Thursday, March 31, 2011

Giving: Revised

Most nights at 8 PM I set my DVR to record an eclectic mix of programming. Like most of you I enjoy watching American Idol, and like my fellow sleuths out there, I love a good murder mystery, that programs such as 48 Hours and Dateline so cleverly offer. The other night my DVR ended up recording a more serious program about internet censorship, China, modern art, and human rights.

The story of Ai Weiwei was told to me through the award winning PBS show Frontline. Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei provides a fascinating look at a man that is both artist and activist. There are so many pieces of this profile I find captivating. Ai Weiwei’s art is world renowned, yet I’d never heard of him before. His native country, China, has the opportunity to finally showcase an independent thinker and cultural icon, and instead does their very best to suppress him. Though an artist of Weiwei’s caliber could live anywhere, he chooses to stay in the very land that aims to hurt him. His mother, acutely aware of the dangers Weiwei faces from her husband’s own artistic censorship, stands by her son’s side through it all. The story is much better told by Frontline, and most importantly, Alison Klayman.

Klayman has embedded herself in China for four years in an effort to document the very man China is trying so hard to suppress. Her work profiled in Frontline was so groundbreaking, surely she has some major investors backing this project. Surely she isn’t bootstrapping this effort I thought, as I wondered about a possible release date for her film. The plot thickens.

Two days after the show aired I received an invite to view a startup’s project on a funding website called Kickstarter. Being an entrepreneur heavily involved with online businesses, I get emails like this one all the time. You’ve been selected to beta test our new widget, you are exactly who we want to talk to about the usability of our new iPhone app, etc. Since I care, and since I’d like to think someone actually took the time to think of me, I do go and check out most of these websites I’m invited to review, and that’s where my second encounter with the story of Ai Weiwei occurred.

To my surprise this morning, when perusing the Kickstarter website, which in a nutshell is a crowdsourcing tool for people that need funding, I came upon Alison Klayman’s post. Secretly, I’d been thinking of Klayman and Weiwei ever since I watched the stunning portrait of the artist literally putting his life on the line for the betterment of his fellow people. So you can imagine my excitement when there was a real, tangible way for me to help her get the film finished. In fact, she let me back the film, I’m backer number 47 to be exact. The amazing part about the project, and Kickstarter, is you can become backer for 48 for as little as $1.

The way we give has been fundamentally changed by the power of the internet to connect willing parties. Klayman is more than willing to give you insider access to the film, swag, and even your name in the credits for a donation that would be considered modest by Hollywood standards. The interesting thing about Kickstarter, in the limited time I’ve spent checking out projects on the site, is that they offer not equity in most deals for donors, but rather gifts of appreciation. Got $250 to spare? Up and coming musician Lyndy Butler will write you a song, and play it for you…in person!

What is important about Kickstarter, and other web 2.0 giving enterprises, is that they allow for a more meaningful, intimate experience. There is nothing wrong with texting to give to say the Red Cross, but assuming you’ve done that, and you’re looking to help others, what better way than to take advantage of the new way to give online, appreciation included.

Check out the amazing Frontline piece below-

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

Check out the Kickstarter video here-


Go and get behind this important project in a way that not long ago you would’ve never been able to-

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Times Like These

I feel like a newborn. 31 year old newborn.

At Starbucks this morning I rested my bones on a new leather chair meant to look old. To my right was a man nearly half my age. Across from me a woman twice as old. One sat plucking emails from their Gmail account on a laptop, the other on their smart phone played a game intensely. Who was doing what no longer means anything, no matter of age, we all utilize technology feverishly. We are as techie in public, as we are in private. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook are those aged 50 and older according to a recent Pew Study. Safe to say, regardless of age, we are all hooked in some sense of the word.

Imagine going an entire day without your cell phone. Now imagine going an entire year. How different would your life be? Would it be better or worse? Surely you’d be less informed, but maybe more relaxed, and at ease with who you are as a person. Does technology inform us to a point where we become manifestations of the informers, or are we able to keep our individuality throughout the barrage of daily emails, texts, Facebook updates, and yes, blog posts like this one?

Before coffee, before a shower, before doing anything besides letting my dogs out in the backyard, I check my email every morning. By check I mean sort, and by sort I mean go to war. I forward, delete, reply, reiterate, and compose on a pace meant for those with serious volumes of email arriving daily. Without this routine, I’d probably read the three newspapers sitting in my driveway each morning, which doesn’t get done till the evening, or spend some time gazing at the trees in my backyard, which currently only happens on the rare occasion I slip outside for a minute between emails. Simpler times intrigue me.

Design wise my favorite period of which to draw inspiration from are the 1920’s. The roaring twenties, I picture my grandmother in a silk pattern dress with short curly hair, fur coat resting on her shoulders standing in central park as she mingled with sophisticated New Yorkers on a brisk fall day. I picture my grandfather, hunched over enjoying oyster stew from the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar, talking civil war history with academic heavyweights of the time. I think of old varsity sweaters, and badges that used to adorn them at my alma mater. I see the paperboy in a wool cap, the radio sitting in the center of the home, and books about railroads on the coffee tables of those that existed at such a time. I see the lines, the curves, the faces, and the places with unbridled optimism, because I was not yet born into whatever painful reality existed at the time.

Romanticizing a time, or place for that matter is alight, as long as the realization is there that you’re doing it. Truth be told, people had to go out and do something, there was no version of the iPhone in the 1920’s for them to keep busy with at home.

Robert Putnam pointed out over a decade ago, that we are spending more time alone thanks largely to technological advances. Maybe if Putnam had written his book today, he’d have romanticized the time more, being that now, even in a coffee shop where discourse once ruled, we all are slaves to our gadgets.


Microsoft launched an ad campaign pushing for more time in the moment, and less on the gadget, little surprise, it wasn’t much of a success. Apple launched its iPad 2 not long ago, and rumor has it they sold over a half million units in the first three days.

A small contingent of people are logging off, I found this article about a man living off the grid interesting, he has no electricity, but of course, his solar powered laptop is never far from reach.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Forging Ahead: No Looking Back

It’s Monday, of course you feel lethargic. Of course your officemates annoy you more today than on Fridays when they can kiss your butt goodbye for the weekend. It’s Monday, let’s all collectively sigh at the fact that you loathe where you are right now. Of course you don’t want to work, because you really want to live your dream.

Are people really living their dreams? On a Monday no less? I’m afraid so. I’m afraid that most people do in fact lie about living their dreams each day, but a small percentage actually are earning a living by doing what they love. You know the ones, always posting pictures of their exploits on Faceboook, you want to unfriend them out of envy, but that’d be too obvious. So you curse their existence in your mind, and respond with a ho-hum “that’ll be a fun trip” when the latest travel exploit gets brought up at that dinner party you didn’t want to go to in fear of seeing them in the first place. A small percentage of those people are really as happy as they seem.

What did they do to get there? Is there a way to really escape the doldrums of the normal life that has you reading this post right now? Yes dear reader, there is.

The older I get the humbler I get. I thought things were going really well ten years ago, now I wonder what disastrous stressful situation will rear it’s ugly face next. Am I going to get robbed at knifepoint? Business sued? Audited? All three?! Ah, the joys of being a disgruntled business owner. I’ve had your run-of-the-mill highs and lows in life, but for some reason the lows sting more with age. Without risk there can be no reward, with risk there will always be failure. The catch 22 of starting businesses is that, no matter how hard you try, some will not work out.

With the above in mind, that dreamers are living it up and failures arise regularly, I’ve curated a few ideas aimed at helping you mitigate the risk, and inherit the dream lifestyle that has your friends silently cursing your existence and unfriending you on Facebook in droves. These are after all the signs that you’ve really made it.

Forging Ahead By-

Setting easier to reach goals
Borrowing time not money
Giving credit to friends and family
Dancing when frustrated
Working from home
Visualizing success
Vocalizing plans
Ignoring pessimists
Reading lots
Spending little
Dreaming big

I could write in detail about each bullet above, but it’s Monday, and I don’t want to take up the time that might otherwise get spent dreaming of doing something you love for a living.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


A natural edged slab of wood sits atop two metal sawhorses in my home office. The wood is smooth, yet porous, as if it were sealed and coated a bit, but not enough. The exact species of the wood remains unknown, more than likely its redwood from what my online research comparing like images tells me. At nearly eight feet in length, it offers plenty of room for the desktop computer, a few notepads, and of course the ever-growing stack of unpaid bills that entrepreneurs like me wear as a badge of honor till our credit score shocks us into payment.

I imagine the desk would be the showcase of a better looking office, maybe put in the center of the room with a large pendent light hung above to showcase the beauty of the wood, and a fancy dark rug below to flesh out the enormity of it. Unfortunately in my office it’s up against a beige wall, with the only fur on the floor supplied by my dogs looking for a shady place to take a midday slumber.

The desk, as inconspicuous as it is in this office still commands attention. A majestic beauty from nature that needs no upgrade, software patch, or download. Someone cut a big tree down, and somehow sliced it in half. Someone lugged the tree from a forest full of redwoods, to a factory to seal, to a store to sell, and eventually to a builder supply shop where I picked it up. This desk has traveled a mighty long way to be here today, and with the incredible strength of two sawhorses, it provides stability when often stability is hard to come by. This desk is surely a desk I plan on keeping for a lifetime, it’s a lifer.

As luck would have it my computer sits at the far end of the desk, directly next to a window looking out on my front yard. The scene from the window is predictable, three ranch houses of modest size with well kept lawns standby idly across the street. In nearer view is an old tree. The branches of the tree fall directly in front of the window, stretching like tense fingers in awkward poses. The branches are ugly, they look like something one would use to torture another. If the neighbor asks my suggestion for their child’s Halloween costume next year, I’d be apt to suggest pulling those branches down and making a costume out of them, it’d frighten for sure. But these branches belong to a tree comprised of wood, like the wood used to make my desk. The same material I trust to hold my most important documents, offers up an entirely different look just outside my window, not more than four feet away from the desk. When I come across people that insult me, or frighten me, or worse yet, do both, I think of the tree in my front yard, and the desk, and how we’re all not that different inside.