Why You’ll Never Catch Me With An E-reader

In the Age of Convenience, it’s no surprise that books have fallen by the wayside to make room for electronic readers like the Kindle and apps like iBooks. These products are geared towards simplifying your life by aggregating all your favorite stories into one simple handheld device in place of you having to lug a suitcase full of books through the airport or devote an entire wall to stories you haven’t perused in years.

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And I get it. Those products clearly make things easier and more convenient, especially when you read books as frequently as I do.

But despite the technological advances, I still read books, and I don’t just mean stories. I mean actual books. I mean a bunch of pieces of paper covered in ink and stuffed between either two slightly stronger pieces of paper or two pieces of cardboard, such as the stack of books pictured above that I recently brought with me on a trip to Australia.

There is no replacing the physical sensations: the weight of a leather bound volume in your hand, the scratch of each page as it slips through your fingers, and the smell that wafts out of an old novel, beckoning your forth to read the stories within, as so many others have before you. For me nothing replaces being able to build a physical library of stories that reshape and redefine you with each read, a visual monument to the tales you’ve joined over time, books acting as medals for tales you’ve traveled.

And then there’s that irreplaceable moment when you pull a book out of your bag, and that spark of a connection stirs when a stranger makes eye contact with your title, their own experience with that tale stirring inside them. I recently made a friend this way when I had the pleasure of going on a tour in Tasmania. 25 travelers were stuffed into a bus bouncing along through cold, temperate rainforests, and while holding my copy of “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn to see one of the other tour guests, smiling ear to ear, who let me know she how much she enjoyed that same book, how she was already reading through it a second time. And just like that, we were friends.

I’m grateful I had my book, because I know that an e-reader would have masked the identity of the story I had chosen, and that connection with my new friend would never have been made. Stories unite us, and if we mask and hide and keep secret the tales that define us, we will become islands of individuals.

Of course it’s possible to make new friends without sharing in the joy of a mutually loved book, but the speed at which a connection is made and barriers dropped over the mutual love of a shared book is unmatched.

So you can keep your apps and your e-readers, and I’ll hold onto my heavy, ungainly stack of books. Even though it seems like we’re moving towards a world where you won’t have to lift a finger, I refuse to give up my books for the sake of convenience. When the world is nothing but wearables, apps, and cyborgs, you will find me deep within the pages of a heavy, musky book, with a big smile plastered across my face.

Wantrepreneurs

Everyone was looking forward to hearing Gary Vaynerchuk speak as one of the keynotes at LeWeb Paris this year, but to take a phrase from Gary, holy shit I was not expecting him to be so forthright about some of the cultural issues that currently plague Silicon Valley. And I am so happy he was.

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Among countless instances of the kind of swearing that would make him a delightful dinner guest, Gary spoke sense in a way that is tragically missing from the corporate rhetoric in the tech world. When asked what are the biggest problems in startups right now, Gary candidly responded,

“Entrepreneurs don’t realize they’re not entrepreneurs. It’s an attractive time. Mark put on a hoodie, Instagram made a billion dollars.The amount of people from Ivy league schools I’m meeting right now – from Stanford, from Harvard, from Yale – think they because they are smart students that they’re entrepreneurs. That first taste of adversity they get makes them crumble like a bunch of fucking bitches.”

And he’s right. We all know it. When San Francisco locals hold a Google bus hostage, their anger is misdirected. The tech culture that’s infiltrating our fair city is not a result of companies like Google, Apple, Facebook etc hiring lots of people – which is GOOD, because people need jobs to make money to put back into the economy – but a consequence of trust-fundees and wantrepreneurs clambering over the Appalachian mountains because they can make the kind of money in tech that 20 years ago they would have made on Wall Street. 

