Shannon Clark


who I am, what I do, where else you can find me online and offline

NEW: What are you working for?

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Sep 14th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

A great question which a friend asked me earlier this afternoon after a brunch where our conversation covered dozens of topics. He is a financial adviser and most of clients are from the tech and startup world.

What am I working for?

I have been thinking about this question for a while now, all summer in fact. Being an entrepreneur means a lot of things, not least of which are some lean and sometimes tough financial times as you are getting started but also great rewards (including finacial rewards) when you succeed.

I have a, relatively short, list of things I would buy if money were not an object. A related list of things I would do, events I would attend. But I have realized that other than also putting some money aside for my hoped for future family (which first likely requires dating and probably marrying the right woman) much of what I am working for, what I would want financial rewards for are to be able to then do stuff for others with those resources.

So first the basics a quick list for my own future reference – what I am working for, what I would do when finacial success starts to flow my way.

  • Buy a car. Not an impractical car, but also not a beat up car. My taste tends towards hatchbacks or coupes, probably something with some serious power and performance yet also with many luxury features and definitely an automatic (I both do not and do not want to learn how to drive stick). I have not had a car for nearly 4 years and prior to that I had owned a car for 4 years but only drove it 13,000 miles. However to really enjoy living in CA I probably need a car and for my planned use of one owning it is likely more suitable for me than a car share service (for one I hate having deadlines or restrictions on my flexibility – one of the great things about working for yourself is being in control of your time and movements)
  • Furnish my apartment fully. I have, alas, expensive tastes when it comes to furniture. I really like very modern, very clean lines in my furniture. Most likely when I have the money I will spend a great deal of it at Roomand Board which is almost without exception my design aesthetic
  • Update and maintain my wardrobe. I like quality and clean design in most things, including clothes. However though I have many great pieces of clothing I also have many other items which are worn (even worn out) and do not update my clothes all that often. I also have many items where I really only have one – one pair of glasses, one brown belt (and one black belt), only a handful of shoes, not many different pairs of pants etc. Here I have also learned that for my taste quality matters – I definitely feel and act differently when I am wearing clothes that fit me well, that are well made from high quality fabrics, than when I am in ill-fitting clothes of cheap fabrics.
  • Complete and maintain my Doctor Who collection. I am huge Doctor Who fan, but for about the past decade I have not been actively collection Doctor Who items and as a result there are vast numbers of books, original audio plays from Big Finish, comics and especially DVD’s which i have not collected. If I had the resources I would buy a great deal of these materials and subscribe to many others. In particular Big Finish does amazing work, when i have the money I’d buy most of their back catalog and subscribe the future shows, in no small part as a thank you to them for their great work and that of the actors.
  • Buy even more books in hardcover editions and subscribe to great magazines. I already do buy a lot of books each year (probably averaging over 200 books each year, perhaps more some years) but much of what I buy are used or paperbacks and there are many new hardcover books, even by authors I really like, which I do not end up purchasing. When I have more money I would buy more these (though I likely will have less time to read so this is as much about supporting authors I really like as it is about reading the books – though for my favorite authors I do usually eventually read the books as well). On the magazine front I subscribe to very few magazines at the moment, yet here too there are many which I would really like to have and read on a more regular basis, in many cases a subscription is likely even a net savings (since i end up buying magazines like Wired and Monocle on newsstands with some frequency)
  • When I eat out eat at more of the restaurants I really love. And treat myself to serious dining experiences such as French Laundry and various tasting menus on a regular basis. I am a foodie, yet much of the time in the past years I have eaten cheaply instead of well, certainly not all of the time but there are hundreds of places I have always wanted to try but which I have not for lack of funds.
  • Upgrade my kitchen tools and continue to cook and buy locally. My one indulgence, though truly not much of one, has been to usually buy locally and mostly from farmers’ markets. However my kitchen equipment in some areas is lacking (no food processor or electric mixer) and I do not keep my pantry and fridge as well stocked as I would like (and for that matter my fridge and stove are not very nice at the moment)
  • Invest in myself. On a basic (and immediate even if the rest of this list takes longer to get to) I need to invest in my own health. Lots of dentist visits, finding a primary care physician in San Francisco, having full and complete health insurance, keeping a good supply of asthma and allergy medicines, etc. This also means investing more in my own ongoing and continual education. I love to learn, yet it has been nearly a decade since I last took a formal class anywhere. I should be taking something nearly every year – a writing workshop, a class at a local university, something to keep myself sharp and to continue to push my mind in new directions. For that matter I would also like to strengthen my knowledge of French and perhaps to try to learn other languages (Spanish? Hebrew? Chinese? Japanese?)
  • Commit to and attend more of the events I want to attend. In the past decade while I have made it to a lot of amazing conferences and events in nearly every case I have done so by deciding to attend at nearly the last minute and I have missed many events I would have really enjoyed being at (and at many of the events I have attended because I decided to go at the last minute I have not gotten the full benefit from attending – not been listed as an attendee, haven’t set up as many meetings or figured out what talks I want to hear/people I want to see etc). My short list of events I would want to attend includes: TED, PopTech, SXSW (music as well as film and interactive), a serious film festival (probably Sundance), one or more serious writing conferences (both genre such as World Fantasy and perhaps a non-genre such as the New Yorker Festival) and there are many more. I don’t see much live music, don’t get to live theater or opera, and rarely attend festivals. I definitely want to do more of all of that (and even some occasional sporting events such as this year seeing a Cubs game, especially if they make it to the World Series). More than the actual cost of attending any of these events (many of which are really business investments or which I have in the past been able to minimize through my own tech involvement and writing) is the powerful impat of being able to plan for the future, of being able to commit money now for future activities – and not be overly concerned if I have to later change my plans (as will inevitably happen as an entrepreneur). For the past few years I have not felt confident in my future planning (and budgeting) to commit money too far in advance, this is a habit and mode of thinking I want to break.

