September 20, 2007 at the Newton Marriott Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue. Lessons Learned: How Corporate America is Using Social Media. Social media is sometimes viewed as a tool that allows smaller organizations to level the playing field against larger competitors. The panel is intended to describe how corporate America is putting social media to use, as well as the unique promise and pitfalls facing large organizations. Steve Restivo, Director of Corporate Affairs, WalMart Northeast Dan Lyons, Senior Editor, Forbes Magazine (check out his new book: Secret Life of Steve Jobs) Josh Bernoff, Vice Principal & Principal Analyst, Forrester Research (co-authored Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies)
If in Boston next week, try to catch an event addressing corporate America and social media on September 20, 2007 at the Newton Marriott Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue.
Lessons Learned: How Corporate America is Using Social Media. Social media is sometimes viewed as a tool that allows smaller organizations to level the playing field against larger competitors.
The panel is intended to describe how corporate America is putting social media to use, as well as the unique promise and pitfalls facing large organizations.
Steve Restivo, Director of Corporate Affairs, WalMart Northeast
Dan Lyons, Senior Editor, Forbes Magazine (check out his new book: Secret Life of Steve Jobs)
Josh Bernoff, Vice Principal & Principal Analyst, Forrester Research (co-authored Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies)
Center for Women & Enterprise Event: Boston
If in the Boston area or there on business in September, check out Power Up!, a program for new entrepreneurs starting a business. They'll cover learning how to write a business plan, find and access capital, develop revenue projections and manage cash flow.
Marketing and promoting your products and services are also covered in detail. Classes start September 19th and go through December 19, 2007. More at Center for Women and Enterprise.
September 06, 2007
Facebook By Region: Boston Behind
While I haven't done a geographic breakdown of my 1800+ LinkedIn contacts to see how many are based in New England, Europe, Silicon Valley and rest of world, Facebook does it for you. They do it for you that is, IF the people you are connected to subscribe to a geographic network.
It appears that some of my contacts have not, however when I know that they're from a particular city or live in one, I suggest that they join that network because frankly, its useful. It's useful for those who travel or are trying to keep in touch with a wide global network and it allows me, the user, to go into each of those networks from time-to-time to see how people are doing in each of those areas I know so well OR identify them with.
Most of these geographic areas I have either lived in, spent a chunk of time in or travel to extensively for business or pleasure. What's interesting is that Boston is the one city where I've spent most of my professional life and yet, on Facebook, its my smallest network.
It's not as if I haven't invited my New England contacts. AND, it's not as if I am not tapped into Boston's technology hub. Does that confirm that once again Boston has a tendancy to lag behind? Doesn't jump into new trends as quickly as the west coast? Doesn't place any value in social networks? Is too old school to care?
Perhaps I'm being harsh, but it is one of the reasons I decided to move west. The Boston technology community was slower to respond to new trends, had a lack of enthusiasm for fresh ideas and wasn't as willing to take deep dives. MIT was an exception, as shown in the breakdown.
Facebook only shows your top 7 networks. If it were to show more, you'd see that Seattle is pretty much neck to neck with Boston and Stanford, MIT and Harvard are close behind Boston, meaning that I have more contacts from these top notch universities than from the greater Boston area itself. Seattle was ahead of Boston until about a week ago.
New York, where I've never officially lived ranks higher and San Francisco where I'm a relatively new kid on the block is on top. I've taken the actual numbers off for privacy reasons, but below is the ranking of my Facebook networks from highest to smallest.
June 18, 2007
Web Innovator's Group in Boston
Address: address is 40 Edwin Land Boulevard, Cambridge, MA, 02141, starting at 6:30 pm. The group is designed around Web 2.0 and mobile innovation in the greater Boston area. Entrepreneurs will present new services to their peers, and then there's obviously time to connect, network, etc.
May 05, 2007
Web 2.0 Echochamber: Another Reality
Everytime I'm in a room (and this is often) where the presenter asks the audience 'who's using what?' I'm always amazed by the number of hands that go up. Welcome to my world - the world of early adopters.
I am particularly amused by the show of hands who are Twitter, FaceBook, flickr and MySpace users. While there seems to be a generation shift recently with FaceBook, I wonder how long lived it is and how the user base breaks down geographically.
