July 2010

Engineering Serendipity

Yesterday I was watching Nina Paley speaking about her film Sita Sings The Blues at The Next Hope conference in NYC and she was talking about approach to putting her film online for free for anyone to use, and how many people did in fact use it and that lead to many benefits for her. She showed a slide with a quote attributed to ‘Donald X’ that said

“If you want to be in the right place at the right time, be in lots of places all the time.”

Nina was specifically talking about how this idea got her film into places she never would have thought to put it in on purpose which ended up working out great for her, but I think this applies to traveling frequently and widely as well. I often tell people that one of the benefits of me being all over the place all the time is that I have a really good idea what is happening in many places at any given time and I’m more likely to be able to make connections that I wouldn’t if I was more locked into one location. People often thing of Serendipity and Luck, and of being in the right place at the right time as total chance. Total chance you hope to have because they can produce some amazing results, but when you think about it, it’s not that difficult to game the odds – by being in more places on a regular basis, you chance of one of those being the right place at the right time goes way up. Sure, if you look at the hard math and statistics you are still only in one place at any given time so nothing should change, but in reality often these connections and “right time” don’t require something specific down to the minute. Frequently I’m talking to people and am able to refer to someone I met or a project I saw a week or two earlier in another city, that I never would have come across had I not been there myself.

Certainly people can tell you what is happening of note in any city at any given time, but that is different than just being there and walking around and seeing what jumps out at you. Some artwork on a wall, some fashion trend, a new store opening up. Or going to a location or an event and seeing who you run into, and what they tell you they are up to. These are things that are often deemed too insignificant on their own to be relayed to anyone other than those there at that particular moment. And having more of those particular moments in your bag of tricks that you can reference at any given moment gives you more dots to potentially connect.

I like this idea and want to write more about it, if you have any thoughts on it I’d love to hear them.

Travel Diary: Paris pt1


This is Vincennes. It’s a suburb just outside of Paris where the family and I are going to be based for the next few months. It’s actually a lovely area with a beautiful park and a castle with a moat but no lava or dragons in the moat which is kind of a rip off if you ask me but whatever. Point is it really is a quaint and charming area. I took that photo all for effect.

I wanted to get in a travel diary update before I bounced out to the next place, while we are technically “based” here till the end of August I’m flying out at the end of this week for 2 weeks back in the US in various cities. Tara and Ripley will still be here though, and her mom is coming to visit them so they won’t be alone or bored, but you know, being alone and stuck in a lovely 3rd floor apartment overlooking a part in Paris.. worse things could happen.

My Travel Diary posts have not been as frequent as I expected them to be, however I unfortunately can’t say it’s because I’ve so caught up in writing the book. That is even more neglected. Well, neglected in the ‘failing to contribute new and valid content to’ meaning of the word, not neglected in the ‘staring at it every day without typing anything and thinking about it nonstop while doing things other than staring at it without typing’ kind of way. I’d blame writers block, but it’s really just me sucking. I need to stop, and I will, just so far I’ve been busier on this trip than I’d expected to be. I haven’t been completely unproductive in the authorial sense, and in fact wrote a piece for BoingBoing about an all too brief trip to Dublin that I took last week which should be live before too long (I’ll link to it when it is) and I have been making a lot of notes of things to spend more time on. I think there’s going to end up being more narrative bits in it. Originally I was thinking it would be more 2nd person philosophical rambling, but I’m thinking some more first hand stories will find their way in there.

OK, enough writing about writing.

I’m liking Paris much more this trip than I have in the past. I actually enjoyed my last trip here too, but this time feels much more comfortable. Staying in an apartment rather than a hotel (thanks Harold!) gives a much more homely feel, in a good way. And being in Vincennes rather than directly in Paris is nice. It’s a neighborhood, and when I say Bonjour to the lady at the corner market she seems to remember that yesterday I was there buying something else from her. That wouldn’t happen in the city where 500 other tourists have passed through the doors in between my visits. Of course I stick out a little bit because of the tattoos and all, but people don’t seem to mind and it’s really nice to be remembered. That’s kind of the obsession part of localism anyway isn’t it? Finding the place not only where you think you fit in, but a place that thinks you fit in. Being remembered by a corner market shop keeper is a pretty good fitting in marker I think. And it hasn’t hurt walking through some parts of town that feel a bit like Los Angeles, parts I definitely wouldn’t have seen if I was in a hotel off a main drag.