As I noted i do not have particularly expensive tastes except in a few areas (furniture, food and clothing). I would probably also indulge myself in some modern electronics (an HDTV projector, some games consoles, etc) but even after all of that the actual cost of all of the items I mentioned above (assuming medical costs aren’t too insane) is in the grand scheme of things not actually all that high. Probably dipping towards six figures with all of the medical costs and conferences added, but only barely.

Long term I probably would want to buy a place here in the Bay Area and probably either rent or buy a place in New York, perhaps also somewhere in Europe (London or Paris most likely) and long term my fantasty is that I live a more fully bi (or including Europe tri) coastal lifestyle. But what I want more than the places is the flexibility of living in each city for extended periods of time – so creative renting might work well (or buying a place in one of the newer buildings that rent out your apartment as a hotel room when you aren’t using it).

Very long term I also want to own (or have a long term rent) on a venue where I can hold events, probably some retreat center like property, most likely in the midst of a large forest somewhere (likely near here in Northern California). Though I love living in large, vibrant cities, I am also a serious lover of forests – more so than coasts or open fields, a forest is where I feel most at peace and most comfortable. Someday I want to own my small (or not so small) piece of a forest and have a place I can retreat to from time to time, probably extremely well stocked with books, games and fireplaces. I can see myself buying a place as a mixture of a personal retreat and as a working retreat center, I love to run events, having a place where I could host them myself has a lot of appeal, especially if it had sufficient space and facilities for the types of events I most admire and want to have (this probably means space for up to a few hundred, perhaps as many as 400+ people). So this is long term – and with money and resources there are far cheaper options to having access to such spaces than buying them entirely myself.

So given that most of what I describe above would be well within my reach if I were to go to work for someone else – my skills, experience and contacts are such that I would likely command a quite decent salary even by Silicon Valley standards – why am I working towards the possibility of much greater rewards (with all the stresses and risks associated with that)?

This was the full question my friend posed me earlier today, given that for the most part my tastes do not run too high, that I don’t really have much need on a personal level (or for that matter the desire to spend), why am I working so hard (if sometimes it feels not yet hard enough) towards really high rewards? Why didn’t I (or why don’t I) take the seemingly easier route of taking a job working for someone else?

The short answer is I do have a lot I want to do with great resources – but most of it is not personally directed. There are dozens of organizations I want to make a serious financial (and other) support towards. At some point in my future I also see making direct investments (or indirectly as a limited partner), especially in the types of businesses I think can have a really deep and lasting impact locally and on the world. I want to offer finacial support to politicians I believe in (Obama for starters). I run MeshForum as a non-profit for many reasons, not least of which is philosophical I have a mission with MeshForum which is not to make money directly but rather to help spark and support innovation and new ways of thinking about deep and complex problems – in the case of MeshForum around the area of the interdisciplinary study of Networks – and informing different fields and businsesses which are network related with the techniques and approaches of other fields. The conferneces I hold and will hold help here, making the content available widely also helps, but there is much more I could do. In the future I want to directly support lots of research efforts, especially around making richer datasets available to researchers and around supporting truly interdisciplinary scholors.

My passion is around learning and around having a large impact on the world. One way i want to do this is building a large, sustainable (in all senses of the word) business – a truly global business which has a large impact. I then want to leverage that business and the resources it makes available to me towards supporting great work and research – especially research that crosses disciplines and very much the basic research that is not as supported today inside or outside of academia.

So that is why I work, in a small way for the personal comforts it will bring me in the future, for the support it will offer my future family, but mostly I work to get the resources to have a huge impact on the world, to support the many people I know (and will know) who are doing great things and to help support and spark new innovations that can continue to have great changes in the world in the future.

Why do you work? What are you seeking from your efforts?

My Yahoo HackDay Hack – building a personal identity hub part 1

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Sep 14th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

A few weeks ago I finally, after nearly a decade of trying, purchased my name domain ShannonClark.com. At the Yahoo! Open Hackday this weekend I spent my time figuring out some ways to turn ShannonClark.com into my personal identity hub on the Internet.

My long term goal for the site is that it will contain much of what I do online as well as show who is linking to or using my content elsehwere across the web. Ideally I want to do this without updating or directly maintaining the site, instead i want content to flow into ShannonClark.com from all over the web in an automated (yet when needed moderated) manner.

I have many, probably too many, blogs which I maintain as well as a collection of blogs or bloglike sites which I do not maintain. Some are blogs which I started but have not posted to in a long time, others are my active blogs, and a few are the blogging sections of various social networks to which I belong which I do not utilize with great frequency. I am also active on dozens of online services and tools from Twitter to Facebook to countless other sites and services.

So my task this past weekend was to figure out how to start pulling together all this content I create, while ideally also capturing other people’s use of that content, all while avoiding claiming anything as my content (or my usage) which was not, in fact, me. After all the reason I did not have shannonclark.com for the past decade plus was that another person (a woman specifically) who is also named Shannon Clark had registered the domain first, though luckily for me she had never used the site and earlier this year allowed it to expire without renewing the domain.

I started by installing the latest version of WordPress on my domain which I am hosting on Bluehost.com. This was easily done with the web management panel provided by Bluehost along with the automatic updates plugin I installed which then makes the process of updating wordpress to the latest version quite simple and fast.

With the latest version of wordpress installed I then set about customizing my installation. First I installed a set of core plugins which I run on most of my other wordpress blogs – wordpress stats, askimet to capture spam comments. I then also selected a variety of themes which include support for the latest wordpress features as well as widgets and started to play with a variety of looks for the new blog. The current theme I have selected may change as I continue to update and modify the site.

In looking over the wordpress plugins I looked for a way to consolidate a bunch of my blog posts via displaying or using the full text RSS feeds I generate from all of my blogs. I found a number of possible solutions as wordpress plugins, for the hackday I selected on that looked promising and installed it. I may revisit the one I selected and both look at alternatives or try to correct some small bugs I have found with this particular plugin (bugs which I hope will be fixed in a future update, I think they are some form of AJAX related overlap in functionality or naming as the plugin causes problems with wordpress’ admin features).

But my problem now was how to feed my various RSS feeds into new site in a way that managed to maintain the correct time order of my posts and which would be maintained into the future in an automated fashion.

My solution for this was to take the four key blogs (though I likely will add additional blogs in the future) into a special Yahoo! Pipe I set up. My first pass at this resulted in output that instead of showing all of my posts in full text and formatting only showed a short excerpt of each post. To make this work as I intended my Pipe had to join the blog feeds together, sort them, and then modify the elements to move the full text of my posts into the field which was storing only the excerpts.

Using this pipe’s output as an RSS i then fed it into the plugin I installed to syndicate content. The result of this plugin is that a bit over forty of my past posts across the four blogs were syndicated as full text posts, with titles and other internal links linking back to the original source blogs and comments on the new site turned off. And the plugin will monitor my blogs on an hourly basis and syndicate any new posts (such as this very post) as they are posted. I set this timeframe to an hour to minimize load on my blogs (the default was 10 minutes). Over time I’ll play with this configuration to determine what works best.

In the next posts on this topic I’ll explain what I did to create a page that displays my activities across the web (and some future experiments I’m looking into for alternative approaches to this challenge), my start of tools to track usage of my content across the web, and my plans for the “about Shannon Clark” section(s) of the website as well as additional areas and features I may decide to build out in the future.

My review of Slow Food Nation 2008

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Sep 1st, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

A few months ago I launched a second blog, Slow Brand, to cover my views on a slow approach to branding, as I launched it I promised to cover both Branding and Food topics, the name is most definitely an homage and reference to the Slow Food movement.

Well this weekend was the Slow Food Nation series of events here in San Francisco.

I’ve written my review of the Slow Food Nation Taste Pavilions along with my feedback and suggestions for 2009.

Please take a read and add your comments and experiences, your suggestions and reactions to my suggestions. I’ve been thinking a lot about events of late as I start to organize for future MeshForum events.

Slow Food Nation 2008

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 31st, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

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(image cc-licensed by aaron_anderer on Flickr)

This weekend the many events of Slow Food Nation have been occurring around San Francisco. On Friday I made it to the Marketplace and Victory Garden in front of the San Francisco City Hall however I arrived late so many of the vendors were closed and sold out, I still managed to pick up some amazing artisinal jams directly from the makers of the jam, some phenonmenal local heritage varities of fruits, and a very tasty late lunch.

This evening I went to Fort Mason in the what I thought might be vain hope of finding a way to get a ticket to the completely sold out Slow Food Taste Pavilion for the 5pm evening tasting. I arrived at a bit after 4:30, waited around the lines and just as I was getting ready to leave, the line having all entered and only a handful of late arrivals still wandering in, I was talking with the volunteers at the gate when a very nice woman who had just arrived spoke up and said “hey, I have an extra ticket, here have it…”

Turns out that she works in the industry (restaurant manager for Boulette’s Larder at the Ferry Building here in San Francisco, a shop I frequent and love) and had both been given two free passes and had been unable to find a friend to take her extra free pass, so in the interest of good karma she passed it along to me for free.

So I was in and stayed until the very end. Before I get into my feedback and suggestions for next year’s Slow Food Nation (especially for the next year’s Taste Pavilions) a few basics.

  1. Everyone had a great time, the drinks (at least alcoholic) were flowing, the foods were great and all of the producers who were there and serving up their creations were thrilled to be there and seemed to be enjoying sharing them with everyone.
  2. Other locals and I were reminded just how truly lucky we are to live here in the Bay Area, quite a few of the great producers were local, most were shops and products I buy on a regular basis, stuff I can at times almost take for granted (forgetting just how amazing the quality can be).
  3. There were some surprising finds even in the very last minutes. Dishes I would have gladly purchased to take home. Happily one from a restaurant a relative of my grandfather’s third wife manages (okay the complexities of modern life, multiple marriages and long life).

