Stubborn Dreams

Getting out of my cube

An unexpected moment of brave honesty

with 2 comments

World Domination Summit 2013

WDS: The magic is in front of the curtain

I was not a follower of Chris Guillebeau. Last October, I greedily bought tickets for the World Domination Summit in Portland within 12 minutes of getting the email trumpeting the availability of the 1st batch of tickets because I was stuck in a job that I was very good at but not overly in love with. It is too early to tell the true impact and buying those tickets was a life-altering decision.

I am extremely fortunate to be able to do what I do: apply creativity and teamwork to solving technical problems. Sometimes the problem is defining the actual problem. The niche I am in right now happens to be software development. I am extremely fortunate to be able to work with talented and hardworking individuals with passion. But really, I have pregnant pauses where I am honestly bored. Same problems. Same Bat Channel. Fires in a new location. Different Day. As I am beta testing my mid-life crisis, I have to wonder: Do I really want to spend so much of my competitive drive on sitting in a chair in a climate-controlled office writing mobile apps for business?

The day before the World Domination Summit, at the Kennedy School meetup hosted by Sean Ogle, I met many people who I felt that I had more in common with than my co-workers. As someone who is still in the nascent stages of doing something different let alone remarkable, it was fascinating to meet actual people who were two/three years deep into JFDoing their own thing. I did feel like the proverbial clueless, wide-eyed Freshman – where the Seniors were all cool: full-time travelers, two very interesting individuals in the process of building a creative community in the wilds of beautiful Montana, productivity authors with devoted readers (and appliers), location-independent yoga teachers. I didn’t feel like I quite fit in – yet i was there – and not back in the climate-controlled and more importantly, expectation-controlled office.

As the night went on at the Kennedy School, I iterated on my answer for why I was at WDS/what I wanted to set out to do. I initially thought that I could stand out and build my “brand” by taking my OCD writing skills and detail-orientation and write a blog. A blog about what? I’m not really a traveler.

I’ve always been inspired and intimidated by the polish and beauty of the Apple Design Award winning apps. I’ve been thinking about a blog about how to build beautiful, native iOS apps – soup to nuts, napkin sketch to concepts to animations to working code. Building beautiful apps is all about the finish work, the details and the polish. As someone who is already a good plumber (building the stuff no one sees, the ugly but beautiful infrastructure supporting an app), I thought it would be interesting journey of learning, never mind that it would probably be much more difficult than I envisualized – and worth sharing. If I had one take away from the Kennedy School – it is you can build a digital community by sharing your experiences openly. A couple people there even said that I should not be afraid to charge for content – give away a taste but sell the detailed recipe – something I hadn’t really considered. Free has no value…

By the 3rd hour of World Domination Summit, my goal posts irrevocably changed. I was sitting up front in the aisle seat in the 3rd or 4th row from the stage because I had gotten in line at 7:30 (WDS protip: the line expands very quickly after 7:50).

There was a magic moment during ProBlogger Darren Rowse’s keynote in which he instructed us to turn to someone next to us and answer for them: “What is your dream?” and “What is the next action you are going to take towards that dream?”.

It was an unexpected moment of brave honesty. I immediately knew what my dream was. The beautiful woman from Seattle on my left said: “I want to be an actress. And I’m going to go to an audition.” I told her: “I’m going to start teaching problem solving (and maybe programming) to urban youth. And I’m going to follow up with someone I know to start doing that in the Fall”.

Nothing about mobile apps. One thing I did not mention about my job. I work with a lot of young whippersnappers. In the software development industry, youthful energy channeled correctly can trump almost all technical problems and hurdles and (sometimes) deadlines. I am not a young whippersnapper, and I still have that competitive drive – to outwork, to outlearn. Even though I am still competitive (and you have to be in the mobile app domain – where everything changes every six months), I can sense that my heart isn’t really into it. I’m still winning “fights” about how/why to do X in the mobile app code but I am not in the fight.

Writing a blog about building beautiful iOS apps was always an intermediary goal. The biggest success that I could have would be to become an established authority/consultant like Jeremy Olson of Tapity.

I could talk about education for days on end. And the problems in urban education are huge. In my brief forays into the education system here in Philly, meeting educators/teachers in schools and organizations like Teach for America, the problems are fractal. The farther down you go, the more problems will unfold. Yet, it is hard to actually become a teacher especially this late in the game (credentials).

As an obliger (thank you, Gretchen Rubin!), I’ve started putting out my goal of teaching problem solving/programming to urban youth out there, verbally, to friends and friends-at-large. My excited email to my first, strong lead (who I had met a few months prior) to get in front of a classroom of Philly high schoolers has not yet been answered. I will follow-up shortly with a phone call, and Jia Jiang (thank you, Jia!!!) – who was my personal overall heavyweight champion speaker – the way he put himself out there, a superb storyteller, a hero in the making, a superstar but not a “superstar” – will help immunize and inspire me as I trudge through inevitable rejections from teachers and students alike going forward.

As Chris Lehman of Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a premier magnet school, not just in Philly, nationwide said – “If you put a good kid in a bad system, the system wins.. every time”. The key is to not change the system – but start with a small group of students and work your way up. I don’t know what I will be able to do in the Fall – my goal is to be humble and learn more from the kids than I teach them – and WDS has given me, someone beta-testing their mid-life crisis, the courage to be accountable to start taking action on a Big Problem (how to give hope/opportunity to urban youth in this brave new information economy by teaching them how to solve problems).

I left WDS – not just as a follower of Chris Guillebeau but someone in love and awe with the idea of changing the world.

Thank you, World Domination Summit! And to Michael Ellsberg (via his e-mail list) from whom I found out about WDS. Good luck to the woman from Seattle on her first audition!

There are other stories that did not fit into the essence of this particular blog – for now thank you Chris Guillebeau, Jolie Guillebeau, all the ambassadors (especially Kaitlin Fisher, Katie & Tyler Hurst), Tyler Tervooren, the rest of the awesome WDS team (especially Don Matteo), Jean MacDonald, Thursday Bram, Brian, Morgan Day Cecil, the Pink Rose, Jen Lewis, Dave Sparks, Kevin Raulston, and my dream city – Portland.

Written by kleeruby1

July 21, 2013 at 11:01 am

A pair of WWDCs

leave a comment »

WWDC Line - UX Reviews

Changing Tides

I was a lucky Golden Ticket winner to WWDC 2013, and I was even     more fortunate to attend parts of AltWWDC 2013. I came to SF, as a boring business app corporate programmer who more and more desperately wants to learn how to build those beautiful apps with user experiences that stand out – since average iOS app development has become a commodity.

Having previously attended WWDC in 2010, my impression is that the vibe has changed. Corporatized. The app is becoming a feature of big business. It seems that you cannot operate as a big business in 2013 without a legitimate, decent mobile presence. Even for the smaller, mobile-only businesses there, Pareto’s rule seems to apply – around 80% of their revenue comes from iOS. While iOS may not be entrenched in big business like Java in its countless internal systems, big business is doing its darndest best to be entrenched in iOS.

In my informal survey of attendees that I met while in line (oh, lots of lines), even though I met people with their own consultancies/one-man shops/small businesses, there was a strong corporate presence. An giant athletic footwear maker had 10 developers at the conference. A large insurance company had 10 developers. A Fortune 100 company had two developers there – the slots were offered personally to the company a few weeks before the conference. They were just starting out on a new app (nothing great) and they are an iconic brand name. I saw a couple apps from smaller businesses that weren’t that remarkable (off-the-shelf UI) and they were selling for $99/copy in the App Store because there was an established business in a legitimate, profitable niche making it.

Overhearing ambient talk, sometimes tense and charged (were these PMs at a developer conference?) about dealing with escalation X, product requirement Y, deadline Z, features, too many features –  I swear I could have closed my eyes sometimes and felt like I was back in my normal habitat, a corporate office. I know that all the WWDC sessions were quickly produced and made available online for world-wide binging and consumption (thanks to Jake Behrens and his team) – and I felt like there were more than a few companies who brought their office and project dramas to Moscone West for the week.

On the 2nd floor, there was a table-sized, almost real-time, mesmerizing, interactive 120-iPads-hooked-up-to-a-Mac-Pro display of the top 20,000 (2%) apps in the App Store [1]. With the help of an Apple employee with an iPad control pad/cheatsheet app, I was able to locate Domino! Free which is made with love (and hard work and customer appreciation) by my Flyclops friends in Philly.

Later in yet another line, I was still marveling out loud about the app display and the apps it featured – some of which are small and satisfy a market need (unit conversion anyone?), a few of which are truly inspiring like ADA winner Badland. A developer nearby made a comment about how their consumer app probably has 10x the downloads of all those other apps – in the millions. I asked them how big their development team was – 10 developers, 5 designers.

