2013

Sustenance

bent

A month ago I took an unannounced, largely unplanned vacation with the family to Caribbean Costa Rica. We were there for a week and had less internet connectivity than we expected, but that was made up for by the over abundance of stomach viruses we picked up. I read a lot of books and wrote down a lot of notes. Getting in the place back to LA a week later I felt invigorated and wondered how I would get anything else done with all the writing I planned to do. I was exploding with ideas, and happy to no longer be exploding in other areas.

That was 3 weeks ago.

I’ve barely written a word.

I feel overwhelmed.

Everytime I sit down thinking now I’m going to write some of this stuff I realize I have other deadlines, something else that someone is waiting on, an ever growing todo list.. Then I get stressed and give up on being creative and try to get something else done. Which I actually do, things are getting done, just not the writing I was so excited to get started on several weeks ago. My notebook is sitting there untouched, scowling at me.

I haven’t been entirely unproductive though. I’ve been playing with datamoshing, databending, glitch inducing, pixlesorting, photosounding and a bunch of other weird graphic beautiful errors. Some of that will find it’s way into cmhhtd stuff, so I am glad to have that outlet and looking forward to what may come from it.

I know I juggle a lot of things, and it’s hard to fit everything in. This one is just annoys me because for the first time in a long time the thing I really want to do I can’t. Or rather, I can’t figure out how to. Just yet anyway. I’m confident that I’ll eventually figure out where all the puzzle pieces go, how they fit together. But in the meantime it sucks. I’ve mentioned starting a writing group to a few people – largely in passing, not in any real actionable invitational way – kind of hoping something like that would guilt me into getting something done, but I don’t even know how something like that would work.

I don’t know why I’m even writing this blog post honestly, I just wanted to see some words fill up the screen to make myself feel better before I go back and fold some laundry and figure out how to hang those sun sails outside to block the early morning rays from being converted into laser heat death by our kitchen window.

I’m holding on

I often say that music has been and continues to be incredibly important to me. All of the crucial moments in my life have a soundtrack, either what I was listening to before they happened or what I turned to after the fact to help me get through them. Music has been my rock and my salvation. It’s the only thing I could always count on – no matter what. Lots of people say music is important to them, but without a doubt music changed my life. No, fuck that – music saved my life. I can say with full assurance that if it weren’t for discovering a handful of bands in my early teenage years I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I might not even be here today.

I’d always liked music and as early as 3rd grade I can remember recording songs off the radio with my tape deck so that I could listen to them repeatedly, though admittedly those songs were probably just catchy musically but lacking in substance. Getting a “Weird Al” Yankovich tape for my birthday one year got me listening to lyrics. Before that I think I’d just thought of vocals as another musical element, but trying to understand all the references and jokes “Weird Al” was making made me realize the depth of the content that could be there as well. Discovering Run DMC, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy would take that interest in lyrical content to an entirely new level.

But there was still a disconnect in that those people were rock stars. What they were talking about was obviously important to them, which made it interesting to me. And educational on many levels. But there was always a bit of voyeurism because I could tell from their lyrics and photos that these people were from totally different worlds that I was, and lived very different lives. I didn’t know anything about parties or girls or global politics. I moved around a lot so I didn’t have many close friends and my family didn’t have a lot of money. And as a kid too young to get a job, I had even less. Which is probably why discovering punk rock a few years later was so powerful for me. These people were not rock stars. They didn’t have gold chains, fancy cars, airplanes.. they had jack shit. Just like me. And they often talking about how important friends were, which is something I wanted so much to believe in.

My list of “influential” bands would take days to read though (in fact very early version of my old website had a soundtrack section that listed out just a few of them) but the ones that really grabbed me, changed my world view and pointed my in the right direction is probably three. Three bands. I could easily make that ten. Or twenty without much effort. But if I’m honest about it, really honest about what were the watershed moments, which songs really made a earth shattering difference to me, there’s three of them. Of course that those three existed inside of an ecosystem absolutely bursting with awesomeness helped a lot too.

I’ve written before about trying to kill myself when I was very young, and made references to a whole host of things that kept me mopey and depressed for solid chunk of my childhood. I don’t bring that up to get all emo, but to make the point of just how much impact a few kids in garages out in the world putting words that ment something to them to music, and risking humiliation sent them out into the world could have on me.

Evil Dead 2013

Like anyone with any taste in film I love The Evil Dead. That series is as close to perfect as movie making can be so so many reasons, not the least of which is the obvious fact that the filmmakers (actors included) approach a completely absurd plot as if it’s completely absurd. It works because it’s campy. The horrific gore is kept in check by the humor laced all the way through it. I could watch those films over and over again, enjoy them every time, quote them repeatedly. They are fantastic.

Like anyone with any taste in film when I heard they were going to remake the original Evil Dead I wanted to die before it was released so I wouldn’t have to suffer through seeing yet another classic destroyed by soulless studio execs who have no understanding of what made the original so great and just want to capitalize on an existing brand and a built in fanbase.

And then I started hearing all the whispers. This was not being made by some soulless studio execs who have no understanding of what made the original so great and just want to capitalize on an existing brand and a built in fanbase, but rather the original producers. Both Sam and Bruce were on board with it. It would be faithful to the original. Hell, it might be one of those rare cases where the remake is better (or at least as good) as the original. Could that be true?

I didn’t want to be a jaded fuck and just write it off, even though the trailer was telling me to just write it off. I told myself that maybe that was just the marketing department cutting something together to try and sell it to a different audience who just wanted another boring torture porn flick and would have been just as happy going to see SAW 27 or whatever. I kept telling myself Sam and Bruce say it’s faithful to the original. I kept telling myself to ignore my gut and give it a chance.

So when I heard the other day that a specific screening of the new Evil Dead at Arclight (the best theater ever) would have a personal introduction by Fede Alvarez (director of the new version) I thought, if I’m going to see it this is the time to do that. See what Fede has to say. Keep an open mind. Allow myself to get won over. So I grabbed tickets and went.

I should have trusted by gut.

Fede’s introduction was useless. He could have been introducing 2 hours of static and been more passionate. He didn’t seem to care about the movie, other than saying he made it and that it was really scary. So, right away off to a bad start. It got worse from there.

OK, let’s keep something in mind here: Since Evil Dead came out 30+ years ago in 1981 there have been a lot of movies riffing on the “cabin in the woods” theme. Not the least of which is The Cabin In The Woods. Given how satirical the original is, you can’t remake this film without having some self awareness of how much of a joke the theme is to begin with. Or maybe you can, because that’s what was done here. The things that made the original so great are completely stripped out of this version. There’s nothing funny about the new one. There’s no humor. There’s no soul. It’s a completely run of the mill torture porn movie all the way down to a heavy handed dramatic storyline transparently devised to make you really care about the people, but falling short because it’s so poorly constructed. The “junkie/withdrawal” set up is tossed out the window as soon as they find the book, which makes that entire thing a waste of time.

Now all of this wouldn’t have been so terrible if they had just used the name, a few plot points, and then just made a totally new movie. But instead this is peppered with visual references so you can’t escape the fact they they are shitting all over the genius of the original. I am disappoint.

I don’t know why Sam and Bruce made such a big deal publicly about how “true” this version was, other than to assume they just wanted the paycheck. But that’s a small price to pay for their trust. I certainly won’t believe anything they say about movies again.

And truthfully, I don’t know much my take on this even matters. The theater was filled. People cheered at the gore and blood. They applauded the ever so crappy references to the original – although maybe they did that because they also desperately wanted this to be that, and would jump at any morsel handed to them. I guess time will tell, but I thought it was a piece of crap.

Los Angeles & Tech

Last week Tara and I had the pleasure of grabbing lunch with Bryce Roberts while he was in town scoping things out. Today he posted some notes about Los Angeles and it’s tech scene(s) that I wanted to follow up on because, well, you know I have a lot to say on the subject. If you haven’t read that post you should do that now, as what I have to say will make much more sense given that context.

So just a bit of credentials for anyone who stumbles across this and isn’t already familiar with my LA dedication – In 2003 I, along with Jason DeFillippo, launched Blogging.LA which was certainly the first group blog specifically about Los Angeles, and arguably one of the first group blogs about anything. (It’s funny because it’s common place now, but in 2003 finding a blog with more than one author was rare.) That would morph into Metroblogging and I spent a lot of time over the following years talking to VCs about funding for it. In 2006 I along with a few friends put on the first Barcamp in Los Angeles because we knew there was a vibrant and active tech community here that we felt didn’t know about each other. It was a massive success and there would be 6 successive Barcamps over the next 4 years before it got too big and fragmented into several smaller and more manageable events. In 2009 I instigated the opening of the first public hackerspace in LA which 3 years later is world renowned, award winning, nearing 100 members and has events almost every night of the week. Last year, along with Alex & Tara I help build Represent.LA to once again try and solidify, or at least put a face to the LA tech scene.

I also have 213 tattooed on my finger and LA on my foot.

Somewhat related, I spent much of 2010 on the other side of the VC table, working closely with Neoteny Labs – a fund led by Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman – which gave me a considerable amount of insight about how VCs look at companies, locations, and how they approach deals.

That out of the way – I’m really excited that Bryce has taken an interest in LA. As you can see, I’ve been thinking highly of the place for quite some time. The truth is, the people here in LA know how awesome it is. That’s why we’re here. But most people outside of LA have no idea what is going on here. LA has an image problem in that Hollywood has been really good at making up a fictional version of itself and painting that as LA. I guess people outside of LA don’t understand what fiction is, and assume that the LA they see portrayed on TV and in Movies must be real. It’s not. Hell, Hollywood “the place” doesn’t even have anything to do with Hollywood “the industry.” But, that’s beside the point. Point is if you’ve never spent any time in LA chances are your impression and opinion of the place are dead wrong – but the vast majority of people are happily uninformed. So it’s refreshing to see someone take more than a passing interest.

Bryce spends the first part of his report making LA/NYC comparisons. Which neighborhoods match up and things like that. Which places he thinks are similar is up for debate, but that’s hardly the important part. The gem here is the comprehension that LA is not just one thing. Not just one place. But lots – and I mean a lot – of smaller places with their own personalities all nestled up next to each other. Santa Monica is not LA. Venice is not LA. Hollywood is not LA. Downtown LA is not LA. Silver Lake is not LA. Pasadena is not LA. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This place is giant and every step in every direction is different. This is a good thing and something you have to understand to begin to understand LA.

He notes that there are some great incubators, not a lot of local funding here. Bingo.

This is an excellent observation. In my time hunting for funding for Metblogs I met with a wide variety of both angels and larger VC funds in town – as well as out of town. Not all, but vast majority of VCs and Angels I met with in LA were aggressive, greedy, and very interested in seeing just how many hoops they could get you to jump through. The term sheets I was offered were outright hostile. I met with a lot of people who liked to talk about how much they invested in the local tech scene to try and take credit for anything and everything happening here. Turns out by “investing in the local tech scene” many of these people meant throwing parties or comparing bank accounts with other local investors who valued cashing checks more than investing them.

Needless to say those were not positive experiences. Years later when working with helpful, excited and positive VCs at Neoteny Labs I’d realize just how bad those other deals had been. When I spoke with VCs out of LA I was repeatedly hit with “there’s nothing happening in LA, you’d need to move closer to us before we could consider investing.” Immediate deal breaker.

LA really needs investors who are supportive of both the growing scene and LA itself. There’s a unique atmosphere here that, if nurtured, could produce some incredibly awesome companies. I have no doubt about that at all. Some of the most creative and driven people I’ve met in my entire life have been in LA.

As for the disconnect between Hollywood (the industry) and the LA tech scene, I agree completely that this relationship is underdeveloped. I think a lot of that blame lies on the shoulders of super conservative business advisors, hired by people and companies with expendable income and charged with doing something/anything with that money except losing it. Which makes investing in tech start ups less than attractive. There’s also the thing – when you are a hammer everything looks like a nail. A lot of people in Hollywood (the industry) think the whole world is struggling to be them. So any intermingling with other industries would really just be showing those folks how Hollywood does it. This is where a lot of the content crossover comes from.

That’s not everyone of course, there are some very smart people in Hollywood that have made moves into technology, but largely this has been driven by one person who really gets it, not an industry that understand it. It’s progress, but it’s slow. I think there will need to be some very noteworthy success stories coming from these partnerships to convince others to get their feet wet. I think this will happen, but it won”t be the result of parties, mixers, or networking events. It’ll be because awesome people working on awesome projects get together and do awesome things.

Hollywood (the industry) has the reputation for seeing on failure as a condemnation of an entire theme. If a movie about earthquakes flops, no studio is going to make another one for long time because it can’t be that the movie just sucked, it has to be that people don’t like that theme. And similarly if a movie about zombies does well, you can expect a hundred more zombie movies any minute now – because it can’t be that it was just a good movie, but that people want that theme. We suffer from the same problem in tech. If a site fails – lets say a local product that raised a mountain of cash before even launching a site – then obviously local isn’t viable. It can’t be that it was jut a crappy idea, or poor implementation – it has to be that the theme is bust. And likewise, if something works, get ready for a million copycats. This quickness to accept or reject an idea is harsh on it’s own, but put the two industries together and you get lot of skepticism. Which is why I think when this happens – and I again, I firmly believe it will – it’ll be individual driven. It’s just a question of who those individual will be.

Bryce says that he “can see LA really stepping into it’s own over the next few years” and I think he’s right. I’ve been championing this place for over 10 years now and while I’ve always really liked what was happening here, what I see happening right now is the most exciting it’s ever been. And if people like Bryce and the folks at OATV (among others who have been here recently) are noticing that too, I think it’s more than just local hope.

CMHHTD

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in…”

I’ll save you the epic backstory and just say that when I walked away from the music industry in the late 90’s one of the many reasons I chose to do so was because, frankly, it had gotten boring. People (and bands) were just running through the motions. They were executing a prescribed set of actions because that’s just what you do. I missed the days of people doing things because they loved them. Because they thought they were awesome. Because they wanted to be proud of what they were doing. Doing the same thing that you’ve already done, that everyone else has already done, over and over again, isn’t at all fulfilling or interesting to me.

So I left the music world and went to work at this exciting new place, the internet. The music industry had a lot of perks, but it never had lolcats. In the years since then I’ve helped a few friends out with the occasional music project here and there, but I’ve always kept things at arms length because on some level it was the same old thing. It’s was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

These frustrations were echoed in a conversation I had with a few friends last year. We went on to ask ourselves, what does success mean, or even look like if it’s not just living up to someone else’s metric? Obviously if we were going to spend time working on something we want it to be successful, but maybe more importantly we talked about how we wanted it to be something we were proud of working on. If the absolute worst case scenario is that we spend some time working on something we think is awesome, how bad is that? And anything above and beyond that is even better. So, thinking about a music project from that perspective, what would we want to address? What would we want to do differently?

Turns out, a lot.

Clockwork

Clockwork Orange bar

“Kelly told Alice that she thinks you are cute”

Stereotypical high school grapevine courting. It happened all the time to everyone. Except it had never happened to me. I’d forever been in the role of passing on this kind of message but had never had it directed towards me. Of course I always dreamed about what would happen when my number finally rolled around. When one of the oh so many girls who I stared at for endless hours in school would finally notice me. One of them, which one I hoped it would be changed often enough that it really could have been any of them, but one of them would realize that right there in front of them was the guy that they were dreaming about when they at home singing smiths songs. I never liked the Smiths mind you, but they all did. It would be like turning on a light in a dark room filled with furniture, suddenly everything would make sense and we’d both know it. We’d instantly know everything about each other and understand every thought the other had. We’d do things that people who were dating did like hang out and go to the mall together. We’d hold hands absentmindedly while doing something else – just for the comfort of knowing the other person was there. We’d snuggle up on a couch and fall asleep next to each other while watching a movie. We’d probably kiss. Then we’d have mountains of sex. We’d live happily ever after. It was just a matter of time before all this came to pass, either that or I’d grow old and die alone. But one of those things was sure to happen. It was just a matter of time.

“Who’s Kelly?” I asked.

She wasn’t one of the girls I currently (or recently) had had my sights on, but no matter because she was one of the girls. This was happening slightly differently that I’d expected, but these were variations I could deal with. It turns out that Kelly was one of the girls who from time to time would sit at table during lunch which meant she was at least a friend of a friend. But let’s be honest here, we’re talking about Bradenton, Florida so anyone who was the least bit weird at some point ended up stuck with the rest of us. You didn’t want to be one of the weird ones in Bradenton. You were supposed to want to fit in, to play sports and have rich parents.

Her name wasn’t even Kelly. I’m not changing it to protect the innocent or anything like that, I just can’t remember it. If I really cared about creating some historically accurate document I suppose I could find a yearbook and look her up, but I don’t really care. That, and I threw out all my old year books a few years ago. So for this her name is Kelly, but really it doesn’t matter. This story isn’t about her name, it’s about her and me and it’s about the events of these few weeks.

The next time I saw her I went out of my way to say Hi and be friendly, without being obvious and without letting on that I’d heard the scandalous rumors that she thought I was cute. That would ruin everything. Besides, I wasn’t the one who thought she was cute so I didn’t have anything to worry about. But she was cute, in a weird kind of way. I’d just never noticed it before. Or maybe now that I had this insider information I looked at her differently. I noticed her anyway, which I hadn’t before, so there’s that. She was smallish, both in stature and weight. Her short bleach blond hair was plastered down to her head with some kind of plastering hair product or matted from unwashed grease, I couldn’t tell which. She touched it and looked away and smiled nervously. Her white T-shirt was at least 4 sizes too big and her arms looked toothpicks sticking out of the sleeves. She wore boys jeans with what was probably her fathers belt. Her super pale skin was harshly contrasted by the dark red lipstick she was wearing, or had worn many hours ago because it had turned black and caked up in the corners of her mouth and edges of her lips. I assumed it was lipstick anyway, it might as well have just been remnants from a lolipop or something. She was awkward on every level, and I thought it was fantastic. How had I not seen her before?

30 days

I really like the idea of 30 day challenges. But then again I really like the idea of self challenges in general, which should be no surprise to anyone reading this. I try, fail, restructure, try again – things all the time, but putting a “30 day” cap on it turns anything into a great bite sized goal that suddenly becomes attainable. Do one new things for 30 days? Simple.

I sent out a link to my email list from a friend who spent January detaching from digital stuff when around family. The TL;DR is that he restricted when he would look at email, restricted how much time he’d spend on it, and completely cut out phone/laptop stuff at home around family (mornings and evenings). To very positive results.

I always have my iphone near by and wonder how that translates for Ripley. His parents are always staring at these little devices. So reading Javaun’s account was relevant to my interests and I may try something similar. His jaunt into the 30 day challenge was so successful that he spent February catching up with old friends/family – each day contacting someone new.

This is another great idea that I would love to try out because I’m really horrible at staying in touch with anyone. Truth – if we’re friends and you don’t see me on a regular basis and we talk at all frequently that is huge. More commonly when I stop seeing people in person regularly they just fall off my immediate radar, but when I do see them again I’m excellent about picking up exactly where we left off. Even if it’s been years, when I see old friends I feel like I saw them just yesterday. Not everyone is like that however which has led to a lot of people who I think of as important to me, and important to my life – being out of touch. Of course, the problem with talking about something like that is if I say “hey for the next month I’m going to make a real effort to call people that are important to me but I haven’t talked to in a while” and then some people who I know but haven’t talked to in a while read it and don’t get a call they will be all WTF OMG and shit. And rightly so. Or they could call me FFS. But whatever.

I like the idea of constantly improving yourself and just deciding that you are going to make a change can be scary. Saying you are going to make a change for a short amount of time is much less scary. A week is too short to see a difference, but a month is just long enough to get in the habit and see some results. At the end of 30 days if you like the results it’s probably easy to keep going, if you don’t it’s no big deal because it was just a 30 day experiment to begin with.

I’ve talked about trying to do things every day before as well, and I can tell you that making it open ended is much more intimidating, and comes with an unavoidable sense of failure because inevitably you will miss a day and then you broke the streak. But if the streak is never ment to be more than 30 days. That’s cake.

So tomorrow is the 1st day of March. A new month. A new 30 days. Well, 31 technically.

What should I try?

A year without Facebook

I quit Facebook – quite publicly – in April of last year. Here’s the article I wrote about it explaining my reasoning. It hasn’t been a full year yet, but this week Douglas Rushkoff announced he’s quitting Facebook and several people have pinged me for thoughts so I thought I’d just put them all here in one place. I’m not going to spend any time on reasoning as I think between the two posts I just linked that is more than covered. What I will talk about is what this decision has been like to live with.

The truth is, I’ve hardly noticed it. That’s not to say I haven’t missed anything, rather I havent missed anything I’ve missed.

I’ll tell you when it has been obvious to me – when I try to sign up for a service or website and the only option they offer is Facebook connect. I’m a self diagnosed web addict and terminal early adopter so I check out and sign up for a *lot* of stuff. And in a years time I can only think of 3, maybe 4 times this issue has come up. This was actually the thing I was most worried about and it’s clearly not the issue I thought it would be at all. And actually, all of those examples have been opportunities to tell the founders (though they haven’t always listened) that only offering one way to sign up for their service, and an unreliable 3rd party option at that, isn’t such a hot idea. One of those products that I couldn’t sign up for was just a few weeks ago, but all the others I’ve never heard about again. I’m not saying that only offering Facebook Connect as the way to sign up for their service was suicide for them, but feel free to make that assumption. I won’t name names out of respect for the dead.

It’s also been a little noticeable when using things like Kickstarter – which I use all the time – I can no longer see what my friends are backing. I miss that, not enough to regret quitting Facebook, just to realize I would like Kickstarter to develop their own way to do this in house.

There have been a handful of things where someone has said “Oh, ________ posted this to Facebook, I know you aren’t on it so I’m forwarding it to you.”

There have been a handful of things where someone has said “I posted it on Facebook” and I’ve said “I’m not on Facebook so I can’t see it” and they’ve said “Oh… I’ll post it somewhere else too, hold on..”

Have I kept in touch with all the people who I was connected to on Facebook? No. Have I missed them? Not really. In 2010 I wrote that Facebook made me feel like a shitty friend, in part because it was maintaining (or recreating) connections with people that under any other circumstance would have fallen out of my life. That kid I sat next to in one class in 10th grade. That girl I had a crush on for a few months in 9th grade. That guy that is friends with one of my cousins that I met one time at a wedding or something. Without Facebook normal people in these situations never would have stayed in touch, with Facebook it was nice to connect but we never really had anything to say to one another other than “oh so nice to reconnect” then just flooding each other with random status updates. 100% of those people that I had very weak ties to I lost touch with. But I also no longer feel bad about not caring about their updates, I don’t feel bad that I don’t have more to say to them, and I don’t feel bad that they aren’t a part of my life. So I’m not convinced those loses are really a bad thing.

I will say that leaving Instagram was tougher. I had a group of people that I really liked and it was a way to connect with them that worked. I’m still in touch with many of them on other services though it’s not the same intimacy or personal kind of connection that Instagram was. Maybe Vine will fill that gap to some extent, maybe not. But leaving Instagram was definitely harder, but I do feel like it was the right choice. It’s important to stand up for what you believe in. Someone had to.

But with Facebook specifically, have I felt the need to go back? Not at all.

Not even once.

Am I any less worried about people relying so much on it? Nope.

Do I wish more people would leave it in the dust? Yep.

Do I think people are starting to figure it out? Still up in the air.