But.

And there are a few buts, I have a lot of feedback and suggestions, things which did not work well or which I hope they improve on for the future. And broadly speaking many of these reflect the mixed branding which Slow Food as a movement has, especially here in the US. You might have thought I had forgotten this a blog about branding (well branding and the occasional long post about food such as this one).

What do I mean by “mixed branding”? Well the main objection to Slow Food is that as a movement it is, especially here in the US, very much about and for the elites (as the article in that link notes as the common perception) – a movement for people who can really afford to spend anything they want to spend on food so the only people (so the critics claim) who can support the goals (as sometimes misunderstood) of Slow Food. As a movement Slow Food has both in Europe and in the US had problems explaining itself to others (and heck to members) – is it a political movement? A reaction to “fast food”? A movement focused on local production? On the support of “heritage” brands? A movement to support producers or about how people cook at home or how and where they dine out or all of the above?

  1. The pavilions reflect a mostly Western, European food culture.At this year’s Taste Pavilions there were: Beer, Bread, Charcuterie, Cheese, Chocolate, Coffee, Fish, Honey & Preserves, Ice Cream, Native Foods, Olive Oil, Pickles & Chutney, Spirits, Tea and Wine. The Bread pavilion had pizza on one side and Indian naan on the other but that is about the only non-Western food which was served. The tea pavilion had a wide range of tea’s from across the world. But that’s about it for food that wasn’t based on a European cuisine. Certainly little that celebrates the strong Chinese, Japanese or Hispanic cultures of the Bay Area.
  2. The “slow dough” cards caused nothing but confusion.

    When you presented your ticket this year you received a “Slow Dough” card with 20 boxes on it, each tasting or beverage you took had, in theory, a cost of 1 to 3 boxes. If you ran out you could purchase more Slow Dough at a rate of 5 SD for $10. Beverages were a great “deal” with Wines being just one box for a 1 oz pour (not sure what a beer was but I think just a few). But just what each food would cost you was difficult to understand, there was not a single chart which showed the costs at each pavilion, rather each pavilion (again in theory) had signage showing what the costs were – though in practice most did not or if they did I couldn’t find the signs. In fact the Coffee Pavilion rejected the entire idea and refused to punch anyone’s cards, the Pickles and Chutneys pavilion flat out told me that instead of charge one box per tasting plate as in theory they were supposed to they would mark one box then let me take a tasting from each provider.

    My suggestion for next year do away entirely with the Slow Dough concept for all of the food, teas, coffees, and non-alcoholic beverages (which this year was only water but I’d strongly encourage the addition of serious slow providers of non-alcoholic drinks). Replace it with some form of counting and charging for extras for only the alcoholic drinks (Beers, Wines, Spirits) perhaps also for the speciality non-alcoholic drinks such as Root Beers and Ginger Beers that might be served at the same Beer pavilion. Give everyone enough for a few beers or a couple of wine flights or a cocktail, then charge the drinkers for more.

    Mostly the Slow Dough caused friction between the attendees and the producers of these amazing foods. Lines are understandable (see my next points about queues) and should be able to restrain people from taking more than their fair share, but the cards turned what I had hoped would be an evening of pure celebration of craft into a calculation game – if I get X will I also be able to still try Y…

  3. Bring in some real experts on queues and design a more consistent experience across the pavilions. The longest line, by far, was for the Cheese Pavilion. The shortest line was the Beer Pavilion. And yes, people noted that this was probably the only event they had ever been too where that was the case. But every pavilion used a different flow of the queues, some such as the Cheese had a single, continuous queue wrapped around the pavilion (and indeed outside of the building) in a spiral. Others had two lines entering the pavilion in different directions (and serving different foods in the case of the Charcuterie, the same food but from two stands in the case of the Fish pavilion). In short every Pavilion flowed considerably differently and there was nearly no signage about any of the queues, so as I was trying to wait in one of the two bread queues (I gave up, I think it was the line for the pizzas) someone came up and asked if this was the line to get into the building. Again not having anywhere a single document (or any posted maps and signs) which showed what foods were available for what cost and in how many different lines at each pavilion meant you got into a line not quite knowing what was going to happen next.

    The wine pavilion had a process where you were supposed to get a glass as you entered, then pick up a many page booklet listing the nearly 400+ bottles available, each with a number, you then found a section by number and waited your turn at the bar (in queues that were amorphous at best) and once there tried to decide on the basis of minimal information what you wanted to drink, or you could try one of the flights which were in four other areas but which I couldn’t quite figure out how to try.

    The confusions started at the very beginning of the event, the line stretched from the venue to nearly the entrance of Fort Mason but there was nearly zero signage about Slow Food Nation anywhere near the Fort Mason entrance, and what looked like a gate/checkpoint was not actually where your tickets were checked which was, in fact, further into the venue.