At lunch, I sat down across from a guy wearing a Sourcetree t-shirt. We use Sourcetree at work – not sure how we would manage what is going in our Git repos without it, having left Brotherbard’s GitX fork for good a long time back. He looked busy so I waited about 15 min. (until I would strongly regret not chatting him up) to interrupt him. I asked him if he was part of the Sourcetree team. He paused and then laughed – as it turns out, he is the sole developer of Sourcetree for Mac (there is a designer who helps part-time and a Windows dev).  Never in my mind could I have imagined that such a rich, beautiful version-control Mac desktop client was a single developer based in Guernsey, UK[2]. After telling him that (‘lots of people think that we are a team of 5 developers’), I tried to extract an answer about when support for managing/approving Github pull requests in Sourcetree was forthcoming.

The Equalizer

WWDC is the equalizer. The combination of superb Apple engineering knowledge sharing and informal/formal networking lets large corporate teams compete in the App Arena against the nimble, possibly more talented small independent teams (even teams of one). Even though WWDC is 5,000 people, it is still intimate and you can meet enough interesting people to be inspired.

I’ve been to JavaOne – 15,000 developers, sessions where you are in ever present danger of nodding off while trying to absorb Powerpoints packed with acronyms/diagrams/technical verbage (and very little actual code) – most of which you most likely will never use when you return back to the corporate mothership.

Even with its now more corporate vibe, at WWDC you want to drink the Kool-Aid… liberally. From what I’ve heard about Google I/O from people who had the random luck to secure a spot, more of the people who go to Google I/O aren’t makers – they are about what is in my door prize/goodie bag. The people who are fortunate enough to go to WWDC are actually developing, making things. You really want to go home and hack on NDA with NDA. It may be a fleeting inspiration and enough to actually spark the fire of grinding it out for real and making it through the inevitable irritation.

Every year at WWDC (2013 was their 5th year), the dynamic duo of Eliza Block [3] and Josh Shaffer give an amazing tag-team presentation on the power of UIScrollViews. This year it focused on iOS 7 – and it always highlights the incredibleness and versatility of UIScrollViews. In their presentation, they show the magic of UIScrollViews – and more importantly – reveal how they developed the magic trick to some of us mortals. They explain the key concepts behind their design of the code – from the basic to the much more complicated, mind-twisting, abstract 7th level of ScrollView zen. They show us how they iterate and fix the bugs – without hacks, introducing their elegant code like a debutante. Most importantly, Eliza and Josh exude an almost tangible sense of excitement and giddiness about being able to show a packed room of developers (and the huge video audience) what they love to do. The secrets to the art of Cocoa development. The passion they show extends to all WWDC session presenters – they all care so deeply about crafting the user experience – from the bottom of the iceberg (Objective-C internals, memory optimization) to the (now) flat-toned tip of the iceberg – the UI. Sharing the Kool-Aid. [4]

I challenge all the corporate developers who write business apps (not all boring) – including myself – to fight to put user experience at the fore-front (and include subtle UI tweaks and animations).

The Future of iOS Development

There has been a lot written about iOS 7. Personally, I feel that the bold user interface changes are a direct reaction to Android’s success. Android is hip and urban, constantly changing – even dangerous. iOS has been the soccer mom who goes to the mall – predictable and boring. Apple is being forced to upgrade its look/vibe, lest it be divorced from its coveted 18-45 Female demographic.

Despite some developers of apps (especially those with large consumer user bases) not being able to move to iOS 7 -because they have to support iOS 6 (or worse – back to iOS 5 because of some corporate/marketing mandate), iOS 7 is the new foundation, going forward, upon which apps will be based [5].

This year, at the Apple Design Awards (ADA) ceremonies, as someone whose forte is developing complex but boring business apps, I honestly felt like I was inadequate (as I presume more than a few fellow attendees may have been) when we saw the 2013 ADA winners – with their beautiful and engaging user experiences. There was a special category, “Student Scholarship Showcase”. The three apps featured (all made in less than a week) were amazing examples of using the best of Apple’s core technologies to craft a beautiful user experience.

The last day of WWDC, I went to the Labs with a question for an Apple UI engineer about how the Applauze iOS app does its vertical cell scroll-up trickery. I had the honor of meeting Louis Harboe (@spiralstairs), one of the student winners of an Apple Design Award. – when he asked to tag along with me to meet with the engineer (eager to hear the answer).

Louis showed us his ADA-award winning app (which is not on the App Store) to me and the Apple UI engineer, Alex. It was a scrolling (yes, UIScrollView) through time visual life biography. What he liked. What influenced him. What his goals were. You could pinch on a movie or photo in the timeline to rotate, maybe even move, or expand it. You could tap on things to bring up a more detailed view – with great animation. Believe me, my textual description of what I thought of as an iYearbook/iScrapbook does not suffice.

Louis is working on a tide-tracking app. Apparently, tide-tracking is one of those nice niches in the App Store. He showed us the competitor apps. Some of them were quite respectable. However, his app was visually gorgeous, even in its sometimes not working, prototype intermediate stage. Tide tracking is something quite mundane yet he managed to make it seem quite interesting.  Potential App Store feature-worthy. A capable designer (who can code), as part of his UI, he was working on an animated wave like the one Siri has. [6]

For all of its bold new groundbreaking, iOS 7 is not the future of iOS development – outstanding individuals from the younger generation like Louis Harboe are the future of iOS development. I applaud Apple for its Student Scholarship program, as it is inspiring, at least, to old whippersnappers like me.

Thank you to all the engineers at Apple and employees who helped make WWDC ’13 an inspiration and kick in the pants to go forth and do something… with iOS 7.



Even more inspiring than WWDC – was AltWWDC. (I’m slow – it took me a while to grok the logo – until I was like ha!)

I almost didn’t go to AltWWDC. I was in line for an afternoon session at WWDC and it turned out when we finally got in the room – seats near the back – that there was no speaker at the front – the speaker was next door – simulcast. I thought it was silly that I was watching a video screen and decided to go to AltWWDC.

If WWDC was an expensive Broadway production, AltWWDC was an Indie band playing in an arena to 100 true fans. At AltWWDC, I felt like I was at my beloved PhillyCocoaheads – with its indie, sharing-is-good, join-the-club vibe, just with a bigger venue, a bigger audience, and (to be truthful) much better speakers (Note: I say this – having presented at PhillyCocoa a few times). Even though I knew the sessions were going to be recorded, it was worth it to skip WWDC to be in the room to be part of AltWWDC live (and meet the speakers afterwards in person). As someone who had a WWDC badge, I felt guilty (and hid the badge).

The videos for AltWWDC can be found here (be patient with the ad rolling). I won’t link directly to any of the sessions (except for one), as all of the sessions (not the ones I saw personally) are worth watching.

Charles Perry gave an excellent talk about Accessibility in iOS – it was excellent because he showed us a sample to-do list app project in which he iteratively added more and more accessibility features – until it was fully accessible.

Ben Johnson gave my favorite talk. To someone who is a boring business app programmer, Ben revealed some of the secrets of not so boring apps. Animations. “Animations are all about timing, It’s about anticipation, what is going to happen. Ultimately, it is a gut feeling.” He showed some fascinating slow-mo videos (AirPlay+screenflow acquired) of some of his favorite animations: the iOS 6 tap on the lock screen to reveal the camera, Zappos‘ iOS app that quirkily throws a cat(!) down when you add something to your shopping cart, the rotating propeller wait icon and planes crossing the lockscreen of Just Landed, the elegant suave non-standard view title transition of Jetsetter, the ground-breaking (at the time) z-shifting of National Parks, the runaway cart of B&H Photo (which he worked on), and the cloud clock animation of Free Time (his app).

Brent Simmons told us of his experience making Vesper. I bought the app during the session and the animations, the flow of the whole app is smooth. It was interesting to tap along and see the animations/custom view transitions/text rendering as Brent was talking about how (nearly insanely) difficult it was to implement. Also – a hidden view controller with minimal opacity can help make you custom popover controls.

Jeremy Olson – an ADA winner! – gave a great talk about how he has become a recognized name in the iOS app design world (and beyond it). Along with Ben Johnson’s talk, this was the most inspiring talk because he talked about the process of becoming a recognized name in the iOS app developer. Doing it, talking to people, meeting people, sharing what you have done, getting better at sharing, teaching, writing, doing it. Repeat. During his talk, I started to have real stubborn dreams of what I could do this year – blogging about iOS 7, the mobile landscape, getting better at crafting user experiences in the app, creating a decent app for First Friday.

Finally, Mike Lee gave one inspiring, kick-assing talk. I won’t try to summarize it. Why we do what do. Watch it here.

Thank you to Appsterdam, Mike Lee, Josh Michaels, Judy Chen, Kyle Kinkade, and Rob Elkin for bringing to reality an alternate WWDC that exists in its own right.

I end this epic overly long post with a challenge to AltWWDC – to reach out to the student developers, the younger generation for AltWWDC 2014.

At WWDC, Apple lays out the future of the iOS/Mac OS X universe for the next year/major release. In mobile development, the best practices are constantly changing every other quarter. What you know about iOS circa 2010/iOS 4 is woefully out of date two years later. Which is why, as a professional Android developer, I went to WWDC. And I am happy that I got to go to part of AltWWDC as well.


[2] “We’re”

[3] Before Apple, Eliza pioneered success in the App Store

[4] At Apple Developer Days, they showed an inspiring video that just made you want to be able to learn how to craft the best, beautiful user experiences. This isn’t the video but it is in the same zip code.

[5] “Fertile Ground”, Marco Arment.


Malcolm Gladwell at UPenn: “Can you tell me how they drink”

with 7 comments

“The only way I could get into Penn was to get invited to talk,” said Malcolm Gladwell, after he bounded onto stage, with a trademark look that can be described as an intellectual Carrot Top. He announced that he would not be speaking about the topic of “Risk Fallacy” which was printed in the full-color, 70-lb paper stock souvenir program. Instead, he said, he was going to talk about something that occurred to him during the recent debate on health care. He was going to talk about Alcohol. He began talking about a chain of serendipitous events and a very remarkable couple, Dwight and Ann Heath.

In 1956, Dwight Heath was doing his doctorate in Anthropology at Yale, and his intention was to travel to Tibet for his doctoral research. A few months before he was supposed to go, the Chinese government cancelled his visa. With his academic work at stake and his wife Ann, having just given birth to a baby boy, Dwight, in a panic, searched for somewhere else that he could travel on very short notice. The next best choice, Dwight decided, was Bolivia.

Bolivia in the 1950s was very isolated. The year that Dwight, Ann, and their baby flew into Bolivia, there was a total of only 85 Westerners who entered. The Heaths ended up in Montera, a town on the edge of the rain forest, with dirt roads and adobe huts. Montera was populated by a tribe called the Camba, who were half-Indian and half-Spanish. The Camba spoke a weird 17th-century variant of Spanish. For the next year and a half, the Heaths lived in Montera and did what anthropologists do: talk to people whenever they could, took lots and lots of pictures, and smoked cigarettes ostentatiously to demonstrate that they were not missionaries.

When they returned to New Haven in the Fall of 1957, having been in a tropical country, they were very tan. An anomaly on campus in the New Haven winter. Ann loves architecture, and they happened upon an really cool building on Yale’s campus. They went in and they encountered two old men. One of the old men asked the Heaths why they were so tan and they replied that they had just returned from Bolivia.  To that, the old man asked, “Can you tell me how they drink?”. The man grabbed Dwight by the lapels and exclaimed, “I don’t know anyone who has ever been to Bolivia. You have to tell me how they drink!”.

The interesting building that Dwight and Ann ventured into was Yale’s Center for Alcohol Studies. The old man that grabbed Dwight by the lapel was Martin Keller, the editor of the Quarterly Journal of Alcohol Studies, then and now the most prestigious publication in the field. His companion, E.M. Jellinek, was famous for being the first to state that “alcoholism is not a moral failure, it is a disease”. The Center for Alcohol Studies was devoted to the questions of: how people drink, why do people drink, what are the social forces, what are the kinds of things we can do to combat alcoholism.

Dwight and Ann returned home and Ann was like, “You know, we went to parties every weekend.” And Dwight was like “Oh yeah!”. Anthropologists have codes for everything – drinking was 30A. They went through their extensive notes and found that they had 30A everywhere. In fact, they went drinking every weekend while in Bolivia. Alcohol was not really Dwight’s focus, but as a young, aspiring Ph.D. student and given the prestige of the Center, he wrote up how the Camba drink. After writing this famous paper on how the Camba drink, Dwight’s reputation ballooned, a flood of requests came in. He realized the importance of what he had found.

New Haven in the 1950s was a center of immigrants. Italian immigrants put Irish immigrants to shame in their drinking volume. One random Italian from the Center’s records consumed 3000 calories a day, with 1000 of those coming from wine consumption. In fact, every day, at lunch he consumed 24 oz. of wine. Yet, there was no evidence of social pathology or alcoholism with his drinking – he was employed, happily married, stable. Italian immigrants accounted for over 1/3 of the immigrant population, yet in the alcoholism cases admitted to Yale’s treatment center, only 40 out of 1200 were Italians. And these were 3rd and 4th generation.

Most regulations around the problem of alcohol are concerned with limiting the supply. Minimum drinking age – limit who can get served legally. Hours of operation for a bar establishment – limit when they can get alcohol. Taxes around alcohol – limit how much alcohol can one buy. But, in New Haven, with the Italian immigrants, the Center could find very little correspondence between supply of alcohol and problems with alcohol. Martin Keller said, “Drinking must precede alcoholism, but alcoholism does not necessarily follow drinking.”

In Bolivia, Dwight and Ann Heath went out drinking every weekend. They think they were invited to all the parties because they had a Coleman lantern – which no one else had – and that instantly vaulted them to the top of the Camba social hierarchy. Drinking was done in a very specific and ritualized way. There would be a couple dozen people. Everyone would sit in a circle. The bottle would be put in the center. The host would pour a drink and choose someone to make a toast to. The host would go over to that individual, toast him and drink half the glass. The host would pass the glass and the toasted individual would drink the other half. And continue the ritual. The ritual continued until everyone there was blind, stupid drunk. Sometimes an individual would pass out and leave the circle, and, once conscious again, rejoin the circle and the drinking. The parties would start Friday night and proceed until Monday morning, at which point, people would go to work.

It is important to note that despite drinking all weekend until they passed out, the Camba would never ever drink by themselves. They would never drink from Monday morning until Friday evening. In fact, the alcohol that the Camba drink was awful. Even the Camba themselves said it was awful. Being from New England WASP-ish type background, the Heaths only drank because they wanted to immerse themselves in the full cultural experience. Being good anthropologists, the Heaths had brought back a bottle of what the Camba drink and it was tested to be 180 proof. One of the Center’s scientists flat out didn’t believe that the Heaths actually drank that so Dwight Heath went down one Saturday and proved that, yes, it is possible for someone to down shots of 180-proof alcohol at 20-minute intervals and not die.

The Camba were drinking the strongest possible alcohol known to man, and to excess, every single weekend. As far as Dwight Heath can tell from his in-depth year and half living among and researching them, nothing happens. They didn’t get sexually aggressive, get into arguments, incite violence, had no illness. In fact, the Camba don’t even know or have a word for hangover. (Dwight and Ann did get hangovers). Contrast this to the drinking frenzy on a typical college campus where students are drinking beer, which is the equivalent of a pea shooter to the Camba’s 180-proof bazooka.

Before Dwight Heath’s paper, the common thought was that alcohol was reliable in its effects. Something that makes you drunk just as surely as caffeine in coffee perks you up. The belief was that alcohol makes you drunk; it disinhibits us – releases your inhibitions – that it is a drug that acts autonomously and reliably. The importance of Dwight’s paper is that anthropologists started to take their blinders off and looked at how people experience alcohol and started to see that alcohol doesn’t behave in a reliable, disinhibiting way at all.

In a book called Drunken Comportment (a book which describes drinking behavior worldwide and Gladwell calls the single most fascinating book he has read in the last 5 years), the anthropologists MacAndrew and Edgerton describe the Mix Indians of Oaxaca. Tribal members who get into an argument will actually pause to remove their machetes, calmly handing them off to bystanders, before beating the crap out of each other. At the end, the victor will hug his competitor and put his machete back on. When they are fighting, they are disinhibited in the manner of a dog who has cooped up all night and just been let out in the yard. When they are removing their weapons and the end of the fight, they are inhibited.

A common belief is that alcohol causes self-inflation and makes us look at stuff through rosier glasses. Claude Steele, an American psychologist, has given personality tests to participants when they are sober and then drunk. He has found that not everything gets looked at through rosier glasses. One thing that gets inflated: the distinction between real and ideal states. In areas where there is no distinction between what I think and the real state, there is no effect from alcohol. For example: If I think I am good looking and all of you think I am good looking, alcohol won’t have any effect. But if I think I am good looking and you think I am ugly – alcohol will make me think I look better.

Another common belief is that alcohol reduces anxiety. This would be consistent with disinhibition – that it takes all our troubles and fears away. However, in certain circumstances it reduces anxiety, in some it doesn’t. If you put a man who is very depressed and give him a six-pack and put him in front of a football game on TV, his anxieties will go away. But if you put the same man and give him a six-pack and put him alone in the corner of a bar, he will get more depressed.

Steele says that the disinhibition theory of drunkenness is all wrong. It’s not that the case that alcohol unlocks the things that are dead and buried. That what alcohol does is make the immediate things, factors in our environment, circumstance more and more prominent. That alcohol gives the things front and center disproportionate influence on the way we think and feel. This explains why if I think I am good looking and you all out there think I am ugly – I think I am better looking when I am drunk – because you are external – you are out there – you don’t matter – it’s what I think. For the depressed guy watching the football game – because the football game on the TV is front and central in his environment – he gets less depressed (unless he’s watching the Eagles – Gladwell quipped). For the depressed guy, alone in the bar with his six-pack – what is front and center – his fears. Drunkenness, Steele says – is not disinhibition – it’s myopia – a person who gets drunk is increasingly sensitive to the messages and signals in our world, to our environment.

So if alcohol doesn’t cause disinhibition (alcohol myopia theory) and crazed behavior by itself, what does? Gladwell posits: When there are clear standards and rules and structures around drinking, the drinker is more rule bound than his sober counterpart, not less rule-bound. Both the 1950s New Haven Italian immigrants and Camba Indians societies had understood that to consume alcohol in a way that not create all kinds of problems, you have to have a clear set of rules and expectations on how it is to be consumed.

Dwight Heath discovered there was a very strong structure behind the Camba drinking parties – during the week, the Camba have miserable jobs – they don’t really have a way to socialize during the week. At their drinking parties, it is really the only opportunity to be in a community – the toasts that they give each other are not trivial toasts, they are social glue. The Yale researchers went out into 1950s New Haven and gave diaries to the Italian immigrants to discover their drinking patterns. They discovered there is a strong community social structure behind the way Italian-Americans consume alcohol – sociability (never alone) and social routine and eating (never without food).

The 1950s Italian immigrant culture placed clear restrictions on when they could drink and how much they could drink. Today, in our modern world, our society is near incapable to put cultural limits on drinking (witness TV beer commercials – drinking without any discernible ‘structure’), to have a ‘conversation’ about how we drink. Long-held cultural practices about drinking from immigrants are being lost. Americans didn’t learn to drink like Italians; Italians learned to drink like Americans. If we are to lower the drinking age to 18 (as some university presidents want to do), we need to give a positive and constructive example of how to drink. Malcolm Gladwell concluded by saying that at the end of the day, the cultural component of drinking is much more important than the legal component (limiting supply/access to alcohol by minimum drinking age, taxes, hours of operation) and the medical component (genetic predispositions to alcoholism).

Dwight Heath

Center for Alcohol Studies

More information on the Bolivian Camba

The preceding was a distilled account of Malcolm Gladwell’s lecture taken from ridiculously near verbatim verbose notes. He lectured on January 28, 2010 at The 10th Annual Goldstone Forum, presented by the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program of the University of Pennsylvania. Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for the New Yorker, is the best-selling author of “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” and “Outliers: The Story of Success”. In the spirit of James Burke’s Connections, he is excellent at weaving a convincing argument from disparate, seemingly disconnected sources (often unknown academic research). However provocative, absorb his work with a touch of skepticism, as there is often more than a splash of psuedo science mixed in with his theses.

Theory and not practice

leave a comment »

Today on the train, instead of half-awake dozing, I was actually studying Spanish verbs half-heartedly. Imperfect. Preterit. I was in one of those seats which don’t leave much personal space (which makes simple actions like getting your SEPTA pass out more difficult since it requires in-seat contorting to avoid hitting the other person). I was debating whether to start a conversation with him about NYC. I found out later that I was sitting next to a native Spanish speaker (when he called his buddy on the phone). How much more value can I get out of actually practicing Spanish with real people versus studying Spanish? How much more will I improve once I get out of my comfort zone and practice conversation with strangers in Spanish? Why do I refuse to listen to Spanish more to train my ear? I think it all comes down to what I believe -I believe I am not ready…[to practice spanish]. I believe I am not ready to [verb/action describing many things I am afraid of]. You’ll never be ready, why don’t you initiate?

Written by kleeruby1

December 9, 2008 at 4:24 pm

How to win a StorySlam or GrandSlam

with 8 comments

Ryan Barlow being crowned as Philly's best storyteller 2008

Ryan Barlow being crowned

What makes a story win?

I had the honor of competing yesterday in First Person Art’s 2008 GrandSlam at the Painted Bride in Philly because I was confident and comfortable enough back in April to tell a signature story well. I believe the level of competition at this GrandSlam was better than last years (and the venue rocked – made us feel like stars for the event – thank you Painted Bride for being great hosts).

I’ll admit I was a bit preoccupied with preparing for the GrandSlam, and some of that pre-competition preparation and nerves wasn’t helpful.

Based on my crackpot analysis of last night’s competition, the stories told at Juliet’s post-party (one by The Moth’s GrandSlam (NYC) winner Jim O’Grady), previous StorySlams, stories I overhear on in public (you get the idea – I love hearing stories), I believe that a winning story/storyteller has these characteristics:

#1 Tell a specific story, not your life story

The thing about storytelling is anyone can tell a 30-minute or even 10-minute story. To tell a 5-minute story, that is a particular constraint that forces you to be concise and focused. If you spend 30 seconds rambling at the start (or worse, midway through), you’ve lost 10% of the time!

The classic Toastmasters rule is that you can make 3 points in a 5-7 minute speech. Well, StorySlam ain’t Toastmasters. If you attempt to make 3 points by the mistake of 3 or even 2 little stories – you’ll be watering down the whole effect of the story. By attempting to go into separate stories, you’re forcing the audience to do extra overhead/keep track (whether consciously or subconsciously) of “where is the storyteller headed”. And you’re sacrificing time – details that could make or break your story might have to be watered down or worse – eliminated completely. Don’t tell 3 stories, don’t tell your life story, tell one story. Tell your signature story. Ingrid had a difficult story, in a sense, too because of the setup required (explaining the whole reality show business from an insider view), and she did well.

For the contest, I made the mistake of attempting to tell the “Kevin November 2008” story – e.g. a snapshot of my life. With broad themes, no particular details. As Kendra told me afterwards, she didn’t think people understood the story. (it didn’t help I didn’t realize I wasn’t speaking into the mike, until I spoke into the mike late) Maybe because it was about my life (I don’t claim to understand my life!)

#2 Entertain the audience

Katonya told a story that was part of a tapestry/a life narrative. It was poetic and took us on an emotional journey. It made us think. But it did not make us laugh. There have been winning stories at StorySlams that were not funny (Ben Drinen’s comes to mind) but to my recollection, the full house consistently beats a straight (all thing considered, the entertaining story will beat the somber story). As Juliet told me prior to the competition, people are paying money and choosing to spend their Saturday night there, to see you (in theory) perform. They’re not there to be confronted with the dark side of life – they’re there to show their friends how fun/cool StorySlams is. It’s ok to have a somber portion to your story, as long as you balance it out (sandwich funny-somber-funny). Ryan’s story convincingly managed to turn something that could be told in a pretty scary context (getting conned) into a forget-what-the-Dow-did-last-week-last-month-last-quarter 5-minute laughing escape. Good StorySlam stories can be summarized in three sentences but that is only a skeleton – the actual telling, the energy, the vibe, the commitment, the in-the-momentness, the presentation is key.

#3 Commit to the story / be the story

Ted, Ryan, and Kendra really got into their stories. Each of them got so in to their stories that they carried the audience along with them. Katonya got into her story but I could sense a tension (as in, we didn’t know if she was going to drop a bomb on us – e.g. nervous).

I loved how Ted took us to India almost in the terms of a B-horror movie (oh, no, he didn’t; don’t go there). Kendra took us along with her actually-pretty-scary but funny drug blackout episode. Ryan had the symptoms of a great storyteller – pacing, vocal variety, even pauses for dramatic effect – but I think the source was he just got 100% into it. The difference between reading a story and hearing a story is someone telling a story gives life to it.

Usually, at the StorySlams the winning story is a tangible notch better than the other ones. At the GrandSlam, the top three were so close I’m wondering if the very important adding needed auditing (sorry, Andrew 🙂 ) The top three all gave it their all – and the best storyteller of the night won.

#4 Be true to yourself

This is more intangible. As Ingrid says, the person on stage is not necessarily you – it is a persona. A truely good story reveals a bit of yourself, maybe without even stating it. All personas aren’t fake just as all good fiction is grounded in reality.

#5 Follow the theme

A single story that fits the theme. That’s it. Don’t overcomplicate things. And, as Juliet advised me, please to try to avoid saying ‘I was the chump’ or ‘that was the winning moment’ (we’re all smart enough to realize when your story fits the theme). As an aside, It goes without saying – do not thank the audience (that could be construed as pandering even if its sincere) – you will thank them by giving your best story. The end to Ryan’s story (don’t want to give it away) was a great example of nailing the theme – not too contrived, subtle. In my story, I did attempt to tie the opening to the closing (as all good stories I believe do) but my opening (‘what is a life’) actualy didn’t have anything really to do with the theme. Juliet’s story that won the GrandSlam last year (2007) was superb – her closing brought us back to the beginning of the story, literally ‘in a tightly-wrapped’ package.