Paris streets

Except LA doesn’t have as many man purses.

What I haven’t gotten use to is the super long days. It’s fully daylight out until 10pm and dusk for another hour after that. The deceiving part is places still close around 8pm and on several occasions I’ve though about running to the store before it gets too late only to realize it’s already 9:30pm and everything is already locked up for the night. This messes up my schedule even more because I’m used to working many hours into the evening, which if my body doesn’t think evening begins until almost midnight makes for some really late nights and it’s hasn’t been infrequent to wake up realizing it’s already noon. That said, this isn’t a horrible thing for many reasons, not the least of which is the afore mentioned next leg of this trip to NYC that begins in a few days. This staying up super late and sleeping in super late is actually pretty much on normal hours for New York, so I won’t really have any adjusting when I get there.

It’s taken me almost 3 hours to write this little bit since I keep getting distracted by e-mails and twitter and whatever else so I’m going to just cut it off and will hopefully have more success another time..

Travel Diary: In Between

Passed out at NRT

We are currently back in Los Angeles for a few day pit stop between the Singapore and Paris legs of this trip. The main reason for this stop over was so Ripley could see his doctor for his 4 month check up. Dude turns 4 months old today and is apparently healthy as sin and in the 95% sizewise or something like that. Point is he’s doing good so no worries. The secondary reason for the trip was to swap luggage – drop off some of the ‘super duper hot weather gear’ we brought to Singapore and pick up some of the ‘it gets a little colder at night’ gear we might need for Paris. But since this trip also include jaunts out to Dublin, New York*, Denver*, Las Vegas*, Toronto, Montreal and Costa Rica (*for me at least) it takes a little bit more thinking ahead of time. I’ve had a bunch of random thoughts and observations flying through my head but non seemed worthy of their own post so I thought maybe I just collect them into a big cornucopia of randomness in one shot. Like to hear it here it goes.

  • This is the first time I’ve been to Los Angeles since moving here in 2001 that I didn’t have a place that was mine to “come home to” so to speak. We’re staying with friends, and I suspect that for the rest of my life I could always visit LA and stay with friends but doing so makes it feel like I’m visiting. And the feeling of visiting the place you think of as home is weird. To me anyway. I’ve talked about trying to figure out what home even is before, but for me it’s been Los Angeles. Not a specific place, just the city. Though without a specific place in it that is just mine, well it’s weird that’s all I can really say.
  • Sort of continuing on that same thought, this is short term and I know it. Even though some people jumped to conclusions I never planned to move out of LA, and this trip is still just a trip. When the trip is over, the final leg of the flights will end at LAX – but it was stupid to keep paying rent while we were going to be out of town for most of the year. So when we get back we’ll find a new place. Originally where that place would be was up for discussion. I wanted east side, Tara wanted Venice. We decided we’d have to weigh out pros and cons and compromise, but every time we talk about it there seems to be less compromise and more “we’re just moving to Venice.” I won’t lie, I dreaded the thought of moving west, but Venice surprised me and there are many things about it that I really like, but I also know Silver Lake still feels very much like my neighborhood and I miss it. I don’t really have a point to this other than that I’ll probably have a Venice address again before the end of the year.
  • Stuff I brought to Singapore and never once used: hooded sweatshirt, Jeans, beard clippers, cycling cap. Stuff I brought but used very very rarely: long sleeve dress shirts, long sleeve zip up t-shirt thingy. Stuff I brought multiples of that I probably could have brought a few less of: socks, underwear, cameras, headphones. Stuff I brought and used all the time and could have used more of: short sleeve Ben Sherman shirts. Stuff I brought and used but probably won’t take on the next leg: Clever Coffee Maker, baseball hat, big ass suitcase. Stuff I didn’t take on the last leg but will probably take on this next one: Hario V60. Stuff I didn’t have but wished I did: a Bike.
  • Speaking of the clever coffee maker vs the Hario v60. The CCM has it’s charms for sure, but I just could never get it dialed in just right. I was messing with grind size, messing with brew time, remessing with both of those and I just never felt like I had it right. With the V60 I’ve never felt like I had it wrong. It’s also smaller, so I’ll be swapping that out this time around. Bringing the V60 does present a little problem in that for it to really shine you need to use a slow drip kettle, like this one. I have one here in LA, but it’s really not good for traveling because it’s big and the spout is delicate and long… I just know that something is going to happen to it while it’s in my suitcase. I looked all over and there isn’t a more travel friendly version out there. There really should be. you’d think somewhere in my network of friends would be some industrial designer who could whip something up for me. Yeah, me too.

