November 05, 2012
The Singularity Understood & Misunderstood
I've been attending Singularity events since they started having them, before people really knew what singularity meant.
Frankly, most people still don't.
Outside high powered technology circles and intellectuals, singularity isn't a topic that is discussed on dates or at the dinner table, even in Silicon Valley where technology and deals are sexier than toned women in miniskirts.
According to Wikipedia, "the technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of greater-than-human superintelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which events cannot be predicted or understood."
Advocates talk about an "intelligence explosion", where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, AND most importantly, that they won't stop until the cognitive abilities surpass the human mind.
Whoah Nellie! That's what I said when I first read Ray Kurzweil's book, The Singularity is Near and on many occasions since being involved in "singularity circles" since then. It's a scary concept for mere mortals to comprehend, at least until you better understand the landscape.
The term was popularized by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, who I had an opportunity to hang with at the latest Singularity Summit in San Francisco in October. He argues that artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement or brain-computer interfaces might be possible causes of the singularity.
Think of it as an era in time where civilization as we know has dramatically changed. The Singularians (yes, that's what they call themselves), believe that this era will "transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity."
I love that but wonder if technological singularity is the only way (or the best way) to transcend and amplify humans.
There is a group of spiritual and creative types like me who are intrigued by the singularity. We find some truth to it and while some of it sounds attractive and appealing, there's a whole subsection of the singularity world that takes me back to "Whoah Nellie" again and again.
When you sit on the right brain side of the fence for most of your life, you find yourself arguing (oops, debating) with scientists and technologists about all the issues that are often left out of the discussion, like emotions, love and feeling. Oh yeah, and intuition, something women have notoriously 'owned' because we're so damn good at it.
One could argue that in this new era, things like emotion and love will be transformed also, so how we view matters of the heart will not be the same way we view them today. In other words, there's no point trying to figure out how they'll matter in this new era because everything will be transcended: our intelligence and our emotional states.
What I love about singularian culture (if there is such a thing), is the commitment to progress, technological advancement (largely for positive change) and the ongoing, intriguing debate about the future and where we're heading. And, oh btw, it's an opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds who are pushing the needle forward today.
If you have a discussion with someone about singularity who knows what they're talking about, you shouldn't be too far along in the conversation before the phrase exponential growth comes up, a phrase referred to by Moore's Law as a logical reason why we can expect the singularity to happen sooner than some believe.
So, who's among this circle aside from respected futurist Ray Kurzweil (below) and scientist fiction writer Vernor Vinge? It's broad and growing every day.
They've even formed a university around it, whose mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilize exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.
Hans Moravec and Eliezer Yudkowsky are also cited as singularity theorists and the circle is expanding as "its" tentacles dip into other industries.
Speakers at the recent Singularity Summit included thinkers and entrepreneurs such as Julia Galef who spoke on rationality, cognition and the future, Linda Avey who addressed personal genomics, and professor Steven Pinker (below) who took us through a history of violence. (video here)
We also had an interactive dialogue with Daniel Kahneman, heard about artificial intelligence and the barrier of meaning from Melanie Mitchell, and our 'viral' future from Carl Zimmer. (below)
A quest in metaphysics was explored by Jaan Tallinn (below), Robin Hanson's topic was: A Tsunami of Life: The Extraordinary Society of Emulated Minds and Stuart Armstrong discussed how we're 'predicting' AI.
Temple Grandin who has done a lot of work with autism spoke to us about different types of thinking. There's the photorealistic visual thinker (poor in algebra), the pattern thinker (poor at music & math), the verbal mind (poor at drawing) and the auditory thinkers (who are poor at drawing). She brought up the power of bottom up thinking rather than bottom down, where you learn by specific examples. In other words, get out and discover things, citing travel as a great educator. Hear hear.
She says, "many talented, quirky and gifted students are going nowhere because they have no mentors to help them through their quirkiness." So right. While I received emotional support from my grandparents along the way (they raised me), I received more emotional support from random mentors who fell into my life path, amazing accidents in time I thought as a child.
Pinker, who took us on a journey of violence, talked about its connection to literacy. Much of his research wouldn't surprise anyone since its logical: literacy matters for a decrease in violence since it brings reason into the equation, winning over superstitious thinking.
Literacy is also a mixture of cosmopolitanism, where you increasingly consume fiction, drama, journalism and the arts.
The implication of this over time resulted in the need to redefine modernity...what culture means: our tribes, family, community and religion.
Like Kurzweil, I always love hearing Pinker speak. My brain is better off at the end of it.
So, if singularity thinking is drawing some of the best and the brightest, what's the real controversy aside from fear of the unknown, which is inevitable?
Carl H. Flygt quotes Bill Joy in a paper he wrote in 2005 on singularity theory:
“A traditional utopia is a good society and a good life involving other people,” says Bill Joy. “This techno-utopia is all about: ‘I don’t get diseases; I don’t die; I get to have better eyesight and be smarter’ and all of this. If you described this to Socrates or Plato they would laugh at you.”
But the paper goes on to say, "But Socrates or Plato would not laugh at the idea of pure conversation, which cuts off the me-talk before it can start and puts the human being directly in community with the reality of his (her) cosmic consciousness, of his (her) ontological impulses and of his (her) capacity for self-control and settlement into the higher bodies given human nature by its cosmic mereology."
I have no clue whether this paper has any credibility and note that it's also now seven years old...but, it was and is a viewpoint. Naysayer LogicPriest who calls himself an atheist, skeptic, anti-authoritarian and crazy person who likes cat and among other things, science, doesn't discount that AI isn't possible because any system of enough complexity can emerge into intelligence. He feels we may have very little to say to it however.
He writes: "we would need to emulate much of ourselves in an AI. We would need some pretend body and environment, some emulated limbic and nervous system (the brain is only PART of the nervous system, something most futurists forget). We would also need to build a completely different type of computer, one where the architecture is structurally tied to certain actions, one with DNA instructions, separate abstracted layers like our 'reptile' brain to work it's normal, computer functions and higher order processors for complex thought."
Regardless if you're an outside observer who is merely curious, a student of science, or writers like those I discovered in my search who have strong opinions on the topic, technology is accelerating with a force that's hard to deny. It is working its way into our every existence.
Consider that we use it get directions, read digital books, buy products and communicate to the outside world not to mention the people who email a loved one in the very next room rather than have a "human" conversation with them.
We use it for voting, research, asking questions on the most basic things like how to start a lawnmower or how to cook a turkey, sending photos to grandparents, watching a movie and monitoring our diets. We even use it to virtually talk to doctors about our health, consultants about our finances and teachers about our children's education. There's no end to how and where we use it or will use it in the not too distant future. Augmented reality is here and expanding.
The real question is a moral and ethical one. How conscious, present and aware are those who are building and executing the stuff that brings us into the next era, the one singularity promises is nearer than we think? What is their mission for "it" and for "us" as a species?
How will this explosion impact life as we know it? And, for women, artists, creative right brains and expressionists of the world, how will it impact things we hold so dear like love, emotion, physical relationships and our identity around spirituality?
What do you think?
Note: Twitter handles of some of the people either in this world or who talk about it from time-to-time: @raykurzweil2035 @labenz @lukeprog @laurademing @sydney_uni @ricolution @Sydney_ideas @jayrosen_nyc @biotechbusdev @elonmusk @robertwrighter @stephenfry @edge @rkurzban @temple_grandin @laurademing @lindaavey @sapinker @melmitchell1 @carlzimmer @robinhanson @wilbanks @ch402 @magicsaucemedia @noorFSiddigui
November 5, 2012 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Robotics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
October 09, 2012
TEDxFillmore: From Politics, Democracy & Jazz to Hip Hop, Eastern Europe & Burning Man
TEDxFillmore just had their event at Yoshi's along San Francisco's Fillmore Street this past week.
Director, Producer & Writer Thomas Simpson (left), was the emcee and the theme was "Passing the Baton."
While this may mean different things to different people, typically, batons are passed in relay races. The intention is to hand off the batons from one person to another while attempting to cross the line. The baton in the case of this TEDx theme is meant figuratively and can mean past to the future, old to young, young to old, teacher to student, student to teacher and so on...
