January 2010

A few thoughts on the iPad

People have been talking about the iPad pretty much since the second it was released. There was a brief period of time when global attention shifted to President Obama’s Stat of the Union address, but as soon as that was over it was right back to the iPad. This shouldn’t be unexpected, but it’s amusing how, with so much hype and leaked info, I keep seeing people annoyed that it’s a hot topic of conversation. Do people not remember the iPhone launch? Sheesh.

Before I get going commenting on it I want to point out that withing seconds of hearing the name I made a joke about hoping there would be a supersized version called the MAXiPad. Millions of other people had the same impression and I can’t believe that a company like Apple that spends so much attention on image would do something like that. Maybe they did it on purpose. People will still just call it a tablet. I’ve called every non-desktop Mac I’ve had a laptop regardless of if it was technically a “PowerBook” or a “MacBook” or an “iBook” – they are all just laptops and this iPad and the inevitable gen 2, and whatever other versions they end up rolling out will all just be tablets. But still…

So, unlike many of the mac faithful I’m delighted with it. I’m not saying it’s perfect and I’ll get to that in a bit, but it’s pretty much what I was hoping for and I’ll tell you why. I have two problems I have that neither my current MacBook Pro or my Lenovo netbook solve, which actually account for a huge percent of the time I spend on a computer and I think the iPad will cover them both easily.

The first is at home, lounging on the couch. I spend a lot of time on my couch interacting with the web. This is done primarily via my iPhone and my laptop. Neither of these are a good form factor for this. With the iPhone I’m forced to hold it close to my face and the screen is super small – this is fine when out riding trains or waiting in line but it’s less than ideal in the comforts of my own home. The result of this is depending on the task at hand I often switch over to my laptop.

Couch + laptop works fine in the short term – sending an e-mail or pulling up some directions, but add a few hours to any of those tasks and my body hates my guts for putting it through that. The biggest problem is there is no good angle for the screen when it’s attached to a keyboard sitting in your lap. I often make it into a V shape with the hinge sitting on my thighs and the edge closest to the trackpad resting on my chest. This at least allows a direct view of the screen, though requires you to basically stare at your lap for hours which is no fun for you neck. Typing is also weird. Now add to that mix any number of slouching and forget it. That just isn’t what a laptop is designed for.

The other problem is traveling. I after realizing that 99% of the work I do on the road can be done in a browser and over wifi I picked up a netbook. This kind of worked. It was great for going through security at airports, I was happy to not have anything crucial on it in case of theft, loss or damage and I could take care of the things I needed to without lugging around tons of crap. The downside is the keyboard is way tiny and takes a few days of regular use to get comfortable with and being a mac guy used to things looking beautiful and working easily, switching to a 10″ screen and linux wasn’t the smoothest. It worked, but I often found myself wishing I had my real laptop.

I’ve often said that I can do most of what I need with iPhone only at this point, but the size is restricting for longer periods of work. So here comes the iPad, which detractors are claiming is just a giant sized iPhone and that just makes it sound awesome to me.

I never thought of an Apple tablet being a replacement for a full computer. I thought of it as a better solution for interacting with the web when you aren’t at your computer. Laptops and netbooks and even the iPhone to some extent have tried to change the perception that the web is this thing that you have to go to a terminal and log into to use, to more of something that is always surrounding us and you just interact with when you need it. They helped with that concept but their form factors were limiting. I’ve thought for a while that a tablet device would do that much better. I can see reaching for the iPad on a regular basis being a much better solution than any of the options I’ve talked about so far.

But as I said I know it’s not perfect. My iPhone has a camera. My laptop has a camera. My netbook has a camera. There’s no reason my tablet shouldn’t have one as well. I say this knowing full well that Apple already knows this, and one doesn’t need to look any further than their usual new product release MO to know there is always some very obvious feature missing from the gen 1 hardware, that people still buy, en mass, and then buy again when they jump in and add it for the gen 2. I’m not annoyed by this, it’s business and it works. We will all go buy the cameraless iPads when they come out, we’ll complain about it, but then jump for joy when they release gen 2 with a camera. We’ll also sell or pass on our gen 1 versions to friends who have been stand offish or kids who couldn’t afford them brand new and Apple gets a double wave of converts. We all know this is how it works so it shouldn’t be a big shock, nor something to act appalled about. It’s not that big of a deal.

I would actually like 2 cameras, one for pictures and one for video chatting, but that is a different issue.

Another thing that has people up in a tizzy is the lack of multitasking. People are acting like it’s the end of the world and no one will be able to use it for anything. Of course there is no multitasking on iPhones and people seem to be able to use those just fine. I’m actually OK with this one two. On my laptop I have spaces running and a browser in one window, e-mail in another, IM in yet another, iTunes, Evernote, a text editor, an FTP client, and photoshop all running in other windows. I’m constantly switching from one to the other in some kind of ADD panic. This is terrible for my productivity on any specific thing but it’s my fault for letting it happen. I don’t have this problem on my iPhone. I do one thing, finish it, move on to the next. Also my iPhone runs much faster and smoother than my laptop because it’s not trying to manage the insane list of tasks I’m throwing at it constantly. Sure you could argue the hardware should be able to handle it, but I can’t so why do I care of my hardware can? I work better without distractions.

But really, think about this, for what this is, what is the problem? If I’m reading a book and think of an e-mail I want to send, what is the difference really between closing the ebook reader and launching the e-mail, sending it, then going back to the ebook reader? How is that worse then the two sharing resources and running in tandem? I just don’t see the problem, and I speculate it will actually work better because of this. Is it a bug or a feature, guess we’ll each have to decide that one on our own. At this point I’m not convinced more is better.

There are other pros and cons of course, but those at the ones that are on the top of my head, and that I know are the reasons I’ll get one. Like I said, it’s really just what I was hoping for.

And now for something completely different…

I just posted this on metblogs.com, but it’s pretty important to me so I’m posting it here too…

In mid-2003 Jason DeFillippo and I met up in person for the first time at a Starbucks on Melrose Avenue to talk about an idea we both had for a cool new blog about Los Angeles. The concept of a group blog didn’t really exist and when people thought “local news”, newspapers or alt weekly’s were the first thing that came to mind. In November of 2003 we launched Blogging.la – the first blog to try and cover all that is Los Angeles and thought that would be the end of it.

Skip ahead to early 2010 and that one site turned into a network that now spans almost 60 cities around the world. The team of 10 or so bloggers we hand picked has grown into the thousands. We’ve seen some of our blogs become the focal point for their communities after major disasters and have seen some of our bloggers move on to some amazing careers because of doors these sites opened for them. We’ve won awards and been served cease and desist letters. We’ve traveled the world and met more amazing people than we had ever hoped to. It’s been a fantastic journey.

We’ve also seen the landscape change considerably. People no longer look to newspapers as the premier source of local news and most cities are filled with passionate bloggers covering their own aspects of the city in ways no one else ever could. It truly has been a local revolution and we’re incredibly proud to have played even the smallest part in that. That said we know this is only the beginning. National publications are taking a renewed interest in local and every news site is waving their local flags around, and trying to get people from those communities to help them do it. If you think things have been interesting thus far, and we do, just wait and see what the next 24-48 months will bring.

We know this is just the beginning but for the past 7 years we’ve busted our asses trying to fuel this revolution. We’ve tried things that have worked out perfectly and things that have blown up in our faces. We’ve stuck to our guns and if given those opportunities again would do the same thing. We believe in the power of local, and that is why we’re now looking for someone to help keep Metblogs moving and take it to the next levels that we have yet been able to.

Our collective talents span a broad range of expertise but business development has never been our focus. On many levels we’ve built a kick-ass global network but our ability to grow into what we really want Metblogs to become and what we deeply believe it has the potential to be has reached our personal limits, and we are aware of that. We’re looking for the right people or organizations to keep Metblogs alive and to take it where we were unable to so we are putting out this call.

