Category Archives: Uncategorized

We are here on Earth to fart around

I was reminded of this quote by Kurt Vonnegut from this interview, so I share it here:

I work at home, and if I wanted to, I could have a computer right by my bed, and I’d never have to leave it. But I use a typewriter, and afterward I mark up the pages with a pencil. Then I call up this woman named Carol out in Woodstock and say, “Are you still doing typing?” Sure she is, and her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there and not having much luck, and so we chitchat back and forth, and I say, “Okay, I’ll send you the pages.”

Then I go down the steps and my wife calls, “Where are you going?” “Well,” I say, “I’m going to buy an envelope.” And she says, “You’re not a poor man. Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes? They’ll deliver them, and you can put them in the closet.” And I say, “Hush.” So I go to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes, and when it’s my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of Forty-seventh Street and Second Avenue, where I’m secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. I keep absolutely poker-faced; I never let her know how I feel about her. One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in a mailbox in front of the post office, and I go home. And I’ve had a hell of a good time. I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.

Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We’re dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go do something. [Gets up and dances a jig.]

Balls Balls Balls

Balls Balls Balls

Balls Balls Balls

Ricki’s Trio, “One Winter’s Night”

Here’s my 4:24 of fame on Sunday, June 11, 2017.

Ricki’s Trio, “One Winter’s Night”

Ricki Shore, fiddle
Steve Edlen, guitar
Scott Underwood, bass
Ricki is  in my bluegrass class, and she asked me to accompany her for a single song at the Manning Music student concert at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. This is my favorite place to see music, so I was thrilled to be onstage. I played with another group three songs after this, but I don’t think there’s a video.

UIO

Unidentified Israeli Object: my mother-in-law had this amongst her stuff. She travelled a lot, but never to Israel, though her husband one did.

In any event, my Israeli friend tells me Arad is a town in the south of Israel and it was a former Roman site. This thing appears to be a tourist geegaw, but I’m not sure if the coin is real — were there so many, they sold them as keepsakes? Is it Roman, or Byzantine, or just what?

   

Leon in Lima

My friend and partner Leon Segal decided to greet the crowd outside our hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima, Peru.

 

Okay, they were being nice. The reason all these young girls are here is because the hotel is also hosting the star of Soy Luna, a popular kids show on Disney Latino.

Mapchart maps & My USA

Here’s a pretty easy site to make custom maps, Mapcharts. Below is a quick map I made.

My USA is a map of my travel history in the US. Many of course are just a single city I flew to for a workshop or something.

my-usa

 

 

Mbube, Wimoweh, and the Lion Sleeps Tonight

Longform.org put up a remarkable Rolling Stone article from 2000 by Rian Malan, “In the Jungle: How American music legends made millions off the work of a Zulu tribesman who died a pauper.

This is the story of the 1939 song “Mbube” by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds, a Zulu group who recorded in Johannesburg. The sang in a workingman’s style called isicathamiya that derives from a warning: “Tread carefully, boys”: that is, don’t ruin the stage with your traditional stomp-dancing. (Malan points out that Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s light-footed stage movements descend from this style.)

A 78 RPM record of “Mbube” landed in the hands of Alan Lomax, who gave it to his friend Pete Seeger, who misunderstood the underlying chant of “Uyimbube” and called his version “Wimoweh,” which became a 1952 hit for the Weavers just when they wer forced to disband due to Red Scare allegations.


“Wimoweh” was covered many times by many singers, eventually including a Brooklyn group called the Tokens, who had heard that the lyrics were about hunting lions. The Tokens’ producers didn’t want to record “Wimoweh” as is, so they asked for help from an orchestrator named George Weiss, who deconstructed the song. He wrote some new words and put the melody front and center. The recording included a tympanist mimicking “jungle drums” and an opera singer named Anita Darien doing that soaring countermelody. It became one of the biggest hits of all time, and still shows up in movies, cover versions, children’s records, TV shows, and more, all around the world.

And that’s just the first half of this article. Malan’s real goal is to follow the money from this megahit and figure out how much of it ever made it back to Linda’s impoverished family, which brings us to ideas about folk songs and copyright, public domain songs credited to fictitious songwriters (“Wimoweh” is credited to “Paul Campbell,” who also “wrote” “Rock Island Line” and “Kisses Sweeter than Wine”), and the wheeling-dealings of some real music-industry sharks. Eventually everyone gets into court on two continents, but all in all it’s an eye-opening account of the story behind a song that refuses to go to sleep.

Save the Cat: a Slate review

This Slate review of a 2005 book on screenwriting is revealing and cleverly constructed. Peter Suderman uses the review to illuminate the way this book has infected movie plots in the last few years:

If you’ve gone to the movies recently, you may have felt a strangely familiar feeling: You’ve seen this movie before. Not this exact movie, but some of these exact story beats: the hero dressed down by his mentor in the first 15 minutes (Star Trek Into Darkness, Battleship); the villain who gets caught on purpose (The Dark Knight, The Avengers, Skyfall, Star Trek Into Darkness); the moment of hopelessness and disarray a half-hour before the movie ends (Olympus Has Fallen, Oblivion, 21 Jump Street, Fast & Furious 6).

Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat goes beyond Robert McKee’s Story and other guides to creating screenplays. Instead of discussing general structural principles of good movies, he provides a beat-by-beat list of all the basic plot elements that must be hit, giving them names like Catalyst, Debate, Bad Guys Close In, and Dark Night of the Soul.

Even better, Suderman uses Snyder’s formula to write his article, even providing a nicely annotated version showing where the seams are. I know the next time I watch a formulaic movie (maybe I’ll catch Iron Man 3 again), I’ll be playing Spot the Formula Moment.

 Yet once you know the formula, the seams begin to show. Movies all start to seem the same, and many scenes start to feel forced and arbitrary, like screenplay Mad Libs. Why does Kirk get dressed down for irresponsibility by Admiral Pike early in Star Trek Into Darkness? Because someone had to deliver the theme to the main character. Why does Gina Carano’s sidekick character defect to the villain’s team for no reason whatsoever almost exactly three-quarters of the way through Fast & Furious 6? Because it’s the all-is-lost moment, so everything needs to be in shambles for the heroes. Why does Gerard Butler’s character in Olympus Has Fallen suddenly call his wife after a climactic failed White House assault three-quarters of the way through? Because the second act always ends with a quiet moment of reflection—the dark night of the soul.

Resume & Samples

What I Do

Writing

I write and edit texts of all sorts, and I will work with you to make your ideas and language clear and strong.

I work with people who need to communicate to clients, customers, employees, and others. I’ve worked in online media and in print, providing everything from concise, space-constrained copy to academic articles and book-length efforts.

Speaking & workshops

I am available to speak to business and student groups on design thinking, innovation, and writing, as well as collaborate on workshops to introduce design thinking and the design process within organizations.

What I’ve Done

From 1987 to 2009, I worked at IDEO, a global design and innovation firm, in Palo Alto and San Francisco. During the last dozen years, my role involved writing, editing, speaking, and teaching about design thinking and IDEO’s history, culture, and process. Before that, I had been the firm’s first systems administrator and, later, its first IT manager. Before that, I spent eight years in various Silicon Valley companies as a drafter and junior designer.

As a writer and editor at IDEO, I worked closely with David Kelley (founder and chairman), Tim Brown (CEO and president), Tom Kelley (general manager), Bill Moggridge (cofounder), directors Whitney Mortimer
(marketing communications), John Foster (talent and organization),
Nancy Nichols (recruiting), John Ravitch (business development), and much of the design staff to create case studies, external websites, award entries, project pages, wikis, presentations, proposals, and a huge variety of internal communication pieces on websites, emails, and in physical spaces.

IDEO Work Timeline

  • 2008-2009: Knowledge Sharing group. Helped build new intranet (evolved from earlier IDEO intranet work) to better foster communication across all offices. This effort led to thousands of wiki pages, project pages, uploaded images, blog entries, and more.
  • 2007-2008: Talent and Organization group. Led seminars, workshops, one-to-one dialogs, and online communications. Helped articulate specific company roles, career paths, and new compensation platform, and encouraged career growth.
  • 1998-2007: Marketing communications. Led annual competitions efforts, acted as editor at large and ombudsman, provided “voice” to most outward-facing publications and online sites, represented IDEO in various conferences and events, built image and text database.
  • 1989-1997: Information Technology. Company’s first system administrator and later manager of tech support and IT group. Physical installation of computer and phone networks, computer equipment; championed then-new technologies such as CAD, e-mail, office intranet, wide-area network, the Internet, and the World Wide Web.
  • 1987-1988: CAD Design Support. Senior drafter and junior designer, part of small pool of CAD experts; helped train designers on new CAD programs, provided custom interface and macros to IDEO and other institutions (Stanford, Cal Poly, etc.), served as user group president for CAD system.

Work Samples

Much of my work resides within IDEO’s
intranet and contains confidential material. Any nonpublic snapshots
below are included with kind permission of IDEO.

Aoi+ten The Art of Innovation (2001, Doubleday) by Tom Kelley and Jon Littman

The Ten Faces of Innovation
(2006, Doubleday), by Tom Kelley and Jon Littman

I worked extensively on both
books, from research to copyediting. Tom thanks me in both books; in
the second, he wrote:


Scott Underwood applied his encyclopedic knowledge of words in giving me advice on syntax, grammar, and elements of style. I have learned more about the nuances of language from Scott than I have from any professor.

Editing, copyediting, proofreading, and/or research for

The History of IDEO’s Logos: this is one of a series of wiki pages created on IDEO’s intranet, the Tube, meant to inform new employees and remind the others about the firm’s history.

Careers page: a link to the most frequently asked questions from people interested in employment and internships, striking a balance between friendliness and firmness. This grew out of my work answering the extremely random, humorous, or provocative emails IDEO started receiving after 1999 — each and every email.

Kraft Foods case study: one of a few hundred stories written to convey the company’s breadth and expertise concisely and without jargon or boastfulness. Written in a “just-the-facts” tone, many of these articles were informed by competition entry forms, which tell a deeper story meant for a different audience.

