23 October 2007

In case you're worried

Yes, I am in San Diego, but no, I am not on fire.

That is all.

20 October 2007


So I'm spending this weekend packing all of my worldly possessions. Here you see a stack of boxes containing only data. If you exclude the furniture and my motorcycle, they represent about half of the mass of my things.

That's 40 boxes of text-only books, 6 boxes of comics, and 3 boxes of DVDs and music. Understand, these are things that have survived numerous purges, because I loved them, or knew I would refer to them again, or had such a hard time finding in the first place that I don't dare let them go now.

Each text only box contains about 40 books, averaging maybe 350 pages at 500 words a page. Converted to ASCII, the simplest way of representing text, that's roughly 1.5 gigabytes. I could fit that on the USB drive I carry on my keychain that I bought for about the price of a meal at a nice restaurant. It's also about half of what Google will store for me for free in my Gmail account, which is just a place for keeping email.

I know I had seven shelves of comics (plus some art books we can squeeze into the count). The complete run of Sandman fills about half a shelf. Sandman ran 75 issues of 25 pages (counting the covers) making 1875 pages. Uh, not counting the Annual, various little specials, and The Dream Hunters, so call it a round 2000 pages for Sandman. Double that, then multiply by seven shelves, and you get about 30,000 pages of comics. One could debate how much data you need to represent a comics page. Let's imagine a compression algorhythm optimized for the comics page (someone must have developed one by now, right?) and we might do a good job at maybe 200K. So that's about 6 gigs for the comics.

You can't quite fit that onto a keychain flash drive. It's a bit more than you can get onto a DVD, too, which maxes out at 4.7 gigs.

Speaking of which, I've got maybe 150 feature films and almost 20 seasons of network television on DVD. That's about 300 hours of TV and another 300 hours of features, at a little over a gig an hour, completely dwarfing my bulkier and much heavier other data.

I expect that someday I will show this post to the children of my neice or nephew, who will ask me something about how obviously I had access to the 'net when I made this post, since I posted it there. So why go to all of the trouble of carting around these heavy books that aren't indexed with metadata, aren't searchable, aren't available when I'm away from my apartment ... ?

I'll say something about how displays were crappy in those days, and lots of data still wasn't stored electronically, and there was still trouble with bandwidth, and blah blah blah. I suspect that I'll sound to this kid like one of those wild-eyed old men in a dystopian '60s science fiction movie, ranting about how real knowledge isn't found in computers, it's in books, I tell you! Books!

Then I'll tell the kid how when I was her age, my teacher would write on the classroom wall with a piece of rock. Really!

12 October 2007

Where the heck I have been

Many friends and blog readers may have wondered why I dropped off the face of the Earth this last month. I owe apologies to a bunch of folks, with more to come because I'm still not going to be very available. I have had some good—but dramatic and demanding—developments in my personal life that have literally kept me from having a minute to spare. So, at last, here's the story ....

As many of y'all know, I have felt restless in my job for a while. For the past ten years I have worked as a consulting interaction designer at Cooper, the best consulting interaction design studio in the biz, winging my way around the nation and the world telling companies how to make products that don't suck. I love the work and my colleagues, but it has me on the road about 25% of the time, on a very irregular schedule. It's enough to be disruptive to my life and physically demanding. While I used to go on a work trip and bounce back from the jet lag, bad food, and hotel insomnia to force myself back into the gym, I'm not that young and resilient any more. I've been wondering how much more consulting I really have in me.

Plus, a couple of years ago my father moved out to San Francisco to live in an apartment across the street from mine. Yeah, it's a bit like a sitcom ... except that he's had some trouble with his health, and I'm the man on the spot because my whole family is scattered among various different cities. I've had to devote more time and energy to his needs than I'd originally imagined, which is especially tricky given my irregular travel.

I've been working to find my father a place in an assisted living community, for his safety and comfort (as well as my own liberty and peace of mind) but it's been tough going with the many interruptions in my schedule.

So for a while now I've had an eye out for a new gig: something a little less demanding and a lot more regular, ideally downtown in San Francisco so I could walk to work and enjoy my beloved city. Though I've followed a few leads, nothing has panned out. My work portfolio is very strong, but it's also peculiar ... and of course the thing I'm best qualified to do is consulting, which is what I want to get away from.

About a month back, I flew down to San Diego for the day to meet with a guy I had worked with on a few Cooper projects over the years. He's a very smart executive who really understands my work, and ever since we first worked together he's tried to bring Cooper (and me in particular) in to work with every organization he's landed in. He is now CEO of a new company, Veoh, which is one of the companies delivering video over the Internet. We talk about what Cooper could do for them, and he says to me, that's great, but what I really want is to find a Director of User Experience, and I want it to be you. Come help us. Come help us fix television.

Okay, this is pretty much the opposite of what I would have wished for. It's not in San Francisco, where my father is. It's not full time design work as a craftsman, but managing a team, ambitiously “climbing the ladder.” It's not in San Francisco, where my soulmate is. It's not a little less work, but more. It's not in San Francisco, where my soul sister is. It's not in a thriving product company, but in the chaos of a startup. And it's not in San Francisco, my favourite place in the world, where like Tony Bennett I left my &^#@!! heart.


It's a chance to tackle the corporate organizational problems that I've always said were the most important part of getting good interaction design. It's a chance to do it working with as design-attuned a CEO as I could ever hope to find. It's a chance to work on something that wouldn't just be another case study in my résumé, but something any future employer would have seen with their own eyes. It's a chance to work on a heck of an interesting problem. It's a chance to maybe ... just maybe ... walk away with a chunk of valuable stock. And it's a chance to maybe ... just maybe ... fix television.

How could I turn that down?

So I kept talking to the CEO: job description and logistics and money and all that. He wanted me right away.

I talked to my family about how we would handle things for my dad if I took the job. I talked to my soulmate and soul sister about whether we'd all go bonkers if I lived in San Diego. They all encouraged me to take the job. We found ways to make things work.

Naturally, I was on the road doing Cooper work in Canada, jet lagged out of my mind, while we were figuring this out.

I got back from Canada, took the Veoh job, quit my Cooper job ... and I've not had a minute to spare since.

I had to be back down in San Diego after just a few days ... during which time I still had obligations at Cooper to wrap up—not least a farewell lunch with my heroic colleagues who all dressed up in coats and ties for the occasion—in addition to packing for a week and a half in San Diego, and getting ready for the arrival of my family ...

... because my father was still recovering from surgery, and I was trying to get the paperwork squared away on the assisted living place we had finally lined up. My father wanted to stay in SF if he could move in to the new situation. So my mother and brother came out to handle his release from the hospital and bring the new place over the finish line. While I've been away, they've been using my apartment.

Meanwhile, I've been living in a hotel in San Diego, getting up to speed on a complicated business, wrapping up loose ends at Cooper, helping with Dad details by remote control, and trying to get the lay of the land to find a place to live in San Diego.

As I write this I'm waiting for a late flight back to SF so I can spend the weekend packing up all my worldly possessions, since I have to be in a meeting for my new employer in LA Monday morning, after which I'll be in San Diego, working and trying to land an apartment.

Because yeah, there it is, believe it or not I'm moving to San Diego.

Mind you, I'm not emigrating to there, I'm expatriating. I plan to spend most weekends in SF, visiting my father and friends and eating at Tí Couz.

Just as soon as the dust settles.

Congratulations, Al

He thought he lost the biggest contest of all.

This year he took home the Oscar and the Emmy. And now the most distinguished award in the world, the one they save for folks like Albert Schweitzer, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Elie Weisel.

People are saying he should run for President. But at this point, I think he's got better things to do with his time.