The event, curated by Chris and Moki Evans brought together six speakers to a stage set up on the main floor of Yoshi's Jazz Club, a renowned music venue designed by award winning architect Mori Moto that features the best of local, national and international performance artists.The line-up included founder of The Jazz & Democracy Project Dr. Wes Watkins, Catholic Roman Catholic Priest Dr. Victoria Rue, travel writer & adventure seeker Francis Tapon, poet and arts educator Dyanna Loeb, entrepreneur Harley Sitner and poet Zienab Abdelgany. All of them interesting, all of them engaging, all of them inspirational.
"Jazz is a shared democracy, a shared experience, a shared leadership," he says. Jazz musicians improvise and from that perspective, they live on the edge nearly all the time. They trust that you'll go on a journey with them and you trust that that improvisation will just work and it almost always does.
The question of "who am I" is so paramount fo jazz musicians, just as much as the interaction with the audience is. "Who am I" he says, is what the musician shows us through his or her music. "Democracy is the same way," he exerts.
"Democracy has a certain tension, created originally by our forefathers when they set up checks and balances to keep different branches of government in place. The way jazz musicians create that tension is to listen and respond." He quotes Miles Davis who had often said, "first listen and then play." His belief is that government can learn a lot from jazz masters and that understanding jazz at its core can show us the way forward in American politics today.
He pointed to a few observations:
- New technologies in play where everything is open.
- There's a transparent government. Bear in mind that if government transparency is only about management of mistrust, then we start to face 1984 in reverse.
- Any unveiling is also veiling. Read what you will from this statement, but it's profound. Just go there in the context of his thinking.
My favorite quote all night? In America's earliest days, Black African Americans were in the shadow of the country's "light." MUSIC reflected that light says Watkins. He added, "Embedded in the music was the very core and essence of who we are."
GOD, I loved that and it made me think of a personal guru of mine Frankie Manning (now deceased though I took more than a dozen classes from him), other jazz and dance training and experiences and over the years, and I thought how true that was/is and I'm not even part of that old Jazz era where they faced anything and everything and yet the purity of that golden age Jazz culture thrived.
Watkins never made this (aka, the above) correlation to democracy and jazz but I thought of it hours later after meeting him for the first time: Flexibility and adaptability is in the heart of every American immigrant. Jazz represents 'that.' Jazz resprents 'creation' on-the-fly and innovation in the moment, I thought, and isn't that everything this country stands for (or stood for....see my book review on Rescue America: What Made This Country Great).
Then, Francis Tapon took us on a journey that started with a question about how do you evaluate your life on a scale of 1-10?
Through travel, he claims that you can move that number from perhaps a 5 or 6 or even an 8 to a ten.
Okay, so it's not easy for most of us to take off six months or even one or two months (or even weeks), particularly if we have a family we're supporting in some way shape or form. His take away is "just get out there and do it - get present with nature and the environment, even if its 48 hours...."
In other words, transformative life experiences result in just taking the chance. AKA - seize the opportunity, whether it be hours, days, weeks, months or years. We all have our own thresholds and we likely all have a handful of dreams we're not turning into reality.
BTW, while it is very un TED-like to give a book a plug, I'm actually in the process of reading Tapon's latest book: The Hidden Europe (behind the scenes of Eastern Europe).
Like Francis, I spent time backpacking through Eastern Europe in the late eighties and early nineties, a volatile and pivotal time for the region. He brings us a step further and cites cultural, language and anecdotal references throughout.
While I'm not finished with the book yet, I can't wait to plough through the cultural nuances of every Eastern country one page at a time. The reading is great so far - am loving it! From history, hiking (suck it up babe, if it ain't a 1,000 mile trail then...) and cultural insights learned to language faux pas and sexual encounters, he keeps you engaged throughout. I plan to do a book review once I have finished the delicious 736 page book.
Below is the video of his TEDx talk:
Dyanna Loeb aka Dyna*Mic is an MC, poet and arts educator who started performing with Youth Speaks in 2001.
She has shared her words and music for international audiences, at venues including the San Francisco Opera House, the Nuyorican (NYC), and Project HeartBeat Jerusalem.
What's eerily odd about listening to her is her conviction to Judiasm and yet she's kinda rapping -- poetically so -- in every number she performs.
If I didn't know she was Jewish (in advance), it would make more sense listening to her work knowing that 'she is.' (Trust me, I met her mother and meeting 'a' mom on any first encounter adds a lot of data does it not?)
After listening to several excerpts and looking at the way this woman dresses, you find yourself thinking "this doesn't add up." Stereotypes be GONE is the lesson of the day. Even when we don't have them or think we have them or think we think that we don't have them but do have them, we do. We're human after all.
Despite how talented Dyanna is (and she TRULY is btw), this juxtoposition, the one that doesn't make sense to any viewer upon first glance, is her biggest gift in my humble opinion...
Even though her poetry and songs have been featured on several releases through Youth Movement Records, where she co-founded a writing workshop for incarcerated youth in Alameda County Juvenile Hall and she has performed around the country, her work isn't nationally known...Widely so anyway.
YET, this woman has a command of poetic language in a way that tells the traditional and the untraditional stories not to mention the hopes and fears of the Jews through rap (and poetry). All of it is so deliciously unrefined while being refined, and energetic and cool at the same time.
She has toured the Pacific Northwest to perform for Amnesty International's Make Some Noise for Darfur benefit. Her first chapbook, "Birkat HaGomel: A Survivor's Blessing" was published in 2010.
A snippet below of her work:
Victoria Rue wanted to make sure we understood that women priests were not copies of 'male priests." "We're not interested in brocades," she says. "Women and 'feminine' priests are interested in understanding that it's not just about adding 'women to the mix' and calling it 'a day.'
Rue has studied liberation, feminist, and even lesbian theology. She likes to call her degree an M-Diva degree. Still, not commonplace! (not even close)
She reminds us that the female body has been put in the closet by the Roman Catholic Church for centuries and being 'proud of it' as a women' is still discouraged today. It's 2012. Women's bodies have repesented lust and sex for decades (okay, centuries) which .... she says, "must have been an embarrassment to a patriarchal God."
She continues, "Feminist patriarchal Gods don't believe in that kind of God, a kind of God that excludes. We believe in a God that embraces equality for all." Asserting that langage is a critical component in life (loved her btw), she cites example after example of phrases that support movement and ones that don't -- from historical times to present day.
Bulgarian-born Ivan Krastev 'showed up' on video only...aka, we never met the man. He humorously reminds us that the Bulargians are one of the most depressed cultures on the planet. I looked over at Francis during his talk...he smiled while I remembered stats that supported the 'same' in his Hidden Europe book. (I'm currently on Croatia, about half way through the book - meaning I finished the chapter on Bulgaria).
He started and has subsequently led a sub-community at Burning Man called "Hippo Campus."
What was refreshing was the reminder that despite how 'plugged in' we think we are, we're not all that plugged in.
In other words, we're all islands within our own micro-communities and while they may grow to be thousands in numbers, still....only a small number of people know who we are, what we do, why we're valuable and a step further, why contribute in a way to accelerate that community or group?
Harley talked about group behavior. Crikey, I live in Silicon Valley and on many levels, feel as if I know every "Burner -- aka term given to a Burning Man attendee" on the planet....AND YET, I had not hard of Hippo Campus, a community which given the talk, would appear to be infamous worldwide.
Despite the fact that its not on my radar, according to Harley, the community not only exists, but it's thriving and renowned. In the passing of baton-theme, he talked about how they consciously created 'shared experiences' as they grew in size.
KEY? Highlighting the fact that everyone has a 'unique gift' and that it's up to the community to identify each person's unique gift and to help manifest that 'gift' -- to the world.
He notes an observation that pertains to every organizational culture I know of on the planet - transitioning a personality-led culture to an organizational-led culture is really hard....more often that not, it simply fails. Lessons learned, he cites among others, these cores:
- Have No Drama.
- Have Radical Accountability.
- Identify Sexy Projects...Sexy = Helpful and Authentic. It's All in the Terminology. (I added that part).
- Fall Without Fear.
- There is no Perfect Way.
- Surface Area for Participation and Experimentation.
- AT the end of the day, Harley reminds us that "culture transcends EVERYTHING. Culture is the DNA of the organization." Hear hear.
- This couldn't be further from the truth in my own experience over the years, whether it was the size of a company like Computer Associates or Novell in its heydey or one of the umpteen start-ups I've launced over the past 15+ years.
Egyptian Zienab Abdelgany surprised and delighted me. While she grew up in Irvine and went to UC Berkeley, she has always been heavily involved in organizing the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities.
Currently, she is researching Pro-Palestine communities and effors and has been writing poetry that spans across all of these issues.