A true entrepreneur looks at the world and asks, “how can I make it better?” As Tony Tjan, CEO and Managing Partner of Cue Ball taught us on day 1 of LeWeb, an entrepreneur’s DNA is made up of hearts + smarts + guts + luck, and the self awareness to identify one’s individual strengths distributed across those traits. A true entrepreneur has a connection between the soul, the product, and the end user, along with a pure sense of why one is investing themselves into their endeavor. Tony believes in the power of a heart-driven venture and describes the path to success as:

“When you’re in that state where you do what you say. Where what you say is what you think. Where what you think is what you feel. And understand that what you feel is actually who you are.”

The best way to characterize a large percentage of startup culture right now is as a “brainstorm.” Entrepreneurialism has become so diluted by the thirst for money and recognition that oftentimes the most we can hope for is a purpose-driven individual to challenge the culture that has come to dominate Silicon Valley and remind us all why it’s so important to be open to when true innovation raises its head. 

Let’s stop giving fresh MBAs the idea that innovation is easier than it is. It’s hard. It’s “blood, sweat, and ramen” as one of the LeWeb speakers said on day one. Let’s recognize that we are in what Gary calls a “bubble of entreprenuership,” and in that bubble “for every 1 Instagram there are 5 million Insta-shits.” Let’s reward true innovation, true innovators, and get back to the spirit of entrepreneurialism that brought us where we are today.

The Next 10 Years

As I get ready to attend LeWeb Paris in just a few short days, I can’t help but mull over the theme of the conference: what will the next 10 years look like? 

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If you can believe it, 2003 was 10 years ago. It sounds so recent but the technology we used feels generations old. I was 14 and didn’t even have a cell phone yet. Now I feel genuine, physical stress if my cell phone isn’t within a few feet of me. We were at that funny time in history right between using physical maps and Google Maps, where printing Mapquest directions was the best way to get around in an unfamiliar location. Myspace had just come out, though my generation was just getting started with Livejournal. This gave us our first dip into the pool of sharing personal details online. I’m still haunted by some of the searchable posts that exist from that era which include my name next to things only a dumb 14-year-old would say.

Now we are close to the end of 2013, a time where over 1/7th of the world uses Facebook to socialize, information is available immediately, and people are constantly available through email and mobile phones, though less so in person. Buyers are more empowered than ever to affect the products they consume, whether it’s through using social media to establish a two-way conversation with brands, or by using 3D printing and circuit applications to skip the middleman all together and make products themselves. Despite the burst bubbles of a former decade, anyone with a computer and an idea can start a business and have a decent shot at getting funded by venture capital. 

It’s impossible to live and work in Silicon Valley without being exposed to this maelstrom of innovation. Yes, there are unfortunately a great number of people who see an idea being well-received, and so they replicate it to get on the train to YoungAndRichVille.  The types who want to make tons of money, get a Founder title, and a Battery Club membership, but are not concerned with using their money and position to make a quality product. If I see another mobile payment platform or enterprise social marketing solution claiming to “disrupt” the industry I might just die of laughter.

But among the noise, there is progress. Innovation that proves we are moving forward. In 2013 we are seeing science fiction realities come to life, with 3D printing being used to help amputees in 3rd world countries receive high-quality prostheses without access to MRIs and money, energy transference without wires, and Elon Musk’s proposed system of transportation that could forever alter our impact on the Earth as we travel. Richard Branson is trying to take everyday people to space with Virgin Galactic. HIV was eradicated in tests with lab mice. Even on a smaller scale, companies are developing products that are meaningful to consumers, even if they aren’t life-changing.

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As we look ahead to the next 10 years, it’s hard to say what will come next. Trends are very hard to predict, especially with the unstable viral sharing nature that has come to characterize us over the past few years. Feedback has become such an inherent part of the buyer conversation, and the model of brands shaping how the marketplace functions is becoming a thing of the past. What we can be sure of is that over the next 10 years, innovators will continue to create products and ideas that challenge what we thought was possible, ideally bringing us solutions that drastically improve the problems we face as an exponentially growing species.  Here’s to the future!