#6 Tell a story like a “professional”* storyteller

At Juliet’s post-party, I was fortunate enough to stick around (it was late) and hear Jim O’Grady tell a story. Since Juliet introduced him as not only a winner in the Moth StorySlams but the winner of the Moth GrandSlam, there was a pretty high expectation set for him. He delivered to expectations, of course. Makes me want to schedule a trip up to NYC to see The Moth live (but it’s on weekdays). I think the way he told the story was professional – in fact, I think he could probably go off his daily routine/shopping list and make it into an interesting story. A sense of feeling. How it all flowed together smoothly. His use of details. His unhurried, confident delivery. I particularly liked his metaphor of a particularly brute way of male bonding – how if you fight someone, you will have a bond that is indelible and different (from the normal smalltalk -> friend passage).

* – I don’t think there are many professional storytellers (it’s too much of a pure skill) but there are many who are able to use their storytelling skill in their profession and business.

Resources: The Moth (NYC)

“But in that year of trying and sometimes failing but always studying how the winners moved or thrilled or cracked up an audience, I started to figure out how to compose and perform an effective five-minute story.” -Jim O’Grady

“Gather Round, City Folk. Here’s a Storyteller’s Tale”, NYTimes, 11.16.08 – Article by Jim O’Grady relating his 1.5 year journey from storyteller debutante to reigning GrandSlam champion

The Moth (NYC) Podcast – These stories are not only entertaining and good but they can teach you about what makes a good story (through your own personal filter, which is important)

So what I would have done differently?

I’m glad I was picked first. It let me relax and enjoy all of the other stories. But, if I had foresight, I would have told a single story. I would have written it out and tuned it for maximum comedic punch – make every sentence count (as Juliet advises). I would have practiced. Before the competition, I wrote a composite story about my years-long quest to be the dancer – ala Pulp Fiction. But it was a composite. The story I should have told: the one about my friend Jorge and me walking by Washington Square park – that could have been a contender.

Written by kleeruby1

November 17, 2008 at 3:22 am

Philly didn’t burn but there were fires

leave a comment »

I’m proud that Phillies fans partied relatively responsibly. Celebratory fires, free fireworks shows, traffic light acrobatics, excitement, energy, alcohol.

Written by kleeruby1

October 30, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Ignite Philly (2) – Evolution of Entrepreneurship

with 4 comments

Thank you to Geoff DiMasi, Alex Gilbert, Far McKon, and Vanja Buvac for organizing another interesting event, full of diversity and aerogami.

In the late 90s/early 00s (in the era of the dot com boom and Philly Tech magazine), when I drove east towards NJ on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I couldn’t help but notice the building with castle-like turrets trumpeting its presence as the headquarters of I always thought the building was a little ugly but I was always like “Wow. was founded here. In Philly.”

Yesterday, Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital and the founder of, kicked off ignitePhilly #2 at Johnny Brenda’s. Josh has been involved in several initiatives (Tech Council, Greater Philadelphia First) to help answer the question of the Philly Brain drain (why do talented graduates choose to leave Philly after they finish school here). He honestly admitted that none of those initiatives really worked; they were trying to address the problem from the top-down.

As an investor in LinkedIn,, and Stumble Upon, he has learned that communities can be nurtured but they cannot be created from the top-down. Times change, Philly evolves. IndyHall, DreamIt, Philly Startup Leaders – these are Philadelphia-based ventures that were started by entrepreneurs. Josh says that these ventures are really getting traction. Succeeding because they are not top-down driven but started by entrepreneurs.

If there was a hidden subtext to Ignite Philly #2, I think it showcased the evolution of Philly. Maybe true to its stereotypical/fictional”Rocky” roots. A democracy for technology. Interesting people doing interesting things outside the Silicon Valley mindset and spotlight (until they’re ready). Bringing art/design/technology to people who want to learn, reinventing the practice of teaching/public television. Making it easier for good developers to spend more of their time developing. Bringing people together who might not have met. Adding value.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we want/can have more look-at-me high profile companies and their flashy headquarter buildings, but I think Philly is at the ground-level of the evolution of entrepreneurship. Small, focused teams with big ideas that can make an long-term impact (and money – passive income: good)  

Eve H., PARK(ing) day, Philly

  • (PARK)ing day started by Rebar in San Francisco.
  • Event was last Friday. Mostly started by architects and landscape designers. Started off with sketches.
  • Success was based on the involvement of key individuals (Pam, Jeff) and organizations (City Planning Commission, City of Philadelphia)
  • What is a parking space? Pennsylvania Horticultural Society had staff meetings in their PARK(ing) space that day. Up in NYC, A HR firm held job interviews.
  • Green space is very important in the city. Green spaces allow people to connect. People have the urge to talk to one another. People just need a little nudge to connect
  • Random walk-ins: David from UPenn – stopped by the parking space, sat down on rocking chair, and chatted for 5 minutes and left (this is what the day was supposed to do – connect strangers we live and work with)

Chris Lehmann, Science Leadership Academy

  • School 2.0: Creating the schools that we need today. Progressive education with 21st century tools.
  • Stop thinking tests can measure learning. Right now, schools are very data driven (but really good data is hard to collect – hint: not tests).
  • It’s not what students get on tests but the work they do that is important
  • Student-centered-learning: Make schools inquiry driven. Something to figure out vs. not what they want you to know.
  • Traditional classroom: Hierarchical assessment. Recall-based learning. Obsolete in the age of Google.
  • “Certain technologies are not additive. They are transformative” -Neil Postman. Technologies must be like oxygen
  • Projects. Students doing amazing things: Flow process bio-processing engine project. Installed in Guatemala – helping villages get off the grid.
  • Students using UStream to share their classroom lectures and discussions with the world
  • Research/collaborate/communicate should be part of learning
  • “Good person + Bad system” -> (Bad) system usually wins
  • What is the role of the teacher in the age of Google? Wisdom

Jameson Detweiler, Drexel’s Smart House

  • “Better Living Through Smart Design and Technology”. It’s not just about green, but helping people. Focus on solving problems that affect people in their daily lives
  • Location of Smart House: 35th & Race. Former fraternity house in less-than-ideal condition
  • 10 students will live in the house. They will try out the new technology in a real-world environment, every day. The house is a test framework for smart design and technology.
  • Five areas of focus: Environment, Energy, Interaction, Health, Lifestyle
  • Examples of technology being tested: Globule-infused paint to reduce energy consumption; Summalux LED lighting to help circadian rhythms, counteract SAD; open-source format for nutritional information
  • Smart House focus on *integration* – how well do the technologies work with each other *and* with people
  • Affiliate program – opening up Smart House to smart minds outside of Drexel. Let them know.
  • Design competition. Announcing final design/winner in November

Adam Turkelson, Neat Receipts

  • Practitioner of Neural Networks. Neural networks are used everywhere. Expert systems, knowledge bases. You probably have used one already.
  • Biologically ingrained processing models applied to Machine Learning
  • How it works: (Biological neuron) Dendrites -> Soma -> Axon becomes (Virtual neuron) Input -> Activation Function -> (adjustable weight) > Output
  • Exaggerated claims of success hurt NN
  • 1940s-1960s: Various models. 1970s: Nothing happened 🙂 1980s: Back Propagation.
  • Back Propagation: Saved field of NN. (non-linear -> stochastic)
  • Back Propagation most widely used NN. Many open source implementations. However, slow algorithmically and computationally
  • NN are amazing, powerful. Be creative. treat them like toys, not like complicated programs

Stu Hankin and Wil Robinson, IdeaBlob

  • IdeaBlob is a new venture from Advanta
  • The idea with the most votes at the end of the month wins $10,000
  • Any kind of idea goes. (Poor) Hanging bag hand guard. (Good) Business cards to help student get elected
  • Important concept: Don’t be afraid that someone is going to take your idea. Be afraid that no one will ever see your idea.
  • IdeaBlob features top advisors and guest advisors (president of – Connects experienced entrepreneurs with aspiring entrepreneurs
  • IdeaBlob contest – 8 ideas for grand winner (Sept. 22 to Sept. 31)
  • October 22nd. BlobLive in Philly. Prince Theater. Free drinks! Brings IdeaBlob to the people. People in audience give advice/support to people presenting their ideas on stage. Free drinks!!

Steve Welch, DreamIt Ventures

  • Change is overused term. He prefers evolution (better ideas/more efficient systems)
  • Great ideas come from more efficient systems
  • Differentiate, Select, Amplify (Biology) applied to business creation/evolution
  • World GDP per capita has increased rapidly. Driven by evolution of open markets that share ideas and products across borders
  • Early-stage companies. Very few VCs (except for Josh K.) invest in them.
  • DreamIt. Darwinism. 11 companies. 3 months incubator. 1 on 1 mentoring. Legal/accounting/startup counsel.
  • Costs have gone down dramatically. Evolution of business: East Indian Trading Company to Microsoft/billg to Facebook. Costs go down with outsourcing of development and manufacturing.
  • Speed. The World is too competitive. Your idea needs to get out there.
  • This past DreamIt: Lots of great ideas, not enough requisite technological skill.
  • Next DreamIt: HackerTrack – allow hackers to apply. Meet up and team up with people with big ideas.
  • Diverse teams – don’t want others who act like you, talk like you.
  • Fail quickly – Josh K. – testing ideas out with as little capital as possible
  • Businesses that survive long term bring value to society

Mark Yim, University of Pennsylvania, GRASP lab

  • Talk given to engineering education conference about teaching / how he teaches
  • Demonstration: Asked audience to point towards the sky. Most people pointed with index finger. In Japan, people lead with their thumbs (thumb-centric society – texting). Point: Technology changes people
  • Push model of learning. “Chalk and talk”
  • Pull model: Interactive with web
  • Learning from phenomenological obervation. Engineers taught theoretical concepts, but not design
  • Traditional labs: Push model. Tell them what to do exactly.
  • New labs: Give the students a problem, tell them to solve it but not how to solve it. Don’t tell them what to do. They come up with their own experiments.
  • Learn a lot more from failure than successes – students designing vibration dampening-type system. Some of the more crazy ideas – Mark told them so but regretted telling them so.
  • Non-linear elasticity of rubber. Students develop model of rubber band/how it stretches. Tested via bungee cord with action figure. How close can you get the action figure to the ground? Some got close, some action figures hit the ground (hard)
  • Heat transfer: Students taught theory – told to design a heat sink for an iPod like device (but not told how to design it)
  • Paper Aqueduct: Students build out of cardboard and glue. How much water can it transport without the system breaking down.
  • Conclusion of students: Must claimed they learned more in the new lab (but it might be that they think they learned, not that they learned)

Beth Van Why, Design Philadelphia

  • Beth found Make:Philly a permanent home at UArts (big part of Make:Philly’s livelihood/success)
  • Her new project: helping to find design a permanent home in Philly.
  • Design Philadelphia – celebrating its 4th year. October 16-22, 2008. Funding from William Penn Foundation, City of Philadelphia organizations, design firms.
  • Open up what’s going on in design in Philly to people in Philly. 450,000 people see DP brochures.
  • DP = Lectures and “all-out parties”. Lots of professional organizations and local gallery (F.U.E.L) involved
  • Showcase local designers. Josh Owen.
  • 15 open houses. Behind the scenes at architectural and/or product design firms. See the different types of creative work going on.

Don and friends,

  • DesignPhiladelphia party. October 18th. $5/$8. Studio 34. 4522 Baltimore Pike. 6:00 Free screening of “Reformat the Planet”
  • “Reformat the Planet”. No-budget documentary about the chip music scene. Premiered at SxSw. 150k views on Free screening at 10.18 party.
  • Joey – 17 years of guitar playing experience. Makes GameBoy foot controllers
  • Dino – 3 channels of GameBoy sound.
  • Don – Visuals for 8Static. Likes simple, repetitive patterns (because he’s neurotic). Likes to remix original video game graphics (especially if they’re female)

Far McKon, Aerogami

  • Goal: 300 Paper Airplanes folded during <5 min of presentation

Jen Yuan, Web 2.0 Free Agent

  • Emailed Geoff saying she wanted to speak at Ignite Philly (2). Topic? “Smart Pet Tricks: Hacking Cats into Dogs”. Geoff sold on the topic alone.
  • Teach cats to sit, beg, high-five. And even jump through a flaming ring of fire a.k.a. hoop!!
  • 9 lives, 9 tips. The twist: These nine tips are not just for teaching real cats to do tricks. Managing programmers said to be like herding cats. These tips also apply to managing projects.
  1. Step back from your preconceptions
  2. Recruit every useful skill set
  3. Make the most of what you’ve got
  4. Get on board as early as possible
  5. Communicate expectations clearly. Use simple unambigious gestures
  6. Give immediate positive reinforcement (make a clicking sound to let them know reward/food is coming.
  7. Gradual steps. Teaching cat how to sit. Looking at you -> looking up -> (food behind ear) -> sitting down
  8. Set a realistically generous timeline
  9. Maintain what you’ve developed (do it over and over and over)

Howard Blumenthal, MiND TV

  • Worked for Viacom, MTV in their formative stages. Wouldn’t work for them now.
  • Mainstream TV not for the people. Billion dollars spent by presidential candidates on TV advertisements (contrast: $1b/yr spent on cure for cancer/cancer research). Rupert Murdoch of Fox wants to control what you watch.  “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking”
  • “By the people, for the people”. 5 minute long shows. Diverse collection of shows.11 different 5 minute programs in a hour. Channel 35 / Channel 20 (Comcast)
  • MiND TV: The New Public Television. Open Forum for sharing and learning.
  • Teaching people to make television. Recent workshop: high school students to senior citizens learning to make shows.
  • MiND TV evolving from Janice Davis: 1st person with show on MiND to new stars: 9 yr old State Fiddling chamption.

Jim Stogdill, Accenture

  • 5-yr veteran of defense contracting. Wants to bring Open Source Systems into Defense Land.
  • Eisenhower. 2nd World War. Foresees permanent armament industry of vast proportions. The military/industrial complex.
  • 50 years later, very isolated military/industrial complex
  • Inside the Defense bubble – warped version of Prisoner’s Dilemma/Nash equilibrium (No one gets what they want). CMMI/System engineering/formal systems.
  • Open source collaboration – 2 directions (e.g. don’t expect that you will not be changed)
  • Culture and Trust. Culture comes first. Trust comes later.
  • People are fractals too.

Jason Allum, RipIt

  • Building small. Little projects that you can sell. Passive income is cool.  
  • VCs not really interested in small apps/projects. 
  • Building is the easy part. Money/time/help
  • Microfinance: small amounts of money for little piece of the action
  • IndyHall Labs – framework for micro-entrepreneurship. Logical extension of IndyHall. Automates process of user buying, getting email, paying, you getting paid
  • Accounting. Real-time dashboard: Put something in, what do you get out (earnings down to the pennies)
  • Customer support: Through IndyHall labs, access diverse talent pool. Free you up to do new things.
  • Next step: community to match up projects and ideas with talent and cash.

Kristin Groenveld, ArtSphere

  • ArtSphere. Celebrating 10th anniversary
  • Bring art to people who don’t normally have access to art
  • Involve lots of different people. Get people from other countries, other parts of Philly. People isolate themselves/communities are isolated.
  • ArtSphere has events in public spaces. Everyone feel welcome. Meet someone who you might not meet in your normal sphere.
  • Fishtown Recreation Center. Good location (easily accessible via public transportation) in a neighborhood with lots of crime.
  • Fishtown Diaries I and II: Document ArtSphere and the good things going on

Harris Romanoff and Dana Schloss, MakePhilly

  • MakePhilly: Started with Craigslist posting that drew 15 random folks to Dark Horse(?)
  • 2.5 years old. 18 meetings, funded by own members
  • “All of us are makers as long as we’re willing to play”
  • “Making is more of an attitude (thing) than ability”
  • MakePhilly meetings: 1) Open make 2) Guest speakers 3) Maker challenge
  • Maker Challenge: “1 hour to make something with people you don’t know.” “In the end everyone comes up with something different”
  • Successful Maker Challenge. Rube Goldberg machine. Why? Little bit of planning but with parameters that allowed creativity (Rock’em Sock’em robot integrated into Rube Goldberg contraption)
  • Not-as-successful Maker challenge. #16 – Marble Run (Similar to Rube Goldberg). Why? No parameters. Couldn’t fit together (integration problems). Weren’t really that organized. Did not really provide materials that sparked inspiration 
  • [Note: I participated in the marble run (above) and I was thinking that it wasn’t a failure. You form an ad-hoc team. Time literally flies – you have to make decisions quickly and go with it. You’re arguing with people you don’t know – what is the line – have I crossed it? We decided and started building. Adjusted. We made something worked and we were proud of. Integration is always tough. 10 more minutes and it would have worked]
  • October 19th: Art Buggy Derby. Washington Square Park.
  • Monthly meetings. Sunday at 3pm. Next one: November 23rd

Geoff DiMasi & Paul Wright, Open Source Philadelphia

  • Declare Philly an Open Source city
  • Worked with Mayor’s office (6 months)
  • Improve on the information we share
  • Philly as place to not just work, but to live and to grow
  • Ben Franklin was an early open source pioneer
  • From video: “We talk openly. We speak honestly. We motivate, we innovate, we create. Creativity is everywhere.”
  • Open hearts, open minds. City of brotherly love. Open source city. Not just technology, communication. Greater impact than sum of parts.
ignite Philly (2) was fun. It was different from the first one. The first one, the kick-off is always unique just for being the first. The second and thereafter – those are the important ones – that prove that there is momentum. I didn’t mingle but I had a nice time meeting William (soccer coach). Yes, I should have talked to that cute girl taking notes too, right next to me.

Written by kleeruby1

September 24, 2008 at 3:20 pm

I love First Person Arts’ StorySlam

with 2 comments

What is StorySlams? Is it just one of those cool, word-of-mouth, interesting Philly happenings? I originally wrote this testimonial for First Person Arts in May 2008. Tickets for the GrandSlam competition on November 15th during the First Person Festival can now be purchased online and they will sell out in advance.

I’ve been going to First Person Arts’ StorySlams since the inaugural one. I do not have a perfect attendance record, and I believe missing a couple proves that I am not completely hooked.

In April, I had the honor of winning the StorySlam contest at the StorySlam’s Slammiversary. In the post-win afterglow, I sent out the YouTube video link of my story to some (ok, a lot) of my co-workers and friends. I was surprised to hear from some of those who watched it that they thought I had a pretty good standup routine. That it was entertaining. A few even requested that they inform them when I was performing next so they could be part of the audience.

Performing? I probably couldn’t deliver that same story again, on demand. That night, for the first time in my history of StorySlams, I was relaxed (and in the words of awesome storyteller Juliet Wayne who I adore) and was able to be myself and tell my story, going off multiple tangents. Traditionally, prior to getting picked (or not picked), I’d be a non-conversational nervous recluse. However, in April, storyteller Ingrid Wiese spotted me when I entered and invited me to sit down at her table with friends (including Juliet). Well before the magical moment at the end of the night when my name was drawn as the final storyteller of the evening, I was relaxed and having fun.

Sadly, I feel that my friends who see my winning story as a good stand-up routine are missing what StorySlams is about. I never went to StorySlams to win. I go to StorySlams to hear other people tell their own stories and learn from them. To hear that some people don’t actually obsessively think, dissect, and analyze before doing something.

At the inaugural StorySlam, I told my story of how moving to Philly from the suburbs was a stretch for me and how insecure I felt, relating how I actually turned off my lights on those first few Friday nights to pretend (to myself and my neighbors) that I had gone out while sitting alone in the dark. I followed that initial story with a stream of similar but different stories about my insecurities and weaknesses. Even with opening my kimono and revealing myself, I never scored highly, and I resigned myself to not realistically ever winning. Yet, I was addicted to StorySlams – the variety of storytellers hooked me – it quickly became one of my favorite aspects about living in Philly. Even if I had a long day at work that particular Tuesday, I would drag myself over to L’Etage and walk in and feel at home. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the attention/sense of power I’d feel because I’d become part of the regular lineup of storytellers. However, the point I want to make is this: when I go to a typical bar/event, I usually feel out of place. I’ve always felt at StorySlams that I didn’t have to try to be anyone, I could just go there, go up and reveal myself and be me. And people actually liked it. After one of my stories, an audience member once complimented me that she liked how “I tell my insecure stories insecurely.”

While I still struggle with getting out of my cube/getting out of my apartment, I feel that StorySlams and First Person Arts has helped me find a sense of belonging to something in Philly. I’ve met some interesting and unique friends who I would not otherwise have connected with through this monthly celebration of storytelling. I’ve even been recognized on the street more than once. I don’t claim to know where my life is exactly going now, and I feel that StorySlams has become part of my personal story, as I work on revising who I am now to who I want to become. Some people say that you have to be brave to get up there and tell a story, and I’ve never felt it was a big deal – which makes me realize that some things which I think are a big deal aren’t really.

Written by kleeruby1

September 21, 2008 at 7:45 am

Congratulations, IndyHall on your 1st Anniversary

leave a comment »

Alex Hillman at Indy Hall's opening party

Alex @ Indy Hall's opening

Congratulations to Alex Hillman, Geoff DiMasi, and Bart Mroz* on the 1st anniversary of Indy Hall!! (* – Yes, Bart has officially stepped down but he really stepped up in the formative days of Indy Hall)

I was fortunate to meet Alex Hillman back in September of 2006 at the 1st CreativeCamp. CC was organized by CMAccess to bring the success of the BarCamp to Philly. Kristin Motta, the co-founder of CMAccess who impressed me as an amazing brilliant confident individual, introduced Alex, an amazing brilliant confident individual with piercings, at the first CreativeCamp in Philly.

Kristin introduced Alex’s talk with the most enthusiasm and expectation of the day – saying that what he was going to talk about was awesome. Co-working. Co-working in Philly. I don’t remember what he said – it’s been too long – but you could tell this kid was passionate. Co-working seemed brilliant, simple but not easy. I do remember Lauren Galanter demonstrating her wicked creative brilliance by coming up with the perfect name on the spot that combined co-working and the spirit of Philly.

After the talk, since Alex asked for help finding the right space, I emailed Alex about following up with a guy who did commercial real estate that I had met through triathlons. That follow-up went nowhere. I lost touch, as I usually do.

Then, about a year later, in late summer of 2007, I was stunned and happy to read in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the impending grand opening of Indy Hall, the very next day. Alex Hillman had gone and done it. So many people have a big idea – how many people make it so… I had underestimated Alex. In fact, even now, I’m not sure how to estimate Alex. I logged into LinkedIn the other day and one of the suggested contacts was this Alex Hillman guy (and I only have a handful of LinkedIn contacts!)

I went to the grand opening to congratulate Alex. And to tell him, in awe and astonishment, that he pulled it off. I was surprised that he remembered who I was. Tara Hunt and Chris Messina of Citizen Space were there to support Alex, as well. I didn’t know how important they were to Indy Hall’s opening until afterwards. Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine.TV, an extrovert’s extrovert, was also there. Yet, he was a relative wallflower at the party much – it was Alex’s day, he didn’t take the spotlight, just wore his ‘Local Celebrity’ shirt.

At the 1st anniversary party, watching the IndyHall community mingle and party, I couldn’t help but think that it *might* have been possible for maybe a few of the IndyHall members to have met in random, serendipitous real world circumstances… and with the founding of IndyHall – their connecting and meeting became *inevitable*

About once-a-month I go to Indy Hall to co-work (hopefully Dana’s cupcake Thursdays!). I am intrigued by the people. As someone who is (for now) ensconced in the comfort of his day job, I find it inspiring to be able to hang out (for the day) and be in the company of creative/freelance/entrepreneurial types. Someday. Thank you to Indy Hall for letting me hang out in the club house, even though I keep myself only tangentially involved.

Written by kleeruby1

September 3, 2008 at 2:32 am

A Brief History of by Andy Baio

with 3 comments

Waxy,, Web2.0, Post-Yahoo Acquisition Timeline

“A Tale of Three .Orgs” (Talk given by Andy Baio at 6/04/2008 PDX Web Innovators meeting)

Bram Pitoyo’s writeup:

It started with a script that Andy wrote. He published the result of the script which used a dictionary word list to find available domains on his website, and he registered the three .org’s he liked (,,

A couple of months before launched, Andy started He said that the process of starting a blog was the most important decision he ever made (and he didn’t know it at the time…).

In this first post on dated April 14, 2002, he set three rules for

  1. No journaling. He believes that you have to be a really good writer to make your personal experiences relevant to people who don’t know you. [I believe this is why most blogs of the personal nature aren’t successful]
  2. No tired memes (at the time, there were memes going around like what kind of smurf were you – this is still prevalent today with the 50 questions)
  3. The most important. Be original. Don’t write stuff that other people are writing. [When I look at today, the fact that you can deep-dive into his archives and be entertained and fascinated for hours is proof Andy creates interesting, original content.]

The purpose of these three rules? Add value.

According to Andy, starting was of immeasurable value.

  1. It raised Andy’s visibility beyond that of his personal social networks. Within one year after launched, Andy was cited in the NYTimes five different times by five different writers. became an influence on mainstream media
  2. It was a platform for launching his future projects. The blog post on the upcoming launch of
  3. His blog connected him to like-minded people.
  4. Through, Andy has pretty much been able to meet everyone he cares about and admires.

“So many people are not producing, they have it backwards. Don’t try to develop an audience. Blog what you love. Write what you care about.” – Andy talking about blogging or the genesis of was Andy’s first (of the three) .org site. It was going to be a place to get like-minded people to meetup.

Andy had been meeting with a group of geeks in the LA area. He liked the whole thing of meeting people from virtual communities. He wanted to make software to enable that experience. He started working on on the side. He had a nightmare dealing with recurring dates. Then, launched (June 2002). When launched, he was beaten to market. He abandoned

Lesson #1 of startups from Andy: “Finish it. Don’t take time off from it.”

Andy Baio speaking at PDX Web Innovators in June 2008

Started January 2003. Following his first lesson, he did not stop until it was ready nine months later.

The Ebay/pez-like inspiration: He always loved live music but he was terrible remembering.

Friend [day after interesting band played]: “That was awesome”

Andy: “Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

Friendster was hot at the time. The social network du jour.

Andy’s novel idea: Treat the event like a blog post. Let people connect on it and build their friend network. Result: Events would be automatically known by friends, sharing of events.

The first version of was pretty rough.

Side note: Andy is big on high-resolution, pixel-perfect mockups done in Photoshop. He cannot imagine a site from a rough wireframe.

[The wireframes he showed looked very good. Like what you would expect from a major design house. I believe Andy’s design sensibilities are way way above the average developer and probably was a big factor for’s success.]

Andy did the design of’s logo himself. He commented that it looks great on old school baseball jersey tops (which they gave away/wore).

Upcoming in 2003:

2003. Rough site launched. Barely functional. He held a beta month before.

Point: It was good enough. Put it out. The feedback that came back so validated the September 2003 launch.

[Side note: question from audience about the “watching feature”. Andy said people were confused from the beginning (His intent: this event looks cool, will let friends know, not actually attending]

Then the project stopped completely in June 2004. He killed the project development. His son was born.

He said pick two out of three:

  1. Day job
  2. Side project
  3. Baby.

As a result, all work stopped for eight months, but kept on growing slowly.

There were more people using it, but the use was not really exploding.

The Infoworld Article fires momentum


John Udell wrote an article about He loved it but said it was lacking, suggested an open API.

After Udell article, Andy publicly committed in his Upcoming blog post. He promised all stuff out within a week. Andy’s blog post announcing his commitment:

Andy decided to bring on two friends, Gordon Luk and Leonard Lin, as partners to help get the stuff done. The partners split the commitment-based work. One crazy week later, he and his two new partners launched with an API, tagging, email, SMS.

Andy’s blog post one week later:

“Evite was the old (Web 1.0), Upcoming was the new (Web 2.0)” – Tim O’Reilly Web 2.0 white paper

White paper:

People were building applications on the API.

Upcoming was a micro startup. But Upcoming’s influence was disproportionate to its size. Heavy SV influence. Very active in SF. It had Robert Scoble writing about it all the time.

Yahoo acquisition process

In July of 2005, Andy got an email from Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr. Flickr had just been acquired by Yahoo. Caterina had been tasked with bringing the cool back to Yahoo.

The Yahoo Acquisition via Caterina Fake was an outgrowth of connections Andy had made through Andy originally started connecting with Caterina via Metafilter and various blogs

“Friends doing great work/able to bring/pull up others with them” – Andy’s musing

So, Andy and his two partners were brought in to meet with Yahoo Local.

The acquisition process

Patentable IP, just a website (easy for the acquisition lawyers on the Yahoo side)

Side note: patentable IP – qualifies for taxable long-term capital gains!

Back of envelope calculations – Andy decided, partners agreed (cannot discuss split)

Negotiations – they doubled money they were asking for.

Did they have a lawyer? Of course! Same lawyer that used later.

Three meetings later, acquired October 2005.

At the Web 2.0 conference at which Yahoo announced its acquisition of, Andy was actually already there on a press-pass (via his writer credentials)

Becoming part of Yahoo

Entrepreneur naivety: You sell site, then do something else

Reality: You sell site, get a new title, maintain site

Good parts:

  1. Brilliant people hidden in the nooks ‘n cannies of the rank-and-file. Even rank-and-file were great/smart (, mybloglog, Yahoo pipes)
  2. Full-time focus – so wonderful/great to go full-time on upcoming
  3. Platform technology
  4. Able to replace sketchy roll-your-own geo-locating technology (e.g. ‘same event listed in multiple SF locations’) with “WhereOnEarth”. The same geoplatform that powers the Flickr geo stuff

At the time, Yahoo’s standard platform = PHP. written in Perl -> lots of changes

Andy wrote upcoming in PHP, easier. He admitted he was not the best programmer in world – PHP code he wrote not the best. But it did the job.

Since the Yahoo acquisition, every lick of code rewritten.

The Not-so-great parts

  1. 3-person company -> 14,000 person company (bureaucracy)
  2. Technical integration with other parts of Yahoo: very hard, time-consuming,
  3. Drew away from things/features? (for organic growth). The time-consuming integration with Yahoo News/search (was not external traffic, was sort of artificial traffic – coming from normal Yahoo visitors)
  4. Complexity – tremendous amount, once acquired by Yahoo they had to switch to their APIs/platform

However, everyone benefits from the acquisition. became more stable, more powerful than ever would have been just with Andy’s limited resources. At the time of the acquisition (2005), he had just doubled servers. To 2 leased servers.

How Upcoming works behind the scenes at Yahoo:

  1. Yahoo – integration with search and local – Upcoming became the event infrastructure for all of Yahoo
  2. Yahoo! page inline widgets – Upcoming powers the event listings
  3. Yahoo Auto – auto events, powered by upcoming

Upcoming had good APIs (benefited integration). Occasionally, had to expose private APIs but in general, API-level integration.

Not every event had to be added by Yahoo user -> event feed auto-pulled stuff in

Upcoming metro – replaced by Yahoo GeoSearch (no more double-booking, one booking in wrong metro area)

Upcoming was never intended to be a business. Wasn’t even a company, never even incorporated (LLC). Yahoo M&A guys, doing due diligence, it was easy for them. 3 guys, leased servers, website (IP)

Lesson #2 of startups – “Build for yourself. Build something you love. Build with smallest team possible. Bootstrap yourself.”

Andy didn’t leave his day job at financial firm until acquired (link to Dimensional Fund Advisors).

No overlap with firm – conflict/of/interest. Andy worked nights and mornings on upcoming.

Yes, of course, occasionally he had to tweak the site while at work.

On the other hand, much bigger problem if work at an Internet/technology firm. Yahoo: One of Andy’s partners wanted to start Pizza shop – couldn’t do it – real/potential Yahoo food+local conflicts

In fact, Pixar anecdote: Pixar one of best offices to work in (Andy’s opinion – he got to tour the SV landscape) they have right of first refusal – you have to tell them what you’re working on. They invariably say no – go ahead as soon as they do

Advice: if any conflict, don’t do it. Try not to do something employer would want.

Andy’s big BUT (even though acquired) “not to do it to seek acquisition exit”

Lesson #3 of startups – “Do it well. Find an audience. At the very least, people will like you (provide something of value)”


Post-Yahoo, post-integration, when contract up last Nobember, Andy was offered to work on some really interesting things (can’t talk about because of NDA) at Yahoo.

Feeling “working on something you built for someone else” <- not the same

Andy left – walked away with more flexibility + options

After leaving Yahoo, Andy moved to Portland – able to buy bigger home (was in Palo Alto)

Andy loves Portland’s DIY culture. It is different from SV: Classic Silicon Valley mindset like the 6th & Sunset strip in Hollywood in the 80s: “We’re going to get signed with a major label” mind-in-clouds/ mentality

Why are you building it <- Silicon Valley mindset/commercial goals

In the time since his son was born, the whole site has been neglected (time to devote focus on waxy again)

This year (2008), Andy went to GDC. He loves the Indy Game movement. It was a mind-expanding experience (GDC)

He believes Gamedev lags web 2.0.

His Startup idea??? Something about games and dropped a clue: Providing a way for creators to make money doing what they love

Andy has been meeting with Rael Dornfest (former CTO of O’Reilly Technology). They have “Bottle Cap labs”: every week pick a project/launch it

Question and Answers

When was the tipping point?

It happened early on. There were some bizzare uses of

  • College town – spike – only 2 or 3 individuals to get anonymous college town on upcoming. Just a few dedicated people
  • China – Americans in China following soccer, using upcoming for gatherings

The core users shine through. To do this day, enough people using site. PDX WI event top event in Portland. Yahoo! brass annoyed populist event like Britney Spears concert #2 billing to some tech gathering. However, what other way can measure activity vs implict/explicit activity

Andy wanted website to become more popular/more events get advertised. Very large audience who likes to lurk – 95-98% of Yahoo just going to look. While at Yahoo, he tried to get Upcoming to become more Yelp like (reviews, consumed by Lurkers).

Inappropriate events

“Class of frustrating behavior” -> flat out abuse

Nigerian spammers discovering upcoming (using private msging feature)

Fought back with heruristics to do analysis of incoming private messages/event listings

Great hack : Send all private site messages through spam assasin

Noman’s land – other banned users – only other banned users can see what banned users do

The Yahoo acquisition, transitioning the users

Comparing how Blogger did it with how Flickr did it:

  • Blogger: Big redesign, new features, just use new Google account)
  • Flickr (no new features, sent emails month in advance)

Upcoming (like Blogger approach, old school people free t-shirts)

“The deck”

Hates most forms of web advertising. But loves “The deck”. Different sites, no CPM love it. network of high-profile sites

Written by kleeruby1

July 31, 2008 at 3:16 pm