Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for September, 2008

Connectivity, Hackerspaces, and influential people

Posted by shannonclark on September 29, 2008

In the past few days a half-dozen or so of people I knew back in high school have connected with me via Facebook, as we have been catching up on nearly 20 years of our lives it is amazing both how much and how little has changed. In nearly all cases i immediately could recognize them from their posted photos and so far at least i haven’t been overly surprised by their choices of careers or educations. I suspect that via Facebook as it continues to grow I’ll reconnect with even more of my oldest friends.

On the front of making new friends I learned about a very cool new project here in San Francisco, Noisebridge which has just (as in earlier today) signed a lease on a commercial space here in San Francisco where they will be opening up an open HackerSpace for everyone to enjoy and use as a base from which to build and create amazing hacks. While I don’t know if I’ll be active enough to pay a large monthly fee to support the space, I plan on doing what I can to support them – and hopefully as a result may finally get around to doing far more hacking than I have of late. Including perhaps exploring how to hack my largish collections of conference schwag and old electronics into something more interesting and useful (or at least fun).

On a more serious note I hope to participate in more hackerish spaces and events to expand my personal network in still further directions. In the past few days I have been thinking a great deal about who I know, what I do with my friends (or more accurately don’t do) and what I really would like to be spending more time (and to the extent I have it money) on doing.

A few of the things that I realized I am not doing to the extent that I would really like, and to the extent that they are in fact important to me, is I have not been anywhere nearly as active in an arts and literary scene as I would like. I want to get out to art galleries and openings, start to the extent that I can afford it to collect art, to make more of my own (for example finally print my best photos of the past years). I want to attend live theater and other shows, go to even more literary events and readings and in short spend more time around others who share my tastes and cultural interests.

Sure, i am a geek and like technology, but I am a geek about many different fields. In high school besides all my honors science and math classes I took as many (perhaps more) honors history and english classes and I was an editor of the school literary magazine (which I’m proud to say won a national award that year for design). In college I did performance art, attended tons of live theater and shows, hung out in amazing art scene cafes and bookstores, wrote poetry and had a great time – and had friends with whom to share those interests and explorations. But in the past decade or so I have not had friends with whom to share my loves of art, design, poetry (of some forms), writing, theater and other arts.

My tastes are complex, I like certain types of literary writing – This American Life for example and related works of literary non-fiction. But I generally do not like the fiction of the New Yorker (read it each week hoping that I will like the story but rarely do) and though I feel I should, I haven’t every really gotten entirely into McSweeney’s though I love the physical design of each issue. Sure I’m a huge science fiction and fantasy fan, but I love many other genres and my own writing (and interest in writing) tends towards the fairly serious – if with more plot than most “mainstream” fiction.

In terms of art I tend to like certain types of design driven art – I prefer art that is physically pretty vs. art that is only confrontational. I have collected a lot of small works of art – art books for example, though I don’t yet have a good way to display them. If I had the money I would love to collect a lot of visual arts and perhaps select sculptures. At the highest end probably my favorite artist is Juan Miro. When I was in chicago I attended serious art fairs a few times each year – by serious I mean the types of fairs where you could have bought a large, original Juan Miro if you happened to have had a spare $1.5M or for less works by many living artists.

Also this week i am amused by the release of the BusinessWeek 25 Most Influential People on the Web a list on which I know nearly half of the members, have been to parties at some of their homes in fact. And even the people I don’t know personally, I know that in nearly every case friends of mine do, in fact, know them (and work for/have worked with/invested in them). A simple reminder of why I moved to the Bay Area.

This could be one of the most critical weeks in American (and world) history in terms of the financial markets, I plan on spending this week working on what I can do to weather the storm – how I can generate revenues for my advertising network and/or other revenue streams to support myself and projects i am working on in the potentially turbulent times ahead.

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, networks, personal, San Francisco, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Resume advice or why mention “Disassembled Particle Accelerator”

Posted by shannonclark on September 17, 2008

The Large Hadron Collider/ATLAS at CERN

This afternoon I was, as happens on a regular basis, asked to look at a friend’s resume and to give her some feedback and advice. She is a relatively recent college graduate now looking for her first “real” job though she is already an active member of the tech circles in the bay area and has worked as an intern for a number of startups.

After giving her the fairly typical advice – stuff such as correcting some awkward phrases, some minor spelling/typo type errors, a few rough bits of grammer as well as focusing her on being specific – on what she wants to do as well as what she has already done – I then sent her the following bit of advice.

Always have something on your resume which will stand out and demand to be explained.

Not in a bad way, something you have to explain away, but rather something which is memorable and which someone reading a stack of resumes will want to learn more about, to get the story behind why you mention that particular skill or past job etc.

In my case I have, for most of my career, included the phrase “disassembled particle accelerator” on my resume and in almost every job interview I have ever had the interviewer has asked me the story behind why I mention that particular fact about myself.

First and foremost this should be a true fact – not something you make up. In my case the summer after my senior year of high school, before I entered college at the University of Chicago, I spent the summer on a National Science Scholars program working at Argonne National Labs, in my case working for a number of physicists that summer. While most of my time was spent writing FORTRAN programs and working inside of Mathematica, I did also watch one medium sized particle accelerator run. And I did, in fact, disassemble a room sized lab table top particle accelerator to free up that laboratory for a new set of experiments.

So I am among the likely very few people in the world to have disassembled a particle accelerator and so I mention this fact on my resume.

And, as I noted, almost without fail, especially early in my career it stood out and people asked me about it – it communicated a lot of things about me in a small amount of words. I was fairly technical, I had even at a young age already done a fairly wide range of things, that I was likely fairly smart (at least smart enough to win a national award and work at Argonne with physicists) etc.

So my advice to my friend, beyond fixing the mostly minor details of her resume, was to think about one thing she has done in her life already which will stand out and which will make someone want to talk with her to hear the story behind it.

As I noted to her the job of an resume which you submit to a company for a specific position (i.e. not a resume submited to a machine for entry into a resume database etc) is to get you in the door, to get you the interview (hopefully the in person interview but a phone interview is at least a good start). From there you will be hired mostly based on the conversations you have and the rest of that company’s interview process – your resume just gets you in the door, you have to then get the job.

I have hired many people in the past decade, made my share of mistakes along the way. And in the course of that hiring I have read a lot of resumes. The successful ones, the ones which lead me to the next step of some form of an interview with the candidate were the ones which addressed the following questions – and which left me wanting to meet that person and ask her (or him) more questions.

  1. Is this person passionate about the type of work she (or he) will be required to do? I will never (again) hire a programmer who is not the type of programmer who has to write code who does more than just write code for the job but would and does write code just for fun.
  2. Is the person a good fit for the type of company and stage of company? i.e. people leaving very large company corporations are rarely great fits for extremely early stage startups – large corporations allow people to be highly focused but also build up an expectation of a level of external support that is not present at nearly all startups.
  3. Will the person be a good fit for the company’s culture and especially that of her (or his) new team? Remembering that often a great fit for a company is someone who compliments the company’s existing teams and adds a new perspective and new skills – having no one who agrees or everyone who agrees are both bad, especially at a startup. But companies each have (or evolve to having) different cultures – one person’s approach and style will be perfect for some firms and horrible for others (Here I wouldn’t exclude myself – my way of working and interacting is not a fit for every company or client I have worked for or with)
  4. Can the person grow with and into the company and new roles alongside the company? Especially for a startup, but even for a project team at a large company, people who will be able to take on new roles and grow with the company (and/or team) are almost always better candidates than people who for whatever reason are unlikely to take on new roles in the future.

So what have you disassembled lately?

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What are you working for?

Posted by shannonclark on September 14, 2008

A great question which a friend asked me earlier this afternoon after a brunch where our conversation covered dozens of topics. He is a financial adviser and most of clients are from the tech and startup world.

What am I working for?

I have been thinking about this question for a while now, all summer in fact. Being an entrepreneur means a lot of things, not least of which are some lean and sometimes tough financial times as you are getting started but also great rewards (including finacial rewards) when you succeed.

I have a, relatively short, list of things I would buy if money were not an object. A related list of things I would do, events I would attend. But I have realized that other than also putting some money aside for my hoped for future family (which first likely requires dating and probably marrying the right woman) much of what I am working for, what I would want financial rewards for are to be able to then do stuff for others with those resources.

So first the basics a quick list for my own future reference – what I am working for, what I would do when finacial success starts to flow my way.

  • Buy a car. Not an impractical car, but also not a beat up car. My taste tends towards hatchbacks or coupes, probably something with some serious power and performance yet also with many luxury features and definitely an automatic (I both do not and do not want to learn how to drive stick). I have not had a car for nearly 4 years and prior to that I had owned a car for 4 years but only drove it 13,000 miles. However to really enjoy living in CA I probably need a car and for my planned use of one owning it is likely more suitable for me than a car share service (for one I hate having deadlines or restrictions on my flexibility – one of the great things about working for yourself is being in control of your time and movements)
  • Furnish my apartment fully. I have, alas, expensive tastes when it comes to furniture. I really like very modern, very clean lines in my furniture. Most likely when I have the money I will spend a great deal of it at Roomand Board which is almost without exception my design aesthetic
  • Update and maintain my wardrobe. I like quality and clean design in most things, including clothes. However though I have many great pieces of clothing I also have many other items which are worn (even worn out) and do not update my clothes all that often. I also have many items where I really only have one – one pair of glasses, one brown belt (and one black belt), only a handful of shoes, not many different pairs of pants etc. Here I have also learned that for my taste quality matters – I definitely feel and act differently when I am wearing clothes that fit me well, that are well made from high quality fabrics, than when I am in ill-fitting clothes of cheap fabrics.
  • Complete and maintain my Doctor Who collection. I am huge Doctor Who fan, but for about the past decade I have not been actively collection Doctor Who items and as a result there are vast numbers of books, original audio plays from Big Finish, comics and especially DVD’s which i have not collected. If I had the resources I would buy a great deal of these materials and subscribe to many others. In particular Big Finish does amazing work, when i have the money I’d buy most of their back catalog and subscribe the future shows, in no small part as a thank you to them for their great work and that of the actors.
  • Buy even more books in hardcover editions and subscribe to great magazines. I already do buy a lot of books each year (probably averaging over 200 books each year, perhaps more some years) but much of what I buy are used or paperbacks and there are many new hardcover books, even by authors I really like, which I do not end up purchasing. When I have more money I would buy more these (though I likely will have less time to read so this is as much about supporting authors I really like as it is about reading the books – though for my favorite authors I do usually eventually read the books as well). On the magazine front I subscribe to very few magazines at the moment, yet here too there are many which I would really like to have and read on a more regular basis, in many cases a subscription is likely even a net savings (since i end up buying magazines like Wired and Monocle on newsstands with some frequency)
  • When I eat out eat at more of the restaurants I really love. And treat myself to serious dining experiences such as French Laundry and various tasting menus on a regular basis. I am a foodie, yet much of the time in the past years I have eaten cheaply instead of well, certainly not all of the time but there are hundreds of places I have always wanted to try but which I have not for lack of funds.
  • Upgrade my kitchen tools and continue to cook and buy locally. My one indulgence, though truly not much of one, has been to usually buy locally and mostly from farmers’ markets. However my kitchen equipment in some areas is lacking (no food processor or electric mixer) and I do not keep my pantry and fridge as well stocked as I would like (and for that matter my fridge and stove are not very nice at the moment)
  • Invest in myself. On a basic (and immediate even if the rest of this list takes longer to get to) I need to invest in my own health. Lots of dentist visits, finding a primary care physician in San Francisco, having full and complete health insurance, keeping a good supply of asthma and allergy medicines, etc. This also means investing more in my own ongoing and continual education. I love to learn, yet it has been nearly a decade since I last took a formal class anywhere. I should be taking something nearly every year – a writing workshop, a class at a local university, something to keep myself sharp and to continue to push my mind in new directions. For that matter I would also like to strengthen my knowledge of French and perhaps to try to learn other languages (Spanish? Hebrew? Chinese? Japanese?)
  • Commit to and attend more of the events I want to attend. In the past decade while I have made it to a lot of amazing conferences and events in nearly every case I have done so by deciding to attend at nearly the last minute and I have missed many events I would have really enjoyed being at (and at many of the events I have attended because I decided to go at the last minute I have not gotten the full benefit from attending – not been listed as an attendee, haven’t set up as many meetings or figured out what talks I want to hear/people I want to see etc). My short list of events I would want to attend includes: TED, PopTech, SXSW (music as well as film and interactive), a serious film festival (probably Sundance), one or more serious writing conferences (both genre such as World Fantasy and perhaps a non-genre such as the New Yorker Festival) and there are many more. I don’t see much live music, don’t get to live theater or opera, and rarely attend festivals. I definitely want to do more of all of that (and even some occasional sporting events such as this year seeing a Cubs game, especially if they make it to the World Series). More than the actual cost of attending any of these events (many of which are really business investments or which I have in the past been able to minimize through my own tech involvement and writing) is the powerful impat of being able to plan for the future, of being able to commit money now for future activities – and not be overly concerned if I have to later change my plans (as will inevitably happen as an entrepreneur). For the past few years I have not felt confident in my future planning (and budgeting) to commit money too far in advance, this is a habit and mode of thinking I want to break.