A few reality checks about things I'm told over and over again in the Silicon Valley echochamber:
Last year, I went to a flickr party and was the oldest person in the room. I attended the event with a 27 year old girlfriend who is a lawyer in the Valley. She dragged along three lawyer friends from LA, all roughly her age and none of them had even heard of flickr.
"Everyone is using Twitter," I'm told. I don't get it and won't. It's not that I'm not open to trying something new - it doesn't solve a problem for me that is need of fixing, nor does it improve my life. Nor do I even think its cool. As for useful? Perhaps at a three or four day conference in a foreign city for all of those three or four days.
The desktop is dead. Hmmmm. I'm not a very early adopter like my industry buds Robert Scoble or Howard Morgan, but I'm most definitely an early adopter. As a small business, I live on the desktop with the exception of search, some online purchases and my blog. Where does email reside? In Outlook, not gmail.
It doesn't mean that I don't have a gmail or yahoo account. I have so many email accounts, I can't even count them all. I actually use 70% of them, but where I am most productive is in a desktop email app where my favorites, files and preferences are stored. Here, turnaround is fast. Email on a web browser doesn't give me speed. I'd love to race anyone who says the web is more efficient or productive.
I'm also told that I 'must' join FaceBook. Why MUST I join FaceBook? How will it make my life more productive or fill a need that is (and this is key) NOT already being met? If I respond with: I'm not really their target audience, people will try to convince me I'm wrong.
Inside this broad early adopter echochamber, its hard to argue with a) not everyone in the world is convinced I need this and b) I really may just not be the target audience. Here's a new reality check for you.
I decided to do a few searches for a handful of remembered friends from high school and college across several countries through Google. Zero. Nothing. "Not possible," I found myself saying as I sat on the couch at 3 in the morning, plugging more and more names into the system.
Then, I moved to Wikipedia. I didn't expect the latter to pull up anyone -- possibly one or two if someone had authored a book or spoke on a national circuit, but I was surprised to come up empty handed.
So, I decided to try a little exercise. I pulled out two high school yearbooks and plugged in close to 400 names. In this search, I used their name + my home town as well as their name alone, using a married name as well if I knew it.
Obviously for women who married and didn't keep their maiden name, I potentially lost 40% of my sample size. Yet not all of them married or took their husband's name. None of my family members were found anywhere on the net except for a cousin who owns a mechanic shop in a small New England town. I tried twenty childhood, high school and college girlfriends using their maiden and married names - nothing. Welcome to another world. Another reality.
After going through the yearbooks from two states (Florida -- pop: 100,000 and upstate New York -- pop: 15-20,000), I came up with the following results:
--a one liner for someone who was a local firefighter, still in same county
--a two liner on someone picked up for drunk driving
--a two liner for someone who was sentenced to six months in a local jail and a fine
--an old friend, who I still keep in touch with, who is now editor of the local newspaper (yeah, they still read them there)
--a one line listing of someone who is now a sales manager at a radio station within 30 miles (I think -- no photo attached)
--LinkedIn - ONE, and he just joined. Also an old friend, who is a financial advisor in Vermont
--One family blog that only has photos, no blog posts (two internal links and it appears to be inactive)
--In the online phone book, I found eight listings
--Two family obituary references
One family blog that really isn't a blog, two bios on a website and one website of a massage therapist. No blogs, no newspaper articles, no mentions, no history or recording of them on the Web.
Sure, its largely a generation thing. Yet, I'm told that 'everyone' in my generation is using these services. And there certainly are older mainstream users on sites like eSnips (a client). While this exercise most certainly proved a point, I didn't expect to find nothing of substance.
In an odd way, it made me feel like a ghost, as if I was standing alone in an online world. Not that I had a desire to reach everyone in the class, but if I had, it would require a lot of effort. No doubt, some of these people will be listed on classmates.com or have a 'hidden blog' or profile somewhere on the Web.
We have no idea how far we have come in LESS than one generation until we do a surreal exercise like this one. A reminder that there are always other realities and choices when we think there is only one.
Update: Todd Sawicki did a follow up blog post about this very issue.