May 2010

Where is “home”?

The idea of “home” is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. As a kid home was where I slept and spent most of my time when not at school, but because my family moved around a lot I didn’t have any real emotional connection to it. As an adult I often tell people that it wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles that I actually felt like I was home. I’ve talked to a lot of friends about this over the years and I get the feeling for a lot of people the idea of home is much more romanticized than anything they’ve ever actually experienced. What with “home is where the heart is” and other such slogans beaten into our heads. But even that doesn’t point so much to a place as a feeling, right? If you can feel like you are home when you are around certain people just as much as when you are in certain places then maybe home itself needs to be better defined before you can try and figure out where it is.

According to, home is:

“any place of residence or refuge”

Wikipedia adds to that saying:

“It is usually a place in which an individual or a family can rest and be able to store personal property.”

Neither of those really sound like anything too special to me. I can rest on a park bench, is that home? I can take refuge in a coffee shop, is that home? I can store personal property in a rented out storage space, is that home? You see where I’m going with this, there must be a better of not just what home is, but what we want home to be. Let’s take this one step further – with the exception of about one suitcase worth of clothing and a backpack with some assorted electronics, I just put everything I own into storage. We also gave up the lease on our apartment in Venice and plan to spent the rest of the year bouncing around the world staying with friends and at guest apartments. Does this make me homeless?

I think at one point when people were born and died in the same building home was much easier to define, but now, especially for a certain group heavily traveled people, home isn’t one place, it’s many places. By the end of the year I expect to have a few basic necessities like a change of clothes and some toothpaste stashed in a few major cities around the world. Not because I’m paranoid and trying to have a plan B, C and D in place (though I kind of will thanks to this) but rather because I travel to them on a regular basis and it’s pointless for me to always take the same things there and back in my luggage. (If money was no issue I’d duplicate a few other things like bikes and electronics but for now I’m sticking with clothes) While I’ll have a home somewhere in Los Angeles, I’ll also be “at home” in many other places.

I see this as a natural progression of things, and think more and more people will be doing something similar, or some parts of it anyway. This is the core of what I’ve been calling “Multibasing” for years, that is having multiple bases, but it’s something that would make sense to a much larger group of people I know who are always on the go, but often in one of a handful of places. Well, I guess they would never be at two of a handful of places, but you know what I’m getting at. People tell me they can’t keep track of all the places I go, but honestly I go to a few of the same places over and over again. If I’m not in Los Angeles and you had to just guess where I was, picking Singapore, Tokyo or New York wouldn’t be a bad choice. And with any luck I’ll make that list longer as time goes on.

There is a whole group of people, Global Nomads, Technomads and Permanent Travelers who don’t live anywhere, but at the same time live everywhere. In the same way that people are drawn to the idea of “home,” I think that the ability to call the whole world home is just as romantic, and equally if not more attractive.

So if you travel all the time and have many places you call home, then which one do you decide is the most important and where you should keep all your stuff? Maybe the real question is why do you think you need all that stuff? But that’s a topic for another post.

That thing with Metblogs

Whoah, it’s crazy how much can change in 48 hours.

In the grand scheme of weeks, this one has been closer to the difficult side. It’s been extremely bad, and at the same time humbling and inspiring. In case you missed the news, on Friday we announced that after six and a half years, we would be shutting down Metblogs at the end of this month. It’s abrupt and unexpected even for us. Jason DeFillippo, my friend and business partner throughout all of this, wrote a personal and touching post about how it all started, and posted some closing stats to wrap it all up with a bow. In that time the network has had over a thousand writers, created more than 100,000 posts, and generated nearly 320,000 comments. Even I was impressed by that.

I wanted to write something about it myself. I wanted to explain how I felt and how hard of a decision that was to make but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Every time I started writing I’d just get a page full of emo crap that wasn’t much more than me wallowing and feeling bad about myself. I couldn’t help it. I was heartbroken. I never in all this time thought there would ever be a situation when we were forced to turn off the lights and walk away, but there we were standing in the middle of it. To think of everything that had gone into this, and to think of it just disappearing was crushing. I stopped trying to write and just let whatever was going to happen happen.

I said this was a surprising thing for us and I meant that. For it’s entire existence Metblogs has pretty much taken care of itself. It’s never been the biggest thing in the world but it wasn’t losing money and we felt that the social impacts and benefits it had were certainly worth that alone. We were also lucky to know a few people who supported what we were doing and chipped in some cash to help make it better. Michael Baffico, Larry Busacca, Michael Goff, Jody Mulkey and Sean Suhl believed in us enough early on to help us out with some of the bigger growth costs and we will forever be in their debt. And as Jason mentioned having Joi Ito and Xeni Jardin as our consiliari of sorts has been invaluable.