Her sweet spot? She speaks on identity and the politics of personhood.
Her energy and authenticity were wonderful. I loved her encouragement is to ask away despite how stupid and culturally ill-fitting the question may appear. Asking and being genuine and authentic in your ask regardless of what it is, is the first step.
Additionally, musicians Therese Taylor and James Whiton played. Below are the hands of Whiton as he played a follow up jazz number appropriately following Watkin's talk on "Where Jazz Meets Democracy." My title, not his, but you get the point.
Below is a group shot of 4 out of the 6 speakers, the two curators and both musical performers.
All photos credits by Renee Blodgett.
October 05, 2012
A Visual Journey of DEMOFall 2012
I missed DEMOFall last year if I recall and hate to miss a DEMO since I'm a huge fan of their events, having gone for years (and years). I'm also a media partner every year. As always, they had a great line-up of companies, many start-ups making the trek over from Asia and Europe to unveil their latest and greatest on the DEMO stage.
Some of the highlights included a kick-off Beer reception in the Oktoberfest theme. The great thing about such a theme is fabulous dark German beer and fashionistas like Jolie O'Dell showing up looking like Heidi. (it doesn't seem to matter what outfit she puts on or color her hair is, she always looks smashing).
The downside? The food of course. It was great to reconnect with old friends, some of whom I only see at Demo every year. Not everyone was as stylish as Jolie of course, but the pressure of women pulling out in the stops in Silicon Valley has Dylan Tweney rethinking what he puts on before he goes out of the house...yup, even the socks! (see my geek fashion hurts my senses piece).
Dean Takahashi decided to support the theme in one way he knew how: put on an Irish hat to support the Germans of course. :-)
In all seriousness, the beauty about Demo is that after hours (and before hours), people still know how to have fun. Below - is it easy to recognize a Brit among us? After all, the Brits know how to let loose despite myths that they don't. (Trust me, I lived there...ask me for stories sometime).
The every so "fun" Redg Snodgrass and Andrew Scott announced Taploid, a gossip tabloid for the digital age, so hey, they were just celebrating their unveiling after all...
Speaking of celebrating and having fun, Dave Mathews and co-founder of InTooch Julian Salanon demonstrated to the audience that they can START to have fun if they only freed their lives from business cards with their new mobile app. Hear hear.
Given that this event was Matt Marshall's last DEMO event, Neal Silverman bid farewell to Matt on stage while the audience cheered him on (and yes, we even stood up and whistled). Erick Schonfeld takes over in 2013 and am looking forward to seeing what direction he takes things.
There were also the traditional DEMO God awards that DEMO is notorious for. This year's winners included: bandu from Neumitra, Birdeez, ElectNext, Flinja, RentLingo, and VPC from Neurotrack (Alzheimers development).
One conference - multiple personalities. Up on day one was Ray Kurzweil, who talked about everything from singularity and speech recongition to nano bots and our brains. Up on day two was Twitter co-founder Ev Williams.
In between each category, a group of "sage" panelists came out and gave their opinion on every app that presented - what they liked and didn't...and why!
Journalist Rob Pegararo made the trek from DC...
There was, as always, loads of schmooze time as well and on the last night, a farewell celebration party thrown by Citrix.
August 12, 2012
Reid Hoffman on Lessons Learned Over 20 Years
Reid Hoffman is one of my favorite entrepreneurs in the technology industry.
I was introduced to him and 'his world' when I first moved to California six or so years ago. There was even a time I was talking to LinkedIn about working with them though it now seems like it was another lifetime. Things move so quickly in Silicon Valley.
Some people decide to move west for access to technology and money, and so they can work with the smartest and brightest people in the industry'. For me, since I'm more of an artist tha a geek, a big part of it was the opportunity to work with "the smart and bright" but it was also a lifestyle and attitude decision.
Silicon Valley represented a fresher, more aggressive, dive in or die approach to business and entrepreneurship that was intoxicating after working in Boston where most company execs took a conservative and apprehensive approach more often than not, operating from a place of fear rather than opportunity.
And, given that I was in the technology industry, doing my thing here only seemed natural. People who personified the best in entrepreneurial attitude in the early days for me were people like Jeff Hawkins, Dick Costolo (he was building Feedburner at the time), and Reid Hoffman.
It was 'this mindset' that was prevalent when I moved west that Reid emphasized this past week in a fireside chat in San Francisco with Panda Daily's Sarah Lacy.
One of the things that I really like about Sarah Lacy's interview style is that she likes to be and "is" provocative and isn't afraid of 'owning it.' Men never seem to get slaughtered for this approach, but women often do, and playing in a world where Hollywood and creativity meets tech and business, I think Sarah pulls this off consistently well.
She asked him about the very analytic and organized way he approached his career. Reid took a more methodical and structured path than so many others I was inspired by at the time, something he admitted to when Lacy took us through his career and myriad of start-ups. He said he made a list of all the skills he'd need to run a company and went through acquiring them one-by-one: from Apple's eWorld project, Fujitsu and SocialNet to PayPal and LinkedIn and everything in between.
"Entrepreneurship is about jumping off a cliff," Reid says. "You have to figure out what kind of founder you are: Design, Product or Engineering? Once you know, then acquire the other skills you need to get to the next level." For him, it was product management early on in his career.
When you start out as an entrepreneur reminds Reid, "you're never going to know the right thing to do all the time." Of his PayPal days, he laughed as he referenced a Peter Thiel quote who had said "I've never learned so much in my life except between 2 and 3 years old." Adds Reid, "If you're not red lining and failing enough, you're not learning enough. Don't beat yourself up and have to succeed all the time."
Advice he shared from his start-ups and things all entrepreneurs should think about:
1. Think about how your product will evolve and plan for it.
2. Think about how and where you'll raise your next round as soon as you've finished raising your first round. If you're not, you'll die.
3. Hire people with deep expertise in areas you don't have but really need.
4. Hire really fast learners - this is more important with early stage start-ups than someone who has 20 years of experience but may not be a fast learner and can pivot with you when things go south.
5. Hire people who are smart collaborative team players. Ask yourself: can they navigate, learn and adapt quickly and shift gears when you change a strategy overnight. He referred to the fact that PayPal had so many near death experiences.
6. Find something unique and new or be first or second. A Groupon variation could work, but not a third or fourth one.
7. Three things you must have is virality, SEO and differentiators so you can build a set of products that can be built into an ecosystem.
8. You should always have a mindset of being terrified. Be paranoid, especially as a developer. (Note: he subscribes to belief that only the paranoid survive).
9. On choosing your team, go for people who share your vision and can go with you through the bad and the good times.
10. Build a team with people you simply can't 'hire.' (I LOVED THIS ONE and it is so so true).
One of the funniest and truest analogies he brought up was how much creating a team and bringing on an investor for a start-up was like a "shotgun marriage." He says with a grin, "Let's have dinner a couple of times, sign a paper and get married. Then you start running very fast, together and you all have to get along. If the alignment isn't there and you can't get along, it's not going to last."
We moved into company experience and opinions, which included both successes and failures.
In the early days of PayPal, the founders (Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk & Luke Nosek) had different ideas of what PayPal 'should be'. He said, "company direction changed often...we pivoted so many times, that it took us awhile to figure out what PayPal needed to be to sustain itself. Staying independent was highly risky given where we were at."
He says of Friendster, "they failed to get their team to operate well. They also had two minute load times which is essentially like saying F-U, go away."
On Tribe, he says "they got taken over by a community that was mostly Burning Man."
Of gigs he was most surprised that failed? After pondering for a bit, he said, "probably Digg because they had so many users and they had momentum."
Of products that haven't really progressed since they started? Yahoo Mail was his first answer, but then quickly added, "but maybe Marissa will fix this."
Of things which have accelerated faster than he thought they would? Twitter, which he passed up as an investor and is sorry that he had. "I couldn't understand their motivation early on," he said, but then suddently I got it, 'oh, it's a public sphere of attention gestures."
I had to laugh because it was a much geekier way of saying what I was thinking in those days "geeks with egos and ideas who needed to talk using as few words as possible with symbols that didn't make sense." Obviously Twitter has evolved into something so much broader today and rather than a platform designed by geeks for geeks, among other things, it has become a megaphones for brands.
On Zynga, he says noting that he just came from a board meeting and there were obviously things he couldn't talk about, "they have a lot of money in the bank, social gaming is an important category and matters and they have tons of users." On what he advises the team: "Don't worry about the market and what they're doing, just focus on building out your vision. The game is in front of you."