If you know a thing or two about blogs and local media and think this sounds interesting, we want to talk to you. If your company is already doing something similar or complimentary and could benefit from a closer relationship with Metblogs, we want to talk to you. There are many shapes this might take, from something as simple as a new CEO or GM, to a full acquisition by the right company. Our deepest concern is for the future of the network and all the content our amazing bloggers have spent years creating, and finding a relationship that is respectful of that is extremely important to us. What that means is if you are interested in turning the sites into an SEO linkfest we are likely not interested in talking to you. However if you are interested in making some real headway and think local is the future, we definitely want to talk.

We know this is an unorthodox approach but we’ve never been the kind of guys to follow the well beaten path. Are you the person or company we’re looking for? Let us know. (we can be reached at sean or jason @metblogs.com of course)

I do what I do when I do it

The other day lawyer involved in a federal criminal trial asked me to explain, briefly, what exactly it is that I do. I couldn’t do it. This is something I’ve tackled before and that I need to get better at. As much as I like people not knowing what I do, it’s hard to pitch my services or answer questions when then come up, or even explain why I’m valuable. I’ve had people before say they know I would be useful on their project but couldn’t explain why. I thought that was cool, but I think maybe someone, likely me, should be able to articulate it.

When trying to explain I usually mention a few specifics and hope people can put those pieces together. I mention running Metblogs, and note that it’s the largest network of city specific blogs on the web. I point this out to show some knowledge of both online communities and local media. I causally mention sixspace and random music things to show that I haven’t been 100% online forever and have strong creative aspects that play into my thought process. I mention consulting for companies and artists to help them understand the web and how to interact with their customers and fans better. I mention organizing events to show that I can bring people together for common causes. Recently I’ve also mentioned setting up hackerspaces and helping build a tech ecosystem in Singapore. This ends up being a very wordy description that is all over the place. Some people see the common threads, some people are left spinning.

Ignoring the specifics of any job or clients, and speaking from a much more general vantage point a lot of what I do can be described as a collection of curating, community organizing, and pattern recognition. There was a time when I liked to call my self an entrepreneur but the fact of the matter is that making companies has never been my passion. Running a record label, an art gallery, an blog network, and now a hackerspace – none of those were about some exciting business venture as much as they were about an exciting community that I wanted to be a part of, and the best way to be a part of something is to contribute and give something back to it.

Now this approach hasn’t made me rich, but by and large it’s made me happy and since I know a lot of rich people who definitely aren’t happy I think that’s a win. Granted the reason I think I need to explain what I do a little better is that I need more people to pay me for doing it, so I’m not saying money isn’t important. I like to have insurance and know that my power isn’t going to get turned off as much as the next guy, and honestly I need to be able to afford to travel to stay in touch with the people and groups that keep me in touch, and keep me useful. So of course adding more money to the above equation equals an even bigger win.

But that isn’t the point.

The curating I think is the point. It’s the common thread that I never really noticed. With the record label I curated bands, not ones that sounded like each other, but ones that complimented each other. With the art gallery, admittedly I didn’t personally do a lot of this, but the goal was to curate artists, not ones that looked similar but ones that visually and creatively worked well together. With the blogs we are obviously curating cities and bloggers within them, as well as the stories we cover in those cities. With events it’s curating the speakers, not so they are all talking about the same thing, but so that what they are talking about tells a bigger story. I’m not sure yet what the specific curating angle of the hackerspaces is, but as I get deeper into it I suspect its going to have something to do with the projects we tackle and how they end up playing with each other and inspiring offshoots.

Curating depends on pattern recognition so perhaps one is a subset of the other. But curating is traditionally used in reference to art, and clearly that doesn’t fit the bill here.

In some respects I’m a bit of a cultural curator, but that’s just a piece of it. Is there such thing as a community curator? If there is I’m a bit of that too I suspect. It’s hard to explain because so much of what I do is not seen by the public. It’s not even seen by clients because it’s a behind the scenes collection of fitting pieces together that aren’t intended to click. A friend recently said that what I do is black ops, which I like and is fitting in a whole other way.

I know I haven’t answered the question yet, but if I had the answer I’d have had no reason to write this post.

750 words

I’ve been doing the 750 words project. This was today’s entry, it’s 779 words. I’m posting it publicly to hold my own feet to the fire. And because I need my ass kicked.

