Category vision

Swing punk: Benny Goodman

At the suggestion of our piano tuner we rented The Benny Goodman Story (1956 film with Steve Allen and Donna Reed).

Oddly enough it felt like it could have been The Iggy Pop story… or The Joe Strummer Story. His story is one where the status quo is challenged via a new musical approach.

Something deep inside me respects people who challenge things and eventually, via commitment to something larger than themselves, change the world.

Every individual included in Apple’s Think Different campaign falls into this bucket. Steve Jobs and Lee Clow missed a few people… I’d throw Iggy, Joe and Benny into the same bucket as Pablo and Hensen.

Born in 1909, he was a lad when the massive force of the Roaring 20s hit. Popular music at that time was classical waltzes. Benny drew from every source he could find (mostly from New Orleans players), did the equivalent of tearing the roof off… and invented Swing.

He and the people around him created the taproot that later became Jazz. He called his alternative approach to music making “hot” music. When looked it within the context of the music around at the time it was, indeed, hot.

Benny was a punk… a Swing punk.

Lunatic, Liar or Lord

If I updated my Facebook status and called myself “Savior of all mankind” you’d think I’d lost my mind. You’d call me nuts, a liar and probably then do the modern equivalent of walking away… unfriend me.

Which brings us to the essence of Christmas.

We’ve lost our perspective, we’ve co-opted and bent the meaning of what happened two millennium ago. Worse, we’ve connected it with an economic growth chart.

Christmas isn’t about buying things for people. It’s not about black Friday sales, two-for-one coupons or PayPal transactions.

It’s not about lying to our kids about Santa Claus coming to our homes, eating cookies and leaving swag behind. It’s not about blockbuster movies, red and green, twinkling lights or ugly sweaters.

It’s not about a family reunion, pine trees from a Northern region or sentimentalism.

Christmas isn’t even about making an annual trek to church.

Christmas is about relating to a person who was born a few thousand years ago. There is a question embedded in this man’s existence; a response required to the claims he made; he was either deluded, lying, or telling the truth.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – C.S. Lewis

Lunatic, liar or Lord?

On the edge of privacy: the emerging social web

The meaning of the word “public” is dynamic. Its a shifting definition.

A few years ago we would share things with the public but that usually meant sharing them with a small circle of friends. Today it means not only sharing them with the “public public” (everyone on the planet) but also with endless, algorithm-fueled scraping bots. Tomorrow it’ll mean something else.

800 million Facebook users is the stat that gets bandied about and that number is… stunning. Yet the figure that puts all of this into greater perspective for me is that FB is routinely seeing 500 million active users every day. There is nothing on the planet, owned by a small number of people, used by 11% of the world’s population.

The following is an hour-long, unedited interview with Sheryl Sandberg. As COO of Facebook she offers a fairly transparent view into the mindset of the organization with more than 800 million users.


Mass produced nothing

There is an… organization (I’m searching for the right word) based in Indonesia that has become a mico-movement.

Deux Ex Machina (God in the machine) is a group of people that make stuff.

The image to the left is one of their motorcycles. Regarding motorcycles they tear down local motorcycles and creatively rework them. In a way this part of their organization/business/collective is kind of like Orange County Choppers… but with a less cartoon-esque aesthetic.

What makes this group interesting is the fact that they also have fairly involved other segments to their compound. I’m not sure I could logically suggest something they wouldn’t do.

They design and make surfboards. They design and make fins. They design and make bikes. They design and make art of all types. They have a photo/fashion studio. They design and make instruments. They have a stage, a restaurant and sell a fair amount of soft goods (clothing).

Everything seems like it’s custom. Tiny runs, mostly one-of-ones.

Here is a quick run through the Indo compound.


Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright

I have a vivid memory of a white water rafting trip I took in college. The truth is that the rafting itself was a bust, there was too much water and so our class 5 rapids ended up producing something not very interesting.

What snagged me and captivated my attention was a side trip. We were in deep in the heart of Pennsylvania and driving on roads surrounded by thick woods. If my memory serves me right we were lost. We saw a sign for an attraction, followed the signs and this is what we found.

Falling Water.

The idea of a home in the woods isn’t new.

The idea of modern, horizontal architecture isn’t new either.

The idea of putting a dwelling that for all intents and purposes offered a frontal-assault challenge to Bauhaus designs of that era… in the middle of a 5,100-acre nature reserve… was a radically new idea.

Even today it feels new.


After I saw this I became a bit of a Frank Lloyd Wright fan/fanatic. I remember making side trips to see places like Oak Park, Ill where one can see entire neighborhoods of his designs. I also have spent a fair amount of time walking the interior spiral of the Guggenheim in New York.

I love his comprehensive approach. He didn’t just design the structures… he designed tables and chairs. He designed the napkin rings.

And yet after it all I still come back to this house. It’s beyond what most people would enable themselves to dream. It’s peaceful, it’s elegant, it has a stream running thorough it. To cap it all off it has it’s own soundtrack, falling water.


Jefferson, France and the formation of America

I grew up in the Midwest, spent an ample amount of time on the east coast, have lived in New York, Chicago and San Francisco/Silicon Valley. For the last two decades I’ve resided in Southern California.

I share this to set up the following statement.

I truly did not start to understand America’s place in the world until I left its shores.

It’s hard to grasp something if you’re inside its bubble.

The more I travel the more I understand how much we’ve borrowed from other cultures. The deeper one looks the more they find that America is the result of our collective experiences and our historical roots in other countries.

When we think of technologies and innovation we think of Silicon Valley and perhaps emerging hubs in Bangalore and Beijing. Yet the roots of innovation, whether we segregate that to technology, or take a larger view, point back to places like Paris.

The literal foundations of this country were built on the technological advancements from other countries. For example, to understand the significance of the Brooklyn Bridge is to understand the role of Paris as a hub for creativity and engineering during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Another way to say that is no Paris, no Brooklyn Bridge.

But this goes well past technology and engineering. EVERY element of the New York art scene (museums, galleries, performance halls, bands, art and architecture schools) originated somewhere else and most have roots pointing directly back to Paris. One can make the same argument for medical schools, hospitals, culinary schools, etc. The list is long.

An umbrella metaphor for this is Thomas Jefferson’s time spent in Paris.

Before he ascended to Secretary of State and eventually to the Presidency he occupied the role of Minister to France for four years. When I think of the experiences and cultures he drew on for his last two positions and his legacy after… when I think of his love of architecture, agricultural techniques, writing and culinary exploration… I find myself pointing back to his time in Europe. It all points back Paris.

True, Monticello was started before Jefferson went to Paris but it was a shell. It was while he was in Paris that he integrated the ideas of the central dome, natural light via skylights and even indoor toilets.

Jefferson is celebrated as somewhat of a quintessential American due to his varied interests, overarching optimism and stirring rhetoric captured in iconic documents like the Declaration of Independence. Since he’s one of our founding fathers it’s important to understand where his inspiration came from.

I see Jefferson as a quintessential American BECAUSE he reached past what was available here, sought out the best of what was available elsewhere and brought the best back. In my opinion that is what being an American has come to mean.

America is a global mashup.

All of our roots point to other places. Our family trees have sampled the soil of alternative forms of government and reacted to those with the bedrock documents of this nation: the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. More than three hundred years later we continue to attract people who risk their lives to get here because they believe the opportunity here is greatest.

Sure, America invented baseball, national parks, jazz and the internet. I’m sure others can extend that list. We should also recognize that a large percent of what “America is” hails from somewhere else.

If you want to go deeper, I recommend two books. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph Ellis and The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough.



NeXT Computer

As the world digests the curtain closing on Steve Jobs’ reign at Apple, I find myself pondering his time at NeXT Computer.

Steve created NeXT after being brutally ousted from Apple in 1984 by John Sculley (whom he brought in to run the company).

I remember NeXT vividly. I was in college, studying engineering and NeXT was making high-end workstations for intensive computing. I was so smitten by the company and it’s products that I wrote to them to buy a t-shirt (in pre-web era one didn’t just buy online). I wore that shirt with pride.

Jobs and Wozinac had created Apple in the mid 70s and leaned heavily on Xerox Parc breakthroughs to sculpt Apple into it’s own category of “personal” computing.  It was in the late 80s while Steve was at NeXT and, in my opinion, that his personal… unique vision really started to take hold; optical drives, laser printers, first web server, 1 sq foot die-cast magnesium shell, etc.

Based on Jobs’ own comments I also know this was an important time for him. It was his blank canvas. It was his time to reinvent himself AND computing as we now know it.

His time at NeXT became the running start for the product families he helped architect in the early days of his second reign at Apple. He shared his perspective about this time at NeXT in his 2005 Stanford commencement address.

When people think of Steve Jobs they point to the ipod, iphone and ipad… and Pixar. To be sure, those chapters are stunning stories of cultural and business prowess… but it was his time at NeXT that captures him for me.

Steve Jobs is about reinvention.

As he exits Apple for a second time I see a worthy metaphor, this is a similar time for Apple Computer as it was for Steve while he was at NeXT. Much has come before this time to set the stage for the future… but the truth is that in order to keep the visionary slot, Apple needs to reinvent itself again. And that is what Steve would want them to do.

Extinction of another species? Humans?

This video stopped me in my tracks. It’s not the first time I’ve heard Stephen Hawking talk about humanity and the large-scale issues facing species… including humans.

Stephen Hawking is truly thinking big. He’s looking past today’s melodramatic news regarding some hyper-shallow seemingly made-for-TV drama… he’s looking past the fiscal problems of the US and Europe… and past the Arab Spring.

I’m not posting this because I agree or don’t agree with what he’s saying. I’m posting this because I love this guy’s brain. I love how he thinks. I love how he compartmentalizes and dismisses meaningless chafe… and focuses on potentially large-scale issues.

Shop for groceries while you wait for the subway (in South Korea)

Webvan, founded in 1999, was created as a virtual grocery store. It raised a ginormous amount of cash, $1.2B, and shut it’s doors in 2001. It was a massive idea, hugely capitalized and thus offered an atomic bomb of a death.

Idea, a billion dollars, dead.

That said… it had elements of being a good, perhaps a great idea.

Watch the below promotional video from Tesco. They’re picking up where Webvan left off and their approach makes perfect sense to me.

Sorry in advance for the soundtrack… I’m not sure a more uninspired soundtrack exists.

Edward R. Murrow

If the name Edward R. Murrow means nothing to you then Good night, and Good Luck is an important film to see. His is the story of an American fighting for the very values that we all hold so dearly and doing so in the most public of coliseums… live, on network television.

If you know the name Edward R. Murrow and haven’t seen this film yet, do.