Lacy asked him if he felt that Zynga went public too early. "No, I don't think so," he says, "because it will take so long to build products and the rest of their vision out. They're going through a bit of a storm, but they have the fortitude and the team to pull through it." One of his funnier moments was when Mark Pincus asked him when games would show up on LinkedIn. "His answer? "Never," he said with a laugh. "It's not our business."
Then, there's the Facebook IPO. Reid says, "they decided they could increase their offering and when you do an IPO, you need to create a positive outlook for the future."
On LinkedIn and their IPO, he says, "we decided to go with the New York Stock Exchange, because we felt that it aligned better with our own brand."
Lacy asked him if he felt that Groupon went public too early?
"It's easy to get sidetracked and distracted with an IPO," he says. "They need to focus on building out new products....and when you have to deal with so much marketing and press, it is easy to get defocused, rather than concentrating on the things that you need to do to make your product better. They mishandled some of the things around the IPO and got distracted, but I think the relationships they have with merchants is better than people think." Like his remarks about Zynga, he adds, "the game is still in front of them."
On whether they should have taken the Google deal. "I'm always bullish...I think it's better to go long."
What about now and in the future? He says he wants to work on things that make a difference in the world. As for what that means to him? While Reid isn't Pierre Omidyar or Tony Tsieh in that he hasn't spend a chunk of his life in a business that honors and invests in businesses for social good, making a difference is what inspires him more than making money. Hear hear.
He serves on the boards of Do Something (an organization for young people taking action), The Weekend to be Named Later, Kiva.org, Mozilla and Endeavor Global an international non-profit development organization that finds and supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
Reid - thanks for sharing your inspiring words of wisdom and lessons learned.
August 06, 2012
The Geek 'Fashion' Culture of Silicon Valley Hurts My Eyes
When I first moved to Silicon Valley, I found myself overdressed most of the time, and my New England meets Europe and New York style of dressing just didn't float well with the very youthful techies who showed up to parties in torn jeans, t-shirts and sneakers.
While I fought it at first, I have always taken a 'become your target audience' approach to marketing and PR and since that's my biz, I turned geek for awhile.
After a year or so, I found myself dressing down nearly all the time, even at industry events. I'd wear sleeveless shirts, jeans and sweater wraps which was probably a tad too young for me but then again I was surrounded by engineers who were barely out of puberty. It was about as 'down' as I could dress and still look at myself in the mirror.
Dressing 'down' may have made me assimilate a bit better into geek culture, which was a culture I needed to wrap my head around, but it never made me 'feel good.' I always felt that 'dressing down' was 'dumbing down' who I was even though we only have to look at how many of the geek powerhouses dress who are running fat multi-million companies to know that they don't go hand-in-hand.
That said, dressing 'up' makes me feel 'up', behave 'up' and think 'up,' most of the time. It doesn't mean that I don't get brilliant ideas at 3 in the morning when I'm at my computer in shorts and a t-shirt, because that happens often. Or in the shower, like it does for most of us, when our brain has a few moments to get away from the always-on overcharged place it has been operating for hours at a time.
Those who are close to me know that the fashion sense or lack thereof in Silicon Valley makes me crazy and is one of the things I hate about living here. I miss the fashion sense and energy of New York and most of Europe. And, even though Boston was far too conservative for my taste, at least women wore dresses, jackets and jewelry that you marveled at from time-to-time or wanted to touch. New England men may not win any top prizes for fashion, but they know how to throw on a well-cut jacket and the right shoes for an occasion when they need to.
Many women are tactile, we love touching and that doesn't just mean our significant other, it means materials too. The first thing I do when I'm in a shop and see something I like is walk up to it to 'feel' the material so I'd know immediately whether I'd 'feel' great wearing it.
I remember being at an opera once with my ex and we were in the second row. He was an opera guru and could never understand why I had to sit so close to the front of the stage. When the lead opera star came out wearing a vibrant eggplant Asian silk dress with a mustard and turquoise sash that was so decadently beautiful I nearly cried, I informed him that I was close enough to nearly feel what it was must have felt like on. You don't get that from the balcony or even from the 20th row.
When I first started blogging and was part of the early blogging trendsetters, there weren't many women in the scene, so the fashion culture of those RSS-education days was sadly lacking. In the early BlogHer years, when it was all bloggers and no brands, the style was eclectic and all over the map, but one thing that was consistent was the use of vibrant colors. See my photo blog post from 2005 that showed some of the styles of women bloggers at the time and my 2007 post when Project Runway designer Chloe Dao inspired female bloggers to cut up materials and create their own designer t-shirt in a variety of bright, fun colors.
That 'offering' couldn't have been more enticing for someone like me who craves a whole lotta art, fashion, style, craft and creativity in my life. I don't get enough of great art, design and fashion in the start-up world although frankly if there were more women founders, then perhaps we'd have more creative 'offerings' for the world to play with and the UIs would look like a mixture of Vogue and Apple rather than Evernote and Delicious.
The New York Times just ran a piece entitled "Techies Break a Fashion Taboo" and with a title like that, how can you not be drawn in? As they rightfully point out, "Silicon Valley has long been known for semiconductors and social networks, not stilettos and socialites. But in a place where the most highly prized style is to appear to ignore style altogether and the hottest accessory is the newest phone, a growing group of women is bucking convention not only by being women in a male-dominated industry, but also by unabashedly embracing fashion."
Ahhh, beautiful MUSIC TO MY EARS. I'm thinking, breathing and saying all at the same time: GO GIRLS! How can I help?
I had an idea awhile back about throwing a Geek Fashion Show, a bit in 'New York runway' format in someone's home. The idea is that geeks would be forced into fabulous designer clothes, women would whistle and ooh and ahh, and perhaps a little female attention might turn things around.
Somehow I think that if the woman didn't have a device dangling from her body he could play with, she may not be that interesting to him. Okay, I'm being harsh here, but as someone who has been in the Bay Area for 7 years now, I feel less feminine in San Francisco and Silicon Valley than I've felt anywhere else I've lived (and that's 10 countries and 5 states folks).
This energy comes from increased polarity between sexes (or masculine and feminine energies if the same sex). The stronger the polarity, the stronger the chemistry. Polarity is when a woman assumes her femininity in a relationship and a man assumes his masculinity. Since I moved west, I feel as if everyone and everything is equal, everyone and everything is a community, everything and everyone are partners and there's no difference in energy when I'm talking to a man or a woman. There are plenty of people who will disagree with me but I wonder if those who will have ever lived in South America, Italy, the South, Paris or the Caribbean. And god no, I'm not advocating for a return to a 1940s housewife culture, and if you think I am, then you're missing the point.
Polarity plays into dress and fashion too. What I find attractive in a man (clothing, walk, voice) is not necessarily what three of my closest girlfriends will find attractive, but when we dig into attraction at its deepest level in our conversations, what rises to the surface is that "Je ne sais quoi" that creates that feeling of 'want and desire' -- a polar opposite reaction if you like, the trigger that makes a woman feel like a woman around him. When that reaction is the strongest, it is when he's tapped into his (or her) masculine side, whatever that happens to be.
So I guess its no secret by now that I find a man who knows how to dress attractive. And, while I'm heterosexual, I'm drawn to women who know how to dress well too. Sure, dressing well is a matter of personal taste, but regardless of what your taste is, one thing is certain: when a woman dresses well, there's 'care and thought' into matching clothes, shoes, accessories and colors into a creation of sorts she feels best represents her personality. To me, that's powerful, confident and sexy. The same applies to men, at least for this East Coast-born chica who has spent many years living in Europe.
This photo from geeksdreamgirl.com in a post called Geek Fashion Does it Matter reminded me of how I often feel in Silicon Valley.
She writes: "geeks are made up of all kinds, but a frat-looking dude in an Abercrombie or Ed Hardy shirt is going to look more out of place at a con than a chick dressed as Hermoine after she drank the cat Polyjuice Potion."
Outside of Silicon Valley, it all looks out of place, yet geek 'fashion' has hit parts of Europe and just when I was about to guess they were from Silicon Valley, a Dutch, Irish, German or Israeli accent came out of his mouth. Frightening.
Take this photo found on Laughing Squid, where Bill Nye the Science Guy Teaches Chris Hardwick How To Tie a Bowtie. They both look like the whole process is just a tad too painful.
