I wrote recently about the disparity between my Cocktail Party Online Self and being a real human. The shorter version: I am, online, a constant stream of accomplishments and links to friends and cool things, but, believe me, it’s not like that. Sometimes for the worse, often for the better. I received some very thoughtful emails about Part 1 of my 2012 review, and quite a few kind Facebook comments. I also picked up some responses that suggest inadvertently offering advice on how people might behave online is a fraught enterprise. The results, all of them, made me want to write: more, better, with purpose. Thank you.
On a related note, I also pledged in that post to try and write about things from 2012 in an “honest” way. Honest does not mean “every last detail,” but it’s a good frame to work in.
The theme from this year, reading it over now, seems to have been “Doing this stuff right is hard.” Off we go.
Four guys thought Buffalo could use a space where independent and remote workers could escape the distractions and loneliness of their house, yet have solid Wi-Fi, unlimited plugs, and coffee you don’t have to buy every hour. CoworkBuffalo opened in May 2012 and has worked out so far. We have paid our bills, hosted some neat events, made iterative improvements, established a small contingent of regulars, and we keep meeting new and interesting knowledge workers from around the region.
It is a really steep learning curve, though, going from “Working on a computer for people hundreds of miles away” to “Doing your best to make people 5 feet away comfortable.” We are learning the medium-hard way about space design, social dynamics, business partnerships, landlord relations, picking out usable feedback from tossed-off requests, and many other new things. Some days the place is humming with energy and warm bodies and collaboration, and some days not. There is so much I want to improve there, right as I’m sitting here typing this, but we don’t have unlimited capital, we’re all operating on spare-time-plus, and we want to keep things relatively lean, so we can actually last for a little while and discover more demand.
In any case, I’m really lucky to be able to plug away at creating a shared space in downtown Buffalo. My dad made his office downtown, I helped make an office downtown, and it’s usually a good challenge to keep it going.
Seeing TEDxBuffalo 2011 come to fruition was one the greatest moments of my life—let’s go with one of the five greatest, actually. I’m not big on graduations.
The event license had seemed doomed, but was brought back. It felt like we had tapped some unknown desire in this small city for a fun day full of ideas . At one point in the last hour or so, my exhausted brain, unable to process how so many tiny threads that had come together into this big, positive mesh, just said to my body, “Start sweating!” My T-shirt from that year still has a kind of endearing smell.
TEDxBuffalo 2012 was much, much harder for me. I’m fairly certain it was harder on the other volunteer organizers, who had more than one occasion to wonder if their nominal leader was incapable of learning lessons from one year to the next. I assumed too much of what worked by coincidence and novelty in 2011 would work again. I started too late. I clung to that magic pairing pairing of “Having too many time-sensitive tasks for one busy person” and “Refusing to delegate and explain things sensibly.” My paid freelance writing suffered as I pulled last-ditch sprints on different aspects of a full-day conference.
In short, I learned a lot about what I don’t know about planning, events, and cultivating talent.
Many pieces of TEDxBuffalo 2012 worked. If nothing else, a dozen speakers and performers got a great chance to share their ideas and talents. But the best thing I did in 2012 was hand the reigns over to a very capable Chaz Adams, and pledge to commit myself in 2013 to the parts of the show I can definitely make better, without making myself worse.
In Pod Form & In Beta
I’m really proud of the side project Phil Dzikiy and I took on, In Pod Form. We started the podcast in late 2011, tried our best to record every week, but had to scale it back as both Phil and myself had our schedules up-ended (baby for him, TEDxBuffalo for me). I hope we get to do a few more episodes. A few high points:
Episode 34: The Pure Drama of Olympic Female Weightlifting – In which we discuss the crucial need to reboot Street Fighter as a movie.
Episode 30: Continue On with Mary-Kate and Ashley – In which Phil describes what can only be described as the epic battle that would ensue if the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day squared off against Bill Cosby’s character from Ghost Dad. (Seriously. It’s the one episode everyone who listens to us likes).
Episode 13: The Devil’s French Fry Oven – Toaster ovens.
Both shows take me out of my comfort zone. If the goal is to give someone 36 or 45 minutes of discussion that’s worth listening to, that means catching yourself on tangents, scaling back interruptions, avoiding nervous “Yeah-uh-huh-totally” agreements, and choosing topics that aren’t just “Android security—go!,” but are usually about more than one thing. The first In Beta of 2013 is a pretty good example of when it works (and partly inspired Part 1 of this annual review).
My poor, mistreated Android Guide book
There is no good excuse why The Complete Android Guide hasn’t been revised since Android 3.0. Books about moving targets are not easy (believe me, I know). But if there’s one thing I want to accomplish in 2013, this is it. No more excuses.
The Phantom King of Buffalo
I wrote a rather long investigative feature for Buffalo Spree for the June 2012 issue. It was about Michael Wilson, the young guy who bought the most expensive homes ever sold in Buffalo, but also didn’t really buy them. It had a timeline, a sidebar or two, and even a “web exclusive”. It was a weird feeling, wearing an Actual Journalist hat once more.
