Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for August, 2008

My review of Slow Food Nation 2008

Posted by shannonclark on August 31, 2008

A few months ago I launched a second blog, Slow Brand, to cover my views on a slow approach to branding, as I launched it I promised to cover both Branding and Food topics, the name is most definitely an homage and reference to the Slow Food movement.

Well this weekend was the Slow Food Nation series of events here in San Francisco.

I’ve written my review of the Slow Food Nation Taste Pavilions along with my feedback and suggestions for 2009.

Please take a read and add your comments and experiences, your suggestions and reactions to my suggestions. I’ve been thinking a lot about events of late as I start to organize for future MeshForum events.

Posted in personal, restaurants, reviews, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A bit of summer beauty

Posted by shannonclark on August 28, 2008

pink flower, originally uploaded by Shannon Clark.

As summer comes to the end here in San Francisco with a bit of a “heat wave” for these parts (which around here means temperatures in the 80’s which I still scoff at compared to Chicago’s typical week+ every August of 100-110+ a photo from my summer of which I’m particularly proud.


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Being alone in the crowd

Posted by shannonclark on August 27, 2008

This evening I had the pleasure of reading an article in the New Yorker about Garrett Lisi whom I’ve met (and whom friends of mine are friends of, I’d say I’m just someone he’s met though I suspect we are kindred spirits of a sort) He spoke at this year’s TED conference (which many friends of mine attended) and then also spoke at and joined us at the BIL conference which I helped to organize.

It still makes me feel a bit surprised to read about people Ive met in the pages on the New Yorker, but that’s not the point of this post, rather it is a two-fold example from the article which illustrates how Introversion is misunderstood. As I’ve noted before, I’m neither an Introvert nor an Extrovert but rather fall towards the middle of the spectrum, but I have a great deal of sympathy for the problems faced by Introverts in our society.

In the article the reporter notes that Garrett is an INTP on the Myers-Briggs personality profile, a classification which he feels fits him well. The I in that profile stands for Introvert.

But it was the following quote later in the article which I think shows the common misunderstanding of what Introverts are like.

It is hard to meet Lisi without wondering why someone with so many social gifts, someone who so palpably enjoys the company of others, would choose to isolate himself so thoroughly.

Uhmm I think we have a misunderstanding here.

It is not, as people might commonly assume, that someone who is introverted does not have social skills or even gifts, but rather that they are someone who draws energy from being alone, from inward thoughts. Introverts can indeed do well in social environments, but unlike an extrovert after a whie they likely would be drained in the process, rather than gaining energy from the company other others they likely find it tiring. Not impossible, just not always easy.

This is just a small example of a more common problem – popular culture here in the US at least – celebrates the extroverts and extroverted activities. The model of life is to be gregarious, social, to spend time amongst large numbers of people. It is typically assumed that most people will find it easy to enjoy themselves in environments such as bars.

On a more personal level pop culture would have us believe that dating is at least reasonably easy, that somehow being single for even just a few weeks is a shockingly long and strange occurance. And further that at least the young will have had many sexual partners and relationships starting at a relatively young age and continueing into adulthood.

But that is, alas, probably more the case for extroverts than introverts. But pop culture does not usually celebrate the introvert, the rare story about a “hermit physicist” aside.

To put this in very personal terms though I have had a few first dates and fewer second dates, I have not been in a relationship since early 2006. In very stark terms that means I have often gone months at a time with little to no physical contact of any form with another human – interupted by the rare handshake or hug of greeting or on departure. And as I noted I’m neither an introvert nor an extrovert so this prolonged isolation, even while sitting admidst a crowd as I am as I write this in a busy San Francisco cafe, has not be fun and it has been energy sapping.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, personal | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Fixing the missing downloads window in Firefox (Mac)

Posted by shannonclark on August 26, 2008

This evening I encountered an odd problem running firefox on my Mac. I went to Flickr to download a photo of mine to use as a new desktop background. (cc license so you are free to do the same)

But when I went to pop open the downloads window to see the file name to open it, I couldn’t get my downloads window to open. It appeared as a window option on the windows menu, but nothing I did would cause it to actually, in fact, be visible.

So I poked around a bit online and then into the innards of firefox a little bit and I found a very simple, few second solution to this problem.

Search for the following file:


It should be present in your firefox profile directory (if you have multiple users on your computer be sure to delete the one from your current user’s profile).

I chose to delete it, which had the side effect of losing my download history (which I didn’t mind) if you want to preserve that this solution won’t be ideal. To delete I simply moved the file from the folder it was in to the trash.

I then closed Firefox (choosing the “save all tabs first” option). Note this is in the latest stable release version of Firefox for the Mac 3.01 as I write this, the “save all tabs first” option is a new one in the 3.0 release.

On rebooting Firefox I was able to open the downloads window as usual, Firefox rebuilt the downloads.sqlite file without what I can only assume was some form of file corruption.

So that is it, a very simple solution in the category of “get rid of corrupt config files”.

Posted in geeks, internet, mac | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

What makes a great magazine or blog

Posted by shannonclark on August 23, 2008

I am an avid reader have been since I learned to read as a young child. In my time I have subscribed to many magazines. In high school I also edited the high school literary magazine, an issue which won awards.

Great magazines are much more than merely collections of great writing. The editors create a magazine’s voice through layout, article selection, and the context they choose to provide (or conversely choose not to provide) around the individual stories.

In today’s blog and web obsessed world it is easy to forget the value and impact of the overall form on the readers but it is worth considering it carefully.

I received a gift of a subscription to Gastronomica last year, but have not had a chance to read the issues I have received until recently when I started to read the Fall 2007. I haven’t yet finished that issue but had an immediate reaction after reading a few articles which is much the same as my feelings about another similarly highly respected magazine Granta.

Namely that while both magazines have great individual articles they are lacking something important, specifically a clear editorial voice and context to each article in the issue. In the case of Granta this lack often means that I do not know as I read an article if it is fiction or non-fiction (an no, this is not at all always clear given the types of writing Granta has published in the past). In the case of Gastronomica I found myself wanting some introduction, something to fill the white space around the articles with context, with who the author is, with why these particular stories were published in this particular issue and in this particular order.

So to get back to my subject, what does make a great magazine or blog?

  • Context such that the resulting issue (or overall website in the case of a blog) is greater than any individual piece. Sure this still leaves room for great individual articles and stories, Malcolm Gladwell’s many amazing pieces for the New Yorker for example or Andrew Sullivan’s cover article on Obama for Atlantic. But my point is that a great magazine expands upon the work of individual authors and creates a whole which is greater than the parts – both in each issue and over time.
  • Design. I fail on this account frequently on this blog. Great blogs tend to incorporate images, text and increasingly video to enhance and illustrate both each post as well as the overall experience of reading that blog. Indeed I think many of the major blogs (at least in Technology) have a policy of at least one image for every post, usually more than one, which help to anchor the post and make it more than just words. In the case of magzines design – the fonts, layouts, images and especially the structural choices have a major impact on how the magazine reads. Some magazines, The Economist perhaps most famously, have articles that run into each other, often resulting in articles that continue for many pages, whatever the editors feel the topic requires. In contrast many other magazines restrict stories to one page (or part of a page) in many cases and in most others if the story needs a bit more they relegate the end of the story to the back of the magazine (the famous continued on…).
  • A point of view. Great magazines are not for everyone, they are for a particular audience and they wear a point of view clearly and without shame. This does not mean that a magazine which does reporting should not practice great journalism (and the reporting of facts not opinions that requires) but in the selection of what stories to report upon, how to present them and what to invest in and pursue the magazine, at least the great ones, come at the world and the subjects covered from a particular point of view.

So why do I have issues with both Granta and Gastronomica which both publish man individually amazing and great pieces of writing?

For one both seem content to only let the stories speak for themselves, in both cases I am left without a lot of context about who the writers are, why they are writing from the perspective which they are. Even the New Yorker does this to a bit, with many stories published over the years where the reader is assumed to know who the author is (and why for example the author might talk of the Kennedy’s as cousins or do countless other cases of name dropping).

These are then magazines which all too often are written for a very particular community, one which is perhaps too narrow. But further by not taking the smallest of steps to give context as a reader I lurch from story to story (and not at all clear which are memoir, which are reporting, which are fiction, which are some form of meta-experimental mashup of forms).

The result for me as a reader is I am left willing to close the magazine unfinished and read something else.

So what would be an example of a great magazine I have read recently?

Monocle a relatively new (just a bit over a year old) news, lifestyle and design monthly magazine published out of England which is my favorite new discovery of 2008. Every issue, along with the website, starts with a very cohesive and comprehensive design senseability. Clear typography, heavy use of lots of images, long form reporting with a very personal focus, and a very comprehensively global perspective.

In part Monocle is one of my favorite new discoveries because of this highly global perspective, unlike the majority of US media (of all forms, web included) Monocle is focused on a truly global perspective, with in depth coverage of cities and news stories from around the world. Cities which in many cases I doubt have gotten even the barest of mentions in most US media anywhere.

But I am also reacting positively to the very clear point of view present throughout all parts of Monocle. A point of view that highlights design, which assumes that the readers of the magazine love good design (including some who would buy great examples of design directly from the magazine) and which focused on a fully global perspective. The magazine tends slightly towards a male demographic but does cover both men’s and women’s fashions and design elements. They also include a wide range of mediums – on the web they have films (for subscribers), in print they include custom Manga (in English but layed out in the traditional layout) which include both an ongoing story and advertising.

This strong sense of design is also built into the overal magazine’s experience. Most of the magazine is in black and white, but in a very high resolution and high quality print and paper, but each issue includes some in depth stories presented in high resolution color as a special section of the magazine, in all parts of the magazine a large number of images add richly to the stories while at the same time the editors clearly give writers room to write relatively long and more in depth stories than are frequently found in US media. Stories which go on for multiple pages and which include dozens of photos, vs the few pages and only a couple of photos if that found in most US media. Even the physical form feels more like a book than a typical throwaway magazine, as a result it is a magazine I am likely to hold onto for a while into the future.

Which brings me to a final point, I also very positively appreciate how Monocle combines advertising and content in a very smoothly integrated whole. The advertisers ad to the overal experience of the magazine and clearly are seen as positive partners in the magazine’s success. As a result I am left with a positive perception of these advertisers even as some of them are unlikely to get my business (as they are in many cases EU based firms).

What are your favorite magazines? What do you think makes a great magazine?

Posted in geeks, internet, reading, reviews, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

How we are social (or not)

Posted by shannonclark on August 17, 2008

Lost in the flurry of passion for “Social Networks” and more broadly in our cultures can be the fact that people interact with each other very differently. We have many different ways of being social (or not).

Most broadly psychologists divide people into introverts and extroverts or more accurately into falling somewhere along the continuum between the two traits. However culturally here in the US there is a massive bias towards extroverism – being the “life of the party”, being socially active, partying on the weekends (and while in college) and in short getting outside of your home, hanging out with groups of people and being able to make new friends. That behavior is reinforced and rewarded significantly.

Even online, where you might think introverts would be more comfortable a lot of social networks focus on extroverted behaviors and rewards. Call this the “friend gap” as many have recently – but nearly all social networks and socially enabled software show a massive change when you have a lot of frieds versus when you have few or no friends on the system. Being very social, therefore, is rewarded with lots of built-in rewards.

When you post something and have a lot of followers – whether on your own blog, to a microbloging tool like Twitter, or as an update inside of a social network like Facebook, if you have a lot of friends you have a much higher chance of getting a response and thus feedback – and with more feedback you generally get more feedback (i.e. people start to Digg it, other people who follow your friends notice their activity on your posts etc).

If you are extroverted and crave social attention then these tools can be quite wonderful – leveraging yourself to potentially larger social circles than you could keep up with without the tools (Robert Scoble for example probably couldn’t talk to 20,000 people every day but can follow that many on twitter).

Introverts, however, gain energy from focusing inward, they can engage outward but it can be overwheling and energy draining. The effort to gather up enough social contacts on a given service to get over the “friend gap” can be insurmountable. And since every outward effort can be somewhat draining keeping up the volume of activity in the face of the frequent lack of any response can be even more draining though for some the personal rewards (from writing a blog post and getting your own thoughts down) may be sufficient.

And then there are people like myself. I fall fairly squarely in the middle of the continuum – nothing is well suited for people like me – and we confound the expectations of society and others. In some contexts I am very extroverted – I talk to everyone, am the center of attention and gain energy from the presense of others. But this is not in all cases – and I also gain energy from time by myself, afternoons such as today when I spent most of the day on a 6+ mile walk by myself through San Francisco, listening to my iPod and thinking inwardly.

Society – and the current batches of “social” networks – are at times difficult places for people like me. I may have 100’s of twitter followers, thousands of contacts and hundreds of connections on many social networks. But at the same time how I enage with both people in person and within the context of these services is at times variable (contextual) and is not how extroverts approach the world – nor is it entirely how introverts do either.

I’ll follow up this post with further thoughts and discussion but I’m hoping it may spark others to think about this.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet, networks, personal, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A few more ways the world has changed

Posted by shannonclark on August 11, 2008

After I posted my last post on how the world has changed in my lifetime already I have thought of a few other major ways the world has changed around me.

  1. Smoking. As a child my father smoked a pipe in our house, at least one pipefull most evenings, the smell of his tabacco remains a childhood memory. He stopped, cold turkey, when I was in high school on the advice of his dentist. But as a child there was smoking everywhere, smoking sections on planes, smoking inside of buildings. Every house still had ashtrays and every building’s lobby had many receptacles for cigarettes in the building lobbies and inside of offices. Until just a few years ago smoking was still allowed in restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Chicago. But this has changed quite rapidly in my lifetime. Smokers used to be the ones who were accomodated, I distinctly recall that people said that smoker’s couldn’t survive a cross-country flight without smoking so the other passengers would just have to continue to accomodate them.
  2. Payphones. On a trip during college to Boston I recall distinctly that I could take the T and make two phone calls for a $1, payphone calls in Boston at the time were just $0.10 which I thought was quite the bargain, they were closer to $0.25 in Chicago. For most of my life payphones were a very common sight, you needed them to call anyone when you were out, I carried change with me then later on memorized a calling card number. Nowadays both are unnecessary, almost everyone has a cellphone, I have in fact given up on giving out my landline number to anyone. It is only when my parents are visiting that I am reminded what it was like before everyone had a cell phone – my parents for some reason have refused to get a cell phone, so when they are traveling they have to either find a payphone or borrow someone’s phone to call me.
  3. Travel Agents and paper airline tickets. As a child my father traveled frequently for work, he had a subscription to the OAG (Official Airline Guide) but for the most part he also had secretaries (next entry) who booked his travel for him with the corporate travel agencies. For our family trips my mom would organize our travels with a local travel agent and she would go and pick up the paper tickets. In the 90’s on my own I would for the most part book my travels myself, when I worked for a company even as recently as the late 90’s I was told a travel agent to use when I needed to arrange travels. Even just a few years ago I had a problem as a result of having paper tickets for a complex trip I had booked for a business trip which I then had to change. Something which almost never happens now just a few years late as paper tickets have pretty much ceased.
  4. Secretaries. Except perhaps when I was very young and my father was a college professor, for most of my childhood my father always had a secretary, sometimes one he shared with other executives but mostly a private secretary, who typed for him, who booked his travels and managed his appointments and schedules. Today without anyone exactly setting it down secretaries have become increasingly rare, fewer and fewer people and businesses have secretaries, or if they have any they are shared amongst many people. When I took time off from college in the mid-90’s I actually worked as a temp for Kelly (well not as a Kelly “girl” guess more a Kelly man), I knew how to use office software with a very high level of proficiency and I typed almost 100 words a minute, as a result I earned the highest rate, over $20/hr (and this was when I was 20 so pretty decent money) and in my brief employment there I saw what secretaries and receptionists did for a wide range of companies. Today most people in business handle their own tasks which were previously done by secretaries – book their own travels online (or via a corporate website) and prepare their own documents and presentations. I suspect this has meant a pretty major change in business, a change that was fairly slow in coming but a very big one.

I suspect I’ll think of even more changes after I post this.

Posted in digital bedouin, futureculture, geeks, personal, working | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

How the world has changed in my lifetime already

Posted by shannonclark on August 10, 2008

I was born during the last months of Richard Nixon’s administration, as a child I assumed that the world would end in my lifetime (at least humanity) probably due to an all out nuclear war between the USA and the USSR.

In high school I learned typing alternating between manual typewriters and computers (Apple II’s) and in a year long programming course actually learned Fortran including all the features leftover from the days of punchcards.

Telegrams had mostly gone away by my childhood but people still had a mix of rotary and the newer touchtone phones, long distance calls were expensive and a somewhat big deal, pagers were only for doctors (and drug dealers) and cell phones not even a term – it was “car phones” and those too were rare. Music still came on records or cassette tapes.

Before high school I remember the big deal that tape added to early personal computers (the ones before that had had nearly no way to save your work, you typed in your code each time). I learned programming theory via flowcharts on large format printouts from the courses my mom taught at the local community college. In high school the programming class was taught on a much upgraded PDP-11 which though we had terminals all throughout the school was not connected to any other network but did double at the high school library card catalog, stored on the then huge 400 MB large platters hard drives. I recall as well the transition from large floppies to small floppies to CD-ROMs. Buying a 100MB hard drive for our home was a huge investment.

Now I throw away anything smaller than 2GB when I get memory sticks free at conferences and I fully expect that my next laptop purchase may have close to 1TB of storage built-in.

As I grew up elected officials were primarily white, usually Protestant, men. To a degree that is still true here in the USA, but my home state of Illinois has elected to African American Senators in my lifetime (and I was honored to have been able to vote for both of them) and it is very like (and I certainly hope it will be the case) that Barack Obama will be elected the President of the United States later this year. And a growing number of women hold major elected offices around the country, even without the ERA ammendment (remember that?) women have made major gains during my lifetime. As the child of two generations of very successful and high achieving, college educated women I am very pleased that my generation and those after it will face a far more open world – indeed in my lifetime women have beome the majority of students in graduate school in many fields (and I think overall).

In high school I took history courses on Asia and on Russia, both were courses that had at times been relatively controversial in the school, the teacher told us stories of how he had obtained English language materials, materials which in some cases were explicitly propaganda materials from what were then seen as our enemies. As a child I recall both the scares of WWIII and of a great emphasis on WWII, I spoke with vetarens WWII and recall their stories.

While my family did not have a TV for most of my childhood I do recall when people still had, some at least, black and white TVs, when all television was over the air and cable only slowly grew popular. For a brief moment in my childhood newpapers still printed radio broadcast schedules and I grew up listening to radio dramas both broadcast over the air and on cassatte tapes which I collected. I also had a very strange clock radio (both now and even then) which would pick up the audio tracks only of TV broadcasts, so I grew up listening to Rocky & Bullwinkle as I woke up each morning, the many different characters bluring in my just waking up mind.

When I first started buying books for myself, sometime in elementary school, new paperbacks were still just a few dollars and many used bookstores would sell them for less than a dollar. Now a new mass market paperback (which as a child was pretty much all there was in paperback form) costs $7 at the low end and often far more.

And I’m probably of the last generation to remember buying gas for less than $1/gallon when I first got my license, though to be fair prices often hovered just above $1 for the most part.

Though we never visted him, my Uncle Jimmy lived in Berlin when it was still a divided city and we heard stories of his artist’s lifestyle there and I remember when the wall fell and the USSR started to breakdown and crumble, one of many major events as it would turn out in my lifetime already. As a child having grown up under the spector of the Vietnam War I somehow always assumed that the next war we would enter as a country would be the big one, WW III and would likely mean the end of everything. Instead in my lifetime we have been in three fairly major but also relatively limited in scope wars and a number of other conflicts and engagements (First Iraq War, Haiti, Panama, Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Second Iraq War not to mention ongoing skirmishes in Colombia and President Reagan’s Contra stuff and I’m probably missing some smaller skirmishes as well). We have been a busy and all to militeristic nation even as the world has changed radically in my lifetime.

India, China, and the Soviet Bloc were all quite isolated countries as I was a child, Now the USSR is no more (the current war between Russia and Georgia which is occurring as I write this not withstanding) and though China is still “Communist” it is the third largest economy in the world and India is not far behind it. And Europe which was somewhat neglected when I was a child is a booming and strong economy with a strengthening Euro and with massive changes resulting from greater mobility and open borders internally to the EU. South Africa which was the focus of great preassure throughout my childhood also abandoned Aparthied and opened up in a far more peaceful process than most people assumed would happen. As I write this only North Korea is almost entirely isolated from the world economy, Cuba and Iran are for the most part isolated from engaging with the USA by our laws but do participate to a lesser degree with the rest of the world (and Iran in particular plays a major economic role).

Dozens of countries have emerged (or more accurately in many cases) reemerged in my lifetime and have started to make their way in a more complex global economy than the simplistic picture which was depicted in school when I was a child – the “first world/third world” split is no longer so clear or so relevant. Though the US hasn’t entirely caught up with these changes when you engage with media from outside of the US the amazing change in the globe can start to be glimpsed.

In college I was among the first people to have a computer in my dormroom connected via an ethernet connection to the Internet – i.e. an always on connection. I was on the Internet when it was still a non-commercial space, a place mostly restricted to universities where not every student had an email address or a way to connect to the Internet. I was amazed one day when I was awoken by my computer beeping at me as a result of a chat request from a student in Singapore and from my dormroom I ran an online game with 1000’s of users from three continents. An early precurser to the types of games and online interactions now seen inside of Second Life.

I started online before graphical browsers, reaching my first “webpages” via Gopher and I resisted using Netscape in favor of the faster if non-graphical Lynx browser for many years. I remember using both Yahoo and Google when they were still university research projects. In short in my adult lifetime I have witness the many evolutions of the “web” from complex and obscure academic playground to the worldwide, mass institution it is today.

I found my early jobs and apartments (and much more) via using paper classified ads in the daily newspaper and in the weekly alternative press. Something which in the past 15 years has almost entirely disappeared in much of the US and which the rise of online sites such as Craigslist and countless specialty sites (for dating for job search, for home buying and more) not to mention Ebay have changed forever. Buying a computer used to involve buying the large, multiple inch thick Computer Shopper and comparing the best packages and deals, it was a complex and difficult process. Today it remains a vastly more complex and obscure process than it should be (perhaps Apple computer excepted) but now you do that process online not via searching a paper magazine.

Speaking of print as a child I turned in hand written assignments for quite a long time. It was only into high school that computer printed papers become relatively standard and were usually printed on computer paper which would then involve seperating each page. Then laser printers became affordable and fairly common so I printed a great deal. But more recently I am far from being alone in having managed to go back to a nearly paperless lifestyle – my printer stopped working two years ago and I have yet to replace it, with the rise of always on connectivity I just keep documents online instead of printing them out and my various computer screens are now so high resolution that I read most things on the screen directly.

In summary in my still fairly short lifetime the world has changed considerably. Much of what seemed fixed, seemed certain, from the cold war to “long distance calls are expensive” has gone almost entirely away. It is both exhilerating and a bit scary at times to think about how much more the world will change in the next 30+ years, how what seems certain today will be rendered silly or foolish in the future.

I am not a Futurist but I end with a few areas I think bear a lot of thinking about.

  1. How does the use of technology keep changing when all the technical bits become nearly free and nearly endless? i.e. already storage is so vast and cheap that it is rarely wise to scrimp, computational power is likewise vast and abbundant, and while bandwith remains a bit of a bottleneck it too is rapidly beoming faster and ever more readily (and all pervasively) availalble – I read that in Japan they are starting to  test wireless cell data services exponetially faster than even 3G,
  2. When the world is really all connected and living and working with each other it is vital that US shake off old stereotypes and very very broken assumptions. For example in the US it is still common to depict blond haired, blue eyed, overly buxom, fair skinned women as the physical ideal of beauty even as on a global scale by far the vast majority of the world have both a very different vision of beauty and a much wider range of physical features. The population of the planet has, I think, nearly doubled in my lifetime and the full impact of those numbers hasn’t really echoed here in the US yet. China is now over 4 times as populous as the United States and India is not far behind.
  3. Design will continue to be ever more vital and important. By this I mean that one of the amazing impacts I’ve witnessed already in my lifetime is the growing importance and pervasiveness of design in all aspects of life, as the production of physical goods becomes easier and also less constrained what differentiates goods and services is the design. As well as more of the world has a chance and opportunity to interact and to work for and with each other and as well to learn from and be influenced by each other the pace of innovation is accelerating with impacts seen even in some of man’s oldest and most basic of tasks and technologies (innovate means of moving water or of heating a cooking while burning simple and basic fuels for just two examples).

In short I have already lived in interesting times and I think we haven’t seen anything yet.

What has changed in your lifetime? What assumptions about the world did you grow up with which you might want to revist and rethink? I predict as you start to think about it you will find that it is more than you originally guessed, this list is by far not complete and I’m only in my mid-30’s.

Posted in digital bedouin, futureculture, geeks, internet, personal, time, web2.0, working | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

The Communities I speak

Posted by shannonclark on August 10, 2008

A few days ago I wrote about the communities all around us as I rode the Muni back from the Farmer’s Market this afternoon I thought a lot about the Communitites I speak – i.e. those groups I can participate in, can speak the lingo, know the references, pay attention to the key events and sources.

I think there are many different ways to define community. In the past I have written about how what we pay attention to helps form and share the communitites we are a part – who we are is what we follow. And indeed this is one key aspect at least of the active, current and potential communitites we could be a part of (we might pay attention to a community without being an active part of it). But there is another key part of the puzzle – what we can “speak”.

Speaking a Community

I am gifted at being a very quick study and learner. In part because I have always been and remain to this day an avid reader of books, magazines and more so in the past then today of newspapers I have at least a passing knowledge of tons of subjects and topics. Especially today with most of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips via well crafted Google searches (plus knowing what resources to use when Google isn’t enough) I can fairly quickly come up to passing speed on nearly any topic.

But this is not fluency in a given Community, rather it is merely an ability to perhaps get a quick glimpse, to exchange a few words, perhaps to ask some smart questions and likely to learn how to learn more, which is itself often pretty vital.

However there are quite a few Communities that I do speak, communitites where even though I may not have been active in them for quite sometime I could jump right in and participate quickly. Here are a few that come to mind, I’m sure there are others and I’ll note a few special cases.

  • Chess. I learned to play chess at the age of 4 from my grandfather. In high school I was the captain of my chess team for 3 1/2 years. Since then I have read probably 100’s of chess books and though I haven’t played a serious game in a few years, a few years ago I played regularly with the serious players at North Ave Beach (and in Old Town) in Chicago, drawing or beating players up to about 2100 or so. So yes, I can “speak” chess at a serious level. In Paris a few years ago I tested this, I went to the Luxumberg Gardens where there have long been public chess boards, there I played an English Barrister who is one of the only Englishmen to practice law in France. I met him over the chess boards where Chess, more so than French was the language of choice.
  • History. Especially of the Medieval Near East. I haven’t studied this in a few years (and though it happens slowly historians do over time make progress in learning more about the past as new works are found and increasingly made more readily available via technology) but I could probably have a good conversation with any historian generally and specifically anyone who is interested in the Ottomans, Byzantines, Armenians, or to a lesser degree some aspects of English or Italian history as well as the history of the Crusades. I studied history in college in the early 90’s, so quite some time ago, but being a historian is a particular approach, a particular view and also a way of thinking – a way of taking information, often limited, and pulling it together into a cohesive narrative and story. The type of history I prefer is an archival history, a history of digging deeply into primary sources and using those sources to reveal more about the past – sometimes telling small, specific stories, sometimes piecing out a bigger picture and a greater narrative. An active historian might be more up on the latest books, the places to be published, job opportunities, but we very likely would quickly find ourselves sharing a common language, a common approach and at least some related interests.
  • Slow Food and related to this Cooking. I am a foodie both in terms of where I like to eat and what I like to cook. Again there are many people who are even more active than I, more deeply focused on food, food culture and the professional aspects of food, people who have attended culinary school, who work some part of the food industry at restaurants, magazines or other parts of the food industry. But I definitely speak the language. Doesn’t hurt that my sister’s boyfriend is a professional food critic (for the NY Times) and cookbook author, so though to my friends I may seem fairly seriously a foodie, I have a sense of what I would consider “real” foodies are like. But probably I too qualify, even if I haven’t fully found my community of fellow foodies here in San Francisco quite yet. A few friends who usually like my cooking, a few people I see at the farmer’s markets but I’m not active in the local Slow Food groups, not active in an online forum such as Chowhounds or Yelp and in short not deeply part of the food community (or more accurately many different communities) here in the Bay Area.
  • Programming. I am not an active programmer today, I haven’t written a line of code in a number of years nor do I have a degree in computer science, but I first learned to program at the age of 7, took serious programming classes in high school and a couple of classes in college and though I have only occasionally been a paid programmer, I “speak” programmer. In the late 90’s I worked for Perot Systems (yes owned by Ross Perot) mostly working for Swissbank and later UBS after they merged doing source code administration, in which role I supported over 1000 programmers around the world working as one of the people running the source code servers for those programmers and teams. I also worked with each group on building and compiling their programs. To do this did not, in fact, require that you be a programmer yourself, indeed most of my coworkers were not programmers, but I was able to speak programmer with the project leads, hold a different conversation with them than my coworkers, a conversation about programming methodologies, about language and tool selection, and about to some degree techniques. I’m a bit rusty today, haven’t been keeping up, but generally speaking I can “speak” programmer even if I’m not up on the latest languages, programming challenges, toolkits, libraries or other development tools.
  • Gaming. Today this term often refers to online, computer or console games. But though I know a lot of people who play those games fairly seriously (and some who cover the gaming industry as journalists or work in the industry) I have never been much of a computer gamer, haven’t been one since the early 90’s and I do not own a TV or any gaming consoles. But I was a serious gamer of other types of games for many, many years. In high school I played various board games and roll playing games nearly every week with a group of friends both at our homes, in the high school as part of a gaming club, and at a local games shop we all frequented. In fact one of my high school friend’s father was a game designer for Mayfair Games and we often playtested games. At that time I went to Gencon many times and I ran a lot of games there and locally. In college however though I did play card games with friends I didn’t play many board games or role playing games (though I had prior to college assumed that I would play a lot of role playing games when in college). But in the mid-90’s I supported myself for a year as a professional Magic the Gathering card dealer and player, at that time I was most definitely part of a serious community. Later in the 90’s and early part of this century I played a LARP in Chicago which was part of a very active community, a worldwide community in fact. I played in fact at one of the first games so I definitely spoke that community, but I was also not entirely of the community. Over the years I didn’t make it to every game, in this century I became very involved in starting a company and drifted away from the game. I briefly tried to reconnect with a branch of the game (which is still ongoing) here in California but didn’t fully “click”. But all that said, I certainly can and do speak Gamer – whatever the game whether paper, board, computer or console.
  • Politics. I am fairly passionate about politics, have voted in every election I was eligible to vote in, follow the campaigns and care passionately about many issues. But at the same time unlike many of my friends who are, in some cases, professionally interested in politics (among others I have friends who have run national campaigns for president, served as candidate’s CTO’s, and in some cases run for office themselves) my interest and passion is not professional. In a small way I have helped with a non-partisan public policy group, Hope Street Group whose goals and mission I fully support. But politically I am centrist of neither party. I can certainly, however, speak Politics. And at times I have even toyed with the idea that someday I might run for an office myself, albiet only when I think someone with my centrist views and aethistic leanings could stand a chance of winning (probably rules out running for any national offices in the foreseeable future).
  • Being Jewish. I am Jewish could emmigrate to Israel and would qualify – much more than the past three generations of my mother’s family have been Jewish. I grew up in a household where Yiddish words were sprinkled into conversation with some frequency (my mom’s influence). Every year as a child in our Christmas stockings my mom gave us Hanaukah Geld. But I didn’t attend Hebrew school, wasn’t Bar Mitvah’ed and if I didn’t tell you noone ever guesses that I’m Jewish – my name tends to lead people to another assumption. In fact one Jewish friend with whom I was staying in New York City once called me on a Friday night while I was in NYC and wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable meeting him at his friends whose Shabbat dinner he was enjoying, he assumed I wasn’t Jewish (if he had realized he probably would have invited me to join him earlier). But in college I taught an Israeli friend of mine how to cook Kosher (first having to help teach her how to cook) for the local Hillel Shabbat dinner. I am not religious but I do consider myself Jewish at least as an ethnic and cultural identity. At the same time to some degree I don’t fully speak “Jewish”, I was raised more as a Roman Catholic, went to a Catholic elementary school and the world around me has generally engaged with me not as someone who is Jewish so I haven’t had the experiences positive or negative that might convey. One of my most vivid memories of my childhood is a day when I realized that attending a Catholic elementary school was limiting my perspective on the world considerably. I remember thinking that everyone is Catholic – certainly that everyone I knew was. Yes, I knew that my mom wasn’t, but it was that moment when I realized the danger of being fully immersed in a community, the danger of too much of the same being all around you. I think it was the next day I started asking my parents to transfer me into the public junior high for my 7th grade a move I’m still grateful for to this day.
  • Being Roman Catholic and Irish. I was raised Roman Catholic, went to mass nearly every Sunday for most of my childhood, recieved my First Communion and went to Confession. My father was and is deeply active in his church, he gives the homilies with some frequency and is a very active member of what is a fairly atypical Roman Catholic community, a community that has mass in a school gym and has music played with guitars and where laypeople take a very active role in the service. My aunt is a Roman Catholic nun. I grew up half a continent removed from most of my aunts and uncles (who were and are mostly still back on the East Coast) but we had large family gatherings around the holidays and heard stories of what it meant to be Irish earlier in this century in the US. Stories which reinforced an identity outside of the mainstream of Protestant America (stories of “No Irish allowed” type signs and workplaces). At the same time, however I was not immersed in an Irish idenity, we didn’t learn Irish folk dancing or cook much corned beef at home (though we did eat a lot of potatoes). I also rejected the Catholic church at a very young age, I refused to be Confirmed being unwilling to publicly vow something I did not believe or would want to honor. To be Confirmed is how you join the Catholic Church as an full adult member, it is your act of publicly affirming that you believe in God (which I do not), agree with the Roman Catholic faith and will both be an active member of the Church and will raise your children as members of the Church. All of which I would not swear that I would do – not the least of which being I feel how children are to be raised should be a mutual decision by both parents – which makes it very hard for me to feel comfortable taking such a vow on my own. So while I can speak Catholic, I am not (in a very formal sense of the word) a Catholic. I’ll always be, I guess, Irish – that’s my other side of my family.
  • Web 2.0. Since moving out to the Bay Area I have become, I guess, immersed in the emerging community around Web 2.0. My friends are the bloggers covering the companies, the CEO’s, founders, programmers, and investors in Web 2.0. When I go to a conference on the topic I usually know both the organizers of the conference and a majority of the speakers. I speak “web 2.0” with a high degree of fluency. I use many of the web 2.0 services though like everyone else I don’t use every service or have the time to try everything. I’ve covered Web 2.0 myself as a blogger for Centernetworks.
  • Business. I do not have an MBA. Though if you were to look at my bookshelves you would be forgiven for assuming that I might have one. As a child I read, at least some sections, of the Wall Street Journal from almost the time I learned to read. I have always followed the workings of business with a great deal of interest, I read a relatively large number of business books each year (increasingly books whose authors I might in fact know) and I try to stay up on the many nuances of business. However not having an MBA, not having spent much of my career working up the ranks of a large corporation (or a large services firm serving corporations) there is also a very real sense in which I do not speak Business, some nuances of relationships and interactions I simply don’t get or am at least very rusty about. I was never very good at internal company politics or at the wink and a nod aspects of how a lot of business actually occurs (over games at a golf course and the like). I’m not a member of right health or private clubs, I don’t rack up the frequent flyer miles, and I don’t go to very many business focused conferences or events. But I probably would fit in even at a very high level with people at most large corporations, I could ask the right questions, hold serious conversations, make useful contributions and introductions.
  • Social Networks. In 2004 I formed MeshForum. In 2005 and 2006 I organized a three day conference on the study of Networks both Social Networks and many other types of networks. Speakers at MeshForum included experts from the Pentagon, professors of many fields and from many different schools, entrepreneurs, investors and artists. In 2007 I held a series of smaller one day MeshWalks and I intend to hold more MeshWalks and another MeshForum in the future. As a result of my involvement in organizing MeshForum and in participating in online discussions such as the SOCNET mailing list I have become very well versed in the theory of Social Network Analysis as well as have been a student of the emerging class of web sites (and other services) around “Social Networks”. But I am not a practicing Social Network analyst, I haven’t published research and increasingly I am unable to keep up with the all too many different social networks around which people I know engage (and even less so able to track and follow the countless other networks where few if anyone I know engages). But I most definitely speak Network in all the many permutations of that word and concept. Heck, I can even hold my own in conversation with my friends who are telecomunitions policy or technology wonks. (and in my case that includes people who literally invented major pieces of our current technology stack and or who founded major companies or worked on major policy)
  • and I’m sure I am missing many other Communities I can speak to as well – science fiction fandom, art, the music industry, gay/lesbian communities (I’m most definitely straight but have many friends who are not, many of whom are very active in a range of communities around sexual orientation and idenity) and even sports fandom (the last of which is perhaps a bit of a secret even to some of my friends – for all of my life I have listened to a lot of sports talk radio at times I have followed different sports with some degree of passion – but somehow this hasn’t overlapped with my social circles much).

So what Communities do you speak?

Posted in geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, politics, restaurants, San Francisco, web2.0, working | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The communities all around us

Posted by shannonclark on August 6, 2008

In less than 10 minutes walking from my house are nearly a countless number of different communities, throughout the greater San Francisco and Bay Area there are thousands, probably millions more.

I have been thinking about the communities to which I belong, the communities all around me, and the online and offline implications of these communities, our changing notion of identity, and on a more personal level what all this means to what I’ll do next weekend or more long term how my life is and will be changing in the future.

In a conversation with friends a few weeks ago (and some blog posts) I noted that many people here in SF seem to be defined by a single, dominant community to which they belong – whether by virtue of sexual orientation, sexual practice/preferences, or active participation in an arts community such as Burning Man. In the Mission there are “hipsters”, down the Peninsula in Silicon Valley some are yet another part of the tech world and all around the Bay Area there are other communities – hippies (aging or youthful) in Haight-Ashbury and across the bay in Berkeley etc.

But as I was walking home from getting a late night dinner a few nights ago I started looking around my neighborhood and realized that there are literally 100’s if not 1000’s of communities just in the blocks around my house, in the businesses (and churches) and amongst the apartments and homes. Some are small communities, others are very large, many people indeed most people belong to many different communities but often will define themselves via just a few or perhaps just one.

What do I mean by “community”?

In this context I’m thinking of community as a group to which you belong, an association of people though that is clearly still very vague. Perhaps simplest is a group where people know you and very likely would help you (or you help them) because of your mutual membership in the community. Now this is not entirely complete, there are plenty of people in any given community who are clearly members of that community but who may not know each other and may not help each other if asked, but most broadly a community are people to whom you can turn to – whether for something as simple as a smile and a hello or as complex as help in a time of crisis.

A few examples of communities scattered around my neighborhood on just one street upon which I walk frequently.

  • At the bottom of the hill a large Catholic church and school. Multiple overlapping communities here – the parishoners who attend the Church and the parents, students and staff who go to the school
  • Among my neighbors on the way down the hill I see political signs (here in San Francisco primarily Obama window signs like the one in my own window) as well as flags to proclaim other associations, here in San Francisco lots of rainbow flags generally as a sign of Gay or Lesbian identity.
  • Also at the bottom of the hill are a number of restaurants and shops around each of which to a lesser or greater degree a small community has sprung up. In all cases a community of the workers of the store, but also in many cases the regular customers of the business form communities of a sort bonding with each other and with the owners and staff through frequent visits and conversations.
  • a bit further down the hill there is an Orthodox Jewish center, during high holidays I have seen it busy, many evenings I may see a small group (usually of men) inside in what I assume is Torah study. It stands out a bit in contrast to the mostly Hispanic rest of the surrounding blocks.
  • across from the Jewish center is one of the many legal marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco, I assume a community of a sort gathers there as well
  • also in my neighborhood are yoga studios, beauty salons, therapist offices, art galleries, day care centers, veterinarians, midwifes, and countless other small businesses. Around each one ore more small communities likely has formed, people who in many cases live nearby and bond with each other over shared practices, hobbies, children, religion, or other common interests.

And outside of this very local scale of relationships and communities people in most cases are also part of one or more work communities, of the extended community around schools they have attended (and/or which their children attend) and on a bigger scale still people come together around a shared support for a professional sports team (and more broadly for a shared passion for one or more speciic sports).

But why observe all this? Why take stock of the many communities around us?

Because as I started to do this I realized a couple of pretty vital things.

  1. Without intentionally meaning to I am not, in fact, part of many of these communities at all.
  2. Most of the communities people are a part of have little correspondence with anything “online” the seeming overlaps are, in fact, a different, perhaps related community
  3. All communities on or offline succeed and add value to your life in relationship to your own involvement, your awareness of them (sure a smile from the woman behind the counter is nice, better though is getting to know her by name)
  4. While there are some communities created around facts of the people involved (skin color, sexual preference, school you attended) the most meaningful are around not a noun or adjective but around verbs – around what you (the members) do. Knowing how to play chess doesn’t make you a member of a local chess playing community – playing chess with your fellow players who gather at North Ave Beach in Chicago (and in nearby cafes in the wintertime) makes you a member of that community.
  5. The communities I perceive myself as a member of very likely do not or at least not fully overlap with the communities others perceive me as a member of. And what matters most in a community is not whether you think you are a member but whether the other members of that community agree that you are – i.e. if they perceive you as a fellow member. Even in the small, adhoc communities around the businesses in my neighborhood there are these differences. I may be a semi-regular in a cafe but if I don’t take the time to get to know the staff, the owner, the other regulars then though I may be recognized as someone who has been there before, in a very real sense I am not a member of the community.

When I first got online, in 1991, I was an active member of a number of online communities. very real communities which had a more than just online impact on my life. In the two largest cases as a result of these communities I offered friends whom I had only met online a place to stay, got together with many of them in person (with many people traveling long distances for these gatherings) and many other members of these communities formed even more permanent and lasting relationships (and yes some marriages). Musual membership in an online USENET discussion board (open to anyone but the community was formed of those who participated even if just mostly as readers) or of the players of an online game rapidly expanded to a level of trust that allowed people to open up their homes to each other when travelling, to offer “real world” assistance when needed, in short to be there for each other when the need arose. All as a result of the ongoing and active and reinforcing trust built up via online participation and engagement.

In many cases this did not, in fact, at that time (1991-1994 or so) require people to post and participate entirely as their real world selves. Indeed some of the most important members of the community of one online game which I helped run refused to reveal to anyone his or her gender (instead preferring to have a gender neutral identity even while also active in relationships with others in the game). And though merely having online access in the early 90’s meant that we all shared some common traits (technical knowledge, access usually via a university) we were quite a diverse community – with people from many different generations, of many different gender and sexual identities, of quite different professional interests, and indeed very different religious and political views.

Taking stock, however, of the communities which I feel an active part of today online I see a diminution of this diversity. In many cases these are groups of people who overlap in many many ways. Sure we may all use a given technology (twitter/friendfeed for example) but in many cases we also work in the same industries, many of us are of similar ethinic backgrounds, hold relatively similar political views and in short overlap in many many ways.

I find this very unfortunate though I suspect it is a difficult trend to reverse the group forming tools online today almost always presuppose a shared engagement with one or more specific technologies/sites (Facebook vs MySpace vs Orcut vs Bebe vs Hi5 vs Topix vs Yahoo Groups etc) so the people who share your interest who also find and then participate in the same online “community” tend to overlap not only around that interest but also around a whole range of other shared traits which led them, like you, to choose the same tools and online homes.

There are some minor exceptions – communities which are online but not formed as part of another site or service but as a standalone site. In many of these cases they may attract a somewhat more diverse group of members – but only to the extent that there are both not many other alternative venues for those interests and that people from many different backgrounds are all looking for such a community.

I will be writing more on this subject in the future. Full disclosure, among the publisher clients of my advertising network, Nearness Function, is a large online network of standalone communities mostly clustered around a shared passion for a particular type of consumer electronics.

Posted in digital bedouin, futureculture, geeks, networks, personal, San Francisco | Tagged: | 1 Comment »