  • I’ve been failing on my writing goals, but also failing on my reading goals. This is likely because I “worked” a lot more in Singapore than I was expecting to. Lots of meetings. There are fewer people in Paris that I’ll need to meet with every day so I hope to make up for the slacking of the last month.
  • Some friends were telling me the story of how some delivery guys moved the wrong thing in their house the other day and accidentally broke about $10,000 worth of crystal that they’d had for some 20+ years. It was heartbreaking for the obvious reasons, but times had changed and that isn’t the kind of thing they’d spend money on these days and really only had for sentimental reasons. Now that it was forcefully removed from their lives, they both sad to see it go but had no intention of trying to replace it. This is interesting and fits right into what I’ve talked about in regards to stuff and how it ends up owning you. As long as we have it we fight for it and defend it and keep it with us all both physically and mentally, and that is hard to get away from and the thought of opting out of that is very difficult (would you just give away everything you had or could you find reasons to keep this or that?) yet when their feelings didn’t play into it, when they had no choice, when it was just gone, it was kind of a relief to them. I know people who have had their houses broken into and felt the same thing -stuff that was taken, that they never would have given away, they didn’t want to replace after the fact. I’ve felt the same thing, things I lost when my first marriage ended, that I didn’t think I could live without, once I realized I could, I didn’t want to replace them.

    This all makes me think about the stuff I still have and that I’ve been clinging on to. If it was gone tomorrow how much of it would I feel the need to replace? That is really hard to say objectively and abstractly, but honestly if every single book I have was just gone tomorrow I’d be really bummed, but I probably wouldn’t replace a single one of them. Same goes for DVDs. There are some CDs I have that I actually worked on that I think I’d have to get copies of again for my own archives, but not really because I ever listen to them in that format anymore. What about clothes? In talking about that previous discussion another friend was talking about travel and luggage, and how lost luggage means lost clothing, and even if the airlines pay to replace what is lost, they are replacing “2 t-shirts and a pair of pants” not “that t-shirt that I bought in Japan and when I saw that band play and is cut just right” or “those jeans I’ve had for 10 years and that fit me just perfectly and I love like a stepchild.” Part of my whole ‘uniform’ thoughts on clothing means I don’t have those attachments – yes I do have a box of t-shirts that were given to me at some point and mean something to me, but I never wear them. The clothes I wear are more utilitarian and replicateable. I can buy Dickies pants anywhere. Short sleeve plaid shirts are classic and ubiquitous. So while I would of course need to replace lost clothing because I don’t think walking around naked forever is a good idea, I don’t think I’d miss those “specific” articles.

  • I didn’t really trim my beard the whole time I was in Singapore and it’s getting a bit scary. I kind of hate it, but at the same time am hesitant to chop it off because I’ve got a whole month put into it so far. It’s actually itchy and annoying and I don’t really like what I look like with it. What the hell is my problem?

Clearly I’ve diverged into just rambling and since it’s almost 2am now I’m calling it a night. Will keep chewing on the above thoughts, we’ll see where they lead.

Why Neighborgoods Matters

The topic of having too much stuff isn’t new around these parts, and in fact I talk about it a lot. It’s a constant struggle for me as most of my life I’ve been a hyper collector of “things” and over the past few years I’ve been moving more and more in the direction of getting rid of it all. I’ll never really get rid of it all of course, but I desperately want to get it down to a bare minimum.

For me, this started a few years ago when some friends and I started sketching up the idea of Multibasing, specifically this part about hardware. The Multibasing think tank, as it were, was talking about what items we’d need to replicate in each of the locations. What are those things that everyone has but has little use for, that we’d be better off with just one that we all had access to. Do 6 people who are somewhat sharing a living space all need to own the same book? Like most of the Multibasing plans this never ended up happening, but it led to a lot of very thought provoking discussions among our group and bits and pieces of the overall idea have been realized in different ways.

One of the people who helped me shape those ideas was Micki Krimmel. She had the idea that it was pointless for her to go buy something when her friends had that same thing sitting unused at their house. Take a ladder for example – In most cases 99% of it’s life will be spent sitting in a closet or garage waiting for someone to use it. I actually owned a ladder when I lived in Gainesville, I bought it because I needed to get something out of a tree. I used it once, then moved it around for 3 years from apartment to apartment but never used it again, finally I gave it away. During that time I know many friends who had a need for a ladder and went and bought their own, only for it to suffer the same fate. Micki noted that if we’d all known who had a ladder and who needed one, we probably have just borrowed it instead of each person buying a new one.

This is a genius idea because of it’s simplicity, OF COURSE borrowing is better. It saves money, which can then be spent on things that are actually needed. It reduces the demand for an item, which means fewer of them will be sitting around unused at peoples houses, which means fewer of them will eventually get thrown out and end up in landfills. It makes things more useful, which means things that are designed to serve a purpose actually get used for that purpose. It reduces excess, there simply doesn’t need to be 10 copies of an item when one single item can be shared by 10 people just as effectively.

The problem is organizing who already has what, and what is available to be loaned out. Last year Micki launched Neighborgoods.net to deal with that problem specifically. It’s a quick and easy tool to list what you have that you are willing to share with your friends, and see what your friends have that you can use. Have a power drill sitting in your closet unused? List it on Neighborgoods and next week your friend might borrow it from you rather than buying their own, which would just end up unused in their own closet. Need a backpack for a trip? Check Neighborgoods and see if any of your friends have an extra one you can borrow rather than going out and buying one you only have a short need for. Because in most cases if you are going to borrow something from a friend, they probably need to live near you, the launch of this service was limited to Southern California. We were the lucky ones.

Since then she and the Neighborgoods team have been constantly tweaking, fixing, and upgrading the site. Talking to the users and finding out what works and what doesn’t and making it easier to use and offering better options. Want to share something only with a small subset of your connections? No problem. Want to make a group for new parents to pass around baby stuff that gets outgrown while it still has plenty of use left? Done. Have something you aren’t using, and probably won’t use that you just want to give away or maybe even sell? Got that covered too. Of course you could do all of these things before in various different ways, but they were all time consuming and daunting Do you really want to call 25 friends to see who has an umbrella you can borrow for your weekend trip to Portland? It’s easier just to go to the store and buy one for yourself. But Neighborgoods makes it easier to borrow instead.

Neighborgoods has been refined and perfected over the last year, and now it’s available nationwide.

I’m not just being exaggeratory here, I firmly believe that Neighborgoods will change the world. This is a world changing service. The best products/services/ideas are the ones that make your life easier – they shave you time, they save you money, they save you hassle. Neighborgoods does those all of those things while at the same time reducing the amount of waste we will generate that will end up in landfills. It saves you from buying things you don’t need, and lets the things you already have be put to better use.

But it also allows us to be social within our neighborhoods again. There was a time when people actually walked next door to borrow a cup of sugar from their neighbors. Nowadays most people don’t even know what their neighbors names are. Neighborgoods allows you to share your stuff with only your friends, and/or also with people who live near you. Our society is increasingly told not to talk to strangers -but everyone is a stranger until you have a reason to meet them. Neighborgoods makes it OK to be friends with the people who live near you again. It’s not just good for your wallet, for your storage problems, for the environment, it’s actually good for society as a whole. I whole heartedly believe this, and I’m so excited for and proud of what they are doing and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. People launch sites and products every day, but few of them have the ability to impact your life for the better as much as Neighborgoods does. If you live in SoCal you probably already know this. If you live somewhere else in the US, this just changed your life and you don’t even know it yet – go sign up now.

(or watch this video, then sign up)

Watch This Intro Video! from sparky rose on Vimeo.

It actually makes a tangible difference in the overall health of our communities.