As I noted i do not have particularly expensive tastes except in a few areas (furniture, food and clothing). I would probably also indulge myself in some modern electronics (an HDTV projector, some games consoles, etc) but even after all of that the actual cost of all of the items I mentioned above (assuming medical costs aren’t too insane) is in the grand scheme of things not actually all that high. Probably dipping towards six figures with all of the medical costs and conferences added, but only barely.

Long term I probably would want to buy a place here in the Bay Area and probably either rent or buy a place in New York, perhaps also somewhere in Europe (London or Paris most likely) and long term my fantasty is that I live a more fully bi (or including Europe tri) coastal lifestyle. But what I want more than the places is the flexibility of living in each city for extended periods of time – so creative renting might work well (or buying a place in one of the newer buildings that rent out your apartment as a hotel room when you aren’t using it).

Very long term I also want to own (or have a long term rent) on a venue where I can hold events, probably some retreat center like property, most likely in the midst of a large forest somewhere (likely near here in Northern California). Though I love living in large, vibrant cities, I am also a serious lover of forests – more so than coasts or open fields, a forest is where I feel most at peace and most comfortable. Someday I want to own my small (or not so small) piece of a forest and have a place I can retreat to from time to time, probably extremely well stocked with books, games and fireplaces. I can see myself buying a place as a mixture of a personal retreat and as a working retreat center, I love to run events, having a place where I could host them myself has a lot of appeal, especially if it had sufficient space and facilities for the types of events I most admire and want to have (this probably means space for up to a few hundred, perhaps as many as 400+ people). So this is long term – and with money and resources there are far cheaper options to having access to such spaces than buying them entirely myself.

So given that most of what I describe above would be well within my reach if I were to go to work for someone else – my skills, experience and contacts are such that I would likely command a quite decent salary even by Silicon Valley standards – why am I working towards the possibility of much greater rewards (with all the stresses and risks associated with that)?

This was the full question my friend posed me earlier today, given that for the most part my tastes do not run too high, that I don’t really have much need on a personal level (or for that matter the desire to spend), why am I working so hard (if sometimes it feels not yet hard enough) towards really high rewards? Why didn’t I (or why don’t I) take the seemingly easier route of taking a job working for someone else?

The short answer is I do have a lot I want to do with great resources – but most of it is not personally directed. There are dozens of organizations I want to make a serious financial (and other) support towards. At some point in my future I also see making direct investments (or indirectly as a limited partner), especially in the types of businesses I think can have a really deep and lasting impact locally and on the world. I want to offer finacial support to politicians I believe in (Obama for starters). I run MeshForum as a non-profit for many reasons, not least of which is philosophical I have a mission with MeshForum which is not to make money directly but rather to help spark and support innovation and new ways of thinking about deep and complex problems – in the case of MeshForum around the area of the interdisciplinary study of Networks – and informing different fields and businsesses which are network related with the techniques and approaches of other fields. The conferneces I hold and will hold help here, making the content available widely also helps, but there is much more I could do. In the future I want to directly support lots of research efforts, especially around making richer datasets available to researchers and around supporting truly interdisciplinary scholors.

My passion is around learning and around having a large impact on the world. One way i want to do this is building a large, sustainable (in all senses of the word) business – a truly global business which has a large impact. I then want to leverage that business and the resources it makes available to me towards supporting great work and research – especially research that crosses disciplines and very much the basic research that is not as supported today inside or outside of academia.

So that is why I work, in a small way for the personal comforts it will bring me in the future, for the support it will offer my future family, but mostly I work to get the resources to have a huge impact on the world, to support the many people I know (and will know) who are doing great things and to help support and spark new innovations that can continue to have great changes in the world in the future.

Why do you work? What are you seeking from your efforts?

Posted in Entrepreneurship, meshforum, networks, personal, politics, reading, San Francisco, working | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My Yahoo HackDay Hack – building a personal identity hub part 1

Posted by shannonclark on September 14, 2008

A few weeks ago I finally, after nearly a decade of trying, purchased my name domain At the Yahoo! Open Hackday this weekend I spent my time figuring out some ways to turn into my personal identity hub on the Internet.

My long term goal for the site is that it will contain much of what I do online as well as show who is linking to or using my content elsehwere across the web. Ideally I want to do this without updating or directly maintaining the site, instead i want content to flow into from all over the web in an automated (yet when needed moderated) manner.

I have many, probably too many, blogs which I maintain as well as a collection of blogs or bloglike sites which I do not maintain. Some are blogs which I started but have not posted to in a long time, others are my active blogs, and a few are the blogging sections of various social networks to which I belong which I do not utilize with great frequency. I am also active on dozens of online services and tools from Twitter to Facebook to countless other sites and services.

So my task this past weekend was to figure out how to start pulling together all this content I create, while ideally also capturing other people’s use of that content, all while avoiding claiming anything as my content (or my usage) which was not, in fact, me. After all the reason I did not have for the past decade plus was that another person (a woman specifically) who is also named Shannon Clark had registered the domain first, though luckily for me she had never used the site and earlier this year allowed it to expire without renewing the domain.

I started by installing the latest version of WordPress on my domain which I am hosting on This was easily done with the web management panel provided by Bluehost along with the automatic updates plugin I installed which then makes the process of updating wordpress to the latest version quite simple and fast.

With the latest version of wordpress installed I then set about customizing my installation. First I installed a set of core plugins which I run on most of my other wordpress blogs – wordpress stats, askimet to capture spam comments. I then also selected a variety of themes which include support for the latest wordpress features as well as widgets and started to play with a variety of looks for the new blog. The current theme I have selected may change as I continue to update and modify the site.

In looking over the wordpress plugins I looked for a way to consolidate a bunch of my blog posts via displaying or using the full text RSS feeds I generate from all of my blogs. I found a number of possible solutions as wordpress plugins, for the hackday I selected on that looked promising and installed it. I may revisit the one I selected and both look at alternatives or try to correct some small bugs I have found with this particular plugin (bugs which I hope will be fixed in a future update, I think they are some form of AJAX related overlap in functionality or naming as the plugin causes problems with wordpress’ admin features).

But my problem now was how to feed my various RSS feeds into new site in a way that managed to maintain the correct time order of my posts and which would be maintained into the future in an automated fashion.

My solution for this was to take the four key blogs (though I likely will add additional blogs in the future) into a special Yahoo! Pipe I set up. My first pass at this resulted in output that instead of showing all of my posts in full text and formatting only showed a short excerpt of each post. To make this work as I intended my Pipe had to join the blog feeds together, sort them, and then modify the elements to move the full text of my posts into the field which was storing only the excerpts.

Using this pipe’s output as an RSS i then fed it into the plugin I installed to syndicate content. The result of this plugin is that a bit over forty of my past posts across the four blogs were syndicated as full text posts, with titles and other internal links linking back to the original source blogs and comments on the new site turned off. And the plugin will monitor my blogs on an hourly basis and syndicate any new posts (such as this very post) as they are posted. I set this timeframe to an hour to minimize load on my blogs (the default was 10 minutes). Over time I’ll play with this configuration to determine what works best.

In the next posts on this topic I’ll explain what I did to create a page that displays my activities across the web (and some future experiments I’m looking into for alternative approaches to this challenge), my start of tools to track usage of my content across the web, and my plans for the “about Shannon Clark” section(s) of the website as well as additional areas and features I may decide to build out in the future.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »