Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for August, 2007

Time, attention and our social networks

Posted by shannonclark on August 28, 2007

What we pay attention to, what we care about, shapes, influences and defines our social networks.

(by Esther Dyson)

Consider the most basic units of time – timezones and the definition of the week. Broadly speaking the timezone(s) we focus our attention upon define (mostly) our primary social circles. This is not always, as Cory Doctorow points out in his book Eastern Standard Tribe, the same as the timezone where we live – but it is usually.

Likewise, how we define when the week starts and ends is a major factor in defining our primary social circles. Here in the US this may seem redundant – the weekend is Sat & Sun, the week Mon – Fri (usually thought of as the week starts on Monday, ends on Sunday.

However for religious Jews or Muslims here in the US and for most of the Middle East, the week starts on Sunday (which is a workday, not a day of rest) and ends on Saturday, with Friday being part of the weekend – and Friday night (sundown) to Saturday night defining the holy day each week.

In the US most religious Jews and Muslims have to accommodate the US pattern, so they work on Friday until before sundown.

And for many of us (myself included) who are non-religious Saturday and Sunday are “the weekend” but do not have a significant difference – one day or the other is not a special “day of rest” or imbued with religious meaning.

But think about how just a simple fact about how you perceive the week defines crucial social differences. If you treat Friday night as a religious occasion whether or not you know each other in any other respect you have something vital in common. Of course if you are Jewish and another person is Muslim many other differences might soon show up – but you start from a common view of time – one which is different from the majority here in the US.

Further, if you treat Sunday as a religious occasion – i.e. you focus on a regular “go to church” activity most Sundays – separate from which church you attend (or even if you make it to Church most Sundays) you share something. You might also fall into the category (limited mostly to the US) of thinking “Sunday afternoon = Football” which would be a further grouping. These groups have some overlap – but not 100%.

My point is that a common perception of time defines potential groups. If you and I do not share many of our focuses and definitions of time – if what you consider important about 2008, about each Sunday, about next month, about the end of Summer etc are all different from what I am focused on, then we are in some literal way from different worlds. We may still find overlap, find a set of common interests and create common foci but it will be much harder.

If, instead, we build from a set of some common interests – as defined by what we are paying attention to and how we perceive different times, then we are very likely to have other bonds – and most likely we will share with each other things we are paying attention to – and find more and more ways to overlap our schedules and our attention.

Let me illustrate this further with a discussion about the month of August/early Sept.

In Europe many people think “Aug = holiday”. Not quite literally true, but seemingly entire cities and companies go on holiday at the same time in August.

In the US, if you are a parent (or a student) then August usually means “last month of Summer, school is going to be starting soon”. Often the end of summer is the Labor Day weekend here in the US.

Here in San Francisco (and to a degree in other places) the end of August is defined for many by “Burning Man”. Even if you are not going, the fact that so many people from San Francisco are spending the end of August at Burning Man shapes how the city works (and how many Bay Area companies work).

I am part of many different mostly non-overlapping social networks. Labor Day Weekend and the days around it are, each year, an exercise in choosing from amongst a large set of possible networks. Many friends are going to Burning Man. In years past many others went to the SCA’s (Society for Creative Anachronism) annual Pensic War (which I attended twice in the early 90’s). Many other Labor Day weekends I have attended the World Science Fiction Convention (was in Anaheim last year, this year though many friends are there I’m not going to Japan). This year there is also a local gaming convention, Conquest over Labor Day weekend which I’m sure many friends of mine will attend and which I am considering attending.

Another, more private social network (of sorts) which holds events four or five times a year usually holds an event around Labor Day weekend, this year in Monterey (which if I had planned a bit in advance I probably should have attended).

And even more so than in years past as more of my friends have children, especially school aged children I am more aware of the fact that school is starting up again.

As a Chicago Bears fan I am also following the end of pre-season and the beginning of the regular season.

As a Chicago Cubs fan I’m also following the ongoing season and cheering as August comes to an end and the Cubs are still in contention (a rare occasion indeed).

As a business person and entrepreneur though I am not on vacation this year at the end of August, I am aware that many people are, so though I continue to work on building my startups the end of August is, perhaps, best spend on the multitude of tasks which do not require replies from others (many of whom might not get back to me until sometime in early September.

And that is just what comes immediately to mind as I write this towards the end of August.

At the beginning of September begins a series of Jewish Holidays. Though I am not a religious Jew, I am Jewish and increasingly aware that many of my friends are as well, so I am more aware than I was in the past of when the major Jewish holidays are.

In the stores at the moment for the most part they are dominated by Back to School sales. In a few weeks, these will be replaced by Halloween sales, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas (here in the US – clearly not Thanksgiving sales in other parts of the world).

I do not own a TV, so though I am vaguely aware that we are still in the “summer” season on TV (and thus in a time of generally few original or new shows) very soon we will enter the “fall” season and new shows will resume airing. I am not, however, aware of when this will be. Instead, I am more focused on when a very small handful of shows I do care about will be broadcast (but in most cases this is not until sometime next year – i.e. 2008).

A small side note. A telling definition of time is whether you think of the year as starting and ending on the calendar year (i.e. for most of the West starting on Jan 1) or if you are more focused on another “year” – such as the school year – so starting in the fall, usually end of Aug/early Sept and ending in the spring in May or June. For many people similarly you might be focused on the football or baseball seasons (or other sports – basketball, college football, golf, and soccer/football among many others have their avid fans). For each of these you might think of the “year” as being defined by the start and end of a season – not a physical season but the sports season.

So Sports, Religion, School, Hobbies and Work all define to a large extent our perception of time – and thus create and are created by the groups by which we define ourselves. When we overlap, at least in part, with others, we have a starting point for a common bond. You might be following the San Francisco Giants and I the Chicago Cubs but the fact that we are both aware of and paying attention to the baseball season is a starting point for a common bond. If, instead, I paid a lot of attention to baseball (I don’t but am at least aware of it to a degree) and you paid no attention to it all, then we see the world and time in different ways.

Of course we might still be friends and overlook this difference between us, but our view of reality is different.

So why this lengthy discussion – full of places I should have linked but haven’t yet (I’ll try to go back and add some links)?

Our current tools do not do a good job of helping us map our own perceptions of time – or find others who share these in a broad sense. Sure, a tool such as Upcoming or Facebook might show us people who are following a specific event which we are also following but they do not help us see bigger pictures and patterns. Nor do we add to most such “social networks” the broader, bigger picture patterns of perception of time which are so vital.

Consider 2008. When I think of it, I immediately think “presidential election”. A bit later I might think “new seasons of Doctor Who and Torchwood”. Pressed still further I might start to think about specific activities in 2008 which I plan on attending, SXSW 2008 in Austin TX, Wiscon in Madison WI, etc.

There are many other answers, each showing a bit about what you are paying the most attention to. For some you might focus on new cars (starting sometime in the Fall of 2007), you might think “new version of Madden Football”, you might think “when I graduate”, etc.

I think it would be a really fascinating experiment (and perhaps a useful service on some dating sites) to ask some fairly open ended questions that capture elements of your perception of time. And then in a fuzzy manner use these to start to show how/if you overlap with others.

So, you might go from the very broad “when does the week start and end”, “what do you do every weekend?”, what do you think about Mon – Fri? any regular things you wait for/think about each week?

To more specific questions – “what are you looking forward to next week? next month? next season? (and which “season”(s) do you think about?)”

I know that most likely anyone woman (I’m a single straight man) who defines her week by a religious observation is most likely not for me – though if that observation is not on Sundays the chances are much better. Likewise someone who is mostly focused around consumer patterns (new fashion seasons, new seasons of TV, various “Hallmark Holidays”) but not around personal interests – whatever they are is also unlikely to be for me. I pay some attention to food seasons, what’s fresh and available at the local farmer’s markets – someone who shared that passion of mine would be fairly interesting to me.

Especially if she also paid some attention to overlapping passions – science fiction, writing etc. Even if the events she followed were different than what I followed (heck, might be something I’d want to go to myself).

As I write this I’m thinking of countless other things people wait for, people follow and pay attention to – concert schedules, seasons of theater, sports schedules, tax years, public company earnings calls, annual conferences for various industries, etc.

We need to find ways to think about what we pay attention to – and to find others who share, at least some, of our view of the world.

Posted in geeks, meshforum, networks, personal, San Francisco, time, working | Leave a Comment »

Post-Gnomedex suggestions

Posted by shannonclark on August 21, 2007

I attended Gnomedex this year and had a great time – though I did not like almost a majority of the speakers. There has been a lot of discussion throughout the blogosphere about this years Gnomedex. Earlier today, Chris Pirillo posted his deconstruction of the post-gnomedex discussions.

On that thread I left a very long comment, which I reproduce below.


This was my second Gnomedex. I came expecting to spend the weekend reconnecting with a lot of friends, seeing some interesting presentations (including a few that might be announcements/newsworthy) and have a great time in Seattle.

I ended up having a very professionally useful conference (somehow doing bizdev for an ad network is not as difficult as I thought it might be – something about helping people make money I suspect). I indeed also had a great time in Seattle, had great meals and met many really amazing people.

All that said, I was very disappointed in this year’s speakers. In conversations I had at and around Gnomedex the rough consensus was that 1/3 of the speakers were kooks and aweful, 1/3 were okay, and 1/3 were good (Guy was perhaps great – but gave a speech many had seen many times before).

But I think the opening and the closing speakers started and ended on a bad note – and that many other speakers in various small ways showed a mismatch with the audience (I know Michael who spoke on Open Money in other contexts but did find his closing requests for funding a bit off putting along with how he handled a few questions).

One small bit of advice which I think though seemingly small was a big part of the change in feel this year.

Last year there were short presentations BETWEEN sessions (from Make magazine etc). At many other conferences these short between session presentations (videos, music etc) give people some mental space. For MeshForum I call these “Interstitials” and generally program artists and others to give short presentations/demos (in many ways much like the ignite talks – which was I think one of the standout moments).

Also there was a lack of cohesion between the speakers – a wide range of formats (one speaker, two speakers, lots of speakers for short periods) and not much of an overarching theme connecting the speakers and telling a story. This is hard, but I think a good flow to the speakers could have really helped.

And another small item – not certain this was the case, but this year it felt like the lighting in the audience was darker than in years past – for me at least this drained a bit of my energy while sitting in the audience (you’ll note in contrast to last year, I asked many fewer questions – and most questions were asked by folks in the most well lit/near the stage parts of the space.

I would suggest that you take a bit of a cue from SXSW – let people start to submit speakers – but also be proactive in asking for speakers – and frame those talks in some manner.

But in addition to speakers – I would look into getting interviewers. I’d suggest that probably almost all of the speakers this year (perhaps not the ignite folks whose talks were very concise and focused) could have benefited from a truly great interviewer asking them questions on stage – and then supplemented quickly with questions from the audience.

My suggestion would be:

– have the interviewer give a short context setting introduction of a speaker (but not a 30 second one, possibly a 4-5 minute intro w/slides)

– have the interviewer ask a few questions or one main one that leads into a solid but short presentation by the speaker (5-10 minutes probably – ala the ignite talks). This should probably set the stage for a viewpoint the speaker holds – something they are passionate about and working on (I personally don’t mind hearing about companies – but prefer to also get context)

– then some follow up questions from the interviewer – say 10-15 mins (so this is the first 30 mins or so)

– then for the remaining 20 mins or so, open up to a lot of questions from the audience (and ideally find a useful way to get some from IRC/twitter/backchannels as well)

The interviewer should probably have access to a computer on stage – so they might expand on an audience member’s question – inserting additional points from the IRC for example. Ideally as well it might be possible for people in the audience to also add to a question so that the speaker then addresses more folk’s questions/issues/thoughts

A key question to keep in mind in all of this is “what is the goal of the presentations?”

– spark discussions?

– capture and document a thesis/experience? (and share that with the attendees and through them the world)

– make news/announcements (launch a new product, make a political point etc)

– move the “blogosphere” forward on a given issue [I’d personally recommend against this last point – especially since there is by no means only one “blogosphere” and though Gnomedex is great, it doesn’t actually have everyone important on any given issue in attendance. That said, a session could certainly be scheduled with the intention of raising an issue and giving it a higher profile – along with one or more approaches to dealing with it (privacy vs. live streaming for example could have been one this year – i.e. disclosures, releases, commercial use, archives etc)

Hope this is helpful. Getting speakers and scheduling them in a balanced and well flowing manner is by far one of the hardest parts to organizing a conference.


Posted in internet, meshwalk, networks, reviews, web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Writers Room – a resource at the Seattle Main Library

Posted by shannonclark on August 14, 2007

If you live in Seattle, or plan on spending any time there, and are writing a book or article you should know about the Writers Room at the Main Libary. On the 9th floor of the beautiful building a room has been set aside for the use of serious writers.

Available for up to 6 months a writer can get access to this private space including the use of a private locker with proof of seriousness (book or article contract typically). The intention and assumption is of course that you would be using the resources and collections of the library while writing your book.

On Sunday after the MeshWalk I organized had mostly wound down, Brian Dorsey (of Noonhat) and I were walking in search of a cafe when he asked if I had seen the inside of the Seattle Public Library. Since I had not, we decided to take a detour and on learning there was a cafe on the 3rd floor work there for the afternoon.

We were on the 10th floor at the highest point the public is allowed when we looked down and saw that there was a really unusual space, a private room with a number of very nice desks, Aeron chairs, designer lounging chairs, lockers and photos on the wall. On closer inspection we noticed that the sign on the wall said it was the Writers Room.

At the reference desk on the 9th floor we asked about the room and learned that it was for the use of writers working on a book or article and that access could be given for a maximum of 6 months. The librarian behind the counter noted that we were the second people that day to ask about it and offered to show us the space herself (in part since she had not yet seen it). She is in the photos below.

As you can see, the Writers Room is an amazing space and resource. If you are a writer working in the Seattle area I encourage you to take advantage of this workspace.

I am living in San Francisco, however when I do finally finish my book proposal for my book on Networked Economics (or Flow Economics still need the right phrase) I’m certainly going to consider Seattle – or some similar space somewhere as a workspace while I complete the book.

Many public libraries and private research libraries have similar spaces and offers of resources to writers. Often these are not limited to academics. UPDATE – in NYC there is The Writers Room which has a large loft & reference library available for writers for $650/half-year and in Boston The Writers Room of Boston offers a similar work environment for Boston based writers. In Chicago there is the Uptown Writers Space offering hand-crafted wood cubicles and library tables. In San Francisco (where I live, though I haven’t yet checked these resources out yet) there is The Grotto as well as some spinouts of it. Search for similar projects and spaces in your town!

Posted in geeks, meshwalk, personal, reading, working | Leave a Comment »

More Vista and Microsoft Outlook 2007 problems

Posted by shannonclark on August 4, 2007

I am beginning to think that Vista and Microsoft in general is going backwards. My current Vista Tablet (a Lenovo Thinkpad X60), which is a dual core intel laptop with 1GB ram, 1GM “memoryboost SD Card”, a 1400×1050 resolution tablet screen, and lots of other bells and whistles (fast, large hd, wifi, bluetooth etc) is by far the slowest and worst laptop I have owned in at least a decade or more – and from a lost productivity standpoint probably ever.

And I have owned a lot of laptops, almost all of which were for their time close to the top of the line. My first being a great Compaq laptop in 1993.

I spent most of the last two weeks getting various hardware faults fixed on my laptop – a broken screen, bad daughter cards and then this week an entirely new systemboard.

At the moment, however, all the hardware faults should have been solved.

However here are my symptoms so you can see what I mean when I say this is the worst OS/laptop combination I have ever used.

1. Startup takes 4-5 minutes. From turning the computer on to having everything booted and working, it routinely takes as long as 5 minutes or more (and not infrequently something about the process fails – not always with notifications either)

2. “sleep” mode is totally and utterly useless and also takes 4-5 minutes to engage IF it works at all.  In theory closing my laptop’s screen or selecting the sleep option on the windows menu should engage “sleep” mode. However more than 1/2 the time this totally fails – and most of the time it takes 4-5 minutes from when I close the screen to when the sleep light is on and everything is in powered down mode. Just this afternoon it utterly failed to engage sleep mode at all – instead leaving me in a mode from which my only option was to power down and reboot.

3. waking from sleep mode takes 3-4 minutes or more – and more often than not upon waking up devices such as my wifi stop functioning.

4. Shutdown more often than not causes faults – I’ve crashed windows explorer while shutting down. Not uncommonly it takes a good 4-5 minutes to shutdown the laptop.

And not this afternoon here are my problems with Outlook 2007. In theory this version of Outlook can handle large mail archives and should be smooth and richly functional.

I have about 2GB of mail in my main mailbox in Outlook (much more in archives but don’t have those even on this machine). In my main contacts addressbook I have about 1100 contacts at the moment (I have about 6000 in total in other contacts folders).

This afternoon I have been entering in contacts from business cards I collected at recent events.

I am running the Plaxo plug-in for Outlook (and a few others)

When I open up a new contact the window is initially unfilled in and takes a good 30 seconds or so to be editable.

While I am entering text, more often than not the cursor starts to spin and my text may or may not ever get entered and it never shows up as I type, it usually is a few seconds delayed (this as I am entering notes into the notes field – when I met someone, their bio from their websites etc)

When I go to enter a phone number I am unable usually to even select the phone number field, but instead have to wait for the cursor to again spin and only then am I able to enter a phone number.

What’s more, when I go to the main outlook window and try to search for a contact I JUST ENTERED – I get back a result that there is no contact with that name!

This type of response as well as user experience is totally unacceptable from a modern piece of software. Indexes should be updated as I entered a new contact – but even if they are not, the time a modern dual core system should take to search a mere 1100 contacts (or in my case if they have to search all my contacts folders about 6000) really should be microseconds. In no case should I get a response that there is no contact with that name when I have just entered one!


I do like Outlook’s contact forms generally speaking – I can finally easily include photos, long form bios etc -though I’d like a lot of changes to the overall fields (for one “IM” is a useless field – I need to be able to note WHICH IM SYSTEM someone has) and today I really should be able to track multiple related websites for most people (blogs and company websites for example)

But if this level of non-performance keeps up I am going to utterly give up on Microsoft (and if you want to buy a really nice tablet – to say run Ubuntu on – contact me, I probably will sell this and get a Mac)

Posted in mac, microsoft, mobile, tablet pc, working | 4 Comments »