Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

When did millionaire shift from assets to income?

Posted by shannonclark on September 19, 2011

This is a political post – if you want to leave comments great but I have moderation turned on and I will delete any comments that are personal attacks or otherwise offensive.

When did millionaire shift from a measure of assets to a measure of income?

These are far from the same thing. Growing up I recall that a “millionaire” was someone who was worth over $1M dollars. This was notable and still fairly rare but it could and did include a lot of people who didn’t have a lot of income just, for example, the fortune to own a home in a state with high property values such as California.

But in the past few years, I’m not sure when this started, millionaires has started to be used to denote people with a yearly INCOME of greater than $1M. This is a very small number of people (though apparently the number of people in this category has grown in recent years as the very wealthiest people in the country have prospered even as nearly everyone else have not). But increasingly public policy is being dictated by folks who seem to think that changes that impact this small and exceptionally wealthy group of individuals are more important than policies that impact the majority of households. One party, the GOP, seems nearly entirely focused on preventing any tax increase of any form on anyone even as they simultaneously work to prevent a continuation of a tax break on most working families (the inherent contradiction in this position seems to have escaped them).

An individual or family earning over $1M a year is earning 20x the median income (roughly) of the typical American family. In fact they earn in a month what few families in the US earn in the entire year. When you are earning on that scale you likely have a mix of earned income (i.e. salaries) and capital gains (i.e. earnings on investments or things deemed by quirks of the tax law to be investments – such as VC’s earnings from their funds even though most of the money in those funds is investors’ money not most VC’s own personal funds). While most people don’t have a lot of control over when they get their salary (unless they quit their job) entrepreneurs, investors and money managers have a great deal of control over when they realize capital gains – since this occurs when they sell an investment at a profit or when their investments pay out a dividend (which in the case of many very high net worth individuals may be something they have enough control over that investment to dictate when and if that happens). And in many cases there are legal means to defer recognition of capital gains via reinvestment of those gains in similar investments or via offsetting losses (this gets complicated and I’m neither a lawyer or an accountant – in the case of real estate investments there are exchange rules that can come into play, in the case of financial investments investors may be able to sell off assets that have lost value when they also sell off assets that have gained value which does make sense as a legal means of offsetting gains but also allows investors to time and control how much income to recognize in a given timeframe)

But all of that complexity aside the question I’m curious about is when did millionaire become a term for folks earning $1M or more a year and why hasn’t this change been more emphasized in popular discourse and debate? It seems fundamentally different to earn $1M in a year than to be worth over $1M. The likely average net worth of individuals earning $1M (or more) each year is vastly greater than $1M – for example to earn $1M in interest payments would require assets of nearly $25-30M (3-4% interest earnings though with higher risk investments higher interest might be available but Treasuries pay even less than that at the moment). To earn $1M in rents from properties even in the current depressed real estate market would likely require $10M (or more) worth of properties and for that $1M to be income not gross rents would require even more (after paying for the upkeep of the properties, for real estate taxes, for professional management and all the other fees and costs with running such a large series of rental properties).

Very few small businesses have over $1m in gross annual sales, let alone have incomes of over $1M (where “income” is roughly defined as being gross income after costs of the goods/services sold by the business). Few businesses have gross margins greater than 30% – for gross income to be $1m implies gross sales of over $3M (roughly $3.3M actually). If someone is the owner of such a business they have a lot of legal means to control how (and if) that $1m in gross profits flows through the business to them as the owners. They can pay a portion of that as earned income, they can pay out much of it as a dividend (getting capital gains rates not income tax rates on that portion) and they can reinvest much of it into the business (or potentially other businesses) without having to pay personal taxes (or potentially much corporate taxes) on it. Though the details on all that depend on the legal structure of the business, the state they do business in and many other factors.

Posted in economics, politics | 2 Comments »

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)


  • 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 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
  • 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 »

SXSWi Nate Silver Keynote and other thoughts

Posted by shannonclark on March 15, 2009

I am at SXSWi this week. I have gone every year since my first time in 2007 and it is always among the very best tech conferences of the year. My blogging (and for that matter time spent in front of my computer) will be and has been quite light, though on the very plus side, this is both one of the largest tech conferences in the world – scattered throughout a very large conference center – and has some of the fastest and most reliable WIFI I have ever seen at a tech conference – knock on wood but so far I have no problems at all connecting – and once connected have found the speed to be quite good (very high in fact).

At the moment I am listening to Nate Silver talk about his recent history starting the site – best quote “If you know you are going to be wrong, keep working on your fucking model”

I hope to ask him a question or two – though I suspect I won’t be alone in trying – my first question – “Will you be changing your site name when the new Representatives from DC & Utah are seated”

Posted in geeks, internet, networks, politics | Leave a Comment »

I am a “non-believer”

Posted by shannonclark on January 21, 2009

Yesterday in the midst of a historic Inauguration, President Obama included the phrase “and nonbelievers” in his Inaugural Address.

Many of my friends commenting live at the time via Twitter echoed my personal sentiments “finally I/we are being included” but many more via online email lists and blog posts have uttered a sentiment that this phrase was somehow not the right one. That something else such as “people of other beliefs” or “other-believers” would have been preferred.

Not by me.

I am a non-believer. I do not believe in any supernatural beings or forces, I have no “spiritual” practices.

Culturally I do consider myself Jewish, it is the ancestry of my mother’s family for as many generations back as we can trace (to at least the 14th century via one branch) and it is along ethnic and cultural identity which I accept and deeply appreciate. But I was not raised attending synagogue and since I do not believe in God that does somewhat pose a problem to be “religious”.

My father is a highly devout Catholic, very active in his church. How he reconciles the modern Catholic Church with his Democratic voting record and strong science and engineering degrees I don’t entirely get, but he comes from a large, Irish-Catholic family and grew up in the Church attending mostly Catholic schools and college. Though he did get his PhD from the University of California Berkeley in the late 1960’s, he wasn’t exactly a hippie by any stretch of the imagination (he tells stories of wearing a suit and tie to a Jefferson Airplane concert).

Growing up we went to mass every Sunday and on all the Catholic holidays. When we moved to Oak Park from New York I attended a local Catholic elementary school for 3 1/2 years until I was able to get my parents to send me to the local junior high which had a far better and more rigorous academic courseload. This meant that I had to take Catholic religion classes in elementary school and received a few of the Catholic sacraments (first communion etc).

So I have had at least some “formal” religious schooling and have read the vast majority of the Catholic bible.

However even at a very early age my doubt and questions were evident. In, I think the 3rd grade, I recieved my only non-A grade throughout all of my elementary schooling in an assignment for Religion class. The nun who was our teacher had asked every child to draw a picture of God.

I turned in a blank page – explaining that if I had a picture of God at all it was not the expected old, white man with a long flowing beard but rather a sense of nothingness. She wasn’t amused and failed me for that assignment.

But another memory for me stands out too about my childhood, I remember very distinctly having the perception that everyone in the world was a Catholic.

And yes, intellectually I knew that my own mother and my grandmother, grandfather, his wife, my aunt, uncle, and cousin to name just a few immediate family members were all Jewish. But having been immersed in the bubble of a Catholic elementary school my perceptions were that everyone was Catholic, that the world and everyone I would meet and knew were Catholic.

That realization that my worldview was seriously distorted was one of the many reasons I insisted my parents allow me to switch to the public junior high.

And I should also note here that I was very young, when we moved from New York to Oak Park, I had been in the 2nd grade at one of the top school districts in the entire country in New York, in Oak Park they skipped me ahead to 3rd grade claiming that I would be “just average” there and already knew everything they would be teaching in the 2nd grade. Instead I was fairly rapidly at the top of the class academically (though most definitely not socially) and was barely challenged intellectually until finally getting into the public schools in the 7th grade. But as a result throughout all of my schooling I was always by far the youngest person in every one of my classes.

Once in the public junior high I no longer had religion classes in school. In high school I actively chose not to get the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation which is the formal marking of joining the Catholic Church as an adult member. I refused to publicly swear that I believed in God and in the Catholic Church and that I would both be an adult member and eventually marry and raise my children in the Catholic Church.

My father was not exactly pleased, my mother I think was more pleased and I’m sure my very anti-religious grandmother was pleased.

I have studied a great deal of philosophy and as a medieval near-eastern history major in college my studies included a lot of study of the history of religion especially in the Middle East. But in my own life I see no need and indeed would find it to be a negative force to call upon any supernatural force or “holy book” as the inspiration for how I act or make moral decisions.

I am an Existentialist which I take to mean that I give preminancy to the personal responsibility for decisions and actions.

Philosophically I come down firmly on the side of free will and personal choice as the determinant of our actions – I refuse to take what I see as the easy way out of looking towards external factors (environment or a supernatural being) as the underlying cause of things rather I place the final responsibility firmly on myself for my own actions.

I am, however, reluctant to judge others or to impose my own philosophy upon them. I see the appeal of being able to say things like “the booze made me do it” or “it must have been God’s will” and there is always a very human desire to create order out of chaos and randomness, to create a story that explains why things (both good and especially bad) happen.

In my own life my philosophy is fundamentally why I have never been drunk, rarely drink, avoid all drugs and quite seriously have a philosophical debate with myself over my consumption of caffeine. But these decisions about how I choose to live my life, which arise out of a choice to avoid (mostly) anything which would impair my mental capacity (which probably should include getting better sleep and more exercise) are not taken to meet the rules as set forth in some holy book or to meet the expectations of some supernatural being, rather I have taken them because I would feel the full burden of responsibility for my actions while impaired in anyway – and rather than do so I preemptively chose and choose to avoid being impaired in the first place.

Perhaps my social life would have been better if I did not make these decisions about how to live my life back when I was about 17, but once I make a decision I (generally) stick to it.

All this said, I very much take what I say, what publicly swear (or affirm) to very seriously. I will not swear an oath “to God” or make a statement that I believe in God, even if in so doing I might obtain some social advantage. I certainly don’t think I would be going to “Hell” if I did so, but I would feel the full moral responsibility for my lie.

In many ways my Existentialism is not and has not been an easy choice. It does not give me the comfort or the ease of having some firm set of rules to live by, or some external force to turn towards to seek solace or an explanation for life’s complexities and randomness. Nor has it, for the most part, granted me the social benefits of inclusion in a group or the marking of time which comes from weekly, monthly and yearly rituals common to nearly all religions.

So I am proud to be a non-believer and proud to that finally, for the first time in my lifetime (and perhaps ever) the President of the United States of America has acknowledged that non-believers alongside of believers of all faiths are and can be full citizens of the USA.

Last night I twittered that I thought it impossible for any national politician to be an Atheist and indeed for the majority of my adult life this has been the case, but upon further research I learned that in late 2007 one member of the House of Representatives, Peter Stark publicly acknowledged that he is an Atheist. And indeed he is from a part of the SF Bay Area.

So that gives me some small hope that writing posts such as this one (or the many others in my archives where I have mentioned my lack of beliefs) may not entirely make any future political career impossible. Though I somehow also suspect it won’t be in my lifetime that there is an atheist as President, though I would love to be proven wrong (and some might argue that we may have had one historically in the past, back when as a nation we took the separation of Church and State a bit more seriously).

And on a personal front one good and very positive (for me at least) aspect of Twitter has been that I have seen echoes of my own views in the messages of many of my friends. So I have hope that there are smart, attractive, non-Christian (and perhaps even fellow atheist) women also living here in the bay area and that it is possible I could meet one in 2009…

Posted in personal, politics, San Francisco | 3 Comments »

For Obama, No on Prop 8 and more on how I’m voting tomorrow

Posted by shannonclark on November 3, 2008

I have been a supporter of Barack Obama since he won the Democratic Primary for Senate in Illinois (I supported a friend and neighbor who was running against him but was thrilled to support Obama, not the least as a past resident of Hyde Park and student at the University of Chicago).

I will be voting for Barack Obama tomorrow here in CA. This election is the first time I have ever been voting FOR a candidate – my first two presidential elections I supported (a bit reluctantly the second time) Ross Perot, then Al Gore and John Kerry. I was relatively happy to support Al Gore, if disappointed overall with his campaign. John Kerry too I was disappointed in as a campaign though I likely would have voted for anyone who was not George Bush (though I actually didn’t hate George Bush senior).

Here in CA there are a lot of propositions this time around. More than I will get into detail here (I’m still reviewing some of the crazy ones specific to San Francisco and making up my mind on them) but there are THREE which I feel strongly about – and a few others which I have some opinions on.

Prop 8 – VOTE NO on PROP 8!!!!

If Prop 8 wins we as a state and as a nation will have let the bigots and the religious fanatics (specifically of the Mormon Church) win and the rest of us will have lost. I will be embarrassed and disgusted with my fellow citizens. In the past year I have had close friends get married who never seriously thought they would be able to legally marry the partner they loved – and even with a legal marriage in CA (or the other states where it is legal) they still face discrimination at a Federal level – where marriage perhaps has the most impact (on matters of citizenship and the right to work and live here in the US, on matters of Social Security, IRS etc).

The list of the impacts of marriage is lengthy. BUT two people’s marriage does not change the marriage of others, or the lives of those of us who are not yet married. If, as a society, we choose to give benefits and recognition to marriage – we should not discriminate in the least around who can marry whom (with the only exception perhaps being age/ability to consent).

I believe very strongly in the separation of Church and State. I am an atheist – which, i fear, may be the ultimate minority in the US today – and apparently would and could prevent me from winning election here in the US (indeed the allegation that a candidate was “an atheist” was apparently a devastating – and in that specific case quite inaccurate – negative attack. One which required the other candidate for Senate to publicly defend her active membership in her church.

The actions of the Mormon church which have spent a rumored $20M+ on the Yes on Prop 8 campaign (which is currently cluttering up adsense ads across the web among other nastiness) are, I think, reprehensible. Perhaps even grounds for revisiting their tax-exempt status (I can only dream).

I am also ethnically Jewish on my mom’s side so could even emigrate to Israel if I ever so chose. I also grew up with family stories from my father’s Irish side of the active and passionate discrimination which Irish-Americans encountered as he was growing up. From both sides of my family I feel a connection to minorities – and my generation of my family that connection is quite direct – many of my 1st cousin’s have partners who are not white and their children are bi-racial. In my close extended family in a few short generations we have become quite the melting pot – Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Atheists and Muslims – black, white, bi-racial and via virtual adoption Asian (my Aunt’s on my dad’s side of the family were big sister’s to a Vietnamese immigrant who has truly become a member of the family – was there with us at my grandmother’s funeral).

Barack Obama’s candidacy – and I hope his election tomorrow as the next President of the United States will mean a great deal for my extended family – for the opportunities ahead for all of my cousin’s and their families. The next generation should, I hope, have the opportunity to strive for anything they put their minds to achieving – unfettered by past discrimination.

And I have to note it was not all that many years ago when my cousin’s partnerships would have been illegal in some states (until 1967 though two state’s didn’t amend their state constitutions until 1998 and 2000!) and even today though now quite common mixed-race couples still face discrimination. (I say partnerships because though there are many children, not all of my cousins have chosen to get married).

I am a straight, white male. Currently single. I hope someday to have the privilege of marrying the woman of my dreams. When, as I also hope, we have children I want to raise them in a world where whatever their sexual preferences they have the opportunity to marry the partner of their choosing.

Other Propositions

Vote no on Prop 4

“Parental notification” sounds relatively innocent – but it is not. It is an attack on a woman’s right to choose and it is yet another attempt to restrict abortions, make them harder to get for the very women whose lives would be most deeply impacted by pregnancy.

I recently learned just how active my family has been in the past in the struggle for woman’s rights – my aunt has been a long time pro-choice activist (even in the past driving women to get abortions).

I am an Existentialist – choice for me is absolutely core to my underlying philosophy and outlook on life – and I find measures which seek to restrict other’s choices, which seek to presume how other’s should act, and which seek to force one group’s religious views on the entirety of the population to be extremely troubling.

Vote NO on Proposition 2

I am a serious foodie. I buy locally, often direct from farmer’s, and in fact most of the meat I purchase for myself is “free range”. But Proposition 2 is a case of a proposition which sounds nice but which has a lot of, almost entirely negative, consequences. It forces particular conditions on the raising in particular of chickens for eggs – which would have the impact of raising the cost of CA eggs. Leading almost certainly to greater sales of eggs from out of state.

Which, in turn, impose a higher energy cost for those eggs (transit from out of state into the state), direct food purchase dollars to out of state and mostly very large producers, and in the final irony to mostly producers who would be raising chickens in very large, caged environments. In short the impact of Prop 2 would be higher costs for CA farmers, less shelf space for those farmers in CA groceries, even more CA spending flowing to producers from out of the state, and in the long run even more animals raised in the very conditions the proposition seeks to prevent.

I much prefer NOT imposing by state proposition new regulations of how all farmers should act. Instead I encourage individuals to vote with their own spending – if they choose to spend a bit more for “cage-free” eggs, do so. More customers will encourage more production – and more spending directed to local farmer’s will, in turn, result in local farmer’s reinvesting locally. But many farmers will choose to use a variety of ways to run their farms – some will have both caged and cage-free chickens.

Where the government SHOULD play a role is in ensuring accurate labeling – so that when you buy you can be reasonably certain that you are buying what the label claims. And government should regulate safe food production – ensuring that our food supply is safe and uncontaminated.

So I am voting NO on Prop 2.

A few of the other propositions.

  • YES on Proposition 1a. Though not without flaws (the money doesn’t entirely add up) encouraging high speed rail transit and more broadly I hope greater investments in non-road transit across the state is a great and quite important thing.
  • NO on Proposition 10. It sounds good on surface but the devil is in the details. And it appears this is a case of one party (T. Boone Pickens) trying to benefit from a proposition campaign, sweetened with a few perks for some (i.e. Prius buyers). I think the case for hybrids is pretty solid without government inducements.
  • Yes on Proposition 12 and mostly NO on the rest. I’m still evaluating all the other propsitions, but my default is to say NO to most statewide propositions. I am not in the least a fan of the statewide proposition as having the force of law – it leads to the absolute worst rule of the majority (well even worse the majority of the minorty who choose to exercise their rights to vote) and all to often are poorly worded and have a multitude of horrible and often mostly unforseen consequences. Not the least of which are tying the hands of our elected officials leading to disasters such as the educational system of CA for the past 30+ years (since Proposition 13).
  • I’m leaning towards Yes on Props 5 & 11. Still reading through the pro’s and con’s on each. Redistricting is a really complex issue (Prop 11) and frought with opportunities for political action – the Gerrymandering of Texas in the past decades being perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. Prop 5 seems, to me, to make a lot of sense – treatment vs. imprisonment is a very sensible approach to drugs. However though it likely also saves a great deal of money (treatment costs less than overcrowded prisons) there is a serious risk of ineffective treatment – and of underfunded treatment – not to mention quack/ineffectual treatment.

    Addiction is a very real issue (not just of illegal drugs). Personally I think a lot of the issues around the current “drug war” could be best addressed by legalization (and thus also taxation & regulation). I personally make the choice to not use any drugs legal or illegal (even have a argument with myself over my consumption of coffee and i’ve never once been drunk) so the personal impact of this law is relatively minor for me. But as a society I think we have far more serious places to invest our societal resources in than what substances people want smoke (though as a non-smoker I definitely do appreciate the CA laws restricting all smoking in restaurants etc).

And don’t get me started on the many complex propositions specific to San Francisco. I’m going to be studying them and making up my mind probably right up to the moment I step into the voting booth. Though I do know I’ll be voting to name our local sewage treatment plant for the current president…

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

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 »

The Communities I speak

Posted by shannonclark on August 10, 2008

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

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

Speaking a Community

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

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

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

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

So what Communities do you speak?

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

Who we are is what we follow

Posted by shannonclark on March 26, 2008

Robert Scoble says the secret to Twitter success is who you follow.

And I agree with him (though I only follow a fairly carefully selected ~170 people on twitter at the moment, that is growing every week.

But this post is not about that meaning of “follow”, rather I have a theory that is a bit broader, related to a past post of mine about Time & Attention.

This afternoon as I left my apartment and picked up my mail on my way out the door, I had a new issue of the New Yorker magazine waiting for me, as I took it out to take with me I had the thought “now I’m three weeks behind on my New Yorker reading” in short in the unit of time “unread New Yorker magazines” my count went up one to three (or four if you count an issue I “only” haven’t yet read the fiction story. I have been a New Yorker subscriber since college, reading almost every issue cover to cover, skipping only the event listings and for the most part the poems. And yes, that’s a lot of words and a fairly significant amount of time I’ve invested into appreciating the magazine.

Which got me to thinking – there is a group of fellow subscribers and readers of the magazine with whom the unit of measure “how many weeks worth of the New Yorker you haven’t yet read” would be a common bond. A bond of a unit of measure which in turn, is a bond that reflects something important about us – namely one shared aspect of what we pay attention to, what we follow.

At the moment March Madness is in full swing here in the US, a few days ago my friends were buzzing about setting up their “brackets” today my friends at times are complaining about their partner’s obsessions with the games (or about the wins and losses of the teams they selected). In contrast, however, I have paid almost no attention at all to March Madness, I don’t know who is winning or losing, who made it in, who was favored, or what has been happening in the first series of games. Here is a place where I am not following what a large number of my friends are following – either directly or indirectly as a result of their partners (I use partners to be gender neutral here).

But I am deeply aware of the political calendar, in the past few months I’ve been paying active and close attention to each primary election, and likewise a fairly large portion of my circle of friends has been doing the same – some of us working directly for a campaign, some following actively via Huffington Post, some via DailyKos, some like myself via Andrew Sullivan and some by more mainstream news sources. All of us also using various social mediums – twitter, facebook, email, our own blogs and podcasts, to help raise awareness and share stories and bits of news or speculation which we find compelling. In short with the US presidential election there is a strong and common thing many of my friends and I are following. And yes, some of us at least are long time political junkies, we did much the same things the past few election cycles.

For many people in the US and more broadly in the “Western” world this past weekend was Easter and one set of my friends and family was paying attention to that, preparing for the Holy Week celebrations, buying hams for Easter Sunday dinner, painting eggs and hiding them for their children etc.

For another set of my family and friends last week was Purim, a Jewish holiday and occasion for fun and drinking and the baking of Hamentashen.

I’m not religious so I was caught a bit unaware this year by Easter and by Purim. Made aware of Easter in fact by the signs in my neighborhood butchers shop that they would be open on Easter Sunday. Shopping at a local Safeway (large supermarket chain) I also noticed that Safeway had set up as they do each year a section of kosher for Passover products and across the way had their Easter candies and products. So naturally I assumed that Passover was also soon to happen.

In a call last week to my business partner, who is also Jewish but more practicing than I am, he informed me however that Passover this year is not until April due to the once every seven years additional month which is added to the Jewish Calendar to keep the lunar calendar generally in sync with the seasons so major holidays don’t fall in the wrong seasons.

I suspect, however, that someone at Safeway had some fairly simple set of rules for the buyers – when you start putting out the Easter products also start stocking Kosher for Passover items.

Via Twitter, though also via my friends blogs, Facebook statuses, personal emails and other communications I am noting even more acutely what (and at times specifically who) they are following, what Holidays they are celebrating, what conferences they are preparing for, speaking at, planning, what albums they are waiting to be released, what performances musical or otherwise they are attending or at times what they have just bought tickets to in advance. In short I can see the many ways in which what we are paying attention to overlaps and as interestingly more and more I can see some of the multitude of ways in which it does not overlap.

And via tools such as Facebook,, and yes, Twitter, I can choose to start to follow, start to pay attention to some of the same things as my friends and I can signal out to them what I am following.

My shared stories on Google Reader, I suspect, paint a different picture of me than many people might assume. Via Google Reader for the past year I have, perhaps, mostly been signaling my political views – sharing a lot of stories from Andrew Sullivan, sprinkled with an occasional tech story. I do not, however, share everything that I am paying attention to, for instance, I don’t always share every story about advertising which I am reading and following – those instead I star for my own future reference, those I might share in a more manual fashion with my business partner or some trusted advisors.

At present I am a part of, following and paying attention to many different yet sometimes overlapping worlds. Professionally I am entering into the advertising world, so I am spending more and more time and attention following that world – and I need to find more and richer sources, subscribe to more print magazines and blogs, attend even more industry related events. I continue to be interested in the wider world of the Internet and “Web 2.0” and that too is a professional as well as personal interest, so I am aware of many of the upcoming conferences, read and subscribe to many related blogs, and frequently attend events. I’m also quite interested in the future of music and more broadly in the future of media and to that end I follow and participate in some industry discussions, attend events, read blogs, etc.

I’m also a science fiction fan of select TV shows, occasional movies but mostly of novels. So I’m also paying some attention to when various authors I like have books published, I attend a small set of science fiction conventions each year, and I am a fan of a few select TV shows (mostly Doctor Who and Torchwood). I am not, however, as tied into this world as many of my friends, friends who subscribe to monthly magazines (which in many cases they also publish and write for), friends who attend not the one or two conferences I attend but far more, friends who aren’t just fans of but are professionally engaged in the world of science fiction and fantasy.

And I could go on, I’m a foodie so I pay some attention to the weekly farmer’s markets, to restaurant openings and closings, to special events related to food, but I don’t follow it as closely as I might like. I missed, for example, that a major restaurant I had been told about a few months ago was finally opening this month in NYC, had I been paying closer attention I would have timed a trip to NYC in time to get to be there for the “friends and family” previews (my sister’s boyfriend is writing a cookbook with the chef so I’m fairly sure had I known to ask I could have gotten in, along with the “VIPs” for as one food blog called it the hottest ticket in town). Now I’ll have to try for a reservation along with everyone else each time I’m in NYC or might be.

My point with this post is to suggest that what and who we follow shapes us, it helps to define us in a very deep and powerful manner. Whether it is the calendar of events of our religion, or the publishing schedule of our favorite magazine, the rhythms of our lives are set by what we follow.

And in turn when our rhythm is in sync with that of another person the chance of our also being friends goes up. 

I would prefer, strongly prefer, to date a woman (and if you are reading this via a feed etc, I’m a man and yes, I’m single at the moment) with whom I had many overlapping rhythms. Though as well I would hope that we were not entirely in sync, that she would follow and pay attention to some things which would be new for me, and likewise that I might follow and introduce her to new events and sources. For that, I think, would be ideal – ongoing new discovery and mutual sharing of passions and interests. Over time we likely would overlap more and more – would schedule ourselves to do things together – but hopefully as well we would constantly be discovering the new as well – new people to suggest new ideas to us, new sources of information, even entire new fields of study.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, personal, politics, reading, time, working | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Notes on Transit – transitcamp without being there

Posted by shannonclark on February 24, 2008

This weekend in Palo Alto TransitCamp Bay Area will take place. I was not able to attend (in not small part because via public transit it takes me 2+ hours if I catch all the right trains and buses to get from my house to Palo Alto) but as my contribution here are some observations and thoughts I have about Transit.

First some personal background. I grew up in Oak Park IL, moved to Chicago where I lived for another 13+ years, two years ago I moved to the Bay Area. In 2004, I sold my car and have not replaced it, when I sold it (a 2000 model I had bought in Dec 1999 as a new car, that car had only ~13k miles on it). So for about the past 8+ years I have primarily relied on public transit, not on a personal car for the majority of my transportation. With the occasional taxi ride (often to/from an airport – more on that as well, and yes, to a degree taxi policies and licensing should be considered as part of overall transit).

Here are a couple of observations followed by a few suggestions. Primarily I will focus on issues specific to the Bay Area, but I’ll note some additional elements based on my experiences in other cities both in the US and around the world.

  • Current transit is, mostly, focused on the needs of “commuters”
  • In the Bay Area we, simultaneously have too much and too little transit (I’ll explain)
  • There are many options for how to pay (as an individual) for transit – in the Bay Area we have nearly all of them (far too many)
  • When thinking about transit private (individual) and private (corporate) should be part of the discussion, as well as all of the factors that influence those choices (tolls, parking availability & pricing, zoning requirements especially around the construction of new parking, metered vs free vs permit parking, zoning rules around mixed use vs. sole use vs. “strip malls” vs. sidewalk frontage or set backs etc)
  • Tourists have different needs than residents, not all residents have the same needs, and those needs vary by time of day, day of week, month, the weather and the age & health of the individuals.
  • The groups who have the most political influence are rarely those who have the most vital needs for public transit, though the aspects of public transit which do impact those with political influence tend to be those which get the greatest funding.

Here in the Bay Area by my count there are at least the following varieties of transit which should be discussed.

  1. Private Cars
    • an unusual aspect being the commuter lanes & toll policies which combine to create an unique system in places of the bay area for ride sharing by strangers (essentially “hitching” but with a more fixed pattern)
    • toll policies preference travel in certain directions
    • parking and zoning regulations dictate certain patterns in SF while zoning & building patterns dictate others in the rest of the Bay Area
    • motorcycles and scooters
    • special cases of rental cars
    • special cases of tourist cars (“go cars” guided tours of San Francisco for example)
  2. Shared Cars (City Carshare, ZipCars) and Commuter vans
  3. Taxis (and to a lesser extent limousines)
  4. Amtrak
  5. multiple ferry services
  6. CalTrain
  7. BART
  8. Muni – buses, cable cars, and light rail
  9. A large number of public bus services – most one per town around the Bay Area, a few like AC Transit crossing multiple towns, and a couple which cross towns (TransBay)
  10. Private bus services
    • Corporations (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and a few others) have formal bus services for employees
    • Certain buildings & neighborhoods in San Francisco (and some buildings in other cities) have bus services, typically for residents or workers in those buildings usually between the buildings and main transit centers (Caltrain station being a main point)
    • Local universities have services for students between residences and campus locations and between multiple campus locations throughout the area (U. C. Berkeley in Berkeley, UCSF and many other schools throughout SF
    • Tourist specific buses (some of which do offer “on/off” services. There are some public tourist buses as well (in the Presidio, in Golden Gate Park)
  11. Public handicaped special bus services
  12. Greyhound
  13. Bikes
  14. Walking
  15. Select light rail in other towns than San Francisco
  16. Major airports (Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose)
    • these also have internal transporation and special buses connecting the airports and trains
    • for some reason no airport in the Bay Area has trains that run directly to the terminals
  17. Private airports (and to a lesser degree helicopter pads)
  18. Private boats & boat dock

That is a lot of transit options – many of which any one person rarely experiences and uses. Like much of the state of CA the private car, usually driven without passengers is a very commonly used form of transit. For that matter there are many people who never use any of the other services – especially public buses

Payment methods and models:

  1. Pay on entry – most buses, MUNI in SF, Ferrys
  2. Pay on exit – CalTrain – exact amount varies by start and end point (and varies considerably from a low of <$2 and a high of many multiples of that
  3. Prepaid – MUNI (monthly passes), most Tolls w/automated pass, to a degree BART since you have to have a card with value added to it already (new “TransitLink” will have aspects of this
  4. Payment via special unit – bus coupons in San Francisco, parking cards in SF

Some questions I have:

  1. What is the GOAL of Public Transit? (Not or at least not solely I’d argue to “get workers to work”)
  2. How should transit be funded (currently few if any transit services are fully funded by the riders in the case of public services)? Private services (buses etc) are parts of the cost of some other business (office building, large company etc)
  3. How can the many specific focuses and political complications of have dozens of public transit agencies be minimized to better serve the needs of the entire Bay Area?
  4. How can Public Transit in particular emphasize the public service aspects of transit, not just serve the needs of one sector of the public (businesses whose commuters have to get to/from work during “regular” business hours).
  5. In particular, in my view, public transit should have many 24hr options, be sure to have 24hr access to hospitals in particular, should avoid creating isolated sections with no inexpensive transit options for much of the day, and transit should build into their business models flexibility to accommodate changing circumstances (planes which are delayed at airports for example)

Some specific suggestions

  1. In San Francisco (and across the Bay Area more broadly) the last trains, especially across the Bay, should run for 1 hour AFTER bars & nightclubs close (and if on weekends this means running 24hrs – so be it). This both serves a very strong and real public interest (keeping people off the streets when/if drunk) and it as importantly would encourage more people to stay in the city after work for entertainment and/or head into the city on the weekends – without clogging roads with cars and without requiring preplanning in the morning (i.e. choosing to drive instead of taking the train). Combined with bike parking at many stations (already done) and with local bus/transit services so people could avoid driving from train stations home (perhaps also with friendly parking policies that encourage overnight parking without serious penalty)
  2. Trains (and buses) which leave from Bay Area airports should run until also an hour or so AFTER the last plane lands – if this means running very very late, again so be it. Ideally the trains would be in communication with the airlines and be sure to wait until all bags were off and arriving passengers were directed from the baggage claim to the buses to trains (and were made aware that trains would be waiting for them). This might be slightly costly (but heck, I’d imagine airlines might kick in some dollars in fact) but would dramatically improve impressions of the public transit services for visitors and locals alike. A related point, ideally public transit should run TO the airports in time to clear security for the FIRST planes of the day (and yes, this might in the case of SF to OAK traffic suggest running nearly 24hrs – see a trend in my suggestions…)
  3. Monthly (and Weekly) passes should be available WIDELY. From ALL machines and from all hotels – at a minimum as a starting point. My local Safeway almost without fail SELLS OUT of Monthly MUNI passes – that is completely unacceptable – each pass is simply a piece of paper – 1000’s more of them should be printed each month – NO store should EVER sell out of them. Chicago solves this by NOT selling a monthly pass – instead Chicago sells a pass good for 30 days from first use – but with the variety of ways transit s paid for in the Bay Area that might not work (can’t easily visually show the pass where that mode is needed such as on buses)
  4. Fine amounts for not having a pass/ticket in modes of transit where one is required at all times (most of the bay area services) should be SPELLED OUT AND POSTED.
  5. Unlike many cities, the bay area does NOT have a single, universal taxi number – and taxi rates are extremely high – which discourages many people from using or thinking about using a taxi. At a minimum there should be ONE number (perhaps per area code) for taxis which would work with ALL taxis. Outside of SF taxis can be nearly impossible to find at times (Palo Alto in particular I’ve had problems at times)
  6. ZipCar and City Carshare are good for many people – but serve people who need one-way transportation or need open ended transportation relatively poorly (I most often need a car on days, such as this weekend, when there is an event or events happening down the peninsula which I would want to attend – and which I couldn’t easily predict when I might return from the events – both because I don’t know travel times and traffic well and because I not infrequently will stay late at event and/or want to go out with folks from an event – to get dinner for example). This is a very hard problem for car share services – but for me at least, and I’m sure I’m not the only person, $60/day though perhaps actually a good deal is a very big hurdle to overcome to think about spending to go to an event. (For that matter the $10-12 round trip to take Caltrain down to Palo Alto is pretty painful as well)

Much of the transit system fails because of serious gaps in the transit experience between commuters (many of whom have their passes paid for by their companies or significantly discounted) and the use and costs born by everyone else. I buy a monthly MUNI pass in San Francisco ($45) which is a good deal – and it makes it trivially simple for me to get on/off buses, trains or even the cable cars if I’m traveling within San Francisco – however I can’t, for example, use that pass to get to an airport (why the San Francisco airport at least for purposes of transit isn’t “in” San Francisco still befuddles me).

Yes, the trip planner is useful (though why there isn’t a mobile and iPhone interface for it I don’t know) and NextBus is also helpful, but even so there is also too little flexibility in too much of the transit patterns in the city – travel in the commute times is uncomfortable (very packed – suggesting that even more trains/buses could be run then) but at least trains and buses arrive fairly frequently – but if you wait just a bit everything slows to halt. And if you want to travel on, say a Sunday, good luck – your options shrink to almost none (no Caltrain back to San Francisco after 9:30 or so on a Sunday night for example).

Plus the payment complexities and the inability to pay on the train in most cases (you can’t even pay the gate agent at MUNI or BART but must fight with the often broken/flaky machines) also makes transit a frustrating experience. From CalTrain’s giving change only in dollar coins (and not taking payment on the trains) to MUNI’s insistence on using two different machines at times to get change (for dollar coins and for quarters).

So those are some suggestions and questions and observations I have about transit. I with I could have made it to the TransitCamp this weekend – but as I noted, it would have been costly for me in terms of time (and money).

Posted in customer service, economics, geeks, personal, politics, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »