Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for May, 2004


Posted by shannonclark on May 25, 2004

or a conferences I will go, a conferences I will go…

This is both the end of Spring (okay perhaps not technically but Memorial Day always seems the beginning of Summer to me) and the start of intensive conference attendance for me, with about a day and a half of semi-break in there.

Starting later today (Tuesday), I will be attending MetaGroup’s Metamorphosis conference here in Chicago. Each year this is one of the best conferences that I attend in terms of networking, information, and range of people attending. It is a very technical conference, with an extremely high percentage of the conference attendees who are CIO’s or other senior IT managers. Great networking and great learning, I hope that this year it will help me spread the word about MeshForum as well as help me position the software and consulting work that I do via JigZaw Inc.

2003/4 has not been my best year in terms of completed sales or revenue, but it is from networking at conferences such at MetaMorphosis that can help address that. Further by continueing to learn the cutting edge of IT thought leadership, and via learning directly from IT managers (and other business leaders) what real technology needs are out there I add to my value as a consultant and advisor to clients and enhance what I can deliver. Directly and via partners I have access to very advanced technology and to amazingly skilled programmers and researchers, my goal now leverage that to deliver real solutions to corporations and help them address compelling business needs.

My view of technology is that fundementally it is best used to solve complex problems by presenting them well, by automating that which can be automated, and by enhancing and leveraging that which cannot be automated. Much of technology is developed and deployed with very little attention to how the technology’s use (as deployed) will positively impact the overall business. What I tell my clients is that there are typically many ways to solve a given problem, the key is thinking about what the current (and future) needs really are and the building from there, keeping in mind that simple, easy to use technology that rapidly shows value to all levels of users within the corporation tends to be the technology that delivers the greatest value.

As an independent company I am able to use the right set of technology for a given problem. Admittedly my technical expertise is strongest in writing software with a web front end interface, but fundementally my focus is typically more on the enterprise level than on the marketing/sales/consumer user level. Most of the systems I have written, maintained, and deployed have been enterprise in scope and design.

MetaMorphosis goes until Thusday at noon, however it is very likely that I will miss it on Thursday as I need to go from Chicago to Madison Thursday. Thursday afternoon and Friday (for most of the day) is my partial vacation. My girlfriend and I will be going to Wiscon which starts Friday late afternoon and runs until mid-day Monday. Each year Wiscon is the one science fiction convention that I attend. In a large part it is because many friends of mine, who live all over the country also attend it, but it is also very much because it is a very academically focused conference and one that each year helps inspire me to keep writing. It is also the very rare Science Fiction convention where I not only actually do attend panels, but where I typically am annoyed that there are so many panels occurring at the same time that I would like to attend, something that really only very rarely has occurred at any other Science Fiction convention that I have attended in the past.

This year as I attend these conferences I will be looking at them with a very different eye as I am deeply engaged in the planning of my own conference, MeshForum. Now besides taking advantage of the conference itself, I will be looking at the organization behind the conference, at the number of staff and volunteers, at the way in which panels are scheduled and organized (and moderated where that occurs) at how people are engaged and introduced to each other (or not as the case may be), at the work that goes into the conference before, during, and after it happens.

Earlier today I met with a very good friend of mine, who unfortunately has been recently diagnosed with a tumor on his spinal cord. Today was his last day (we hope) of radiation treatment and he is beginning to feel better and have more energy. He has agreed to help me line up sponsors for MeshForum, something I really appreciate and think will indeed help me considerably. His background is in publishing and marketing, he has published a magazine focused on the college market for well over a decade, and during that time has built up relationships with many national advertisers, many of whom are very logical sponsors for MeshForum. Over the next week while I am at my various conferences, he will be working with me on putting together a sponsorship package and sending it out to hundreds of potential sponsors for feedback and hopefully many checks.

When I return on Monday from Wiscon, I have a day to catch up and then on Wednesday I may be attending yet another conference, this one a smaller one day event sponsored by Fortune magazine here in Chicago, haven’t yet confirmed that I will be attending that as I am also waiting on confirmation about a few small projects that may be starting next week as well.

In short a busy week. I will try to post if I have time both about MetaMorphosis, MeshForum (if there is any news) and about Wiscon.

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BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Micro-budget film wows Cannes

Posted by shannonclark on May 18, 2004

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Micro-budget film wows Cannes

A film that gets shown in prestigious categories at Cannes, made for hundreds of dollars (now about $400,000 when all the rights have been cleared).

This is of interest to me for a number of reasons.

One, I like the idea of truly independent, homemade film being able to be brought to this level.

Two, I have ideas for taking something like this and moving it to another level, I think that this will not be unusual very much more, that there is an opportunity to take truly independent film and find a way to show it and distribute it profitably.

Three, the rights issues are one that I think will be increasingly important. Not just for music, but with the rise in “pay for placement” it is possible that in the not too distant future to use a brand name product you will have to have the rights to it to show it. Already it is clear if you watch “reality” TV that only those products and services that pay for placement are allowed to be shown on screen.

In a way it is not unlike the 555.5555 numbers in films, a small, but telling, note of unreality in “reality”.

Another is language, “reality” shows are bound by the same restrictions on language (and sexual content and violence) that the rest of TV here in the US are bound by.

I wonder if it is possible to leverage this and technology to create new forms and modes of content. Is it possible to find new ways to merge TV and Web content, is it possible to use Semantic Web type approaches to manage the data streams around content.

Then via managing them, a well as leveraging the most advanced audio and video editing technologies, will it be possible to create content on your personal laptop that rivals anything seen previously today.


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Finding a post office

Posted by shannonclark on May 18, 2004

or why design matters

So, last night I went looking on the USPS website for the address and location of the main post office in Chicago, the one that is open 24hrs.

I challenge you to find it.

Really – by the tools provided on the USPS website, it is essentially an impossible task.

Find a post office somewhere near your particular zipcode, perhaps, though no matter what you do they seem to assume you only want to find a post office because you want to purchase stamps (ignoring that you might, say, want to send a birthday package that needs to be weighed).

Try finding a post office not in your zipcode, in say an unknown zipcode.

Yes, they do let you put in a city. Sure, that helps if you live in the middle of Kansas, but I live in the middle of Chicago, we have hundreds of post offices, a search by Chicago, IL (no zip) returns ones mostly on the south side, but in no particular order. As well, when you look at the results, they show a grand total of 5 at a time, with not even an indication of how many more are available, or any way to sort/further search them.

You can’t for example, search for a post office “still open” or “open 24hrs” or “which can take packages” etc, etc, etc.

Highly annoying.

In fact, I may go so far as to say that the USPS website is one of the single worst designed sites I have seen. Primarily because like everything else from the USPS (more on this in a moment) it assumes that either you are looking for a very small handful of tasks they assume you might want (buy stamps) OR you know exactly what you want and just need it (for some reason) i.e. you know the address already, you know the strange codes and names they use etc.

Offline they are not much better, in fact I might say they are, if possible, even worse. In order to find it I then looked in the Yellow Pages (well technically the blue pages where government offices are listed).

They list the 50+ some post offices in Chicago with nothing to note about any of them other than a very obscure name (Fort Dearborn, Haymarket, etc). All have the SAME phone number listed, an 800 number.

When you call it, you are then given a very long list of 7 options (not one of which appears to be “talk with a human”), then selecting the one that appears to be potentially “I want to find a post office” you are asked “please put in your zipcode”.

I refused.

It then demanded again.

I refused.

Finally it let me talk to a human, after first having a chance to select whether I wanted to hear the USPS privacy policy.

Then what is the first question the woman who answered the phone wanted? Yup, what is my zipcode.

Why this is so important I really don’t know. But it is highly irritating and annoying – I seriously thought about lying completely, because I did NOT care one whit about finding a post office near my zipcode. Rather, I had a very, very specific post office I wanted to find – one that would be open 24hr, which I knew was in Chicago, I just didn’t know the address – which since I was getting this information for someone else was what I wanted to know.

After a lot of effort, she finally did find it, apparently she has a way of searching for a 24hr post office, but why mere customers aren’t allowed to do this, I really don’t know.

So, take a look and see why the site is so user unfriendly.


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The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: Integration Day

Posted by shannonclark on May 17, 2004

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: Integration Day


I am a straight male. As a liberal independent, I’m not one of the conservatives Andrew talks about, however I have say I to do not understand the position of “pro-family” conservatives who then turn around and say that people asking to be allowed to marry and create families.

Yes, marriage creates a lot of rights (some 140 or so I think I’ve read elsewhere), but it also creates a lot of burdens and requirements. Marriage, even setting aside whatever religious elements, is a unification of two people and their families, making a commitment to each other and to their community with at least the intention of that commitment lasting a lifetime.

In an age where they say that 50% of all marriages will end in divorce I would think that people who in many cases have raised families together already, but now would like legal recognition, would be a cause many people would support. (though I have also recently read some articles casting some doubt on that statistic, mostly because there are some groups where divorce is very high, and others where divorce rates are actually quite low).

