Software

I’ve learned about computers from my dad. He brought home as TRS-80 Model I when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and we had a series of those early computers in the house from that time onwards.

For some reason BASIC didn’t catch with me, but I did a lot of programming in dBASE and acquired an early appreciation for high-level languages and database architecture. I started my career as a paid programmer at the age of ten, making $10/hour coding mailing list management systems for local businesses.

In college I got my first exposure to the new Macintosh computers and learned how to make maps with an early version of Freehand and it’s closer relative, Pagemaker. I did a lot of freelance work as a Mac expert in those days. Font Manager, hell yes! I then returned to San Francisco to help my father launch a company using Uniface, one of the major high level database-driven development environments of the day. Although that company didn’t get far off the ground, it was my launching point for a very fun couple of years doing development, software architecture, and management consulting at Compuware. I don’t know how I knew what I was talking about, but it seems that I did, because our projects were successful and clients liked us.

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The athletic mind

I’m not totally sure that “sports” is the right word, but I can’t think of what else covers climbing, backpacking, hiking, trail running, swimming, sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and all the other things that I love to do outdoors. Perhaps I could be more specific and say “outdoor sports”, since I’m not really into football, baseball, basketball, golf and that sort of thing. But, for now anyhow: “Sports”.

We are our bodies. While we can philosophize about the universe of the mind, the mind is carried around in the meat of the brain, and the brain by the body. And: our bodies need to be active. Physical activity keeps us healthly, stimulates our senses and literally gets the blood flowing to the brain. Being active is enlightening – and usually helps to keep us lighter. 

God is Nature. You might have some other idea about God also is, but it’s pretty had to argue that – if you believe in some sort of God – that God doesn’t include Nature. And if you don’t believe in “God” (I don’t), well, then, Nature is God. And, Nature is the ultimate inspiration.

Put the two together, and it becomes clear that it’s hard to beat being active, outdoors. I was lucky to have parents that introduced me to the joy of outdoor activity at a very early age, and as much as I love business, software, people and all sorts of other things, I want to spend as much time outside as possible. Nothing makes me feel more awesome than being active in nature.

Foiling in the Marshalls
Foiling in the Marshalls
Foiling in Pohnpei
Foiling in Pohnpei

These days the sports I focus on most are kitesurfing, open-water swimming, and paragliding, with a bit of trail running, indoor climbing and cycling thrown in. (Actually, I love to ride bicycles and I feel increasingly that I want to ditch my car and ride everywhere, but it’s hard to be a kitesurfer without a car…) I’m a team rider for Boardriding Maui, Alpinefoil, Kurtis Eyewear, and Surfin Sem Fim. Ask me anything – I love talking gear, technique, and travel.

Conferences are Awesome!

Let’s face it, most conferences suck.

But they don’t have to. I can help make your conference awesome! I started AdMonsters in 1999 and it grew to become a highly acclaimed and uniquely valuable conference series and professional community. With the addition of OPS in 2011, we produced more than 100 conferences in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Singapore, and Brazil, and AdMonsters continues to be a great success today as part of the Access Intelligence family of companies.

If you have the feeling that your conference could be better, I can help. I started AdMonsters as an enthusiastic practitioner. That’s a nice way to say that I had no idea what I was doing, and it took me a long time to learn how to produce not only a great conference, but to do so smoothly and repeatedly, and to keep it fresh along the way.

Read on for further thoughts about conferences, and get in touch if you’d like to talk about how to make your conference awesome!

Geography

The cliché is that most people think geography is about memorizing state capitals and the primary exports of countries – and that is in fact where my journey with geography started, in 7th grade. We would sharpen our pencils and get ready for yet another quiz, trying to remember if Togo is between Ghana and Benin, or the other way around…

When I arrived at UC Berkeley to start college, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, so I picked up the catalog and started thumbing through it, looking for classes that sounded interesting. For those of you that know what these were like, the catalog was just like a telephone book – thick, heavy, dense and printed on newsprint.

As it turned out, many of the classes that attracted me were in – of all things – the Geography department. Geography offered an incredible diversity of topics. I took classes on the shape of rivers, the migration of species, why windmills are where they are, making maps, and the economics of cities, just to name a few. I learned that geography covers, well, just about everything – and that it is a highly integrative was of looking at things. Geography is about the shape and phenomena of the earth, its inhabitants, and how they interact. It’s about how everything is connected.

Geography isn’t just about capitols. It’s a lens to look at the world. You can think about the geography of anything: where languages are spoken, mapping the Internet, the rise of the “creative class”, sacred geography, or maps as an art form. In many ways I am a geographer at heart, and this way of thinking informs many other parts of my life.

Read my posts on geography for more!

Why do you go to conferences?

Why do you go to conferences? A break from work? The chance to meet new people? Want to learn something? Got a project you’re working on that you need help with? A trip on the company dime? Looking for a job? Just want to have fun?

Now, think about what the conference is designed for. What is the purpose of the conference? Organizers have different reasons for putting on conferences, and those reasons may or may not line up with your own. Great conferences have a very clear reason for being, and organizers of great conferences will be transparent about the purpose of the conference and help you determine if the conference is a good fit for you.

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Not perfectly informed

I like being informed but not perfectly informed.

These days it’s very easy to get nearly perfect information. Google Maps is comprehensive and up-to-the-minute. TripAdvisor covers the planet, as does AirBnb and Uber. If you’re just about anywhere you can buy a local SIM card, turn on cellular roaming, and never get lost or have a bad meal.

It’s no accident that some of my best travel experiences have been guided by crappy, out of date maps. I do read guidebooks and use all the online services, but I also like to leave something out. Read up, and then leave the data at home. Ask around. See what you can figure out from something in another language. Turn left three times. Have fun!

Who owns that conference?

Conferences, right? I know, super exciting. But I bet you’ve been to a lot of ’em, and only a few have been really great.

It’s a bit of a paradox that there is a conference for everything (I’ve been the a conference about, yes, conferences), and yet most people hear “conference” and roll their eyes. Conferences are boring, conferences kinda suck, conferences are just ok – but I just heard about this cool new conference about…

Why are some conferences great, and some not so great? One thing that makes a huge difference is who owns the conference. Most people don’t think much about it, but conferences are owned and produced in various ways, each of which has some pros and cons.

If you’ve never considered it before, ask yourself: how is the conference organizer making money? 

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It’s not “content”

Words wear out. Linguists know this, but we lose track.

Some words are just junk to begin with, empty euphemisms that we hide behind. Would a writer ever refer to anything she was proud of having written as “content”. Seriously? No way. I wrote it, it’s writing, it’s a story, it’s an essay, it’s – at least – a post. “Content” is what you fill a box with, when you don’t care what it’s filled with. So, no, I don’t create content. If you want content, get some sawdust.

Turn Left Three Times

One of my personal maxims is Turn Left Three Times.

Tom Stoppard wrote eloquently about this in his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:

“A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until — “My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look!” recites the crowd. “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.”

While I could just be guilty of avoiding the hedonic treadmill, or having a novelty bias, I think it’s true that too many people observing something extraordinary makes it ordinary. If a place is popular, unfortunately it’s probably also over-run and commercialized. And I don’t really like crowds.

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Zoned into it

I met someone at random the other night at The Interval (an awesome place, by the way!) and he told me about a project that a certain Very Large web company is getting underway down at Moffett Field. He was starting to explain how the project was organized and funded within the company and I said that it sounded like they had been “zoned into it”, meaning of course that the company had agreed to do X in exchange for the city allowing them to do Y, as related to how the land was zoned from a planning and developing point of view. So, they didn’t volunteer to do it, they got zoned into it.