30 Years of IDEO: this limited-audience website communicated the 30th anniversary of the founding of David Kelley Design, and showcased much of IDEO’s surprising new work (in strategy, food, nonprofit, and other nontraditional design projects). I worked on concepts with founder David Kelley, then collaborated with a graphic artist and a web programmer to create the finished site.

Other Work

2000-2009: coordinated and hosted 350+ Know How Talks and Lunches, which included a weekly, internal-only, lunchtime show-and-tell series for IDEOers to share their work and points of view, and an evening series for a variety of writers, thinkers, makers, and doers. The number of great speakers I hosted are too many to list, but include:

  • David Best, assemblage artist and Burning Man architect
  • Guy Kawasaki, on the vagaries of luck in business
  • Chip Heath, on Made to Stick
  • Fritz Grobe & Stephen Voltz, a.k.a. Eepybird, on Diet Coke and Mentos fountains and sticky notes
  • Howard Reingold, on Smart Mobs
  • Grant McCracken on anthropology and design (Grant said kind things about his visit)
  • Malcolm Gladwell, on jam, movies, and the danger of thinking too much
  • Bob Sutton, The No Asshole Rule (Bob discusses his talk here)
  • Dan Pink, on A Whole New Mind, and later, his manga book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. (IFTF’s Alex Pang blogged the earlier talk)
  • Dr. Paul Ekman, on facial expressions, microexpressions, and the physical behavior of emotions
  • Merlin Mann talks with me (see video) about making yourself smarter and more mindful

2003-2009: I led hundreds of tours of IDEO’s Palo Alto campus, essentially 30-
to 90-minute walking presentations on IDEO’s history, culture, and
process. My audiences included:

  • CEOs and other leaders from current and potential clients
  • Executive MBA classes, from US and international business schools
  • College
    classes of design, engineering, and business students
  • High school groups representing organizations like Future Business Leaders of America
  • “Best practice” delegations from foreign governments
  • Journalists, academics, and the occasional well-placed friend of a friend

I have also given many talks, presentations, and workshops, most recently:

  • 2009: Visual Communication class, Academy of Art University, San Francisco: Writing for Designers talk given to third-year graphic design students
  • 2008: BIZCamp, Jewish Family and
    Children’s Services, San Rafael
    : Design for Entrepreneurs talk given to elective summer high school-age class
  • 2007: Freestyle Academy of Communication Arts and Technology, Mountain View:
    Design Thinking talk to combined classes of junior and senior high
    schoolers in a multimedia arts program located on the Mtn View High
    School campus
  • 2007: Department of Design, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand:
    a two-day introduction to human-centered design given to undergrad and
    graduate design students, including a wallet design workshop, analogous
    behavior talk, student work review, and IDEO & Design Thinking
    public talk

2006-2007: Led IDEO 101, a multiday orientation and education workshop for all new employees, from all offices, regardless of level or seniority. More than a typical orientation program, this event was designed to create an intercompany cohort and foster better connections among the offices. It included short talks and Q&As on everything from the company’s finances to the plans for the future from most of IDEO’s leadership; a day-long real-world design charette with off-campus interviews, prototypes, and presentations; a “round robin” dinner event, meant to encourage attendees to mix and mingle, and wrap party featuring an IDEO-led music group.

1998-2006: Managed annual design competition effort, comprising
400+ projects. Work included 1500-word entry forms, image selection and
captioning, video scripting, and more. During this period, IDEO won
the most awards each year in the IDSA/Business Week competition, and hundreds of awards worldwide.

2006: Working with curator Signe Mayfield at the Palo Alto Art Center, I drew together IDEO Prototypes the Future, the first exhibition devoted to IDEO’s work. Podcasts and photos are available on the website of Ross Mayfield (founder of SocialText and also a speaker at IDEO’s Know How Talks). I also worked with the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation on the communications materials for a major fundraising effort.

Other Samples

These are samples of writing I’ve done outside the constraints of my longtime employer, whether for money or amusement.

A Friend in Need: a sestina written for the McSweeney’s website. (A sestina is an old, unrhymed poetry form with an interesting structure.)

Housing Works: an article on Patrimonio Hoy, the microlending arm of the multinational cement corporation CEMEX, written for (and substantially edited by) Design 21.

In-progress Ideas for New Yorker Cartoons: a humor piece written for McSweeney’s.

Drift: an article on language, written for my blog.

The 10,000 hours of Steve Martin: a book review, written for my blog.


Recent Work

IDEO (Palo Alto, San Francisco)

  • company-wide knowledge-sharing website (copyediting)
  • Tim Brown’s forthcoming book (rapid copyediting)
  • short film (brainstorm, writing)
  • current: public website (in-progress) (research, writing)

D2M (Mountain View)

  • public product-review blog (in-progress) (writing, editing, research)
  • marketing/branding effort (in-progress) (brainstorm, writing)

IMVU (Palo Alto)

  • award entry, AIGA 2009

Unnamed client (Calgary)

  • currently planning a sponsored two-day innovation workshop for a 350-student high school