This weekend I went to a wedding, a friend of my girlfriends. It was a non-denominational service, presided over by a judge, held at the Adler Planetarium. It was a nice ceremony, the food was better than expected, we danced a bit and got home when we wanted to.

Later this year I will be attending weddings of two of my best friends, one in Israel and one in India. I expect each will be very large, highly emotional affairs and exciting in very different ways. Hopefully Julia will be able to join me on both trips and we will find a way to spend some time relaxing with each other. We may not have a lot of time in Israel, and we’re a bit worried about the security situation there, but perhaps we’ll be able to spend some time in Paris before or after going to Israel.

In India, which will be in December, we hopefully will be able to take a couple of weeks and travel around.

I mention this because as we approach a year of dating, and our first few months of living together, I begin to get a small taste of what marriage might be like, already the just a year ago incomprehensible concept of planning trips with someone almost a year away is beginning to seem natural, pretty amazing.

Many of my friends are not straight. I hope that sometime I will be flying across the world to attend their marriage.

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The New Republic Online: That’s the Ticket

Posted by shannonclark on May 11, 2004

The New Republic Online: That’s the Ticket

A good argument and one that I find personally compelling. I am an independent – uncomfortable with both parties (and very uncomfortable with the current Republican party in particular).

I am socially very liberal, but I do respect McCain – a Kerry-McCain ticket is a great ticket in my mind, for all of these reasons and many more.

A personal reason I would like this type of ticket is that it would also stretch the definition of each party quite considerably, and it would enhance the efforts of many to move the country back to the center vs. the opposing extremes we seem to be drifting towards.

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musicplasma : the music visual search engine

Posted by shannonclark on May 9, 2004

musicplasma : the music visual search engine

Okay this is perhaps the best new search engine I have seen – not perfect, but pretty darn good.

You put in an artist (or group) and it then displays in a very intuative (and informative) fashion a lot of related groups, along with discographies etc for that artist. Very, very cool.

Some of the more obscure groups that I like it did not have, but mostly it was very, very good.

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Gmail, MeshForum and other items of note

Posted by shannonclark on May 5, 2004

So, I have been invited (as a blogger user) to try Gmail – and I will start testing it shortly – looking forward to it. Shannon.Clark at if you want to send me something.

That said, I am having some problems getting into it, perhaps they have expanded the trial a bit past the breaking point?

Anyway, that is not, by any means, the biggest news. Rather the big news for me at the moment on a business front is the progress that MeshForum is making. We have set the date – Oct 10-13th. The place: here in Chicago, almost certainly at a very cool and creative corporate meeting space in Chicago’s west loop.

We are starting to get speakers to commit and agree to come and speak. More on that in a few days and in upcoming weeks as we confirm all the details and start to make announcements.

So, if you would like attend MeshForum you have a few options:

– Sponsor MeshForum (sponsorships are available starting at $5000, which includes one person from your organization, perhaps you, attending MeshForum and sponsors two people not from your organization to attend and participate. Sponsorships at greater levels are available, they will allow for more people from your organization, as well as pay for more people not from your organization. At some levels it will also include prominent placement on the MeshForum website and marketing materials, as well as many other benefits – contact me for more details

– Get invited by a sponsor of MeshForum – find us a sponsor, get them to invite you. 🙂

– Get invited by another attendee (and paid for). If you like, you can invite them as well – i.e. any group of people can invite each other, sign up together and pay for each other.

Yes, this is, itself, an exercise in networking.

The first 50 attendees can pay for each other at the rate of $1500/person, which includes reception and dinner on Sunday, all meals on Monday and Tuesday and breakfast (and probably lunch) on Wednesday. More importantly than the food, however, it includes 4 days of networking and learning with experts on Networks After the first 50 attendees, prices will be going up to $2000, and will likely go up to $2500 after the first 100 attendees.

Of course, contact me for more details and how to pay etc.

Suggestions are very welcome – contact me or comment here if you have any (and feel free to comment on MeshForum about anything we have posted there, we’re very open to feedback and suggesitons – we’ll be making a lot of announcements in the upcoming weeks and months, join the updates mailing list there to make sure you get them.

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Science Fiction Citations – OED words

Posted by shannonclark on May 2, 2004

Science Fiction Citations

A list from a project of the OED to gather citations of words from Science Fiction – very cool reading and quite interesting.

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Science Fiction Citations – OED words

Posted by shannonclark on May 2, 2004

Science Fiction Citations

A list from a project of the OED to gather citations of words from Science Fiction – very cool reading and quite interesting.

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