Interview with author David Ebenbach

davidebenbachOne of the things I appreciate most about living near a small, excellent liberal arts college is that it brings amazing people with amazing talents into my community, even if for just a short while. Sometimes I only get to encounter them for a single lecture, presentation or performance, but other times I'm fortunate to make deeper connections that continue on.

I'm glad that when author David Ebenbach was teaching at Earlham College a few years ago, there were opportunities to become friends with him and his family, and to start to get a sense of his love of (and gift for) the craft of writing. David now teaches at Georgetown University and he has published a number of books including Into the Wilderness, a collection of short fiction, and The Artists Torah, a guide to the creative process. David's written many different stories, poems and essays that appear in print and online.

As someone who enjoys good writing, aspires to do more writing myself, and who follows some of the "behind the scenes" in the world of authors and publishing, I was excited for the opportunity to interview David. We got to talk about his experiences as a writer, his take on modern publishing, and his own creative process: Continue reading "Interview with author David Ebenbach"

Always and never: America's nuclear weapons

There are lots of things to be worried about. War, climate change, plaque buildup, unsanitized user inputs. But somewhere near the top of your list should probably be the thousands of nuclear weapons around the world that are one miscommunication or faulty electronics part away from unexpectedly killing many, many people.

I don't usually go looking for such perturbations, I promise, but when I happened upon this recent NPR interview with Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, I was captivated:

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Review: Unite Pro Mobile WiFi Hotspot

The AT&T Unite Pro 4G LTE Mobile WiFi Hotspot released at the end of 2013 is a compact, lightweight and versatile hotspot device that's great for wandering tech workers or just as a backup for your home Internet connection. Here's my full review:

In preparing for my recent adventure living in Washington D.C. for three weeks, I became aware of the possibility that - are you sitting down? - there wouldn't be any broadband Internet access available at the apartment where we would be staying. I know, right? Since I was going to be working I needed fast and reliable connectivity, I started researching options for bringing my own bandwidth.

My ideal solution was something that would integrate with my existing AT&T mobile plan, be a solution that used standard and flexible ways of connecting devices instead of proprietary or platform-specific drivers, and that would be reusable for future traveling adventures without me having to make a significant financial commitment in the form of a contract or other fees.

The Unite Pro, which is actually manufactured by Netgear, seems to have been created just for my purposes.

unitepro

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Notes from Moogfest

I took a quick trip to Asheville, North Carolina this past weekend to visit some friends and wander around the area. It's one of my favorite parts of the country, having spent a fair amount of time there as a kid, with my grandparents when they lived in Swannanoa and attending a summer camp for several years in Black Mountain.

But in looking up things to do while I was there this time, I found a whole new great reason to visit, the Moogfest music/art/tech festival.

Moogfest 2014 Wristband

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Influx by Daniel Suarez

I recently finished reading the novel Influx by one of my favorite "tech thriller" writers, Daniel Suarez - here's a quick review.

The basic premise of Influx is that humanity's scientific and tech geniuses have created many more technological break-throughs than most of the world knows about, and that a secret department of the U.S. government has taken extreme steps to hide those break-throughs in the name of protecting everyday people from their practical implications. The plot thickens when there's resistance to that department's methods, and I won't say much more about it to avoid spoiling what unfolds, but you can imagine the story-telling fun that can be had when futuristic-and-very-advanced human tech and mindsets meets present day human tech and mindsets.  And most of it is pretty dark stuff - no kibbitzing with humpback whale scenes here.

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Y Combinator wisdom on helping startups succeed

LaunchPad_300I just finished reading Randall Stross's The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, a great accounting of the origins, growth and successes of the seed accelerator company that helps "budding digital engineers."  This blog post is a little bit book review, but mostly highlighting the wisdom that Y Combinator seems to capture and employ in its work helping startups succeed.

I could not help but take in that wisdom and Stross's stories through the lens of my own experiences creating a tech company, and while I felt affirmed in having learned a lot of the things that Y Combinator tries to teach its program participants, I also had plenty of forehead slapping moments about things I wish I'd understood better.  I think some of those tidbits are very relevant to what I'll do next, and present day efforts to invigorate the local tech economy here in Richmond, so I'm including some comments on them here too.

If you don't already know about Y Combinator, I encourage you to check out their website, or watch this very recent interview with Paul Graham, who has headed the company's efforts most of this time.  The bottom line is that they host a three-month program in Silicon Valley to help startup companies with the money, advice and industry connections they need to go from concept to initial implementation, ready for investors to take them to the next step.  As Stross describes, they focus on admitting young groups of founders who are going to bring the hard work and innovation needed for success, even if their initial idea for a startup isn't sound. If you use Dropbox, you're benefitting from a startup incubated at Y Combinator.

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Book Review: Hatching Twitter

hatching-twitterThe cover art and subtitle of Nick Bilton's Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal are perhaps more sensational than the actual story of Twitter's creation turns out to be, but it's still a really interesting read for anyone who's curious how a company with such a dominant place in our culture came about.

Bilton takes us back to the tentatively formed relationships that brought Twitter's founders together, the failing startup idea that necessitating thinking up a new idea that would become tweeting, and the tangled web of investors, supporters, detractors and high-profile users that would redefine Twitter many times along the way.  If the account is to be believed, and Bilton seems to have done his research, there was a fair amount of drama along the way: ego and jealousy between founders of the success and limelight the others received; dealing with conflicting demands from users, media, investors and employees; inexperienced leaders finding themselves in over their heads, and so on.  I doubt these scenes would be sufficiently exciting for a Hollywood dramatization a la The Social Network, but it was actually refreshing to learn of the real and human ups and downs that were at play.

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Book review: Netflixed, the story of Netflix

(I've been reading a lot of books lately about the stories of how various technology companies came to be, and it's been great food for thought as I work on the next chapter in my own professional life story. This is the first in a series of blog posts about these books.)

Netflixed-Gina-KeatingI remember hearing about Netflix from a geek news site sometime in the early 2000s, and I think I was among the first folks in my town to try the DVD subscription by mail service that they'd launched in 1999. I was skeptical of it, having a hard time imagining a day when I wouldn't rather just stop in to the local movie rental store than bother with ordering a disc online and then waiting for it to show up by mail. But I tried it out, thinking it would be an interesting way to access some of the independent and obscure films that local stores wouldn't bother to stock.

And so I took my place as one of the many video watching consumers that Netflix, Blockbuster and other media companies were battling to attract and keep as customers over the last 15 or so years, leading right up to present day where the release of the second season of the Netflix-produced House of Cards on Friday was a major media event.

That battle and the personalities that made it interesting are the focus of Gina Keating's great book, Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America's Eyeballs.

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