In 2009 the ad market took a serious nosedive industry wide (I’ve written about that here) but luckily we had some reserves to get us through the rough patches. And even in the darkest hour we never considered shutting things down. At worst it was more like “crap, ok we’ll let our phones get turned off for the month or something” and things would bounce back. But 2009 was exceptionally rough and we didn’t bounce back as quickly as we needed it to.

In January of 2010 we made a post asking for help – we wanted the sites to stay online and to grow and knew that what we were doing wasn’t cutting it anymore and there had to be someone or someone’s out there who could take the steps we couldn’t. We spent the next few months talking to many people and finally settling on a deal that we thought would be perfect. And it was. Until it wasn’t. Which was the beginning of last week. We were suddenly faced with the cold hard reality that putting all of our eggs in one basket was a very, very bad idea. We spent 24 hour or so running around our respective rooms in a panic before realizing we didn’t really have any other options. And that’s when we notified people that this was likely the end.

I want to say that sitting alone in your own house watching something you’ve spent the better part of the last decade crumble in front of you is no fun. It’s pretty easy to think you are the only one who cares about it, and that if it all went away tomorrow no one would
notice. Or if they did they’d just feel let down. It’s pretty defeating honestly. And I know that is exactly the whiney emo crap I was trying to avoid, but that’s pretty much the headspace we were in towards the end of last week. So we accepted our fate, and made our post. Clicking ‘publish’ was the lowest I’d been in years. And I didn’t even have the guts to do it, I made Jason do it.

And that is when the unexpected happened. People started popping up like goddamn ninjas out of nowhere to tell us how important they thought Metblogs was and how they couldn’t let it die. Several people offered their own cash to help keep things alive. Several groups stepped forward and offered to take some of the weight off our shoulders to help keep things alive. We honestly never expected that to happen, and we’re blown away by the kind things people had to say about it. We’ve spent the weekend talking to people, running numbers and getting hopeful. On Friday everything seemed dark and impossible, today everything looks like it will work out.

Our number one goal in all of this is to allow the sites to live on, and ensure the efforts of the last six and a half years don’t disappear. After what has happened this weekend I think we can safely say that that won’t be a problem. While things are moving super quickly, they aren’t moving quickly enough that I can say anything specific but I’m really excited about the prospects. Because these prospects require cash, and because people keep offering it, we’ve set up this pledgie to make it easier to donate. I want to take a moment and thank everyone from the very bottom of my heart for all the kind words of support and stories about how much Metblogs has meant to them. It’s been flattering and humbling to have been even the smallest part of something that people feel has had such an impact on their lives, but all credit, all of it, should be going to the authors on the sites. While Jason and I had a small part in getting this train in motion, it’s the authors that are at it’s core and are it’s lifesblood. I can’t stress how grateful I am to each and every person who ever contributed to any of the sites.

With that I’m going to end this post, and hope to have another with even better news in the very near future. Thanks again everyone.

Review: Streamlight MicroStream LED Flashight

I’ve got a thing for flashlights and over the last 5 years or so have probably spent way too much money on them. Next to a good pocket knife they are easily the most useful thing I carry around with me and I’m constantly amazed by how far the technology has come since the old D-cell Maglight I used to own. I’ve included a few of my favorite lights in our store but my newest and current favorite daily carry illumination device is the Streamlight MicroStream. It’s cheap, small, and probably brighter than half the flashlights you have laying around your house. (assuming your house isn’t full of surefires of course)

Streamlight AAAI don’t recall who tipped me off to this little guy but I kept hearing people talk about them and when Amazon smartly recommended one to me for under $20 I really didn’t have much choice but to pick it up and see if hype held up. I think they are selling right now for $16 and change which is absolutely the best value high power LED light out there I think. I think a good single AAA size light is ideal for daily carrying and for years I (and many others on Candlepower Forums) have been singing the praises of the Arc AAA, but this is the first light I’ve come across that gives it some serious competition. The Streamlight is a little larger than the Arc though not by much, but it’s almost double the output of the premium version coming in at 20 lumens. It also feels a little lighter and has the convenient bonus of a tail cap pressure switch. I will say that the added size makes it feel clunky on a keychain but clipped to a side pocket you barely notice it’s there.