Even if nerdy checked shirts aren't to your liking, it's a helluva lot better than this:
Photo credit: Randy Stewart
The above shot of Ben Huh is more along the lines of the every day fashion I deal with everyday living in Silicon Valley and it hurts. I've been so reluctant of saying so this publicly for so many years because of the backlash that I've kept my moans to close circles. But for crying out loud, it hurts all of my senses and I can no longer not say so.
Says GQ of the the Ben shot: "we can tell you just rolled out of your 1,000-thread count bed sheets and picked out the nearest T-shirt in or around the laundry basket." What's really sad is that most of these guys are actually proud of a statement like that.
Then there's this eyesore. An invitation to the White House and this is the best that Faceook's Mark Zuckerberg can pull together?
Something tells me this was a PR decision or a defiance "this is who I am so f-you" attitude decision. Above photo taken from Hollywood Reporter in an article entitled Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg Named Worst Dressed in Silicon Valley. Just attend any of the countless events on the geek events list and you'll definitely find worst nearly any night of the week.
Or dare I suggest crossing the bridge and hanging out in Berkeley for awhile. (Apologies to all of my Berkeley friends who will never speak to me after that comment, but c'mon aready - can't we just call a spade a spade? Just because you're not great at fashion, it doesn't mean you don't ace a million other things in life).
Foursquare's Dennis Crowley just made #5th worst dressed men of Silicon Valley by GQ (although he actually lives in New York, but just dresses like he lives on the other coast).
Photo credit: Getty Images
They're a little harsh in their write-up especially since I personally adore Dennis, but I have to admit, its incredibly accurate: "Unless Crowley is making a social statement about the threat of student loan debt, it's time to graduate past the junior section."
I feel that way about 90% of the men who can't make an effort to graduate past high school.
Remember the way Bill Gates used to dress? Even if you think this shot looks like he's graduated to the Connecticut suburbs and the colors so don't work with his skin tone, you have to admit, he's at least graduated past high school. Enfin!!
Photo credit: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg
I'm surprised that GQ put Craig Newmark on the list, who I also personally adore. Here's the thing: Craig makes an effort whether you think its fashion perfect or not. He's not in a t-shirt he grabbed from his laundry basket, he gets the 'shoe' thing (the man is never seen wearing tacky neon sneakers that don't match anything else), he wears great scarves and the hat just suits him. Of all the men they could have chosen in Silicon Valley, really? I can give you 50 other men who should have made the GQ list. Personally, I think "it" works for him, wrinkled shirt and all. How many men do you know who have wrinkled shirts who aren't geeks?
Photo credit: Getty Images.
From a post in Blog.stylert.com, they ask: "Are you a real geek? Are you proud of being a geek? You can be cute (or sexy), yet embrace your geeky style. Geek fashion refers to the embracing of stereotypically unpopular “geek” characteristics such as glasses. They dress almost identical to hipsters but verge more towards being into comic books, pop culture, technology, etc. rather than hipsters who are more into poetry, brooding, and generally being pretentious.
The definition: Well, basically, you take key pieces of a typically geeky wardrobe and wear them with purpose and aplomb, to make a point. Not because you’re clueless and out of the fashion loop, not because you can’t afford Ralph Lauren — because you want to. Think thick black glasses, pinstriped suits with skinny ties, sweater vests, and pocket protectors — a hipster vibe with a nerdy edge."
This doesn't mean a TechCrunch t-shirt with jeans and sneakers. They write: "many elements that arguably define “geekiness”, such as varying degrees of social awkwardness, mathematical ability, strong interest in science and/or science fiction and fantasy, and varying degrees of disinterest in one’s personal appearance, remain unfashionable."
The point? Get creative. Care at least a little. Mix geek with other styles. For example:
Photo credit: Blog.stylert.com
Says the NY Times piece, "despite the geek stereotypes of hoodie sweatshirts, flip-flops and thick glasses, it makes perfect sense, these women say, for people interested in technology to be intrigued by fashion. They quote Marissa Mayer pictured above left, who said in February: “Like components of software,” she said, “fashion designers learned how to do this shoulder, put pleats on the skirt that way.” Apparently she once paid $60,000 at an auction for lunch with Oscar de la Renta. I wonder if she'll use her elevated salary at Yahoo for luxury wanna-haves like this one?
Thinking like 'software components,' she asked Naeem Khan to make the dress for her wedding to Zachary Bogue, a financier, in 2009. "She gave the designer a spec (a set of requirements that engineers write for new products) for the gown, including scalloped trim, an A-line skirt and lace, preferably with snowflakes." Too funny, but if its the way her brain works, it's the way her brain works.
Compare the above set of four men to the below set of three women. What draws you in more regardless of your sex? Great style is great style is it not?
From left: Theresia Gouw Ranzetta, an investor at Accel Partners in Palo Alto, Calif., Sukhinder Singh Cassidy runs the video shopping site Joyus in San Francisco; Ruzwana Bashir is a founder of Peek, a Web travel start-up in San Francisco.
Well done ladies and don't ever stop wearing great color and great design regardless of how much push back you get.
Keep the trend going so we can add just a little bit of sex appeal to the Bay Area. Silicon Valley is starving for and in need of a whole lot more sex (appeal :-) and while the geeks may not admit it, if they go there, and get the benefits and rewards that it might bring, they may just never look back.
Photo Credits: above triage photo: Heidi Schumann for NY Times, Marissa Mayer, left, head of Yahoo, with the jewelry designer Monique Pean in 2010): Jemel Countless Getty Images and photo upper right: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times.
August 03, 2012
Drew Carey Seems to be Getting Hotter & Younger
August 02, 2012
Happy Birthday Steve Wozniak: Woz Celebrates His Big 62 in San Francisco
While the world at large knows his name as co-founder of Apple, today he sits as Chief Scientist at a company called Fusion-io, whose chief focus is to deliver data faster.
Their pitch of their ioMemory platform is that it accelerates databases, virtualization, cloud computing, big data, and the applications that drive our economy and our daily lives.
The team decided to throw Woz a surprise birthday party this week at Yuerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.
The marketing folks were seen texting with his wife Janet to get ensure they had the timing right and that everyone was behind a closed door with not one party hat in sight prior to him entering the main building.
As invited guests showed up early to ensure Woz wouldn't find out, they were given noise makers, pink boas, party hats and bags of glitter to throw at him when he walked through the door.
Even after a shower, I'm still finding those damn glitter flecks on my body and my living room floor nearly 24 hours later.
Invitees included old friends, industry illuminaries, geeks, former Apple folks he worked with and a handful of press.
I ran into some people I hadn't seen in years and met new ones I didn't know existed in the "biz."
One of the first people I ran into was Fusion-io's CEO David Flynn (left) who gave kudos to Woz on stage for his dedication to the company and of course to wish him a Happy Big 62.
Old time industry pals showed up like Tim Bajarin, DEMO's Neal Silverman, Harry McCracken, Therese Poletti, and Janet Rae Dupree and other media who have been covering this industry for years such as Don Clark, Dean Takahashi, Chris Taylor, Mike Isaac, Ina Fried and a host of others.
People seemed to keep the pink boas on for most of the night -- men and women -- and people queued up to have a photo taken with Woz and his wife Janet, pink feathers and all.
The guys decided it might be fun to give Woz "the what and who" he always wanted (?) to pop out of a cake: a geek with zero social skills and less than zero protocol.
It wasn't until he started stripping in front of Woz and the crowd that we began to uhh, wonder, what next?
Woz seemed to go with the flow, which is one of the things we all love about him so much. Sure, he's brilliant and has a lot of charisma, but its his warm engaging smile and authentic way of being with pretty much anyone who approaches him that people fall in love with. In other words, he's about as real as it gets and this "real" comes through when you're around him almost immediately, whether its your first encounter with him or your twentieth.
Below is a shot of Woz with his brother Mark
Below are the two Fusion-io founders. Can you tell which one is the token geek and which one isn't?
Well renowned and charming TV personality Drew Carey showed up and while he was there because he knew Woz personally, he dealt with the fan love extremely well by posing with people all night long, including yours truly. I couldn't resist. He looks damn good, does he not? (remember, the man was born in the 1950s).
Large Woz posters filled the lobby.
And, after the burgers, stirfry chicken with noodles, potstickers and wine, they served Happy 62nd Birthday Woz cupcakes with the works so to speak.
Even though there was a DJ and drums, and the music brought back a boat load of memories from the 1970s, no one danced because frankly people at technology events never dance regardless of how much they drink. (Note: I did dance with Bill Gates once and was even interviewed by a Washington Post reporter about whether I "thought he could dance" after the fact, but I'm not sure that really counts. I think it was in Vegas although it could have been NYC - it was a LONG time ago).
Instead, we did what geeks do - talk about technology projects and analyze photos AND the cake, both of which were oozing with Steve Wozniak DNA. No, I'm not kidding. Below, Woz lifts up a "birthday present" photo for the crowd so we could all get a visual of his "framed DNA."
They replicated his DNA on a cake, not to be mistaken with the three-tiered one that the 'scary geek' popped out of earlier in the night.
A large vibrant digital screen displayed icons of people wishing Woz a Happy Birthday in whatever way they cared to express it.
Everyone who attended received 'goodie bags' which included a Woz Birthday t-shirt and a game though somehow more of those glittered sprinkles landed in my bad and I imagine I'll find them under my rugs and behind my curtains for months to come, just like the Christmas tree pine needles do after I take the thing down every January.
Happy Birthday Woz. It was a pleasure to be there to help you celebrate, together with pink feathers, glitter, cupcakes and dozens inspiring geeks. Thanks for all the things you do!
May 01, 2012
Remembering the Strong Female Forces In Our Lives
This week, I couldn't stop thinking about them. Among "them" was not THE woman in my life who guided me, took care of me, shaped me. That was my grandmother and like most grandmothers of women in their forties, they're no longer a phone call away.
The benefits of being raised by your grandmother is that you are surrounded by older, wiser women at a much earlier age, all of which have stories, many of which remind you not to take the world....and everyone in it so seriously.
In my grandmother's circle was an incedible group of women who got together for lunches, martinis, and shopping, even in the 1930s and 40s when they were all healthy, raising children and had husbands that they 'navigated.' (see My Mother's Kitchen -- 2004 blogging days) and a dedication to mothers).
All of them strong, yet sweet...the kind of women who didn't tolerate weak character or housewives without some other mission or job. It wasn't the south, yet a couple of them have moved north for some reason or another. Most of us were "baked" in a small town in upstate New York and with that came things like country fairs, football games, horse farms, 4H, piano lessons, and more sewing and craft afficiandos than wine snobs.
Learning the basics of being a 'woman' of that time was part of living in a small town...you know, the traditional stuff: sewing a button, baking a cake, rolling pie dough the 'right' way, dance lessons, serving tea. Yet, they absolutely tolerated if not encouraged sports for women. While I regularly played many a' sport in school, none of these stronger older women who influenced me in my life played a thing.
In their walled garden, which I used to eavesdrop on from time-to-time, they often talked about navigating their family unit. Many women relied on my grandmother's advice (today, they'd call her a 'coach'), to help them negotiate things at home, whether it was getting their husband to purchase something to make their lives easier, or being able to work and play more while raising a family of 5, and so on. She was also the master peacemaker and networker.
The constant, common thread woven into all of their personalities was spunk and perserverance. I think about them often now more than ever, three gone, four still living. I dreampt about one of them a couple of nights in a row recently and woke up with my heart racing. "How old is she now?" I thought. "Could my dream be a sign that she's sick and in her last days" I thought. "Is she already gone and she visited me at night to say goodbye?" I thought.
The number I had for Bernie was disconnected which is never a good sign. She was with my aunt and uncle in the driveway waiting for me the day my grandmother died. I was too naive to believe my grandmother would actually die despite a long battle with cancer -- remember no one talked about stressful situations then...they just smoked and drank more martinis. They didn't tell me the news in the driveway that day nor did they go with me to the hospital. I drove alone and heard the news alone from some fatigued nurse who didn't know who I was and released the information about my grandmother's passing in a not so gentle manner. I was 16. I had no reaction until I belted in the elevator moments later but without shedding a tear - where was everyone I thought?
Among the faces that came in and out of my mind were all the strong women in my grandmother's life...my life. I imagined their pain learning the news I had just been given, knowing that not all of them had known yet.
My grandfather wasn't in the driveway that day but Bernie had been. Perhaps she wasn't 'authorized' to tell me? I'm highly intuitive and yet something blocked me from connecting the dots after seeing Bernie's red blotchy eyes on that very sad and long summer afternoon when I was "sweet" 16.
I learned a lot about Bernie and these strong female forces in my life, almost all intuitively. When we visited her house, I had to pass time while the 'grown ups' played their cards and drank martinis. It was the 70s - there were no cell phones, online games on TV or computers.
And, no one had a parenting rulebook that said your kids had to be in bed by 8 every night. It was a time loaded with boundaries, an era when adults dicated the agenda, not children.
I used to crawl on my hands and knees through their attic, unpacking boxes and snooping inside. I'd roam through the closets, dressing myself up in her hats and oversized jackets. Downstairs, I'd hear her strong laughter dominating the table and that beautiful and feminine way she egged the men on exuding her confidence and wit. A gift. I even knew it then but didn't have a label for it. My grandmother had it too.
Audrey was a little more refined in public yet exuded the same strength and gift. She's 95 now and lives in Florida, alone. I managed to get her on the phone for a long chat a few years ago. I feared she'd barely be able to hear me or keep up with my pace, but the first thing she did was drill me, like I was still 18. I smiled as I listened to her first question, which may have come before hello: "are you still playing the piano? I hope you're still playing the piano" suggesting that my grandmother would be shedding more than a tear had I not let her gift and now my gift, pour out into other people's silence.
Truth be told, I had stopped playing but a piano remains in the house and I told her, I can't imagine any house without a piano and will always feel that way. She tells me she's trying to order music online now (online in her nineties -- really?) but some of the music she's looking for is hard to find. I imagined Colony Music in mid-town would have it I told her, a place I visit every time I'm in New York just because.
Then we got onto men. She's dating a younger man (mid-eighties) but his eyesight is failing so she often has to drive on longer hauls (1-2 hours). Without complaining, it was clear she did most of the work and I kept wondering, is there ever a time when strong women like us ever get 'taken care of?" Before we hit the grave? She told me that her biggest beef was that he was a fan of George Bush and she couldn't really get him to change his mind. "These are the compromises you make for companionship," she said.
I was reminded to listen to my inner voice...the wonderful intuition that women have, rely on and use regularly for all sorts of things, yet it's a skill and gift that doesn't list well on paper or in the boardroom.
When I was 18, I lived out of my car for awhile, not far from where Audrey and her husband lived in Florida at the time. A workaholic from the beginning of 'life' itself, I had three jobs, two boyfriends and was eager to save as much as I could for travel. Frankly, rent just seemed like a waste of money when I was working 6.5 days anyway. Somehow my highly intuitive grandfather discovered this through his Sherlock-skills over 1,500 miles away and sent Audrey to deal with me. What was and is remarkable for a woman born at the turn of the century is how much she understood my need to do precisely what I was doing.
They had traveled in academic circles, lived in Paris for awhile and let's be clear, did not and would not ever have slept in her car or on a park bench in her life. Yet, it was okay that I did, for then. She believed in the process of life and that everyone's process is different. Her handwritten letters which I receive every year and have since I was ten demonstrate her perserverance, her tolerance and her inner strength - letter after letter, word after word, you could sense her gratitude and faith in the world, and her positive role in it.
Marcie was a long time neighbor who grew up in the south on a farm. She was #8 in a line of 11, her youngest sister from Pittsburg being the only other sibling alive. She has also lost two children of her own and her inlaws husbands and wives are all gone from cancer and heart disease.
When I couldn't reach Bernie, and countless Google searches didn't pull up a thing, I called Marcie considering it a universal sign and nod that it's time to reach out to these strong female forces in my life. It's these quiet nods that we have to not just listen to, but act on, for it is action on these nods (messages if you like, from our inner voice aka the universe), that allow US to DESIGN our lives, not let someone else design them for us. From this place, we proactively live life, not react to it. We become the creator, not the victim. The designer, not the canvas.
Alongside my grandfather, she taught me to drive. Through the neighborhoods we went in a beat up old Chevrolet. She asked, "I was trying to recall how long ago that was again?" Its amusing how much easier it is to come up with a precise number to that question to someone in their mid-eighties than it is to the hot 30 year old man you just met from Argentina.
Three things were on her mind: how much harder it was to do physical things, the climate, remarking how much warmer it was this winter and how odd the weather has been in recent years, and the economy.