    And there was an entire section I never did find where sparkling water and Salsa Dancing was, I think, taking place. Not to mention I couldn’t easily see where the bathrooms were. Many, but not all, of the Pavilions had exhibits but due to the layouts of where the food tasting tables were, here I’m in particular thinking of the Fish Pavilion, I’m probably not alone in missing the exhibits nearly entirely. In the case of the Chocolate Pavilion I nearly missed the entire Pavilion because walking past I almost thought it was just a set of walls, didn’t see that inside there were some presentations, which when I entered I then also realized there was a large line entering from another entrance so I couldn’t, in fact, try the tasting as I entered the wrong way. All too confusing.

  4. Non-drinkers were seriously underserved.

    If you are a drinker and love craft beers, wines and spirits the Taste Pavilions were an amazing opportunity and serious bargain. There were 400+ different wines, dozens of different beers, and a lot of different mixed drinks (don’t know much about the later as I don’t drink spirits).

    But if like me you are either a light drinker or if you are a non-drinker your options were water, tastings of teas or coffee (which were serious tastings not beverages you could easily take with you and sip) or I think some sparkling water but as I noted I couldn’t actually find that section. There were no juices, no producers of craft sodas, ginger beers, organic bottle grape juices, iced teas or the like. I drank a lot of water, but I really found myself thirsty and wanting something to complement the foods, both savory and sweet I was eating but not being a heavy drinker I had no options.

  5. Vegetarians and non-pork eaters had very few options

    The bread pavilion which I never did manage to sample did have some vegetarian options as did, I think, the Native Foods pavilion (at least one dish I think) but the selection was fairly light elsewhere. The Charcuterie was not entirely surprisingly almost entirely pork products (a handful of beef jerkies as well – but which were as far as I could tell only available as part of a flight so if you didn’t eat pork you were out of luck). Anyone with other food allergies or other issues would have been faced with a lot complications in trying to decide pavilions to try because of the lack of signage and information – in part because what was being served did vary over the course of the evening – so a simple bread at one time might be replaced by a nut bread minutes later.

    Yes I know the theory of the Taste Pavilions was to highlight producers but I was frankly shocked that there was not a Fruit or a Vegetable pavilion. All evening I was craving a perfectly ripe peach and I, for one, would classify many of the local farmers squarely as slow food producers (Frog Hollow Farms which is phenomenal orchard which is carefully set up to have different varieties of stone fruits ripen every couple of weeks for the entire growing season from spring into the fall).

    There are also plenty of amazing vegetarian slow food producers who could have been highlighted. Here in the Bay Area there are some amazing local Tofu producers, local Yogurt companies, Udon noodle shops which use techniques passed down for 7+ generations and much more.

  6. Locals were not given the option to only try non-local producers

    I love the many amazing places I can buy food here in San Francisco and I was thrilled to see familiar companies and in many cases familiar faces at the Slow Food Nation Taste Pavilions, I said hello to the barista who pulled my machiato and whom I knew from when Drew worked at Ritual Roasters.

    But I attended Slow Food Nation in part to celebrate a nation of producers so I wanted to “spend” my calories and time sampling items I don’t get on a weekly basis here in San Francisco, I wanted to try things which were new to me, not just taste things I already love and buy for my dinner parties. Yet the way the Pavilions were set up I was unable to avoid getting many items I’m quite familiar with in my trying to sample new things. In particular in the Cheese Pavilion they were only serving three types of cheeses at a time as part of the flight, when got there this included a cheese I had, in fact, just bought for a recent dinner party and which is served on restaurant menus throughout the Bay Area. It is a great cheese, but I really wish I could have sampled something else new instead (and no getting two tastes of another cheese isn’t the same as getting a chance to savor a third new one)

    Sure, as I noted, I was happy to reminded just how luck I am to be living in San Francisco, but I would have really liked to see more representation from outside of San Francisco, to have seen a more truly national character to what was served. I would have also liked to have seen more emphasis on American slow foods – not just American businesses making craft examples of European foods (salumi, olive oils, etc). Where were the regional (US) foods? The maple syrups, the smoked Northwestern Salmon, etc.

I will be back for Slow Food Nation 2009 and I hope I can help in any way I can with the future events. I applaud them as well for trying a lot of different things – beyond the Marketplace and Taste Pavilions there are also many series of talks, workshops, a pretty serious Rock two day festival, conferences, films, dinners, walks and field trips being held all week. But for me, at least, the overall impression from the website, marketing efforts, and ticketing process is one of too many ideas, too much without an overall cohesion. Ticketing in particular was confusing and unclear – “discounted tickets at local Whole Foods” for example without ever noting what, in fact, that discount would have been!

Since I was given my ticket to the Taste Pavilion on my way out I spent some of what I had planned on spending for the evening on buying a year’s membership in Slow Food.

But then I went and spent the rest on some takeout from one of my favorite Thai restaurants in San Francisco which happens to be just a few blocks away from Fort Mason. I was hungry. And Sunday I will probably go to a Thai Food and Culture Festival which is also being held this weekend here in San Francisco, at the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. For an admision price of $5 I’ll get a chance to see some demonstrations of Thai Culture and if the reports on Chowhounds are any evidence eat some serious Thai food prepared on the spot by skilled artisans. Food that I would claim is definitely “Slow Food” but which was not, alas, represented well at the Taste Pavilions this year.

A bit of summer beauty

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 28th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

pink flower, originally uploaded by Shannon Clark.

As summer comes to the end here in San Francisco with a bit of a “heat wave” for these parts (which around here means temperatures in the 80’s which I still scoff at compared to Chicago’s typical week+ every August of 100-110+ a photo from my summer of which I’m particularly proud.

Enjoy!

Being alone in the crowd

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 28th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

This evening I had the pleasure of reading an article in the New Yorker about Garrett Lisi whom I’ve met (and whom friends of mine are friends of, I’d say I’m just someone he’s met though I suspect we are kindred spirits of a sort) He spoke at this year’s TED conference (which many friends of mine attended) and then also spoke at and joined us at the BIL conference which I helped to organize.

It still makes me feel a bit surprised to read about people Ive met in the pages on the New Yorker, but that’s not the point of this post, rather it is a two-fold example from the article which illustrates how Introversion is misunderstood. As I’ve noted before, I’m neither an Introvert nor an Extrovert but rather fall towards the middle of the spectrum, but I have a great deal of sympathy for the problems faced by Introverts in our society.

In the article the reporter notes that Garrett is an INTP on the Myers-Briggs personality profile, a classification which he feels fits him well. The I in that profile stands for Introvert.

But it was the following quote later in the article which I think shows the common misunderstanding of what Introverts are like.

It is hard to meet Lisi without wondering why someone with so many social gifts, someone who so palpably enjoys the company of others, would choose to isolate himself so thoroughly.

Uhmm I think we have a misunderstanding here.

It is not, as people might commonly assume, that someone who is introverted does not have social skills or even gifts, but rather that they are someone who draws energy from being alone, from inward thoughts. Introverts can indeed do well in social environments, but unlike an extrovert after a whie they likely would be drained in the process, rather than gaining energy from the company other others they likely find it tiring. Not impossible, just not always easy.

This is just a small example of a more common problem – popular culture here in the US at least – celebrates the extroverts and extroverted activities. The model of life is to be gregarious, social, to spend time amongst large numbers of people. It is typically assumed that most people will find it easy to enjoy themselves in environments such as bars.

On a more personal level pop culture would have us believe that dating is at least reasonably easy, that somehow being single for even just a few weeks is a shockingly long and strange occurance. And further that at least the young will have had many sexual partners and relationships starting at a relatively young age and continueing into adulthood.

But that is, alas, probably more the case for extroverts than introverts. But pop culture does not usually celebrate the introvert, the rare story about a “hermit physicist” aside.

To put this in very personal terms though I have had a few first dates and fewer second dates, I have not been in a relationship since early 2006. In very stark terms that means I have often gone months at a time with little to no physical contact of any form with another human – interupted by the rare handshake or hug of greeting or on departure. And as I noted I’m neither an introvert nor an extrovert so this prolonged isolation, even while sitting admidst a crowd as I am as I write this in a busy San Francisco cafe, has not be fun and it has been energy sapping.

Fixing the missing downloads window in Firefox (Mac)

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 27th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

This evening I encountered an odd problem running firefox on my Mac. I went to Flickr to download a photo of mine to use as a new desktop background. (cc license so you are free to do the same)

But when I went to pop open the downloads window to see the file name to open it, I couldn’t get my downloads window to open. It appeared as a window option on the windows menu, but nothing I did would cause it to actually, in fact, be visible.

So I poked around a bit online and then into the innards of firefox a little bit and I found a very simple, few second solution to this problem.

Search for the following file:

downloads.sqlite

It should be present in your firefox profile directory (if you have multiple users on your computer be sure to delete the one from your current user’s profile).

I chose to delete it, which had the side effect of losing my download history (which I didn’t mind) if you want to preserve that this solution won’t be ideal. To delete I simply moved the file from the folder it was in to the trash.

I then closed Firefox (choosing the “save all tabs first” option). Note this is in the latest stable release version of Firefox for the Mac 3.01 as I write this, the “save all tabs first” option is a new one in the 3.0 release.

On rebooting Firefox I was able to open the downloads window as usual, Firefox rebuilt the downloads.sqlite file without what I can only assume was some form of file corruption.

So that is it, a very simple solution in the category of “get rid of corrupt config files”.

What makes a great magazine or blog

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 24th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

I am an avid reader have been since I learned to read as a young child. In my time I have subscribed to many magazines. In high school I also edited the high school literary magazine, an issue which won awards.

Great magazines are much more than merely collections of great writing. The editors create a magazine’s voice through layout, article selection, and the context they choose to provide (or conversely choose not to provide) around the individual stories.

In today’s blog and web obsessed world it is easy to forget the value and impact of the overall form on the readers but it is worth considering it carefully.

I received a gift of a subscription to Gastronomica last year, but have not had a chance to read the issues I have received until recently when I started to read the Fall 2007. I haven’t yet finished that issue but had an immediate reaction after reading a few articles which is much the same as my feelings about another similarly highly respected magazine Granta.

Namely that while both magazines have great individual articles they are lacking something important, specifically a clear editorial voice and context to each article in the issue. In the case of Granta this lack often means that I do not know as I read an article if it is fiction or non-fiction (an no, this is not at all always clear given the types of writing Granta has published in the past). In the case of Gastronomica I found myself wanting some introduction, something to fill the white space around the articles with context, with who the author is, with why these particular stories were published in this particular issue and in this particular order.

So to get back to my subject, what does make a great magazine or blog?

  • Context such that the resulting issue (or overall website in the case of a blog) is greater than any individual piece. Sure this still leaves room for great individual articles and stories, Malcolm Gladwell’s many amazing pieces for the New Yorker for example or Andrew Sullivan’s cover article on Obama for Atlantic. But my point is that a great magazine expands upon the work of individual authors and creates a whole which is greater than the parts – both in each issue and over time.
  • Design. I fail on this account frequently on this blog. Great blogs tend to incorporate images, text and increasingly video to enhance and illustrate both each post as well as the overall experience of reading that blog. Indeed I think many of the major blogs (at least in Technology) have a policy of at least one image for every post, usually more than one, which help to anchor the post and make it more than just words. In the case of magzines design – the fonts, layouts, images and especially the structural choices have a major impact on how the magazine reads. Some magazines, The Economist perhaps most famously, have articles that run into each other, often resulting in articles that continue for many pages, whatever the editors feel the topic requires. In contrast many other magazines restrict stories to one page (or part of a page) in many cases and in most others if the story needs a bit more they relegate the end of the story to the back of the magazine (the famous continued on…).
  • A point of view. Great magazines are not for everyone, they are for a particular audience and they wear a point of view clearly and without shame. This does not mean that a magazine which does reporting should not practice great journalism (and the reporting of facts not opinions that requires) but in the selection of what stories to report upon, how to present them and what to invest in and pursue the magazine, at least the great ones, come at the world and the subjects covered from a particular point of view.

So why do I have issues with both Granta and Gastronomica which both publish man individually amazing and great pieces of writing?

For one both seem content to only let the stories speak for themselves, in both cases I am left without a lot of context about who the writers are, why they are writing from the perspective which they are. Even the New Yorker does this to a bit, with many stories published over the years where the reader is assumed to know who the author is (and why for example the author might talk of the Kennedy’s as cousins or do countless other cases of name dropping).

These are then magazines which all too often are written for a very particular community, one which is perhaps too narrow. But further by not taking the smallest of steps to give context as a reader I lurch from story to story (and not at all clear which are memoir, which are reporting, which are fiction, which are some form of meta-experimental mashup of forms).

The result for me as a reader is I am left willing to close the magazine unfinished and read something else.

So what would be an example of a great magazine I have read recently?

Monocle a relatively new (just a bit over a year old) news, lifestyle and design monthly magazine published out of England which is my favorite new discovery of 2008. Every issue, along with the website, starts with a very cohesive and comprehensive design senseability. Clear typography, heavy use of lots of images, long form reporting with a very personal focus, and a very comprehensively global perspective.

In part Monocle is one of my favorite new discoveries because of this highly global perspective, unlike the majority of US media (of all forms, web included) Monocle is focused on a truly global perspective, with in depth coverage of cities and news stories from around the world. Cities which in many cases I doubt have gotten even the barest of mentions in most US media anywhere.

But I am also reacting positively to the very clear point of view present throughout all parts of Monocle. A point of view that highlights design, which assumes that the readers of the magazine love good design (including some who would buy great examples of design directly from the magazine) and which focused on a fully global perspective. The magazine tends slightly towards a male demographic but does cover both men’s and women’s fashions and design elements. They also include a wide range of mediums – on the web they have films (for subscribers), in print they include custom Manga (in English but layed out in the traditional layout) which include both an ongoing story and advertising.

This strong sense of design is also built into the overal magazine’s experience. Most of the magazine is in black and white, but in a very high resolution and high quality print and paper, but each issue includes some in depth stories presented in high resolution color as a special section of the magazine, in all parts of the magazine a large number of images add richly to the stories while at the same time the editors clearly give writers room to write relatively long and more in depth stories than are frequently found in US media. Stories which go on for multiple pages and which include dozens of photos, vs the few pages and only a couple of photos if that found in most US media. Even the physical form feels more like a book than a typical throwaway magazine, as a result it is a magazine I am likely to hold onto for a while into the future.

Which brings me to a final point, I also very positively appreciate how Monocle combines advertising and content in a very smoothly integrated whole. The advertisers ad to the overal experience of the magazine and clearly are seen as positive partners in the magazine’s success. As a result I am left with a positive perception of these advertisers even as some of them are unlikely to get my business (as they are in many cases EU based firms).

What are your favorite magazines? What do you think makes a great magazine?

How we are social (or not)

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 18th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

Lost in the flurry of passion for “Social Networks” and more broadly in our cultures can be the fact that people interact with each other very differently. We have many different ways of being social (or not).

Most broadly psychologists divide people into introverts and extroverts or more accurately into falling somewhere along the continuum between the two traits. However culturally here in the US there is a massive bias towards extroverism – being the “life of the party”, being socially active, partying on the weekends (and while in college) and in short getting outside of your home, hanging out with groups of people and being able to make new friends. That behavior is reinforced and rewarded significantly.

Even online, where you might think introverts would be more comfortable a lot of social networks focus on extroverted behaviors and rewards. Call this the “friend gap” as many have recently – but nearly all social networks and socially enabled software show a massive change when you have a lot of frieds versus when you have few or no friends on the system. Being very social, therefore, is rewarded with lots of built-in rewards.

When you post something and have a lot of followers – whether on your own blog, to a microbloging tool like Twitter, or as an update inside of a social network like Facebook, if you have a lot of friends you have a much higher chance of getting a response and thus feedback – and with more feedback you generally get more feedback (i.e. people start to Digg it, other people who follow your friends notice their activity on your posts etc).

If you are extroverted and crave social attention then these tools can be quite wonderful – leveraging yourself to potentially larger social circles than you could keep up with without the tools (Robert Scoble for example probably couldn’t talk to 20,000 people every day but can follow that many on twitter).

Introverts, however, gain energy from focusing inward, they can engage outward but it can be overwheling and energy draining. The effort to gather up enough social contacts on a given service to get over the “friend gap” can be insurmountable. And since every outward effort can be somewhat draining keeping up the volume of activity in the face of the frequent lack of any response can be even more draining though for some the personal rewards (from writing a blog post and getting your own thoughts down) may be sufficient.

And then there are people like myself. I fall fairly squarely in the middle of the continuum – nothing is well suited for people like me – and we confound the expectations of society and others. In some contexts I am very extroverted – I talk to everyone, am the center of attention and gain energy from the presense of others. But this is not in all cases – and I also gain energy from time by myself, afternoons such as today when I spent most of the day on a 6+ mile walk by myself through San Francisco, listening to my iPod and thinking inwardly.

Society – and the current batches of “social” networks – are at times difficult places for people like me. I may have 100’s of twitter followers, thousands of contacts and hundreds of connections on many social networks. But at the same time how I enage with both people in person and within the context of these services is at times variable (contextual) and is not how extroverts approach the world – nor is it entirely how introverts do either.

I’ll follow up this post with further thoughts and discussion but I’m hoping it may spark others to think about this.

A few more ways the world has changed

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 11th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

After I posted my last post on how the world has changed in my lifetime already I have thought of a few other major ways the world has changed around me.

  1. Smoking. As a child my father smoked a pipe in our house, at least one pipefull most evenings, the smell of his tabacco remains a childhood memory. He stopped, cold turkey, when I was in high school on the advice of his dentist. But as a child there was smoking everywhere, smoking sections on planes, smoking inside of buildings. Every house still had ashtrays and every building’s lobby had many receptacles for cigarettes in the building lobbies and inside of offices. Until just a few years ago smoking was still allowed in restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Chicago. But this has changed quite rapidly in my lifetime. Smokers used to be the ones who were accomodated, I distinctly recall that people said that smoker’s couldn’t survive a cross-country flight without smoking so the other passengers would just have to continue to accomodate them.
  2. Payphones. On a trip during college to Boston I recall distinctly that I could take the T and make two phone calls for a $1, payphone calls in Boston at the time were just $0.10 which I thought was quite the bargain, they were closer to $0.25 in Chicago. For most of my life payphones were a very common sight, you needed them to call anyone when you were out, I carried change with me then later on memorized a calling card number. Nowadays both are unnecessary, almost everyone has a cellphone, I have in fact given up on giving out my landline number to anyone. It is only when my parents are visiting that I am reminded what it was like before everyone had a cell phone – my parents for some reason have refused to get a cell phone, so when they are traveling they have to either find a payphone or borrow someone’s phone to call me.
  3. Travel Agents and paper airline tickets. As a child my father traveled frequently for work, he had a subscription to the OAG (Official Airline Guide) but for the most part he also had secretaries (next entry) who booked his travel for him with the corporate travel agencies. For our family trips my mom would organize our travels with a local travel agent and she would go and pick up the paper tickets. In the 90’s on my own I would for the most part book my travels myself, when I worked for a company even as recently as the late 90’s I was told a travel agent to use when I needed to arrange travels. Even just a few years ago I had a problem as a result of having paper tickets for a complex trip I had booked for a business trip which I then had to change. Something which almost never happens now just a few years late as paper tickets have pretty much ceased.
  4. Secretaries. Except perhaps when I was very young and my father was a college professor, for most of my childhood my father always had a secretary, sometimes one he shared with other executives but mostly a private secretary, who typed for him, who booked his travels and managed his appointments and schedules. Today without anyone exactly setting it down secretaries have become increasingly rare, fewer and fewer people and businesses have secretaries, or if they have any they are shared amongst many people. When I took time off from college in the mid-90’s I actually worked as a temp for Kelly (well not as a Kelly “girl” guess more a Kelly man), I knew how to use office software with a very high level of proficiency and I typed almost 100 words a minute, as a result I earned the highest rate, over $20/hr (and this was when I was 20 so pretty decent money) and in my brief employment there I saw what secretaries and receptionists did for a wide range of companies. Today most people in business handle their own tasks which were previously done by secretaries – book their own travels online (or via a corporate website) and prepare their own documents and presentations. I suspect this has meant a pretty major change in business, a change that was fairly slow in coming but a very big one.

I suspect I’ll think of even more changes after I post this.