Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

New podcast subscriptions for February 2010

Posted by shannonclark on February 10, 2010

At the beginning of the year I posted the state of my media diet in 2010 and based on that post have received a lot of great suggestions for additional podcasts and other media which I should add to my diet in 2010.  I’ve also found a bunch of new podcasts through searches of iTunes directory and via referrals from other new podcasts which I have subscribed to recently.

Here is a list of new podcasts I subscribed to in January and earlier this month. In each case I have also added the feeds to Google Reader which includes many non-podcast blog posts.

  • Dragons Landing – One of a number of gaming related podcasts which I have subscribed to recently. I’m undecided about this show which while interested and well produced does tend towards being a bit long.
  • Robertson Games podcasts – One of a few podcasts I have subscribed to which are podcasts of live play sessions of role playing games. I really like the blog these podcasts are from, but am uncertain about the live play (in part because it tends to be, so far at least, just a single one-shot game)
  • Icosahedraphilia – a long running live play podcasts of a D&D 4E campaign. Very well produced and the game is interesting, if a bit a tame language wise due to the players & DM’s personal religious beliefs. Really fascinating for the detailed descriptions of the props and resources used in the course of each game.
  • The Tome ShowA reviews and interviews show about role playing games. Very well done though I have only listened to a few shows so far.
  • NPR Planet Money ShowA show I have been meaning to subscribe to for some time now as I have really enjoyed the episodes of This American Life which have featured the team behind the Planet Money podcast.
  • Studio 360 with Kurt Anderson (blog) – One of the two most recommended shows in the comments and responses to my initial post. So far I have enjoyed this show but have found that I listen to other podcasts before catching up with this one.
  • WNYC’s RadioLabThe other most recommended show in the responses to my initial post. A show about science but presented in a very intelligent and engaged way. That said, I also find myself listening to other podcasts before I catch up with this one.
  • Huffduffer (personal feed) – not a podcast in a traditional format but rather a service for handcrafting a podcast feed from audio content available online. My friend Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read Write Web wrote up a glowing review of Huffduffer and based on his recommendation I checked out the service and signed up. I have, so far, found it to be a great way to quickly and easily create a personalized feed of various bits of audio content I find online and want to listen to on my iPod.

So still haven’t found any tech podcasts to subscribe to but I have added a great deal of new content to my podcast listening diet. I welcome suggestions for other media I should add – podcasts, video podcasts, magazines or other media forms & experiments.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, iTunes, mobile, personal, podcasts, reading | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Am I an Interactive Strategic Planner?

Posted by shannonclark on January 18, 2010

For the past few years I have been looking for a title to describe what I do as a consultant, I’ve tried the term business designer, which fits but isn’t a term in common usage.  This weekend while I was showing a friend some of my favorite food and retail businesses in San Francisco we also got to talking about my current business ideas and career options.

After hearing more about what I like to do for clients – ideation, brainstorming, connecting companies with the right mix of partners, finding innovative uses of technology, organizing offline events etc – he suggested that I look for roles either full-time or as a consultant as an Interactive Strategic Planner.

Which is great advice for me – but unexpected.

I don’t think of myself as a marketer, yet multiple times in the past few weeks people have suggested to me that really I am, that what I think of as “just” business strategic consulting is, most of the time, very much marketing related as well. Sure I also can dive deeply into technology but increasingly what I’m most passionate about and most involved in is less about writing lines of code and more about exploring creative business models and partnerships, about how to best use a range of technologies (some in-house most not) to achieve real business results.

Even more what I’m most passionate about is not that there is a single, best way to use technology (or a best technology) but rather matching up a company or organization’s resources and goals with a range of available technologies and social tools. I’m also most passionate about combining media – about helping craft a coherent message that crosses many medias and which reinforces and builds the brand. Building that brand not just by one ad or even one campaign but a consistent and ongoing pattern of usage – from the tools & services chosen to activities across many media and platforms.

In the past few years I have mostly worked with small, very scrappy, early stage startups. But we have pulled off some great things – events which drew 100’s of people and dozens of sponsors.

So am I an Interactive Strategic Planner?

Yes.

and if you want to hire me drop me a line. I know 100’s of technology firms and media opportunities which would help your company today.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, internet, personal, working | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

the state of my media diet in 2010

Posted by shannonclark on January 5, 2010

As 2010 begins I have been taking stock of the media I pay attention to and am looking to add to my current diet, I’m looking for new flavors and cuisines, new forms to replace stale old ones.

At the moment my media consumption looks like:

No daily newspapers, no TV news of any form, no Radio (either over the air or Internet). I catch a few TV series, mostly at my girlfriend’s house (or via various means online) but not too many (mostly SF series & a few Food Network shows)

Magazines

  • The New Yorker magazine – I have been a New Yorker subscriber since college in the early 1990’s, however as I write this I am nearly two months behind and all year have found myself increasingly disappointed in the quality of the writing and the point of view of most of the writers for the New Yorker (Malcolm Gladwell excepted).
  • occasional issues of Monocle and even less often The Atlantic Monthly – I may subscribe to both magazines in 2010 even though I am currently months behind on my Monocle reading

And that is it. Years ago I had a dozen of magazine subscriptions (including free technical publications) and would supplement those with local free weekly newspapers and often one or more magazines purchased from a newstand. But that is no longer the case, even when I’m in one of San Francisco’s many excellent newstands with literally 1000’s of magazines available to me I rarely see one I have to buy. I feel there are, I hope, magazines out there I really should be reading – but I do not know what they are!

Podcasts and video podcasts

Mostly a mix of music podcasts & some niche focused podcasts. Here’s the roughly complete list:

  • Accident Hash – CC Chapman’s long running podsafe music podcast, in 2009 this was fairly irregular but usually enjoyable
  • American Public Media’s Sound Opinions – One of my favorites, I have been a listener since an earlier version of this show was on commercial radio in Chicago
  • CO-OP – a video podcast from Revision3 covering video games
  • Critical Hit – a newer audio podcast from students in the Game Design program at Columbia College in Chicago
  • Critical Hit: A Dungeons & Dragons podcast – from the website MajorSpoilers.com a podcast of a group of players playing D&D 4th edition – a bit of a nostalgia trip for me – but also it has been catching me up on the new rules of a game I played years ago
  • Doctor Who podshock – for my occasional Dr. Who fan discusison
  • Dungeons & Dragons podcast – an occasional podcast from Wizards of the Coast, I subscribed for a series of episodes they did with Wil Wheaton & folks from Penny Arcade playing a series of D&D games. The website archive is a bit clunky – subscribe to this podcast via iTunes.
  • Games with Garfield – an occasional podcast from Richard Garfield on game design (inventor of many great games – including Magic the Gathering)
  • The Geekbox – a group of B ay Area geeks – fun even if I’m a bit older than many of them and have slightly different tastes
  • iFanboy – I subscribe to two audio and one video podcast by the iFanboy team (the video is with Revision3) these cover the Comics industry exceptionally well
  • KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic – one of the best music radio shows anywhere – live in studio sets of great music are what they include in their podcast, but every show is available for streaming on demand.
  • Major Spoilers – another comics (mostly) but also all things geek discussion podcast from a great comics review website
  • Monocle (videos & audio podcast) – great short videos and audio podcast series from one of my favorite magazines, Monocle
  • Murmur.com podcast – from the folks who do iFanboy an occasional podcast on movies & TV & other things geek
  • NPR All Songs Considered podcast – amazing music podcast from NPR – almost always stuff I really enjoy
  • NPR: Live Concerts from All Songs Considered – videos and audios of amazing live concerts
  • Only A Game – NPR’s sports weekly podcast
  • Radio Free Burrito – Wil Wheaton’s personal podcast which he has recently restarted after his recent Memories of the Futurecast series
  • This American Life – another series I started listening to on radio, when it was first broadcast but now catch (occasionally) via podcast

There are a handful of other podcasts I still subscribe to but which haven’t been updated in months so are mostly archives in my iTunes.

It is worth noting that I no longer subscribe to any tech industry podcasts – I’m sure there are some which are engaging & well edited enough to be worth subscribing to? What are they?

Online Blogs & websites

I mostly use Google Reader – currently I have 211 RSS feeds I subscribe to, but looking at Google’s stats, I mostly only read a very small number of feeds – a few customized feeds (Craigslist searches and the like). They break down as follows.

for Politics:

  • The Daily Dish – Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic Monthly blog along with a few other Atlantic Monthly political blogs
  • Jack and Jill Politics – an African American focused political blog friends of mine run

for Tech news:

  • Techcrunch – I subscribe the main, full feed but am annoyed by the partial feed elements from other TechCrunch sites
  • Mashable
  • The Next Web
  • Scobleizer – I have been reading Robert Scoble since before he joined Microsoft
  • Venturebeatfull disclosure – I wrote for Venturebeat in 2009
  • Boing Boing
  • and really that’s about it – I don’t get to or read many other blogs and of the above I average only about 25% at most of any one of them – and usually closer to 10% or less of their posts. I subscribe to many other tech industry blogs, but these are the ones I read the most frequently.

for Food

But again I have some 150+ other feeds I subscribe to yet rarely, if ever, get around to reading. If the feed isn’t a full text feed, even if from a very close personal friend, I will almost never, ever read that feed. Since I read on my iPhone over 50% of the time I’m reading RSS feeds, a non-full text feed requires a crapshoot of loading another site which is rarely well designed for an iPhone (or which breaks the links as far too many mobile site’s versions do) vs the easy navigation between stories when all full text and in Google Reader which has a great iPhone interface.

So clearly I am missing a great deal – what would people suggestion I add in 2010?

Please leave suggestions as comments below – for print publications, podcasts, video podcasts or other forms of media I should pay attention to on a regular basis  in 2010. Please include areas I am missing as well as media in fields I am already following (so suggestions for business/econ focused podcasts are welcome). Even media which is niche & seemingly not likely focused for me – but which is a great example would be welcome suggestions. I’ll listen to or read everything suggest – at least once on the web.

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, iTunes, music, personal, podcasts, politics, reading, San Francisco, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

first look to the future – my hopes for 2010

Posted by shannonclark on December 30, 2009

Over the next few days I will likely post a flurry of posts here and on Slow Brand (where I just posted 2500+ words on why 2010 is a great year for print). Some will be looking forward, others will be thinking about the past year (and decade) but to start here are my hopes for 2010.

These are not resolutions, nor are they in any particular order. Some are small, some are pretty major.

  • see my niece who was born in Dec. This will probably mean taking a trip to NYC early in 2010 and, I hope, getting in a habit of more frequent visits to one of my favorite cities. Though my niece is just recently born, I want to be an engaged and active uncle. As she grows up I hope I can be a great uncle (and spoil her just a bit)
  • travel outside of the US. In 2009 I didn’t travel all that much, a few trips early in the year, but not many after. In 2010 I hope to spend time outside of the US, see the changing world. Hopefully this will include many countries and many types of travel – professional and personal.
  • the return of Chuck to TV (well the Web in my case). My girlfriend’s “tv boyfriend” is Chuck. I’m okay with this. And yes, our shared love of this show says a great deal about our relationship. I’m a geek but so, in many ways, is she.
  • the end of David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who and the beginning of Matt Smith’s run. I’m a huge Doctor Who fan but never thought it would return to the TV, the past 5 years have been enhanced greatly by the return of Doctor Who to TV as well as the great spin-off series. I’ve loved David Tennant’s Doctor but I really look forward to what Steven Moffat does as the new show runner and I trust that I’ll love the new Doctor. My Decembers for the past few years have been made better by the Christmas Specials and this year my New Year’s Weekend as well.
  • SXSW. Every year since I moved out to the Bay Area I have attended SXSW staying for a few more days each year. In 2010 I hope to stay for even more of SXSW Music (and hope to convince my girlfriend to attend with me hopefully she will be working for a company by then which might send her to SXSW…)
  • A MeshWalk at Social Media Week San Francisco (Feb 1st). I will be organizing a MeshWalk here in San Francisco on Feb 1st as part of the larger Social Media Week activities in San Francisco. The format will be a Social Media Crawl – we will range between a number of businesses with offices in San Francisco in/around SOMA who will have open houses, demonstrations and drinks. Should be an amazing way to start a busy and great Social Media Week here in San Francisco.
  • MeshForum 2010. My hope is to pull together a full, multiple day MeshForum conference in 2010, probably in the late Spring in/around the Bay Area. It has been too many years since I last held a full MeshForum and the focus on the interdisciplinary study of Networks is even more important now than ever before.
  • Raising money for a new, social media related venture. I have been immersed in Social Media for a very long time, running an online game with 1000’s of players from my college dorm room in 1991, being active in USENET in the early 1990’s and on the web in many incarnations and forms ever since. As 2010 starts I am actively engaged in raising an early stage/angel round to fund a social media related venture. Watch my blogs for more details and updates but suffice it say that the focus will be on topics I have been writing about for years – the importance of Curation as the future of Media.

Of course if you are interested in supporting any of my ventures, especially the last three above contact me directly. Especially if your company is interested in sponsoring one or more of these events and online activities.

I also know a number of ventures, of many different scales, who are always looking for additional sponsors and creative advertisers, in 2010 I expect I will be connecting great advertisers and sponsors to amazing, unique and fantastic publishers online and offline.

Politically I have long been a strong supporter of Barack Obama and though some are disappointed in his 2009, I am not. He has achieved a great deal of what I expected and hoped he would, along with the support of his fantastic appointees. In 2010 I am eagerly awaiting still more achievements from the first great administration of my lifetime. Starting early in 2010 with, I hope, the passage of Health Care Reform which will have an immediate and important impact on the quality of my life.

I have a pre-existing condition (Asthma and related allergies and allergy caused conditions) which combined with looking at individual not group coverage would, currently, make getting high quality, affordable health insurance nearly impossible. With the passage of #HCR I should be able to get far more affordable coverage of a far higher quality w/o restrictions for my pre-existing conditions (which I should note are not expensive to treat and keep under control but do require annual expenditures for emergency inhalers and the like).

But more than any of these admittedly wide-ranging looks and hopes for 2010 my biggest one is stay worthy of the love of my girlfriend who has been, by leaps and bounds, the best part of 2009 by far.

I hope you have a great 2010 and look forward to reading about what you are looking forward to – whether big or small.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, politics, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The big tables in the cafe principle

Posted by shannonclark on October 22, 2009

This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending Lunch For Good here in San Francisco, organized by my friend Chris Heuer, the lunch gathered around 50 people together for a tasty meal and serious conversation about how to inspire critical thinking.

At my table as part of our conversation I mentioned my “big tables” principle in evaluating cafes as part of our conversation about groups and spaces. At the table the pet owners were all sharing how much enjoyment they get from talking with fellow dog owners at dog parks. I mentioned that I could never even be in such a space, couldn’t ever own pets of any type.

If you are wonder, no I don’t hate animals, I’m just seriously allergic, so allergic that I stop breathing and have asthma attacks along with concurrent serious skin rashes, red eyes and stuffed sinuses. For a short time I can take some allergy medicines and endure brief exposure, but I refuse to take medicine every day of my life just to live with a pet – and furthermore such prolonged exposure to both the medicine (which does have very real side effects) and to the pet dander which has extreme impact on my well being is not conducive to my overall health.

My point in bringing this up is that while the interactions between pet owners are fantastic and it is great that such spaces spark interactions between folks who might not otherwise meet (though likely they share some common interests and traits since they have chosen to live in a near geographic area) such spaces are not, in fact, truly universal, there are folks, such as myself, who not only are unlikely to be at such a dog park my in fact be completely unable to enter such a space.

We then started talking about online spaces and communities and here I brought the discussion back to physical spaces. Cafes are often cited as spaces where strangers can meet, interact and get to know each other. However as a frequent cafe denizen (I’ve been working from cafes since the early 1990’s) I have observed that there are simple steps a cafe can do that dramatically change how the cafe functions as a social space.

Hence my “big tables” principle.

The bigger the tables in a cafe the more social interactions between strangers are likely.

My ideal cafe has tables big enough for two people to work on laptops comfortably while simultaneously having a plate of food, a coffee and some books or other materials open in front of them. Such large tables usually can readily accommodate more than two people and easily inspire ad hoc conversations and interactions between strangers – starting with the simple question ‘do you mind if I share your table” but often ending up with philosophical discussions.