I on my iPhone and she on the same square black GT phone she has had in her kitchen since 1966, we talked about my life in the "bubble", the Silicon Valley eco-system that doesn't seem to subscribe to recessionary issues that affect the rest of the country. That said, it is increasingly becoming harder for people around me to keep up with the accidental millionaires and billionaires who are sprouting up overnight as a result of some freak paranoia acquisition play by an industry giant.
This led us to gratitude and reality checks. She told me about a time in the early forties when she put an apple on her father's tab in the country grocer on her way home from school one day and her reaction to the scolding she received when it was "discovered." Given that she has the same strong, resilient streak that all the women in my grandmother's circle had, she decided to take charge of her own decisions and got a job in an ice cream shop. It was 1944 she recalls and she made just under $3 for two days of work.
It's hard to imagine numbers like this today, yet despite what salaries have become, the majority of Americans can't pay their bills on time or if you happen to live in a major metropolitan area, afford the $1M+ that it cost to purchase a home today. And so, people don't or they go bankrupt.
It seems as if everything is inflated around me...last time I walked down Fillmore Street, I don't remember seeing so many unremarkable $500 tops and $800 bags. Shopping culture and consumerism despite the economic situation remains high (read my blog post on Qatar's over-the-top growth) and yet, the happiest people I know have less. Only two days ago, I came across a photo with a quote from Justin Wolfers at the Aspen Ideas event saying "Richer countries are overwhelmingly happier than poorer countries." From a viewpoint that poorer countries are full of people with sicker family members and less ability to save them, I agree.
In my experience traveling to 80 countries and living in nearly a dozen, it feels like the people I've met who have had less and live simpler lives with less stuff, are richer in spirit, and are focused on doing rather than earning, less weighted down by money.
So, I'm not sure if I agree with you Justin, but I do agree that communities where economic and social balance becomes far out of whack, depression and a feeling that the world doesn't make sense can certainly be higher.
People from the old world, Marcie, Audrey, Bernie and my grandparents among them, understood contrasts, balance and gratitude and had so much more resilience, kindness and empathy than what I encounter on a regular basis. It's not that the world has become a harsher place, it's that we may all too busy responding and reacting to things being thrown our way (on and offline), that we may have forgotten to tap into what and who we know best - ourselves.
Returning to and relying on ourselves and trusting our own intution for guidance and our life path may be the best gift we can give ourselves. Refer to my review on Rescue America: the urgent calling to return to what made America great.
How well I know these women or knew my grandmother is not as relevant as the impact they had on me, and the inner strength they have provided and still do, even those who are no longer walking on this physical land.
It's always about our journeys and the joy and yes, even sorrow, we leave behind along the way. Within that joy and sorrow are lessons learned and gifts we share and receive, strength, courage and empathy passed on from our tribes, in my case, a tribe of strong fabulous women I think about often. And, when their smiling faces and emphathetic hearts come into clear view, there's sunshine in the house and my day somehow gets breezier and lighter as I think about them weaving in and out of my life. Never gone, just displaced and forever cherished.
A few blog posts on happiness worth referencing:
- What Motivates People Across Cultures
- We're Happier When We Share
- Bhutan's Gross Happiness Experiment
- On Laughing More
- Money Doesn't Bring You Happiness
- On Death (but one that will bring you comfort)
- Tony Hsieh on Happiness & Profits
- First Image (women/wind): 3D Art
- Path: Wharton Executive Management Site
- Bird with wings: Society 6
April 29, 2012
TEDxSummit in Qatar's Doha Brings Together Nearly 100 Cultures to Accelerate Change & Meaning
I recently came back from Doha Qatar, where I attended a week-long event exclusively for TEDx organizers.
The first TEDxSummit was hosted by the Doha Film Institute at the Katara Cultural Center aka the Katara Valley of Cultures. The "village" is a bit like a sprawling outdoor convention center that houses an ampitheatre, tents and domes where you can see live concerts and events.
Katara was born out of a long held vision to position the State of Qatar as a cultural lighthouse of art if you will, highlighting the best of theatre, literature, music and visual art in the Middle East. It sits along the water, so you can watch boats sail by and a sunrise in the early evening off in the distance while you take in your event, whether it be performing arts or meetings, or in our case, a mishmash of both.
Before arriving, I wasn't sure what to expect, from the kinds of content they'd choose to why Qatar and what is Qatar? Refer to my numerous posts on Qatar including a write-up on the Arab Museum of Modern Art, images of the impressive Museum of Islamic Art, a display of work from renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang and the over-the-top Murakami Ego exhibit.
What is Qatar is probably the most mind blowing takeaway from the event as you'll see from my write-ups. At first, it didn't make sense why we were having an event in such a remote place, a country barely known to so many and yet, after returning from the Summit, the location makes perfect sense.
Given that the Summit attracted TEDsters from nearly a hundred countries around the world, it is in fact a fairly central location, though obviously a longer haul for those of us on the American west coast. And, given the diversity of the attendees, Qatar, which rather than having hundreds of years of history and cultural references, really only started to make its marks a few decades ago.
In other words, its a country in search of an identity as demonstrated by the volume of new immigrants pouring in to tap into Qatar's exploding economic growth...less a land of local Qataris and more a land of transplants from Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, the list goes on.
And, let's not forget other stats: 75% of those living in Doha and surrounding area are expats/foreign nationals. Doha is preparing for its growing global interest; the city is about as modern as it gets with highrises going up faster than Las Vegas hotels in its prime.
The other reason Qatar makes sense as a location, is that so few of us in the west know "enough" about the Middle East, particularly the complexities of Islam and the culture that goes along with it. Understanding Qatar helps you understand the rest of the region.
Through greater understanding comes compassion, empathy, tolerance, gratitude and a willingness to not just expand your horizons and knowledge base, but reach out and help in whatever way makes sense. This, by the way, is integral to what TED at its core is about.
And so, we all embarked on soil that is new, yet old, to discuss ways we can help each other, sharing best practices, what works and what doesn't.
Some of the sessions included: How to Write About Your Speakers, Sponsorships, Keeping Your Event Sustainable, Social Media Strategies, Building Salons, Blogging, Making Change with Corporate Events, Capturing Great Photo Content, Planning, Stage & Production Tips, Branding, Livestreaming, Working with Tight Budgets and more.
Clearly it made sense for teams from specific regions to pow-wow with each other. Wwe had breakout sessions in large tents in the middle of the desert broken out by parts of the world, i.e., Eastern Europe, Australia, Central America and in the states, it was broken down even further (northern California, Midwest and so on).
Below are ketchnotes of one of the TEDxSummit sessions from C. Todd Lombardo, organizer of TEDxSomerville in the greater Boston area.
While meeting by region helps each group share resources, and even space for meetings, its amazing how much you can learn from organizers in parts of the world that have nothing in common with your own. This is separate of course from what you learned from locals who happened to be hanging out or 'working the event' -- in the middle of the desert.
For example, storytelling on stage is very different at a small event in West Africa, yet what is so natural in a village is often missing from a large TEDx stage that may resort to Powerpoint and a speaker's 20 years of experience and knowledge. The opposite applies too of course; there are clearly things from larger events that small towns can use to expand their presence and brand awareness. In other words: borrow from the formal for the informal and take the informal into the formal and make magic happen by blending the best of both together.
The other surprise for me was the whole concept of "you don't know what you don't know and you don't know who you don't know." I didn't even know all the organizers in my own region (greater Bay Area), nor did I know the depth of where TEDx events had spread.
For example, while the events are largely by geography, there are a few that are connected to brands/companies, universities and other institutions. Did you know that there's a TEDxHouses of Parliament? This isn't just fascinating data - this is revolutionary. Consider the kinds of conversations they have already had and will evolve as a result of this kind of "new" organization and collaboration.
Bringing everyone together to share, collaborate and execute on ideas around the world is brilliant. Let's not forget the 'healing' and compassion that comes as a result of greater understanding, which inevitably comes from bringing such a global audience together in one place.
Well done and hats off to Bruno Giussani, Chris Anderson, Lara Stein, and the NY & Doha teams for turning another great idea into a reality.
Some of the Speaker and Presentation Highlights include:
- 'The Human Arabesque' opening night video sourced inspiration from Doha's Museum of Islamic Art. The team researched traditional arabesque patterns in a quest to incorporate regional culture to create a moving, human sculpture representing the transformative power of x.
- Futurist Juan Enriquez has always been a long time favorite of mine. He contends that science and technology are leading us rapidly towards the next "human species." See excelvm.com.
- Vinay Venkatraman, who is a founding partner at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, has developed an alternative vision to creating a more inclusive world through a design concept he refers to as 'Frugal Digital.'
- TED Senior Fellow Cesar Harada demonstrated a bold new design for a sailing craft with a flexible rudder -- on both ends. Called 'Protei,' the robot is designed to sense and clean up oceans.
- I loved Shereen El Fedi's talk on how bad laws fuel and good laws fight HIV. Chart after chart, example after example, she demonstrated her point. Check out their work at HIV Law Commission.
- Amit Sood wowed the crowd with an incredibly impressive demo of the Google Art Project. They have collected and curated the world's greatest art, from museums and beyond, onto the web, making it as easy to access your favorite piece of work or view art you've never heard of or are likely never to see in person. You can even search by sub-category, by typing in for example, red and Picasso for everything that Picasso did in red. There are other filters as well that could keep you glued to this site for hours if not days.
- Rives, who many of us know as a renowned poet, has given awe-inspiring performances on the TED stage before. In Doha, he took us a journey of factoids using his poetic tongue. Bouncing from site to site, we learned about some of the most trivial and not so trivial knowledge on the web, ranging from culture and politics to insects and sex.
- With passion and energy, Indian artist Raghava KK argued why everyone should have a 200-year plan.
- Rare book scholar William Noel fascinated the audience with his research. Using a particle accelerator to read ancient works, he took us on a journey from start to finish. He's a huge believer in open-source and open-data and he and his team are making their work open to others (aka the web of ancient manuscripts).
- Comedian Maz Jobrani intertwined humor with local culture and events. You have depth as a comedian when you can stand on a stage in Qatar and have Americans, Lebanese, Saudi Arabians, Qataris, Scandinavians, Japanese and Aussies all laughing at the same time. He's known for his work on the 'Axis of Evil Comedy Tour,' which traveled around the world, including the Middle East.
- National Food Security Programme chairman Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya educated me most about where Qatar was a hundred years ago versus where it is today and where's its heading. They're working on a Master Plan, using Qatar, which only has two days of water supply, as a model for sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture in arid regions.
- Yahay Alabdeli who curates TEDxBaghdad created a lot of teary eyed attendees with his story about how he traveled back to Iraq after 34 years to create an event that pulled not just locals but others who had left Iraq but returned specifically for his event. As you can imagine, it was much more than a reunion. He went through a number of obstacles to make it happen, so it seems perfect that his event theme was: "Making the Impossible Possible."
- One of my old time favorites Hans Rosling returned to the TED stage, bringing humor to sex, religion and data once again. What was even more fascinating was having his global trends in health and economics from every country in the world presented in a place where we had representation by nearly every region in the world. All of his talks exude one of his sweetest talents - his dry humor and quirkiness. Beyond the quirkiness he shows in his professional life, which adds to the power of his talks, let's not forget that the man swallows swords for kicks in his spare time. What's not to adore about Hans? (see a video interview with Hans at the Summit here - he uses legos, rocks and humor that reveals deep insight in typical Hans-style).
Because the event was an International Summit where best practices and learning beyond "talks" were a big part of the agenda, the highlights that will inevitably be glued to people's minds and hearts include the experiencial activities.
Below is a brainstorming session in a tent set up in the desert dunes, roughly an hour and a half south of Doha.
There was dune bashing, also in the south of the country.
And, kayacking among mangroves in the north, after which we were guests in the home of a local man, who fed us well and shared some of his photos and life experiences:
A visit to the Al-Zubara Fort:
A boat tour along the water:
The incredibly breathtaking Islam Museum of Art:
Education City has representation from some of the top schools, including Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern University, and others, with a goal to grow Qatar's knowledge base, making it an attractive place to visit and work in the future.
Below, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar Weill Cornell.
Below is a shot taken at one of the cafes in the Souq Waqif one night (we ended up in the Souq several evenings). Despite the fact that the Souq doesn't serve alcohol, it was a great place to hang out, socialize, shop, drink coffee and eat fabulous local food.
Desert Day in the South. Of course, it wouldn't be desert day without an opportunity to catch a ride on a camel:
A casual shot of TEDx organizers in the desert...
Then there was the late afternoon drumming session, which frankly, I can never get 'enough of...'.
A music jam session in one of the main tents - small but intimate and full of great TEDx talent:
18-year old Jordanian pianist Sima Sirriyeh, who composes her own pieces played for us on the main stage.
Opening night, they danced and sang. And then, danced and sang some more.
We took in the best of the local culture and greater Doha through visits to Souq Faqif, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, and the Cai Guo Qiang and Murakami Ego exhibitions. Also check out Doha's Centre for Media Freedom.Late nights were spent in the hotel bars where we stayed: The W and Kempinski Hotels.
- Katara Village, Fort, Boat, Landscape City Shots, Brainstorm session, Hands, Anderson, Dunes, TedxStage Shot1: Javier Junes
- Yahay Alabdeli, Cesar Harada, Inside Museum of Islamic Art: Duncan Davidson
- Group shot in dunes: taken on my camera by a TEDx-er
- North site visit for lunch, middle of desert scene, Hans sword shot from a previous event, casual desert day shot, camel close up, Souq, Maz Jobrani, opening night, drumming circle, jam session in tent after hours, Sima Sirriyeh: Renee Blodgett
- Education City Weill Cornell University shot - website.
April 29, 2012 in Arts & Creative Stuff, Books, Events, On Africa, On Education, On Health, On India, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Robotics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Travel, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
April 09, 2012
Kavaleer: A FORCE Behind Animation, Short Films, TV Series, Design & Interactive
I first met Andrew Kavanagh during a trip to Dublin a couple of years ago. Introduced to me as someone "interesting to know and meet" because I expressed an interest in arts and culture and write about it regularly, I was pleasantly surprised to discover an expansive world of expertise which unfolded as a result of a one-time "pub" meeting.
He drew an impressive animation sketch for me in some Irish pub way back when and so it comes to pass that Andrew is a huge creative force behind Kavaleer Productions, a well known, savvy and talented studio group, who have created a top notch reputation in the film, design, interactive, animation and television space around the globe.
We had the fortune of spending time together in Austin recently so I could learn about their latest updates. While most known for their creation of award–winning film and television projects, Kavaleer also creates animation, interactive and design services. Aside from creating their own TV shows, where they have been twice nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award and a British Animation Award, their film work has been selected by over 100 international festivals over the past ten years. Impressive, non?
Interactive has been increasingly playing a major role which is no surprise given what is having on the investment front in Silicon Valley, LA, London and beyond. Kavaleer is also a seasoned provider of interactive content and apps for the e-learning and games sector; no surprise given what's happening in the games industry recently.
In 2009 alone, Interactive services accounted for half of their turnover, so much so that they started developing their own apps in 2011. They have also developed a reputation for their e-learning work, a portfolio of apps that range from Sesame Street workshops (Elmo ABCs) to Disney and the e-entertainment world.
While these guys may be based in Ireland, their work is known globally. They continue to work closely with HMH on their Destination Math, Fusion Science and Texas Language Arts programs and have been providing San Francisco-based Playfirst Games with content for their hit iPhone /iPad based‘DASH’ games for the past year.
They're not shy about short film production either. Some of their latest results include the following "shorts."
In addition to film "shorts" and the fact that they're known for their work with Sesame Street on the TV side, they're also behind other TV series including: Bed Heads, theAbadas! (the adventures of Hari the Hippo, Seren the Bat and Ela the Fox), Garth & Bev (time-traveling siblings Garth and Bev live in harmony with nature in a village), Lifeboat Luke, which is set in and around the small seaside community of Donaghadoo, and So Mortified.
They've been around for ten years yet because their creative work is "so behind the scenes," many not be aware of their studio name or their incredible work. While Kavaleer has awards behind their name and a global reputation, Ireland has no shortage of talent in this space.
While many know Ireland to be a country of storytellers, I wonder how many realize its rich history in cinema, television, mobile, games and film. Ireland's animation and digital media sectors are growing both in size and reputation around the globe. For example, Brown Bag Films animated short, Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, and Cartoon Saloon's animated feature film, The Secret of Kells, both secured Oscar-nominations in 2010. For more on Kavaleer, check out their work and blog. For more on Irish screen producers, take a meander here and for general information on the Irish Film Board, visit their site for more details.
April 9, 2012 in America The Free, Arts & Creative Stuff, Client Announcements, Entertainment/Media, Europe, Events, On People & Life, On Technology, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack