Sometimes you’re old

Every time the singer turned the mic towards the crowd, everyone but me shouted lyrics in unison. They were at a concert, I was at a calculus exam in underwear.

Ev’s assholishness is greatly exaggerated

Team Pyra

There's been a bunch of stories lately about Ev Williams, co-founder of Blogger and Twitter upon the occasion of him leaving Twitter to do his own thing. Some are outright calling him an asshole. This Business Insider story of Noah Glass and Twitter's early days has a whole speculative piece on how Ev might be a calculating evil genius, cut from the same cloth as Monty Burns in the Simpsons, that cut investors out of the Twitter pie as soon as he could apparently by deceiving them about Twitter's potential (and mentions that an investor or two is thinking of legal action against him). That piece references the old NYT piece about Ev being "pushed" out of Twitter and recounts the whole Pyra/Blogger implosion at the start of 2001, which I was a player in.

I read all this stuff, and I have to call bullshit on quite a bit of it.

First off, I worked with Ev for almost a year and I saw him as a really amazing idea man and has the drive you want in an entrepreneur. His dream setup he talked of early on was building Pyra "Labs" where every awesome idea he came up with could be prototyped by a small team and spun off into products by other people or sold to other companies that are more into the execution side of things (Blogger was a spin-off from Pyra, the project management app). If you look at the past ten years, Ev's time after Google is much like that. Odeo was a good idea (I never got the appeal of phone-to-blog-post Audioblogger, Noah Glass' predecessor app) because podcasting was just taking off and I was most interested in the piece that let you record and mix audio using a browser instead of expensive audio software. Odeo went the way of the Dodo because iTunes simply added Podcasting natively and crushed it overnight. Ev went on to form Obvious, which seemed like another take on the Pyra Labs model, and Twitter was a product spun out from there.

Again, Ev is great at ideas, making prototypes and letting ideas blossom into things over time. He doesn't seem like a CEO type to me, and that's not a dig on him — I'm a CEO myself, even though I'm not a CEO type of guy either. Running a day-to-day corporation with tons of employees is a lot different than being an ideas guy, and it requires different skills.

So Ev leaving Twitter to try something new didn't come off as unexpected when I heard the news from the man himself.

This is my own speculation, but I think the core issue on the Odeo/Twitter thing between Noah and Ev was that their personalities clashed. I remember meeting Noah and him being a pretty intense guy and Ev was a quieter, mellower dude. I remember being surprised when I heard they were rolling Audioblogger into something new together but then I remember they used to be next-door neighbors and I thought maybe I was too quick to judge Noah from seeing him at a couple parties.

One key point that deflates pretty much the whole Business Insider piece on Twitter and Ev buying out his Odeo investors is this: I've spoken with a number of Odeo investors and one mentioned to me that when they were offered the buy back plan, there was an offer to roll your shares into Twitter, though Twitter was so new, no one really knew the potential (seriously, twitter wasn't a killer app at first. I hated it. Merlin hated it.). Ev didn't "slow play" his hand and dupe investors so he could own more of Twitter later on, Ev gave them a pretty amazing offer of continuing their investment and if I remember correctly I heard that everyone but one or two investors took the cash offer out of Odeo and turned down the Twitter shares.

That's an important distinction because it means the investors in the story aren't pissed that they were hoodwinked by Ev, it's because the investors passed on Twitter and combined with today's 20/20 hindsight, it looks like a bad move by almost every investor to take their short term cash back.

Going back to the NYT piece from last Fall, I was a little bit bitter for the immediate few months after i was laid off from Blogger in 2001 because I knew Blogger was a much bigger idea that had so much world-changing potential I didn't want to see die on the vine. By 2002 I buried the hatchet with Ev and admired his drive and hard work at keeping it alive by himself, and eventually growing it into something Google snapped up and improved upon (The NYT story says that unnamed former employees got nothing out of the Google deal. I'm one of the folks they were talking about, and still, there's sincerely no hard feelings).

I look forward to whatever Ev does next because he has tons of great ideas and can build a prototype faster than you think, but one thing he isn't is a calculating evil genius asshole hellbent on screwing over investors.

That's just melodramatic bullshit.

Thank Bill Cosby for today’s comedy boom


I have this crazy idea. Back in 1985, my family got cable TV for the first time and it included HBO. I think at the start they just played stuff from 5-10pm and eventually they played stuff maybe 12hrs a day, but I seem to recall they'd just repeat 2 or 3 movies a few times a day and whatever deadspots they had, they filled it by running Bill Cosby's Himself.

I watched Bill Cosby's Himself probably 2 or 3 times a week for a good several years in my early teens. I know the entire thing by heart and can quote you almost any line if you give me a couple words.

There's this popular held belief about the birth of Skateboarding:

In the mid-Seventies, two events coincided in Southern California that gave rise to skateboarding as we now know it. The invention of the urethane wheel and the drought that emptied the pools across the city allowed the kids to ride their new boards in an entirely new way

It was covered well in the movies Dogtown and Z boys and Lords of Dogtown. I mention it because I've been a fan of stand-up comedy for three decades now and we're in a boom these past few years that feels much like the brick-backdrop comedy TV boom of the late 80s. We have comedy podcasts galore, huge comedy communities like A Special Thing, we have an entire website dedicated to short videos of just comedy, and we have stuff like The Onion going mainstream with video on demand and their popular website. Not to mention popular late night comedy talk shows are joined by The Daily Show and Colbert Report, which meld comedy with news. Fans of comedy are getting their daily fix like never before.

So here's my crazy idea: the boom in comedy these last few years is due to two things that go together well, the internet, for making the dissemination, publication, and promotion of comedy way easier than waiting for a TV network to give you a show 20 years ago, and the fact that a generation of kids got to watch Bill Cosby Himself every day after school for several years before HBO figured out how to gather enough programming to stop repeating themselves.

Three phone tips for antisocial people like me that hate phones

In no particular order:

1. A friend recently got a new phone & number on Verizon, and neglected to set up his electronic voicemail account for the first few weeks. When you call, after 4-5 rings it goes to voicemail but the message is simply "This user has not set up their voicemail yet. Goodbye."

Now, this won't work for everyone, but if you spend a minimal amount of time being interrupted by phone calls and you have a stable job and relationships and don't need to get every single call that comes in, this no-voicemail thing is kind of awesome because it is one less inbox for this friend's life. I know when I get that message I'll either text, call back later, or just send an email. I'm envious and may not set up voicemail for future new phones I get.

2. In the spirit of Last Year's Model, my home landline is connected to a 11 year-old cordless phone we have no reason to replace. It works for the hour or so total talk time we use it each week, but since the phone sits in the cradle charging constantly, the batteries tend to go bad after a few years. The batteries are currently dying so the phone has to stay on the charger all the time, and when you do get a call, you get about 10 minutes of talk time before the batteries are dead and the call drops. 

Instead of replacing the rechargable battery pack, I've been enjoying this feature for a few months now. I know it's kind of asshole-ish, but it's really nice to be able to keep things short and sweet with everyone that calls my house. It's really handy and I don't spend hours on the phone chit-chatting because the phone simply can't do it, and I have no guilt about cutting a call short. I can always have a long conversation on my cell phone if need be.

3. There are several web services out there to answer the question "Who owns that unlisted number that just hit my mobile phone?" but my favorite is WhoCalled.Us. It's an awesome free service where people report details of who called them and what they wanted when they called, think of it as crowd-sourced telemarketer reporting. It's handy because you can safely ignore most calls to your phone after looking up the numbers at this site.

If a weird unknown number comes into my iPhone, I ignore it and look up the number later. 9 times out of 10, it was a sales call from a bank, a timeshare company, or a bullshit work-at-home offer. I wish it was integrated in my phone, so I could just hit a button to do auto lookups from the missed calls page on my phone, or if an incoming call had known records at, it could display the top three rated comments on my screen before I hit accept or reject.

(this post was also translated into the Czech language)

Scarring Party west coast tour

Over on MetaFilter Music, I've fallen for a band doing sort of old timey pirate shanty stuff called The Scarring Party. They recently threw a Kickstarter fund drive for their upcoming west coast tour, and I went so far as to donate at the level where they had to write a song about me.

Here are their upcoming tour dates:

  • April 22 at Empty Sea Studios (All Ages) with Erin Jorgensen in Seattle, WA
  • April 23 at Alberta Street Pub in Portland, OR
  • April 24 at Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene, OR
  • April 25 at Rainshadow (All Ages) with Deadly Gallows and Stabracadabra in Reno, NV
  • April 26 at Disco Volante in Oakland, CA
  • April 27 at Viracocha with Eliza Rickman in San Francisco, CA
  • April 28 at The Crepe Place in Santa Cruz, CA
  • April 29 at a yet to be determined space or residence in the Greater Los Angeles Area
  • April 30 at Park Gallery with Martian Horses and Birds Ate My Face in San Diego, CA

Even though I only go out about once every six months to a concert/event, I actually have tickets to Donald Glover doing comedy the same night as their Portland date so I'll sadly be missing them in town (though I might try to catch them before/after), but if you get the chance do check them out.

Here's my song, Head Full of Birds they wrote for me:

03 Head Full of Birds