But I’ll cut it straight with you—you, who are already more than 1,100 words into this self-indulgent thing. I researched the Hell out of that story, and did more edits on it than probably anything I’ve published. And while it’s cliché that feature writers can never let go of their copy, I left a bit too much raw data in there. I could have done more “heavy lifting” for the reader. Onward.
I do not write or call them enough.
According to Google Account Activity, from Feb. 27 through Dec. 31, I used my Gmail account to:
- Send 4761 emails, averaging 432 per month
- Received 17,773 emails, averaging 1,615 per month
Interviewed two noted venture capitalists at Z80 Labs, the startup incubator located in the very same space where I once answered customer service calls at the Buffalo News. Union Square Ventures founder Fred Wilson, in text, and Lowercase Capital proprietor Chris Sacca, live and on video (below):
Wore Sergey Brin’s Google Glass headset and might have been the first to publish something about it. Alright, so this and Sacca are just straight-up year-end link-bragging. Forgive me.
A family friend once gently chided my wife and I, telling us that when people ask us how many kids we have, we needed to stop responding with, “None, but we have two cats!” The implication was that it made us sound—I’m not sure. Crazy? Unaware of how different cats were from kids? Eager to give someone an answer other than “Zero, you heartless cudgel”?
In any case, I once heeded that friend’s advice. Now I’ve come to think “Any kids?” is the worst of all the anxious social questions, because it presumes quite a lot about, well, just about everything about someone you meet. Yes, you are sometimes compelled to ask someone about something. But not kids. If you insist on asking me whether I know what it’s like to care about something other than my credit score, I will tell you about Howard.
Howard is a puggle, probably, likely with some other breeds mixed in. Liz and I adopted him from the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter. I had to be persuaded. I had it on good advice that dogs are not like cats (or kids), that they did not make traveling easy, that training them went far beyond housebreaking, that separation anxiety can obliterate your patience. As my friend Phil put it, training and connecting with a dog was way outside my comfort zone.
Dogs don’t work for everyone, but Howard and Liz and I (and, to some extent, our cats) are getting along.
It’s been a trying, occasionally rewarding, lesson-teaching, sometimes delicious, reality-changing, coffee-making, business-starting, family-losing, friend-supporting, dog-adopting year. Goodbye 2012.
There was a time in 2012 when my ability to conceal my looming personal and professional collapse and failure was so great, so skillful, I might have qualified as the CEO of a major corporation.
A relatively big event seemed doomed. My occasionally profitable writing career was headed down with it; a small guy drowned on the rope used to rescue a big guy. Deadlines and obligations caught me flat-footed every day, or every few hours. I was stress-eating, drafting tell-off rants in practice for the inevitable, and constantly pushing the start of beer o’clock into funny-sad, not funny-ha-ha hours. Everyone who seemed to enjoy their own particular mix of work, friends, and frivolity became my secret antagonist. And my wife really wanted to adopt a dog.
Are you fairly well versed in Square games from the Super Nintendo period? I’m talking Final Fantasy II & III (technically IV and VI in the full Japanese canon), Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana–epic quests with a late Victorian/semi-steampunk setting. The protagonist was usually a revolutionary, a freer of people, and probably an inadvertent one. Almost always, one character or another had to hide a secret past, both from newfound allies and relentless authorities. There was usually an epic battle at the height of the plot, after which everything might seem lost. And the music had recurring, swelling themes that made you want to sit up a bit in your comfy seat, raise your hand off the L and R buttons, and maybe pump your fist a bit toward victory.
As you’ve probably guessed, these games were not an insignificant part of my formative years. Which is why when I saw Les Misérables for the first time (I know, I know) earlier this month, I had one of those weird moments where you came across a source material long after you’d absorbed all its varied offspring. The connection is definitely there, at least in the eye of fans of musicals and role-playing games. Witness “Chrono Trigger: The Musical,” performed by a man aiming to recreate the voice of the original Jean Valjean . Search out “Les Miserables Final Fantasy,” and you’re treated to a long list of Fantasy/Miserables mashups. And the last paragraph of a Final Fantasy III/VI review on Amazon puts its best:
Have you ever wondered how the cast of Les Miserables would fare in a steampunk world where they were pitted against Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine? Play this very entertaining game and find out.
So Les Mis made me reminisce. Did I enjoy the show any less because of it? Maybe. Even with a conscious effort to place the Broadway classic, more so Victor Hugo’s novel, far, far ahead of Square’s founding in 1983, or maybe because of that, I kept apologizing to myself for many moments, big and little, feeling familiar. Because my wife knew I’d never seen any version of the show, and knew only a few lines of one song due to a Seinfeld plot gag), she was probably expecting more surprise, more reaction from me at key moments. Instead, I’d just grin and think about flying galleons and dark-cloaked mages who took on new names.
So I let down my own expectations, and maybe a few of my wife’s, but that’s the deal with expectations. Do I wish I’d seen Les Mis sooner? Should Square have made it more explicit in what they were cribbing, pulling, and outright jacking from a classic tale of revolution and personal redemption? And did “Les Mis” become such a popular abbreviation because it’s really annoying to find the European accent for the full Les Misérables on keyboards or, in my case, search it out on the web and copy it?
To the first paragraph-creating-question, no, and to the second, no. But I do wonder how many of my peers are going to hit upon these themes and connections at this later stage of their life, and if it means that keeping track of the roots and original references is going to become a labor of love for more genres. That’s already the case with music. It is always some poor soul’s job to trace back this and that techno. To remind us all of where the hip-hop samples come from. To tell the story of how American R&B, arriving over trans-ocean radio waves, mixed with island rhythms to give us reggae, and how at the root of both of those are the gospel-derived field hollers from work camps, with the long-handled ho always landing on the one.
Will a similar kind of archiving, reference-tracing, and credit-giving be meted out for those of us who grew up with plot-driven games? I sincerely hope so.
Look closely, and you’ll notice I’m holding only half a kayak paddle. Which could be a metaphor for how I feel writing about my own year in review. Yup. (Photo by Jennifer Phillips)
Man, this week was slow. This last week, the one between Christmas and New Year’s? Really slow. I never liked it when, as a reporter, sources would answer questions with, “Slow news week, eh?” But I’ll say it to myself. Nobody wanted to read much of what I get paid to write about this week. So I did what everybody else does and just ran out the annual clock with a year-end review. Of myself.
This post was originally published at the TEDx blog/Tumblr. It was written quickly, and at least one fellow English major shook his head in dismay after seeing the first draft. But it was written very soon after the event, and I’m hoping it provides some lessons to learn from, and maybe some nostalgia on some distant day.
TEDxBuffalo took 17 months to launch, but there were really only five months of solid planning. That is, there was a year-long initial attempt that fell apart on very short notice, followed by a rather quick revival. But our first actual event, put on by about a dozen core volunteers and many more contributors, made everyone hungry to do it again.
These are a few of my favorite things
Google+: The Missing Manual just entered the review phase, after months of effort by yours truly and O’Reilly’s very capable team. So now is a good time to peek above ground and look around. Scoping out the Android landscape, there’s a lot to see. Ice Cream Sandwich, or Android 4.0, is on its way, promising a unified, simplified foundation for smartphones and tablets. As soon as I can get my head around it, an update to the Complete Android Guide should follow.
As a kind of warm-up, and as a way to clear the air, I thought I’d note the apps, features, and little tricks I’ve found to be essential to enjoying an Android phone since I first picked up a G1 in June 2009. More than just my latest obsessions, these Android bits have stuck with me a long time, or significantly changed my experience. First up, the apps, with other tricks to follow.
If nothing else, this Wednesday morning still life will help me look back one day and reminisce. “Hey, remember when everybody screwed with their color settings on photos from $200 phones?”
Everything I have, everything I’ve been able to do, and everything I am is due to the compassion of others. Friends and relatives who tolerated and encouraged me in my upbringing. Teachers, professors, editors, coworkers, and contacts who trusted me not to embarrass them too much. And, today, a growing network of people I can turn to and ask dumb questions. I bet it’s much the same for you. It’s nice to be thankful and grateful, when you can, for all the people who have a hand in helping you do things and not starve while doing them.
Also, my wife, without whom I would have a very different, very dollar-menu-oriented existence. I have proof of this.
Unlocked and ready to roll.
Moore’s Law is a popular tech journalism touchstone. It states, roughly, that the raw processing power of electronics will double every two years, and it’s been generally true for the last 45 years. It’s why trying to make a smart computer, tablet, or smartphone purchase these days feels like choosing a car in a Formula One race happening 18 months from now–after alien xenomorphs have arrived on Earth and started working with Ferrari engineers.
Photo by dennis.tang.
I’ve become something of a coffee snob lately. The snobbery took root in research for a Lifehacker feature, then quickly grew to encompass two kitchen cabinet shelves, quite a few spare thoughts, and whatever discretionary dollars I can justify. It’s at the point where, standing outside myself, I can see what it looks like to make a pained decision between single estate Colombian and triple African Kona blends. The word “precious” comes to mind, but here’s how I can forgive myself. Read the rest of this entry »
That’s not my black nail polish, or my hand, or Mac setup, even if they’re all pretty nice. Photo by @cassandrarife.
If you want something done, the saying goes, give it to a busy person. Except a personal blog post.
The busiest people I know, especially those that write online for a living, wear their guilt about personal blog neglect in constant, public fashion, like one of those rubber fundraiser bracelets (CMStrong?). But forces outside the reluctant ego-blogger occasionally align and conspire against them. Forces like a tardy FedEx deliveryman, two cold fronts, a reluctant Jet Blue, and an eight-hour train ride. So, here goes: Read the rest of this entry »