On top of all that it’s pretty much indestructible. I haven’t tried running over it with a car, but I’ve dropped it from varying heights (including down a flight of concrete stairs) and I know two people who have accidentally run them through a washer and dryer cycle and they have come out working flawlessly, and summer breeze fresh! This is good to know because the whole point of carrying around a flashlight is because you don’t want to get caught in the dark unexpectedly or let bad lighting get in the way of whatever you need to take care of. I use mine daily for finding the keyhole in my door after dark and looking for stuff I probably dropped and kicked under furniture, but can easily imagine an endless list of reasons you want a good flashlight on hand if there is any kind of problem. Last week I was in Toronto during a several hour blackout and was able to find my way around the unfamiliar house I was staying at and read for a bit thanks to having a light there and ready to go. If there was an earthquake in LA knocking out power for hours or days, I know these would be getting heavy usage. It’s small and doesn’t have the same self defense options as some of the other lights I have around but for a single AAA sized light it pulls more than it’s own weight for sure.

There was a time when I had a big maglight in every room of my house, but honestly I think this little Streamlight is brighter and more reliable. And for the price, I’m actually considering picking up 4-5 of them and just tossing one each in my bags and car so no matter what happens I have one around. I really can’t recommend this light enough.

(This post was originally published by Urban Journal.)

Facebook makes me feel like a shitty friend

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Facebook and how I use it and with what people. Obviously the recent privacy changes and their new connections have me giving the site a closer look (and have some people taking legal action). Honestly that alone should make making everyone give it a closer look but those changes aren’t what are keeping me obsessed with it, it’s my reactions to my reactions. Let me explain.

In the past when a “social” website that I had an account on took a nose dive into the weaksauce I’d simply delete my account and move on. I’d do that without much thought and without looking back, I was happy to be there while it was fun but if it wasn’t fun anymore there was no reason to stay around and there would be a new site just on the horizon. Come to think of it that is what happened when I deleted my accounts on both Friendster and MySpace many years ago. Anyway, the new (and not so new) direction Facebook is heading has me reaching daily for the delete option. Many folks I know have already gone through with it, and while I’ve talked very publicly about my urges to kill it I still haven’t taken that final plunge. I haven’t done it for the same reason I suspect lots of others haven’t done it – there are people I only keep up with thanks to Facebook.

Look, the site has over 100 million users according to their FAQ page so it’s really not surprising that everyone from long lost friends to family that I’m not very good at keeping in touch with are on there. I’ve reconnected with people I went to grade school with and made amends with people I never thought I’d talk to again on the pages of Facebook. It’s made those relationships, those reconnections and those constant connections so thoughtless and easy that anyone and everyone can do it. Everyone is there. How can I leave when everyone is there. I keep thinking that over and over. All these people that I like and want to stay in touch with are on Facebook and if I delete my account and walk away I risk losing those connections. (of course I can’t export my contacts because Facebook likes to keep me locked in to their system but that is another rant for another time)

And really, those connections are the only reason I’m on Facebook. I don’t play Farmville. I don’t really join groups. I don’t send gifts or take quizes. I go there to connect with those people who I think are important to me for one reason or another. And I’ve been picky, there are very, very few people I’m connected to on Facebook that I haven’t actually met in person. Some people approve anyone who asks but I wanted to keep in personal to some extent. And not Facebook wants to make it anything but personal and I’m worried about not playing ball with that because I don’t want to lose contact with those people I’ve linked up with there.

But that got me thinking, all those people who are on Facebook are also on another network I use every day. It’s called the internet.

So why do I think I can connect and interact with them on Facebook but not anywhere else? Because Facebook made it easy. So now I have to wonder am I only staying in touch with those people because it requires absolutely zero effort on my part? What kind of a person does that make me? What does that say about how much I value their friendship? I feel like I’m saying “Oh hey there, I’m so glad I can see what is going on in your life so long as it’s wheeled out in front of me and doesn’t require me to actually lift a finger because if I had to do something like, type out your e-mail or go to your own website or *gasp* pick up a phone to talk to you that would just be too much.”

And really, maybe I am. I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to think that I’m saying that. I don’t like how that makes me feel about myself if that is in fact what I’m saying. But if I am appalled by the direction Facebook is heading and I’ve walked away from other sites for much smaller infractions but am hanging onto this one because I don’t think I can maintain these relationships without it, what else am I saying?