Today, however, in the era when many folks, myself included as I write this post from a cafe in the West Portal seated on a couch (by myself)  frequently shut out the world via listening to headphones as we work, a cafe needs to take further steps to truly inspire people to converse with each other, to actually create a space where social interactions happen.

A few steps I have observed that help.

  1. Watching the volume of the music including any live performers to be quiet enough to enable comfortable conversations. A quiet cafe without any background music however isn’t ideal as people will turn to their own soundtracks. But a cafe with pounding music makes it hard to converse even with friends
  2. Regular events which help spark conversations and interactions. One cafe here in San Francisco (On the Corner) has a weekly games night sponsored by a nearby games shop. Such events give strangers a reason to do more than just talk in passing with each other. Other cafes have regular art openings, cuppings of coffee or other events which help inspire people to interact.
  3. Sociable staff. This is simple but friendly, sociable staff at a cafe will spark conversations with strangers and regulars alike (and help make strangers into regulars). In turn these conversations will then often offer reasons and entrypoints for strangers to interact with each other. Some cafes (and other spaces) take this to an extreme but generally speaking friendly, outgoing staff help create a space where people get a bit out of themselves and interact with others.
  4. Hours that encourage social interactions. Cafes that are open late inspire people (often but not always) to linger and hangout, to use the cafe as an alternative to other evening entertainment options such as bars or nightclubs. One of the more social cafes I have spent time in here in San Francisco is, in fact, a Starbucks. However it is also open 24hrs a day six days a week. Being located near to universities it is full of students studying and interacting with each other until the early hours of the morning.

What lessons can be drawn from such cafes (and other spaces) for online businesses seeking to spark conversations and interactions?

  1. The design details matter a great deal. Small, tiny tables in a cafe or a web design that emphasizes an individual experience will lead to individuals being alone in that space.
  2. Small gestures can inspire and spark interactions. Many of the cafes that most impress me, where I most quickly feel comfortable and at home are cafes where the staff take a simple step of learning my name from the first time I am there – and not just to call out my order but to greet me by name as they interact with me.
  3. Hours and patterns matter.Yes, the web is a global usually open 24hrs a day space but even online most successful communities and sites find rhythms and schedules to fall into. Here on my personal blog I fail in this regard, I do not post nearly enough. In contrast many of my favorite blogs have gotten into a pattern of one or more “open threads” posted every day specifically to create spaces for readers to converse with each other. These posts, in turn, supported by a regular pattern of other posts (the frequency and form of which differ by the blog). Cafes with short hours cater to one audience, cafes with longer hours open later reach a different group.

How do you judge a space? Whether online or offline what about a space inspires you to join it, to engage with the people who might share it with you?

Posted in customer service, digital bedouin, geeks, networks, personal, working | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Modeling ourselves in the FourSquare and Twitter era

Posted by shannonclark on September 2, 2009

foursquare_logo_boy

As a child I grew up without a television, instead I read hundreds of books and listened to old time radio shows and dramas both on the radio and on cassette tape (yes, I’m old, my childhood pre-dates CDs). Then a bit later in my childhood my parents bought me an odd but fun clock radio cube which also could get the audio of over-the-air broadcast television (remember that, something now impossible with today’s transition to digital television). I then would wake up every morning to the Rocky & Bullwinkle show but as a radio broadcast, not as the animated cartoon.

I somewhat suspect that the resulting confusion and neccessary imagination is why I write fiction.

But a more telling result of my childhood, until nearly when I started high school, of growing up without a television is that my models for behavior were of an older age than that of my peers combined with the fact that I was a year or two younger than all my classmates as a result of skipping the end of 2nd grade and finishing 3rd grade that same year after we had moved to a new city, and I was a very strange kid (and perhaps a bit of a strange adult).

Why this discursion into my childhood?

What does this have to do with Foursquare and Twitter?

I have been playing FourSquare since my friends all joined it during SWSWi earlier this year. (btw go vote for my talk proposal for SXSWi 2010) I wasn’t sure if I would keep it up back in San Francisco post-SXSWi but so far I have and in the past few weeks I’ve been seeing more and more friends join (via their requests to be my friends on FourSquare) and I find myself using it nearly every day if I manage to get out of the house.

While the opportunity it presents me to run into friends via seeing where they have just checked in, something I have taken advantage of on multiple occasions as well as the value it gives me by reminding me (or in many cases informing me) of events via seeing multiple people I know all check into the same venue at the same time are all valuable, it is another, more subtle use of FourSquare which I am really enjoying.

That of presenting to me, in a manner which I missed growing up without a TV, of a model of how to be, of how to work and play in this city. It may not be a great model, it certainly isn’t the only model, but observing over time the ebbs and flows of my friends, when they check into their gyms, when they do their grocery shopping, when they are at work, when they are working from a cafe, where they have lunch, when they go out for dinner, drinks and movies, is all very imformative – it is creates a model that is bigger than any single event or check-in, a model that communicates a great deal about living life in this city.

My friends are gay & straight, younger & older, single & married and there are also differences in how they each pass through their days and weeks in this city. All of which is incrediably fascinating to me and revelatory.

Combined with Twitter, where I follow over 1200 people, but only allow a very small number of those people’s messages through to my phone (in which case I see nearly eveyr tweet they send vs seeing only a fraction of most tweets from everyone else I follow) I have found myself in the past 6 months getting a lot of new insight into how other adults live their lives, how other independent, entrepreneurial consultants manage their time. And how my single friends vs my married (or in serious relationships) friends differ in how they spend their time.

These revelations are not major but they are thought provoking for me nonetheless. I have always wondered how people fit going to the gym into their schedules, now I have a far better sense of how at least some of my friends manage that task. I’ve never been much of a going out for drinks kinda of guy, neither are many of my friends, but I do get a bit of a sense of how some of my friends who are a bit more of one do. And it is via observing my friends who are married (in most cases of my friends I’m friends with and follow both partners and thus get two perspectives usually on their activities and relationships) that I’m getting a clearer picture of how, at least my friends, manage many of the details of being in a modern relationship.

For the past three and a half years (and really more like four years) I have been single. My last relationship ended before Twitter started, before Facebook was a big deal, before most of this current round of Web 2.0 (and now whatever we call them) applications took off and long before the iPhone. Now as I begin a new relationship (yeah!!!) I’m glad that I have had months (and via twitter years) of observing a bit of how my friends manage their modern relationships in this city and online. Every relationship is, of course, different and I know we’ll find our own tools and balance – but I have been struck of late by just how much I have absorbed without intending to absorb it from the ongoing small signals and messages I’ve followed of late.

What have you learned from how you use such tools?

Posted in digital bedouin, futureculture, geeks, internet, personal, San Francisco | Leave a Comment »

For Mrs Sandra Price RIP

Posted by shannonclark on July 23, 2009

Update – The Chicago Tribune Obiturary for Mrs Price has just been published

This evening a friend from high school, whom I haven’t talked to in years but with whom I had recently reconnected via Facebook sent me the news that Mrs. Price, after a long struggle with cancer died six days ago (July 17th 2009).

I spent much of the next hour crying.

I may change most of my summer plans to fly back to Illinois in a few weeks for the memorial service.

The last time I had seen Mrs Price was many, many years ago, yet I think about her nearly every day. She was never my teacher, but more than anyone else in high school and truly even in college Mrs Price was among the most important people in my life and one of the folks with the most lasting, positive influence.

I realized this evening that I have very few people for whom I am trying to do anything – my stuggles to achieve have, for the most part, been very self motivated. I’m sure there is an element of making my parents proud, but only an element, mostly I strive to make myself proud, to do what I know I am capable of doing – in fact to show myself I can do even more than that.

But as I mourned this evening I realized that Mrs Price, more than almost anyone was someone for whom I wanted to achieve, someone whom someday when my novel was published or when I had achieved some other goal I could have dedicated the book to her, sent her a copy for herself (and sent one to the then current Oak Park & River Forest High School Science Fiction and Fantasy Club – more on that in a moment)

Mrs Price taught at my high school, OPRFHS, for many, many years, retiring only a few years ago, long after I had graduated. For much of that time she was the academic advisor to the OPRFHS Science Fiction & Fantasy Club, a long running club at my high school which had formed in the 1970’s and ocntinues to this day. When i was there it was the club for the misfits and geeks, the nerds of the school. But not just those of us who were also on the Math & Science Teams (seriously competive math) or as I was the Chess Team (captain for 3 & 1/2 years) and while there was also a lot of overlap not everyone in the club was also a member of the high school games club (a tradition which appears to also still be ongoing to this day – though now the games club appears to have morphed into an anime & games club).

But we were united in our weirdness, in our love of all forms of science fiction (and fantasy). We showed movies about once a month, met every Friday, and did a wide and varied range of things. We published what would now be described as a zine, we played many games, we discussed current movies. We diagramed the time flows of the Back to the Future movies (this was the late 80’s after all) and most of us socialized (as much as any of us socialized in high school) with each other at lunch & outside of school.

And throughout it all Mrs Price was a wonder. A supportive presence who gave us room to be ourselves, who observed how we changed over the years, and who gave me better advice than any formal guidance councilors or advisors ever did. While Mrs Price rarely taught any members of the club (she tought mostly students in the more remedial tracks – most though not all of the club were honors/AP tracked students) she was always available to us when we needed her. And she supported us in even the most crazy of endevorers.

In my sophmore year the club held a one day, mostly games convention at the high school. A few non-club members showed up but mostly it wasn’t all that successful.

But the next year we held a much more ambitious convention also at the high school but over the weekend. We invited a number of local, real science fiction authors, we invited local stores to set up booths and sell, we invited local restaurants to provide food, we had a gaming area, multiple rooms of talks, film & tv screenings. In short, we had a very real, if small, science fiction convention.

A convention we the bunch of us who started it started having mostly never been to a “real” science fiction convention before.

It was a big success. The funds we raised paid for the club for the next year+ and enabled us to hold the convention again the next year. This past year OPCon XIX was held (19!) and next year will likely be the 20th. Impressive by any account. Out of those first conventions which I helped run, I had my first real experiences getting to know “real” authors. I drove Robert Shea to the convention, sat with him around his kitchen table and got to know his family. As a result of his speaking at OPCon he was invited to speak at WorldCon 1991 in Chicago (the convention chairs lived in Oak Park and had stopped by our little convention to see it) and would lated be invited as the Guest of Honor for some other local Chicago area science fiction conventions.

But this is not about me or OPCON but about Mrs Price.

She was a loving and wonderful woman and one of the most powerful influences in my life. Her acceptance of the weird & the strange, of misfits and socially inept people (such as myself in high school) and through love & patience her ability to help us each blossom and prosper will live on inside of me.

Every year the club screened The Princess Bride, to the point where we all could quote nearly every line, I think I will watch the movie again this weekend in her honor.

Rest in Peace Mrs Price. Rest in Peace.

You will be missed.

Posted in personal | 1 Comment »

Social game ideas – open ended, multi-sponsor ARGs

Posted by shannonclark on June 27, 2009

My background in games and the current state of things

I have been a game player since my grandfather taught me to play chess at the age of 4. In my youth I played AD&D, Shadowrun and many other role playing games – usually at the DM. At my high school there were a bunch of us who played all types of games on a regular basis, we played many boardgames after school, had AD&D campaigns including one we ran at times over lunch in the cafeteria and were regulars at the local games shops.

In fact the father of one of my high school classmates was a professional game designer at the time for Mayfair Games where he lead the development of many classic board games, games such as Cosmic Encounters. A number of us, myself included, occasionally were drafted as gametesters for new board games.

At the local games shop, a massive, custom designed building built by a serious historical minatures gamer, we would spend hours many evenings and weekends playing a wide range of games, including historical minatures, roleplaying games and all types of boardgames.

I always assumed that I would stay playing games on a highly regular basis when I entered college but that didn’t happen, somehow I didn’t stay as active a game player, though I did play the occasional game of chess and lots of card games with friends.

In the 90’s I spent many years as literally a professional Magic the Gathering player and dealer, in one year I earned over $40,000 trading pieces of cardboard and won prizes valued into well over $5,000 in many tournements which I often won or placed very highly. Friends of mine were even better, winning at a global level and traveling around the world to play Magic the Gathering (and winning well over $10k from some tournements in the process). I quite my regular job at the time when I realized I could make far more money in a few hours than I would earn in days.

A bit later I also became active in a range of Live Action Role Playing games, mostly around White Wolf’s World of Darkness game. The game I played started in the mid-90’s in Chicago, grew rapidly to include nearly 100 games in cities all around the world all sharing a common set of rules and world and which allowed players to play their characters from one city at the games held in other cities. As a result players could and did interact across continents (friends of mine went to Brazil to play the game) and there were games happening multiple times every week near to Chicago.

It was  great fun – immersive and engaging. While we did play in spaces we reserved just for ourselves (we would contribute to rent spacees from time to time) we also played in the midst of other events – often in nightclubs, once very memorably at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art when they stayed open for 24hrs to celebrate the Summer Solstice. Playing in the midst of 100’s or even 1000’s of people who were not playing the game added layers to the interactions and was extremely fun.

In the past few years Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) have become increasingly popular and successful, though with some notable caveats. Most, though not all, have been run as commercial promotions for a specific event or product – very often a movie or TV series. Currently the upcoming movie District 9 for example is running an ARG where you can play either a human or an alien in the world of the movie.

The model of ARG’s has become in some ways fairly formalized. They start with a series of clues usually embedded inside of something in mass release – billboards & posters, movie trailers, occasionally other forms of advertising. The clues in these ads, often a phone number or a web URL lead a player to signup to the ARG. From there a series of clues lead to other sites or phone numbers often with embeded small games or challenges.

Over time additional clues are released which further the ARG’s storyline. For most ARG’s the model has become a bit of a funnel, with fewer and fewer players continuing as the puzzles are released, usually these ARG’s lead up to a final end clue and often the players who figure it out in time arrive at an event or get a prize of some form (a sneak preview of a movie for example as well as other gifts & prizes). Then often the ARG comes to an end as the movie or TV show is released (or the season ends in the case of ARG’s such as Lost’s or Fringe’s where there were clues embedded inside of each episode).

These games are effective ways of engaging and building fans for a new media property but they have many unfortunate side effects of this model.

  1. They generally are less and less engaging for new players as they grow in complexity – sure most of the time players set up Wiki’s or other sites to explain what is known so far, but as the game goes on it becomes less compelling for new players – and once the final reward is given out it often is far less interesting to new players (and even existing players may cease engagement)
  2. While some ARGs have included a wide degree of player driven content & storytelling, for most there is a very heavyhand of the ARG designers at work in telling the story and though players can visit many parts & sites in any order they want there tends to be a very linear path of the story being told by the nature of new clues being released on a specific timetable.
  3. A few ARGs have had occasional “real world” events but the global distribution of most media for the most part means that most ARGs now primarily employ mass media & the Internet for the game play (also often voicemail/800 numbers for some parts and frequently SMS messages to players).

A few weeks ago a variation of a type of game which has been popular for a few years inside of social networks such as Facebook was released on top of Twitter – Spymaster – these games build upon usually preexisting social elements and relationships to form part of the game play. In the case of Spymaster your twitter followers become the size of your “spy ring” and you gain game play advantages by having more of your followers also playing Spymaster (they become “spymasters” in your “spy ring” and give you game bonuses).

Add in the fact that social tools such as Twitter (or Facebook) have many ways for you to communicate with people – and the games take advantage of these tools to send out messages about your game play activity to your social network (with your permission) and not surprisingly these games can and do often experience rapid, exponential growth as large networks of friends all start playing.

However while fun games such as SpyMaster or the multiple Mafia based games on Facebook (and in those cases now also with iPhone apps) suffer from (but also benefit from) a fairly simple game play and room for interactions between players. They offer only relatively limited sets of actions, have constraints on what you can do in a given period of time, and allow for only a handful of direct in game ways to interact with other players. Though often players evolve ways alongside of the formal game play elements to interact. In the case of SpyMaster many players have set up Twitter accounts only focused on playing Spymaster and have builtup networks of followers with whom they coordinate in game actions and for strong in game cliques.

I play Spymaster and enjoy it, though it is a relatively lightweight game, so I only play for a few minutes most days, if that. They haven’t yet settled on a business model, but it should be noted that some of the Mafia games on Facebook are already part of game companies rumored to be rapidly approaching over $100M/year in revenues, primarily through the same of virtual currencies to game players to use to enhance their game experiences.

A few players of SpyMaster are starting to expand the game via sites such as SpyMasterFans. There they are forming groups, sharing ideas & insights into the game, challenging each other to new interactions etc.

You may have noted that in my recounting of my own game playing background, I have not mentioned a lot of computer gaming. In the early 1990’s I ran a Muck (think an all text based version of Second Life) but I never got into computer gaming very much. So I haven’t played, though I do follow, the rise of social computer games. At present there are two very important models of social computer games.

  1. Massively Multiplayer Online Games (mmog’s) most famously World of Warcraft (or WOW) but also dozens of other games from companies around the world. There are three primary models of MMOG’s – subscription (usually with regular expansion packs as well) – this is WOW’s model and is the most common, free to play but game and expansions needed (Guild Wars is one of the few that use this model) and the newest model free to play including the software but virtual goods & items available for purchase (Sony’s Free Realms uses this model though subscriptions are available with additional benefits).
  2. Server based games. Increasingly console games as well as many PC games have multiplayer options and game companies are now often offering services that both run server instances and help players find other players to play against. Microsoft’s Xbox live for the XBox 360 and Valve’s Steam service for PC games are two examples of these game services. Often a fee is required for membership (for XBox live) and in most cases the games have to be purchased to play them.

There are many further nuances to computer and console games. For this post the most crucial of which is the number of players they are designed to facilate interactions amongst and the length of that interactions. Console games often are limited to a relatively small number of players competing against each other (4 vs 4) which can be over the Internet or over a local area network. MMOG’s differ in how many players they handle interactions amonst – many have multiple “servers” which are different instances of the world and which may have slightly different game rules, meaning that in most cases players on one server do not interact with players on another so they are limited to the number of players who choose to play on a given server. Some games are designed to encourage cooperative play where players cooperate together to achieve game goals (WOW has quests that can involve 40 or more players from a single Guild working together). Many games also have elements of player vs player interactions where players fight directly against other players – depending on the game this could occur anywhere in the game world (on a given PvP server) or in many games may be limited to a specific area of the game.

Some ideas for the future – open ended, multi-sponsor ARGs of a new form

While I know that computer and console games have many incredible aspects offering amazing graphics and game play capabilities they also have in-built limitations. Even with voicechat which is increasingly an important part of the player to player interactions in many games playing such games is limited to players who have the required equipment and financial resources to buy the necessary games & game subscriptions.

So here are a few ideas I have for where social games could go in addition the ongoing evolution of computer & console games.

Instead of an ARG which is sponsored by a single media property – and which is thus usually tied to the world of that particular movie or tv show (or less often an artist such as NIN) I would suggest a game with the following models & business elements.

  • A combination of lightweight, easy to adopt technologies AND frequent, multi-city live interactions & events. Neither element would be necessary to enjoy the other but if you used both your game play enjoyment would be enhanced.
  • The technologies could leverage and be built upon existing social tools such as Facebook or Twitter but would likely have a website and perhaps mobile applications as well
  • Much of the world and game interactions would be driven by the players with a light touch of the people designing and running the game – they would mostly design the world & backstory and would occasionally facilitate in game activities and elements, but the game would be designed for the players themselves to evolve the plots & ongoing stories.
  • In place of a single sponsor driving the event to a particular end point the game would have sponsors that come and go and which interact with the game in a variety of ways – I could see some sponsors embedding story from the game into their media (tv shows perhaps even movies) while others would provide real items and help support game related events in the “real” world (as well as having in game repurcussions). These interactions could at times be lightweight – having characters from the game (probably mostly actual player’s creations) who appear in the background of a movie – say as items in a newspaper story – this would I think be a lot of fun for players – and great marketing for those movies or tv shows.
  • The game would be designed to allow for new players to join at any time and for players to play at a wide range of play cycles – some playing daily while others playing only a few times a month or taking a summer off and resuming months later. This takes careful game design to balance and to give everyone a lot to do without the game becoming boring for anyone – but it suggests that for the most part these games would only have light elements of “levels” or the like but heavy elements of role playing and interaction. Though there could also be puzzles and cooperative quests so players uncomfortable with heavy roleplaying could ease into participating in the game as well and be rewarded for that interaction.
  • The business model could include clues & game elements embedded in physical items (t-shirts, trading cards, books, comic, digital downloads of many forms etc) which is a model that other similar in some ways games have already used quite successfully. Some of these products could be from sponsors who not only embed game elements in something they sell but also support the game finacially & through promotional efforts.

So that is the basic ideas – I haven’t yet designed an entire game example just started thinking about this, if it sounds like fun (or if you know of examples I should take a look at) please leave comments or contact me privately.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, meshwalk, mobile, networks, personal, web2.0 | 10 Comments »

Defining yourself through your priorities

Posted by shannonclark on May 27, 2009

This is a post mostly for myself, a reminder of what my priorities are, a checklist of sorts for myself in the future when I have the resources to follow up on these priorities.

In a strange way this is also a bit of a personals ad – a woman for whom these priorities resonate noting both what is and what is not on my list would, if she is single and at least relatively close to me in age, be a woman I would like to meet. (A man for whom these resonate might be a good friend – but my interests lie in the opposite sex).

In particular a few key priorities for many Americans which are decidedly not on my list.

1. Anything religious. I’m an Atheist, my budgets and priorities have no money at all for religion. Plenty of other worthy causes and organizations whom I would strongly prefer to support, groups whose goals are more closely in alignment with my own.

2. Beyond a very small amount of wine, mostly for dinner parties, no alcohol or for that matter other drugs (legal or otherwise – medically needed ones the exception). I don’t drink much – which has probably over the past decades saved me a great deal of money. Nor do I smoke or consume any other drugs.

But enough of the nots, what are my priorities. This may be a bit random – I’ll seek to  impose some order on this list and it is not in any particular order, but I am trying to be comprehensive. In general I’m looking at my life on a per year basis – what would I spend money on if I had it to spend. Not just for the act of spending it but because what I spent it upon held meaning and importance to me.

My priorities, in no particular order:

Shelter Currently my one real indulgence, I have a large apartment in SF capable of both hosting many friends (large downstairs space w/couches/airmattresses for up to 7 friends). With more resources I would also like a second place in NYC (or London) and perhaps a third place somewhere quiet & remote but w/great Internet connectivity, likely in a large forest somewhere.

Furniture – I have expensive tastes – prefering timeless, very high quality furniture. If I had the money I’d like to indulge myself and actually, for the first time in fact in my life, live in a place fully furnished – and not with furniture found on the street. So this is a one time purchase, but then as I add other places to live I’d expect to also furnish them well and occasionaly to replace items I own (this would be the height of luxury for me – my parents still have, ugly, furniture from my mom’s college days – stuff they have moved across the country and back)

Clothes – at the moment I buy new clothes of any type rarely, mostly just once every few years and then rarely spend all that much. That said, like with furniture my tastes in clothing run expensive. With enough resources my goal would be to get over my hangups here, to finally only have clothes that fit well and are comfortable (and yes this means very few of my current staple – free logo t-shirts from trade shows). I doubt I’d ever be replacing my wardrobe on a seasonal basis, but I would like to have a wider range of options and to have more stuff that makes me feel great when I wear them.

Glasses – I currently have only one pair of glasses, purchased many years ago. Instead I’d prefer to have a couple of really nice pairs, plus at least one or two pairs of prescription sunglasses. I don’t wear jewlery but do wear glasses, so would probably splurge a bit here, albiet with my tastes running to stylish but without logos. Ideally I would have a spare pair of glasses in every place I live, as well as sunglassses and spares to travel with.

Health Care – from expensive dentistry which I am slowly working on but with more resources would do at a faster clip, to having full comprehensive health insurance this is a necessity I have been avoiding for far too long.

Transportation – Since 2004 I have not owned a car, rarely even renting one. But living in CA this is a position which is increasingly hard to sustain. At a minimum I want to just budget a reasonably large amount each month for renting cars (or using ZipCar) and get back in the habit of driving. But ideally I probably want to get a car, something exceptionally reliable (I don’t want to get to know a mechanic on first name basis), automatic (I refuse to invest the mental energy in learning how to drive a manual – or in the attention it requires). Almost certainly this means a non-American car (I’ve never owned one and have hated driving every single American car I’ve ever even briefly driven). But I haven’t shopped for a car seriously in years – walking around I’ve be interested by some of the newer Volvo’s, have in the past mostly owned Acuras (2 plus one high end Honda), and like some of the Infiniti’s and Mercedes Benzs which I see around SF (generally the smaller, sportier ones, often hatchbacks). My ideal car gets very good gas milage, is inexpensive to operate (less concerned about the initial cost – this is assuming I have the money to just buy it outright), isn’t overly costly to insure (I have no sense at all what insurance will cost me in CA). Probably it will seat four adults in a pinch – with the ability to store a bunch of stuff in the trunk – though ideally without it being visible (a drawback of many hatchbacks) as I would likely be parking on the street fairly often.

For me as well visibility while driving is a really, really, really big deal. I hate a lot of modern cars, such as the Prius, because I find they have really obnoxious blind spots, at least for me, plus physically I find myself in pain when I have driven them in the past (something about the seat and layout really, really does not agree with my body. I also seriously do not like the other trend I’ve seen in many otherwise interesting cars of moving the dials to the center of the dashboard instead of in front of the driver – really don’t like that all and find it beyond distracting – and also physically uncomfortable (Scion’s fail for me here, as does alas the Mini, wasn’t a big fan of the Honda Element the few times I’ve driven one either)

I also want to be able to just buy a nice bike. I’ve been intimidated by the cost – mentally I still think bikes should be 100’s of dollars, not the 1000+ they can easily be these days. I’m also not entirely sure how to handle riding a bike in San Francisco on the hills of the city (since I live on one, impossible to avoid) and I’ve never figured out the whole bike helmet thing – how to handle having one with me when I’m using my bike. I think this is in part a generational thing, I grew up before helmet laws so never really rode a bike with one all that much. It is also a factor of not having an office to ride my bike to/store it at. Instead I would expect to be riding to cafes, dealing with the scary prospect of locking up an expensive bike on the streets of San Francisco, and then repeating for as many stops as I had in one day.

So even with lots of money, not sure when/if I would get a bike, the stress of owning one here in San Francisco might be too much for me.

I would also, will get to this in more detail below, want to travel a lot. Between the East & West Coasts at a minimum, but probably also traveling globally far more often than I do now. For a few weeks a year at a minimum, but ideally more than that. Some of the time for conferences and events (again more below) but I would also want to travel just to travel, go to places I haven’t yet seen, or to places I have been once but really want to return to (India comes immediately to mind). I might even want to live abroad for months (or years) at a time.

The later depending on personal relatioships and work of course.

Events – At the moment I mostly attend conferences here in San Francisco, when I can get a press pass or know the organizers and can get in for free or at a discount (often helping with the event). However there is a long list of events I would want to attend if I had the funds and resources (which include the time and business purposes for some)

  • SXSW – full, platinum pass. Yes, 10+ days, film, tech and music, but this is very high on my list of must do soon as each year my experience there just gets better and better. Next year (2010) I’ll be working the conference for one client (at least, perhaps two or three) so this will probably be very doable. But with the resources I want to just stay at a great hotel, right downtown, fly on flights that don’t make too many stops, and otherwise not scrimp on my conference experience.
  • TED – Yes, this is expensive (really expensive). I might not be able to get into the main conference, but while I love BIL, I do want to go to TED and be part of the whole experience. I might start by going to TED Global or the like but sometime soon, in the next few years I hope, I plan on saving up to “do” TED. (best case I get invited as a speaker first)
  • PopTech – I have been to PopTech twice, haven’t been back in too many years, but I miss it. I want to have the money (and the time) to attend again.
  • Picnic, Le Web, LIFT or another tech conference or two NOT in the US – I have never been, but friends help organize these events, speak at them regularly, and report back about how great they can be. There are smaller events happening in Europe as well which appeal to me, the point being I want to get myself out of the US more often – and I want to experience non-US perspectives on a more regular basis.
  • A full Film festival – not just a few films at SXSW, but I want to give myself the luxury of attending a film festival and just seeing dozens of films in a short period of time. I’m not sure which festival I want to attend, there are many great ones (The Toronto Film Festival would be one that has a lot of appeal)
  • A Renaissance Weekend – I’ve been a few times, but like PopTech! haven’t been back in too many years. A great event, really interesting people, and people whom I haven’t seen in far too long. If I had the money I would both want to attend some of the smaller events held in Santa Barbara or Monterey as well as the New Years Eve far larger event.
  • San Diego Comiccon – I’m tempted to try to attend this year in fact, but sometime soon I want to make it to this mecca of all comic book conventions.
  • WorldCon (and one or two other “big” Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions) – I’m a huge science fiction fan of all genres though most especially literature. I don’t go for the costuming or for the purest geeking out, but rather relish the chance to get to know writers and editors (and other creators) whom I respect. So my preference tends to be for the smaller, more focused conventions such as World Fantasy Convention over larger, more media focused events. But ideally I would like to be able to attend more conventions without scrimping when I do so – so just going ahead and having a nice hotel room adjacent to the convention center etc.
  • A Doctor Who convention – perhaps one here in the US, even better one in the UK (or heck both a US and a UK conference). I’m a huge Dr. Who fan yet I haven’t been to a Dr. Who convention in decades.
  • One or two new events each year. Stuff I haven’t previously been to – perhaps a great music festival such as Cochella, a convention for an academic field I’m interested in, something like the New Yorker Festival in NYC or a conference focused on Social Good. There are many, but my hope is to have both the money and the time to attend conferences a bit outside of my comfort zone – where I’m there to absorb the experience. Hopefully with a “native” guide to the experience. In some cases I might go as a speaker or participant (which is always a good way to attend) for others I might go with or for a client. But my goal is to get to more new events and experiences.
  • Still a bunch of important tech conferences – AdTech SF & NYC, Web 2.0 Expo (at least SF, perhaps NYC, possibly the Summit), TechCrunch 50, MacWorld. If possible I’d like to get a few more – stuff like the D Conference happening this week or Internet Week in NYC happening next week.

Food – this is a big deal for me. I take food seriously. Starting by mostly eating as a locavore. Most of the food in my home I buy from local merchants, primarily at local Farmer’s Markets or my local butchers. With a bit more resources I would keep my kitchen more fully stocked with the foods I enjoy (fresh seasonal fruits etc). I would also eat out more often and at a higher end of restaurant than I usually get to at the moment. I’d love to eat at places with chef’s tastings more often, to get to the many specical meals and dining events that occur on a regular basis. Here in San Francisco as well as in NYC and as I travel. For me serious food is one of my main pleasusres in life and an artform I really appreciate – both in the creation of it myself (I’m a very good chef) as well as in appreciating the skill of serious chefs.

I also do love great foods of all types – I’ve happily traveled great distances to try little hole in the wall places, restaurants far off the beaten track.

I would enjoy going to more food related events, a Slow Food Convivia for example and I could well imagine planning an entire trip around getting a reservation somewhere (el Buli for example would be among the places I would love to dine, though by no means the only such place).

I have mastered the somewhat dubious art of ordering so as to get great food but not spend a ton of money, often by being highly selective in what I order, by passing up on many elements of a meal. I’d really like to be able to put this aside, even if only a few times a month, and just embrace what the restaurant does well and really experience it (not the alcohol perhaps but everything else). Ordering the Omakase at a Japanese restaurant instead of just the chirashi etc.

But in many ways my tastes don’t run to the extravegant, I’d rather an amazing local grapefruit in season than a the most expensive cavier. That said, when I entertain I have also now mastered the art of stretching my budget via careful choices, ideally I’d like to be able to support local farms a bit more, to buy the prime grade meat over the choice etc.

Living in San Francisco one of my small but very pleasant pleasures is being able to get great, serious coffee from now almost literally dozens of choices throughout the city. I’m also a big fan of tea, however in recent years I haven’t been as focused on teas as I have been on great coffee. With more money I would want to have great means of making coffee at home (currently I have no reliable means at all) and instead of random tins of now fairly old teas I would like to stock fresh, great teas.

Kitchen – while I love my current apartment in many ways, the kitchen is not one of them. In an ideal world in a year or two I will find a place which has nearly as much space as my present space but which has a truly fantastic kitchen. For me this would be:

  • Modern gas stove, ideally six burners – Currently I have gas, but it is an old and somewhat unreliable and in any case cheap stove. I would much prefer to have more burners which get hotter than my current stove and which I could control more finely.
  • Double ovens – I am a serious cook, often as I cook for dinner parties I literally run out of space in my oven. I’ve love to have two ovens so I could bake in one, broil in the other.
  • Serious dishwasher – currently I don’t have a dishwasher at all, for the previous decade when I lived in Chicago I had a dishwasher, but more often than not it didn’t work very well.
  • Double Sink – Currently I have one, deep but relatively small sink. I’d really like to have a double sink, ideally with a garbage disposal.
  • Plentiful and easy to maintain countertops – I would like to have more plentiful space to spread out and cook, to have room to entertain while I cook, space to cook with someone else at the same time without tripping over each other. This means great countertops, it also means a logical layout and flow for the kitchen as well as plentiful storage.
  • Upgraded pots and pans – I have mostly great pots and pans, but don’t have a lot of them and a few of what I have could stand being upgraded to higher quality versions. I am also lacking certain key and useful dishes, such as a serious cast iron post (Le Creuset probably) which I could bake in and do much more in. A great wok is another (I have one but it isn’t very good and I lack a place to store it).
  • High end, serious kitchen gadgets – at the moment I have basically no kitchen gadgets at all, no mixer, no food processor, not even a simple blender or hand powered mixer. I don’t need lots of gadgets but I would like a few of the more basic ones so I could expand the range of what I can make – a mixer for more serious baking for example.
  • Duplicates of the basics – I have three spatulas at the moment, one set of tongs, only a few (albiet very high quality) knives. No wooden spoons etc. Mostly this is a combination of trying to only have high quality products in my kitchen and of simply not having much space, with more resources and I hope more space, I would fix this and finally have enough of the basics so I can do even more serious cooking.
  • A few special treats – I use a great local Balsamic but I don’t have any really aged balsamic, likewise there are many other products I would love to use but don’t stock in my kitchen for a lack of funds. Ideally I’d like to have a range of local olive oils, restock my spices on at least a yearly basis and keep the staples I stock at high levels of quality.

Books – I have a book habit, even today I buy around 100 or more books every year, in some years many more than 100. I read a lot but my list of books to read keeps growing, hurt by my habit of buying more books than I read most weeks. With more resources, however, I would want to do a few specific things with my book buying habit and collections.

  • Just buy the hardcover editions of my friend’s books. Since I have 100’s of friends who are authors (seriously not exagerating) I currently pick and choose whose books I buy and not infrequently in some cases I wait for the paperback editions. Ideally I would prefer to buy most of my friend’s books and to suppor them by buying them in hardcover and ideally via pre-orders or online purchases around the time of release so they see the best spike in purchases possible.
  • Be more serious about a few of the my collections. Earlier today, for example, I chose not to buy a copy of Asimov on Shakespeare, though it is among the many books I have always wanted to own a ocpy of. With more resources I would just buy such discoveries without as much worry, building up I would hope a more complete collection of Asimov’s works, as well as many other books and authors I wished I had more works by.
  • Buy most of the Doctor Who books, both as they are printed and filling out my collection going backwards. I have not bought most of the recent books though I am huge Dr. Who fan and would really like to support the show and the creators and authors.  This includes buying the back catolog of Big Finish Audio Adventures and subscribing to the new editions as they come out.
  • Buy a few graphic novels and comics on a more regular basis. Probably sitll would mostly focus on trade paperback editions but there are many great artists and creators working whose work I would like to support more strongly. Starting with finally finishing my collection of Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman which is a series I should have read decades ago. But I would like to be getting great series such as Fables on a regular basis as well. Oh and the new Dr. Who series of course…

Magazines (and perhaps newspapers) – currently I subscribe to The New Yorker which I have subscribed to for nearly two decades. I would like to support a number of other great publications:

  • Monocle
  • The Atlantic Monthly
  • N+1
  • Asimovs
  • Analog
  • Business Week
  • Granta
  • Paste
  • and ideally a handful of other great publications, perhaps a gaming magazine or two, other great literary publications, possibly again subscribe to the New York Review of Books

On the topic of newspapers, at the moment I don’t see a great local paper anywhere in the Bay Area. I think the Wall Street Journal has declined considerably. I could perhaps see subscribing to a newspaper again in the future though I’m uncertain which or in what manner. The New York Times I might subscribe to while I am in NYC.

Technology – For the past few decades I have put off upgrading my computers for about a year or two too long, Enduring machines at the end of their life and often running an older OS for far too long. I have also frequently compromised and haven’t had resources which would have, in fact, helped me be more productive.

  • Get a second monitor for my desktop setup. A 24″, full HD resolution screen, probably from Apple. This is one of those things I should have done a long time ago as it would add greatly to my productivity.
  • Always have a current, updated, modern laptop. Here I face an issue, there are serious issues I have with Mac laptops (weight, lack of a trackpoint, reliance on a trackpad) My ThinkPad is still fairly powerful at the moment but that will be changing rapidly in the next year or so. I should really have a second laptop and should invest in upgrading my current laptop (larger hard drive, probably installing Mac OS & Ubuntu).
  • Have a real gaming PC. I have never had a gaming PC in nearly two decades of owning computers. Given my interest in gaming this is silly. I should have a high spec, high quality, quiet, fast and upgradable gaming rig with great monitors and a suite of modern games (or a gamefly subscription so I can try many games, as well as a Steam account)
  • Breakdown and get a real, modern, HD TV. In fact get one for my bedroom (for the first time, seriously, in my entire lifetime) as well as getting either a very large screen or a very high resolution projector system for my downstairs. Get real speakers to go with these systems (also for the first time in my life)
  • Get the modern suite of accessories for a TV – TIVO, HD source(s), BlueRay player (or a PS3), an Apple TV (or Miro box etc), an Xbox360, probably a Wii. All stuff I’ve never owned – ever.
  • Get serious headphones instead of making do with cheap ones I got for free at a trade show somewhere. Both for my iphone and for my ipod and some great over the ear ones for around the house.
  • Get a bluetooth headset, probably a Jawbone for when I am driving (and more generally for walking around the city making calls)
  • Get an HD capable, small video camera. Perhaps a Flip or the like but I should be shooting video on a more regular basis
  • Get a digital audio recorder capable of serious podcast creation. This might include serious microphones and a small mixer.
  • Get a Skype capable headset for my laptop and desktop computers. I rarely use Skype though I really should be using it more often.
  • Upgrade my iPhone to the new version when, as seems most likely, it comes out in a few months.
  • Invest in a network backup solution for my computers and automate this process so all of my systems are backed up on a regular and automated basis
  • Get a modern, networked, duplex capable, color laser printer.
  • Get a fast scanner and start to migrate to a fully paperless (and backed up) lifestyle.
  • Get a serious digital camera – both an upgrade to my small pocket friendly Lumix and ideally also larger more serious camera with lenses. Also get some great lenses.
  • Invest in serious software – Adobe Acrobat for example, but also video editing software, current editions of Office products etc. Also useful utilities and productivity software (and also make use of the tools I buy). But stop avoiding buying software and then only making do with partial solutions to problems I have (free themes for my wordpress blogs vs. more serious but non-free themes etc)
  • Invest in online services that add value to my life – take full advantage of Plaxo, pay for a serious online backup service, consolidate all of my domains into one registrar and register other relevant domains on a more regular basis etc. This last one might actually make me more money than it costs me.
  • Get more iPod docks and/or make my music more networked so I can stream it to what I hope are serious speakers (I haven’t ever owned real speakers or even one good sound system)

Personal Services – at the moment though I go to a serious hair salon, I do so on a very infrequent basis, generally weeks after it would have been sensible. I should go on a far more regular schedule, never letting my hair get completely out of countrol. Additionally I should invest in personal health and wellness services – pay for a real serious massage on a regular basis (as I write this I can feel the knots all across my back). I have also always avoided gyms though I shouldn’t – I should invest in the clothes to work out (at the moment I don’t even have gym shoes or any clothes suitable for a gym), in a membership (or two) and in a personal trainer to motivate me and to ensure that I don’t hurt myself while focusing on being healthier.

Music – In the past few years I have bought more music than I have in years past, mostly digitally and primarily through great services such as Amie St. I would like to buy more music which I enjoy – completing my incomplete collection as well as supporting newer groups and artists I’ve discovered in the past few years. Ideally I would like to also attend live shows on a far more regular basis probably a few times each month as well as select larger festivals. I have clients in the music industry so some of this is even work related.

Entertainment – I’ve alluded to some of this in the above sections but I would like to on a more regular basis support many creators I really appreciate – buying the Dr. Who dvds but also DVDs (or more probably BlueRays – or better yet HD downloads) of TV shows and movies I love. I would also like to have and use memberships at local institutions (in SF and perhaps in NYC or other cities – art museums etc) and get to them on a far more regular basis. Also get out to the Opera and to live theatre.

Charities – At the moment other than a few small donations and volunteer help with some events, I have not been able to support charities to the degree I would prefer. If I had the resources my selection of charities to support is a bit eclectic:

  • Creative Commons
  • EFF
  • Clarion – science fiction workshops
  • The Carl Brandon Society
  • Wiscon/Tiptree – Feminish Science Fiction
  • one or more charities focused on literacy
  • effective charities (or for profit but mission driven businesses) focused on addressing homelessness
  • Architects for Humanity – one of my favorite groups
  • Worldchanging.org – amazing resource
  • other focused, highly efficient art (especially of the printed word) groups and organizations

I’m sure I’m missing many worthy groups, but these are a few that reflect my priorities – literacy, support for effective global change and creative technology thinking about worldchanging issues, highly focused local efforts to address seemingly intractable problems such as homelessness, and small but effective groups such as the Carl Brandon Society and Clarion which support Science Fiction writing, especially from diverse voices.

If I had the resources I would probably also, anonymously, support a number of other efforts and projects – often offering capital support (assuming I had the funds) to help groups become more effective and ideally in many cases more self sufficent (and not entirely reliant on only donations or only on market returns that would often be counter to the group’s mission). I would also not draw a firm line between non-profit and for-profit groups, offering support without much concern whether I could specifically get a tax deduction.

My own projects – this is a touchy subject, some of these might be how I fund all of the above, others will probably never be funding sources and may always be a money sink. I have to balance out my time and attention as well so a few of these ideas and projects may have to be delayed or my active involvement minimized.

  • MeshForumI organized a MeshForum in 2005 and 2006, but haven’t held one in a few years. I would like to hold another multiday conference on the study of Networks as well as more MeshWalks which are conferences held mostly outdoors and in motion.
  • tbnl – later this year I would like to publish what I hope will become a quarterly publication focused on great, timeless stories. A mix of fiction & non-fiction but all with an emphasis on great storytelling. A celebration of spending time with content the print editions would be very well made and the focus would be on long form (though not novella length) pieces with only relevant and value enhancing illustrations or photographs.

So there you are 5000+ words on my priorities at the moment. This is a long post, I don’t expect most people to read it in full, it ia highly personal post as well, perhaps I should have just written it and kept it only as a draft. I’m certain I have missed something important – of course I would have other things I spend money on (gifts for friends and family for example) but these some of my most important priorities.



Posted in personal, time, working | 2 Comments »

What is a business designer or how to work with Shannon

Posted by shannonclark on May 22, 2009

Of late I have started to describe myself as a business designer in response to the usual question of “What do you do?”

But what do I mean by the term?

A Business Designer, as I intend the term, is someone who uses the techniques of design firms, such as IDEO, to design new businesses – whether entire new startups or within the context of an existing, larger business.

I have been highly active online since 1991 and working on the web since the mid-90’s so a great deal of my work does involve the application of technology, especially web technology, to business problems. However my process starts before deciding what the solutions will be, it starts with the discussions about the specifics of the business, the resources available, and objectives.

Only then do we address the specific solutions required, in many cases applying technology both purchased, open source and customized to the business objectives.

So what is my process?

Earlier this week I attended the SanFran Music Tech Summit and over the course of the fantastic conference I had many long conversations with entrepreneurs and business people who were attending the conference. In these short conversations and discussions I practiced a shortened version of my business process.

  1. Hear how the current business, or the business idea, is described today.
  2. Explore what is behind the business, what technology if any current exists, what are the current clients, what is the current business process.
  3. Get a quick sense of the business objectives of the team at present – new customers, investment, partners etc.
  4. Brainstorm. In this process I leverage the diversity of industries and companies I follow closely, seeking examples often from unrelated industries which can help us decide on direction and business models for the business.
  5. Make concrete suggestions of next steps for the business from simple text copy changes to complex shifts in business model.

That is the shortened process, at times taking only a few minutes, other times taking an entire lunch.

What I follow

At the moment I pay very close attention to a number of industries and technologies, these include:

  • The music industry, especially the emergance of the online, digital music industry.
  • “New Media” from the business models of old media applied to the new digital world to the emergance of new businesses and media leaders
  • Web 2.0. I define Web 2.0 as the shift to a data centric view of web applications. Practically this means more open web sites, api driven services, dynamic flows of information, and in many cases user generated content
  • Mobile applications. In particular I have been an early adopter of smartphones, currently heavily focused on the iPhone.
  • Gaming. Though I am not an active game player, I have a longstanding and deep interest in games and gaming. I’m very interested in the application of gaming elements to serious purposes.
  • Social Networks. I started Meshforu, a conference on the study of Networks in 2004 and have been an early adopter of online social networks. I also follow closely the academic study of Social Network Analysis as well as related fields of Network Science.
  • Advertising. I believe that advertising, across all forms, is in a major transition. In particular I am a passionate proponent of Brands and believe that brands need to adapt to the new, digital landscape
  • Internet Radio. While I follow the whole music industry closely, many of my current ventures relate to the new forms of Internet Radio.
  • Community. Most successful businesses are driven by a community both online and offline. I’m an advisor to a number of startups focused very much on the support of specific communities enabled by the new digital media world. In many cases these cross over many types of media including online websites.
  • The Food Industry. My father is a leading food technologist who has designed new products and business processes for most of the major food companies around the globe. I am a passionate foodie and follow emerging trends in the food industry, including restaurants very closely.
  • Social Entrepreneurship. I run a small non-profit, MeshForum and am passionate about new models of business which include a strong social mission and purpose.

There are many other industries and specific technologies which I also pay attention to on a regular basis, I have worked for some of the largest banks in the world. I’ve also designed and build AI driven automated data applications and other complex pieces of enterprise software. But at present the above list of industries are the ones I follow most closely and where, primarily, I seek clients.

How I work

My preference is to work with clients over an extended period, typically via a monthly retainer with at least a three month minimum. In three months any business whether large or small can see specific results from the engagement. A retainer, instead of the more common hourly or day rate, allows for the wide range of ways I work for and with each client.

For most clients I will meet with the client, often onsite for a series of meetings and observations each month. I am often a part of internal discussions and meetings with partners and external vendors.

I am based in San Francisco but will work with clients anywhere in the world, combining in person meetings with extensive online collaboration.

Every engagement is different but a few specifics you can expect from working with me.

  • New Ideas – a primary part of my job is offering a new, interdisciplinary perspective on the challenges of your business. A key part of this is carefully suggesting specific, implementable new ideas and approaches.
  • Simplification – much of my practice is around paring ideas and processes back to identify what is most key and value creating. Many startups, as well as large companies, build technologies and processes which are overly complex. By focusing on simplification we end up with greater value.
  • Clear processes and designs – After we have focused and defined clearly the specific business objectives, my role shifts to achieving those objectives. There my job is to define and often help manage the business processes, including working with development teams, to build and design the related parts.

I have over a decade of experience as an Open Space Facilitator and use that as part of my consulting. The result of a facilitated open space event is usually clearer understanding of both the business opportunities and the resources available to address them, as well as focused groups of employees (and often external partners including customers) to address each business need.

If you are interested in working with me, email me at shannon AT nearnessfunction.com or call me at 1.800.454.4929.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshforum, meshwalk, mobile, music, personal, web2.0, working | 1 Comment »