Write motherfucker.

What are you waiting for? It’s not going to get any easier. There are no brilliant ideas that are just waiting 30 more minutes to jump into your head. Everything to have to say is there in your head right now, just waiting for you to type them out. So what are you waiting for. Fucking write already.

It’s easy to blame the distractions. Twitter. Facebook. Email. They are all a short command+T away, but that isn’t the problem. You are. You let those things get in the way. You are the one who chooses to look at something else. You are the one who lets the page stay empty while the day ticks away. The world will never stop for you, it’s up to you to block it out when you need to. If you don’t, it’s no ones fault but your own.

I started this 750 Words project because I wanted to force myself to get in the habit of writing every day. I’ve missed more days than I’ve completed and no matter how much I want to do it I still need to talk myself into it each and every day. Today marks my longest consecutive stretch of writing each day and it still took me until 9:50pm to find 30 minutes to write this. And I’ll face the same battle again tomorrow.

I should be doing it every morning the moment I wake up. I shouldn’t let myself do anything until I finish but I’ve achieved expert level procrastination. I’m a excuse magi and can justify magical levels of putting-it-offy-ness. But I have to fight through that and do it.

I’m the only one I’m doing this for, so I’m the only one I’m letting down by not doing it. I’m pretty OK with disappointing everyone else, at least I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am who I am and I can try my best but even then I can’t be sure someone somewhere won’t be disappointed, hell maybe everyone will be disappointed but that’s just the way life works. But I can’t disappoint myself. I can’t let myself down. If nothing else, at the end of the day, at the week, at the end of this whole life, I have to be able to look back and know that I did my best and know that even if I fucked up, even if fucked up huge, I tried to fix it, I tried to do the right thing.

Right now that means even though I haven’t written every day since I started this, I’m writing now and I have to keep at it. I have to make amends for not writing. I have to accept that I blew off several days, and try to make that right by not blowing off any more. I have to do it for me. Be cause if I can’t do one thing a day for myself, especially something as simple as finding a half hour to write 750 words then what is the point?

There is no reason to do something if you aren’t going to try and do it for real. Why start a 750 words a day project if you only plan to do it every other day, or once a week? Why set yourself up to fail? Do or do not. There is no try. If you aren’t going to actually do it, then don’t even bother.

If you are going to do it, then fucking do it. No excuses. No exceptions. No wiggle room. Just write. Every day.

This is the conversation I have with myself almost daily. I had it when I was working on the book, the book that is still half finished collecting dust. I’d write every day, and then miss a day, and then next thing I know I’d have missed a month. Then months. This 750 words project is my bootcamp. I’m going back to basics and teaching myself routine. It doesn’t matter what I write, I just have to write. 750 words every single day. To get in the habit. And once that is nailed, and I can do it without fighting with myself all day. Without the rest of the world stealing my attention. Then I can worry about what I’m writing and then I can worry about writing something good and then I can worry about writing something that I want to publish. But I have to like it myself first. And I have to write it myself before I can like it. So that is the task at hand right now. Every day.

Write motherfucker. What are you waiting for?

links for 2010-01-16

Hackerspaces and thriving on chaos

There’s been some interesting talk recently on the hackerspaces.org list about making some things that have been unofficial more official, specifically interhackerspace relations. This has been met with varying degrees of agreement, ranging from some folks thinking it’s a great idea to others thinking it’s terrible, to yet others noting that if something isn’t broken it doesn’t need fixing. I’m not going to repeat the conversation here rather I wanted to throw out some of my own feelings on the subject.

First of all, I think that chaos is one of the most driving and inspirational aspects of every hackerspace I’ve ever visited. It creates an atmosphere that is essentially a breeding ground for new ideas. Things are chaotic, but they still work. In fact they work very well in many cases and that alone is the spark that people often need to try their own project. For whatever reason in the “real world” things are much more structured. People want to have all their ducks in a row before trying anything. They need plans in place and analyzed. They need paperwork filled out. Hackerspaces, like any group of creative people, don’t really work well in those confines. You can’t come up with an idea and build it tonight if you are worried about business plans or licenses or agreements. Those things all stifle creativity. Even art schools which used to be bastions of experimentation are now being crushed by red tape to the point where students have to get all kinds of approval before they can try anything. Since the first time I set foot in Metalab years ago I’ve felt that Hackerspaces were the final holdout of this raw creativity. Anything goes, and that’s a good thing.

I think because the rest of our lives are so structured it’s only natural to try and bring those rules into the hackerspace world, but I’m not sure that is a good thing. Certainly if there is a problem you solve it, but I’m extremely hesitant to try to solve problems that may or may not come up sometime in the future. I’m a fan of the chaos and the lack of walls. I feel like there is so much in life that tries to control us, that there’s really no reason we should try to beat them to it and control ourselves first. I probably sound like I’m making this a bigger thing than it is, but it’s that overall life approach that I think applies here and it’s what I try to defer to in decision about spaces I’m involved with. The fewer rules the better, people will naturally figure things out. That’s how I feel.

Now that isn’t to say I’m against spaces working together, quite the contrary. With Crash Space I’ve said publicly that any member of another hackerspace is welcome to come visit and I think there can be some really interesting results when super creative groups from different spaces work together. As far as I can tell that feeling is shared by a lot of spaces and personally I’ve been welcomed with open arms to every hackerspace I’ve ever been to. That said, I appreciate the differences in each space and don’t think there should be anything official saying hackerspaces are expected to act a certain way. The chaos, and the variety is what keeps things interesting and I think creating rules and legislation, even to support worthwhile actions, is self limiting and can snuff the creativity right out.

I totally support hackerspaces working together but I don’t support anything that regulates that from a top down perspective. Like the web itself, I think these things work better with lots of smaller connections rather than a few large ones. Again, I’m not saying organized collaborations are bad. Quite the contrary in fact, but I think those collaborations are better worked out one on one from the ground up rather than via some overall system people plug into. But I should note that those collaborations are something I’m very interested in and why I’m trying to take an active role at not just the space we have in Los Angeles but other spaces around the world run by friends. I think when the opportunity presents itself the combined efforts of these fantastic teams and spaces all over will be something amazing, as to when that will happen, well that’s up to the chaos to decide.

A Way To Make Meetings Not Suck?

My friend Michael Pusateri made this fantastic illustration which explains why meetings suck. I find that by and large they are massive wastes of time and generally do more harm than good. Because of this I avoid them at all costs. Sometimes they are unavoidable and if you must go to one, then it’s a good idea to figure out how to make the most of it. The biggest problems with them is that, as illustrated in the graphic above, so much time is wasted waiting for people and chatting about things not relating to the meeting.

I just came across this article called How To Run A Meeting Like Google which dives into Marissa Mayer’s 70+ meeting a week schedule which I found super interesting. Most of the extremely problematic meetings I have been to were of the longer “everyone show up at X time and we’ll talk” variety, where as the shorter “here are the three points we need to cover, we have 15 minutes to do it” ones actually work out OK. (With Crash Space we have a weekly meeting on Tuesday night and we try to keep it under 30 minutes.) The rules laid out in this make a lot of sense, briefly they are:

  1. Set a firm agenda.
  2. Assign a note taker.
  3. Carve out micro meetings.
  4. Hold office hours.
  5. Discourage politics, use data.
  6. Stick to the clock.

Read the article for more details on each of those but I can attest that a firm agenda keeps things on point, and using “office hours” as a place to move “just wanted to chat” kind of things out of meetings can do wonders for shit actually getting done. For me I’d also add into this to defer to shorter meetings rather than longer – when people are presented with an hour or 2 hour meeting they walk in knowing it’s going to drag and usually end up trying to find things to fill the time which wastes everyone elses. If a meeting is 15-30 minutes tops and everyone knows what needs to get done it’s more like a race and people can get back to their own lives quicker.

2009: The year in review, in photos

Since I’ve created a bit of an ongoing tradition by looking back on the photos I posted online through out the year in 2008 and 2007 I thought I’d keep it up for 2009. I feel like this is kind of a good way to reflect on the year through my eyes, in as much as I thought something was important enough to post an image of it online. So here we go..