If someone told me they liked me and cared about what was up in my life but couldn’t be bothered to reach out to me, ever, and only would stay in touch if my life was handed to them effort free I’d think they were a shitty friend and insincere about their feelings towards me. So turning that mirror around on myself and what else can I think?

There was a time when people kept in touch with their friends without Facebook. It’s shocking to think, but it’s true. I saw a documentary about it one time.

I feel like Jules in Pulp Fiction who has just realized what role he’s been playing and desperately wants to take the other path. I don’t want to be a bad friend, but I don’t want to continue playing this game either. I want to walk away but I don’t want to leave people behind. It’s a totally stressful situation which makes it even worse – I’m stressing out about some stupid website? What the hell is wrong with me?

But I’m stuck in that limbo at the moment trying to decide which direction my next step will be. And really, it’s not Facebook that is making me feel bad, it’s what Facebook it making me think about myself that is.

Traveling to the coffee wastelands

[bubblicious photo by tonx]
Singapore and France. These are not countries known for their great coffee, but they are cities I’ll be spending a big chunk of the next 3 or 4 months in. You might be thinking “WTF you dumb ass, there is amazing coffee in Paris!” but you’d be wrong, proving that you are the one who is the dumb ass. If you like drinking burnt charcoal that has had every ounce or flavor roasted out of it then I guess you could get by in Paris, but if you actually like the flavor of coffee you are screwed. So in efforts to maintain some level of civility I’ve put together a bit of a coffee survival pack that I’ll be dragging around the world with me.

First of all, there is no question that beans are important. But we all know that it’s important that the beans are fresh. I’ll likely be bringing some freshly roasted Intelligentsia beans with me, but that will only cover the first week or two that I’m in Singapore, so I’ll have to con someone into sending me over some more while I’m there. Once I get to Paris things getting better because Square Mile is at least in the same region and I can order some beans from them and have them delivered without it being too pricey. So that’s the software so to speak, what about the hardware?

I need to have the tools to actually turn the beans into something drinkable so I’ve got a mini arsenal just for that purpose. I’ve got a Leifheit Page Kitchen Scale for the math. Ever since one of Kyle’s late night twitter science dropping I’ve been paying more attention to weight rather than volume. How much coffee is in a scoop? Who the fuck knows. How much is in 35 grams? 35 grams. Every single time. So anyway, the scale is pretty important. This one is also awesome for travel because it’s small and flat so it’ll take up about the same space as a small paperback book. That’s important. For me anyway.

Now that I have the beans, I need to grind them. Since power supply changes from country to country, I felt that something without a power cord was a good idea. The Hario Coffee Hand Grinder fits that bill and is also not too bulky. Now I had heard this thing was “amazing” and “all that” before I bought it, but I hadn’t actually used one. Once I did I realized it’s slightly less than “all that” because the bottom burr isn’t attached and floats around which creates a bit of an uneven grind. I did some more research and found this post which explains some technique and a hack to help keep things consistent. I think it’ll do the trick for this trip, but out of this whole set up that is the thing I’m least confident about and will be keeping an eye out something equally small and human powered that performs better.

As much as I would love for the next item on my list to be the Mypressi Twist Portable Espresso Maker, sadly it’s not. For two main reasons. The first of which is that I don’t currently own one yet. Yes that is a cue, if you want to buy me one I’ll happily accept it. The second is I know I can’t fly with the Co2 charges for it, and I’m not sure how available they are in other parts of the world, or how to even find them in a non-English speaking place like France. So while it’s great in theory, it’d probably not the most ideal for this kind of trip. Which means I’ll be forsaking espresso which is so sad I can’t even continue on that thought process.

So I’m brining a pour over set up instead. No, not this little pocket sized woman. Hario V60 + filters + a slow pour kettle = Awesome. These 3 things should kick all kinds of ass for me out on the road. The truth is they kick all kinds of ass for me at home so I’m really not worries about how they will perform elsewhere. Just to be over the top I went ahead and added a Hario Range Server to that combo so I can make more than a single cup at a time and see what the hell I’m doing. That might be overkill. I’m aware of that already.

While that is a fully complete set up, I wanted to have a back up plan just in case, as well as a slightly different option to keep things interesting. I picked up a Clever Coffee Dripper to bring as well. At $13 I figured it was cheap enough to be worth the shot and I know some folks really enjoy the dual immersion+filter thing they have going on. Plus I feel like a super nerd if I’m bringing multiple coffee brewing method equipment with me around the world. And that is just as important as anything else.