 

That’s No Moon, It’s a Barge!

By now I’m sure you’ve seen it – a big ugly barge stationed in San Francisco’s bay just off of Treasure Island that is supposedly owned by Google (of Google search fame). It was originally surmised to be a floating data center, because what goes better together than servers and copious amounts of water? Since then it has been upgraded to being a Google Glass store, but at the very least we know it’s shrouded in the kind of secrecy that makes techie’s engines rev with the hunger of being the first one to find out.

The barge, and another similar one in Portland, Maine, are not explicitly the secret property of Google. Both floating behemoths live in hangars leased by a company called, “By N Large,” which Pixar enthusiasts will recognize as the major corporation from the movie Wall-E. There is no information available online about this mysterious company, but CNET was able to link the company to Mountain View’s Google.

Imagefrom http://www.sfgate.com

Google is being fastidious in keeping a tight lip, and none of my friends who work there are telling me anything, so I figure it’s my civic duty to brainstorm what is possibly going on over there. Until we get confirmation that these barges do in fact house servers or stores for Google Glass, I will operate under the possibility of any of the following theories being the reason for the barge:

1) Sergey Brin’s pleasure skiff where he brings subordinates he’s romantically involved with

2) Testing facility for the first Google Robots, which will eventually replace the workforce

3) Floating fallout shelter for Google execs after the impending apocalypse

4) Offshore casino getting prepped for this year’s Google Christmas party

5) Eugenics laboratory researching how to breed the perfect engineer

6) SuperPrison for anyone who violates copyright laws on YouTube

7) Beta test for Google Ferries, to replace Google Buses (at least they won’t crowd the streets)

8) Death Star attempt 1. Note: may or may not have exhaust port only 2 meters in diameter

9) Relocation of company daycare, because they gotta learn to swim sometime

10) Giant empty box as a prank to make people think way too hard/write blogs about something pointless

So there you have it. All of these are equally likely to be true, so I plan on heading out there to urban explore the situation so expect some fuzzy iPhone pictures in the near future. Feel free to share your own theories below!

Weird Things That Birds Do

Birds are weird and here are some of the weird things I’ve seen them do:

1) Vomit, forget about the vomit, find the vomit and eat it. Vomit again.

2) Die midflight for no apparent reason. I have seen exactly one crow and one pigeon do this in two different parts of the world. This is a thing that birds do.

3) Be a wild parrot in San Francisco

4) Be a pack of wild parrots in San Francisco confusing the hell out of tourists

5) Poop on someone during their very first motorcycle-riding lesson. There’s only one way to make someone on a motorcycle not look cool, so thanks for that, bird.

6) Refuse to fly! Bro I would kill to be able to fly, and there you are on the the street narrowly avoiding getting hit by cars because you’re too damn lazy, you dumb pigeon. God!

7) Be sexist. Jerk bird.

 

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I love birds – I’ve owned two cockatiels in my life and I routinely go birdwatching (because of all the friends and active social life I definitely have), but even I can admit the little guys are super strange. That’s part of what makes them so fun to watch, you never know what’s going to happen!

Here is a picture I made of my friend Ian if he were a bird:

SQUAAAWK

Journey To The Front Page

Reddit is great. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, I suggest you visit it, get confused, think it’s dumb, and then find yourself back there for 10+ hours a day in a desperate search for original content.

I’ve avoided the site for years, knowing it is a major timesuck. Essentially Reddit functions as a aggregator of stories, pictures, and discussions on every topic you can imagine, from serial killers to 3D printing techniques. They have millions of active users, making up a small but loud percentage of the Internet, as they are adept at bringing important topics to the surface. Even major news outlets will scan Reddit to find marketable stories, in the process changing the lives of whoever those stories are about. Point being it’s easy to get caught up in the constant onslaught of new content, and Reddit is happy to provide it.

I gave in in April 2013, during the manhunt after the Boston Bombings. I was deeply and emotionally involved in the horrific tragedy, but as a California resident I felt too physically removed. Reddit provided a portal into what was going on, updating me with news much faster than CNN or even local Boston news sources could. Redditors (Reddit users) shared police scanners and together we listened as terrorists were captured. It was a cool moment.

The plan was to delete my account after that incident, for timesuck reasons, but of course that never happened. I became a casual lurker of the site, commenting here and there, maybe making a post in the “funny” or “aww” categories when my dog was doing something particularly interesting. However over time I’ve come to use the site more frequently, engaging in conversations, upvoting/downvoting where I saw fit, as if I wielded some particular brand of power.

Reddit has a system called “Karma” where you are assigned points based on how many upvotes (similar to Likes on Facebook) your posts and comments get. It’s kind of like a game, in that you are incentivized to get as many points on your account as possible because of reasons. Mind you these points don’t serve any purpose other than to exist, but even so you still want them, so I kept playing.

Then I posted something that did really well. It all started October 22nd, during my lunch break at work. I was eating at my desk like a normal not at all lonely person, and I decided to draw a little face on my work pumpkin. Now, I obtained this pumpkin to do 3D printing-related projects – I was going to capture it using 123D Catch, carve it using Meshmixer, then 3D print it so it could have it forever and ever. But instead of becoming a 3D masterpiece, it became a viral work of art.

ImageTitled: I finally got around to decorating my pumpkin

I draw smiley faces on things all the time – I think it’s funny. So this big guy gets a smiley face, I post it to my Instagram and Facebook accounts, I get a decent amount of likes and think, “Hey Reddit might think this is funny, too.” Now, I’m accustomed to getting anywhere between 0 and 10 upvotes on Reddit – upvotes being similar to “likes” on Facebook – so when I got 20 upvotes almost immediately I was just happy to see that maybe I made a few people out there smile. Then suddenly I’m at 300. 500. 999! 1000!!! I couldn’t believe it! People were commenting – one guy even giving my pumpkin a Grade-A art review:

ImageNote: My gender is not specified on my account, & most Reddit users are male so it’s a logical default

Suddenly I’m feeling very caught up in the Reddit intoxication. The website is formatted such that each post is listed from 1 – infinity, items 1-25 making up the first page. Let me just say, it is a very, VERY big deal to make it to the First Page for Redditors. And I was feeling it. Seeing my upvotes rocket up from 0 to ultimately about 2500 was like winning a prize. Seeing people comment on something I created, even just as a joke, was really cool. I had people on both Facebook and Instagram telling me they saw my picture on Reddit, and by extension knew my Reddit username.

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It’s easy to see why Redditors hunger for the front page. In my few months on the site I’ve observed users being quite upfront about wanting Karma, and posting things with that intention, as opposed to sharing for the sake of sharing. It’s like an arms race for cleverness – whoever is the most talented, shares the news first, has the most interesting question/story, is the funniest – these are the people that earn there ranks in the meaningless halls of Internet Fame. It feels so real even though it’s not. The validation and criticism of thousands of strangers gives Redditors the smallest taste of celebrity, whittling down the usual 15 minutes of fame to a relative 30 seconds.

It’s over quickly, of course. The pumpkin never made it to the front page, although I did inspire a conspiracy theory and I’m very proud of that.

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This is a great lesson in how the Internet works. You can do something as innocuous as draw a sharpie smiley face on a work pumpkin, and people will still go out of their way to find fault with it simply because it resulted in you (and not them) earning lots of useless, meaningless, valueless Karma. It’s amazing!

My journey with Reddit will not end with this pumpkin, but I’m glad I was able to get a taste of what it’s like to open yourself up to both the positive and negative aspects of anonymous Internet interaction. I will continue to observe how strangers fight one another for arbitrary Internet points, and perhaps decorate more pumpkins while I’m at it.

And to everyone who downvoted my post: Suck it bitches! I got more Karma than you!