Jan 06 2016

Richard Sapper, Designer of Sleek Housewares, Dies at 83 – The New York Times

Published by under General

Mr. Sapper was especially revered by coffee connoisseurs for his lustrous stovetop Coban 9090 espresso maker, sold by Alessi, the Italian housewares manufacturer.

Source: Richard Sapper, Designer of Sleek Housewares, Dies at 83 – The New York Times

Sorry to learn the sad news that Richard Sapper passed away. I worked with him on an amazing prototype of a “cloud” PC called the Skylight which he carved from wood in Gloucester and mailed to the design team at Lenovo wrapped in bubble wrap. My Tizio lamp on my desk is lit today in homage. A very talented, influential designer who did amazing things to simple devices from pens to lamps to Thinkpads. He also was a fellow fan of Cynar, the Italian apertif concocted from artichokes.

And David Hill delivers the goods with this beautiful reflection on Richard on the Lenovo blog.

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Sep 23 2015

My hero

Published by under General

The funniest thing I have seen  EVER


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Jul 13 2015

Acquia announces it is ready for Drupal 8 | Dries Buytaert

Acquia — (Ah-kwee-ah, from the Navajo word for locate, or spot) — is where I do my thing and have been doing that thing for the past year. We’re about the next big thing in web site development — “digital experiences — and built on top of Drupal, the open source content management framework that was invented by Acquia’s co-founder Dries Buytaert in 2001.

I first built with Drupal in 2005 at IDG — driven to open source out of desperation with a customer of CIO.com needed a microsite with a community in less than two weeks time. The commercial content management solutions were too expensive and unwieldy, so with a sense of piratical naughtiness a few of us downloaded the source code and had a Drupal site up and running in a few days.

I remember the whole experience was a little brutal — but hey, fast-forward to 2011, I’m doing web consulting in NYC for big brands and musicians, and I start recommending Drupal again because this Boston-area company — Acquia — is offering it on a platform-as-a-service model from the cloud and kind of blowing up past points of webmaster hell like the dreaded “slashdot” effect coined at Forbes.com when a stiff wind would knock down our anemic home-made infrastructure.

Drupal has been on version 7 since 2011. Some massive sites run on the system (best described as a framework for building custom content management systems), including big brands, government agencies, big media and more. In the spring of 2011 the Drupal community — the largest open source community in the world with more than 1 million registered users — kicked off the process of building Drupal 8.

I’ve been around content management way too long but D8 is one of the more  impressive advances because of its architecture approach to what Dries is calling the post-browser web. The reality for modern site builders and digital types today is that the concept of the “site” is being replaced by a far more complicated set of different distribution channels ranging from different devices to aggregators such as Facebook, Apple News, Flipboard and online merchants like Amazon and eBay. In short — the art and science of making stuff and publishing it on the Internet has gone far beyond the days when I started out in 1994 writing HTML with a text editor and worrying about launching Forbes.com or this blog in the days of the command-line driven Internet.

Today Acquia sucked it up and declared it’s ready for its customers to start planning and building with Drupal 8 on the Acquia Platform right now, even though the code is still in beta and declared to “be ready when it’s ready.” I admire the grit it took for Acquia’s CEO Tom Erickson and CTO Dries Buytaert to go out on the diving board and tell their customers and the digital agencies that serve them that now is the time to take the plunge and make the move to the next big thing in delivering amazing digital experiences to a world that has declared in a very big way that online is the first place they go.


Source: Acquia announces it is ready for Drupal 8 | Dries Buytaert

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Jul 10 2015

When Algorithms Discriminate – The New York Times

Published by under General

Recent research has shown how some websites can produce results that perpetuate bias.

Source: When Algorithms Discriminate – The New York Times

I’ve been obsessing about machine learning for some reason — probably due to reading the Project VRM mailing list assiduously and looking at the massive flaws in so-called marketing automation systems.  The idea that algorithms can reliably target and personalize media and messages is showing some signs of collapse as the technology does more to expose the ignorance of the sender than true understanding of the recipient.

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Jul 07 2015

Watch our startup recklessly blow through $500,000 | The Hustle

Published by under Journalism

“We’re about to publicly blow our wad launching our media company and we want you to watch.”

Source: Watch our startup recklessly blow through $500,000 | The Hustle

Full disclosure: I know these guys and I love what they’re doing. I spoke to Sam Parr the co-founder a couple weeks ago about the shitty state of online “content” (the fact we call it “content” is indicative of how grey-goo it has become) and he’s got the swagger.

And that is not my daughter on the swing…..

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Jul 06 2015

The Wall of Sound

Published by under General

The Grateful Dead’s Original Wall of Sound: I stood in front of this beast many a time in the mid-70s which explains my selective deafness today.

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Jun 26 2015

ThinkPad Time Machine? | Lenovo

Published by under General

Step with me now into the ThinkPad design time machine. Fasten your seat belt, settle in and share your thinking.

Source: ThinkPad Time Machine? | Lenovo

David Hill, Lenovo’s original and greatest blogger and the bearer of the ThinkPad design torch has lit up the  Faithful with a tease of bringing back the best of the original Richard Sapper bento-box inspired design. I’ve been ThinkPad free for a couple years, suffering on a MacAir and buggy Microsoft Surface — and missing the hell out of the Thinkpad keyboard before island keys and fuzzy magnetic clip on keyboard covers took over my typing-obsessed fingers.

This is the machine I’d hit my personal funds to buy. I mean the current crop of ThinkPads are “nice” but not the power-boxes that just scream out professional writer, astronaut, carnivorous captain of industry. Give the frat boys and sorority girls their Apple toys.  Give the suffering masses their Dulls. I want this Thinkpad.

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Jun 23 2015

Dries Buytaert: Winning Back the Open Web

Published by under General

Dries Buytaert is the inventor of Drupal — the open source content management framework — and co-founder of Acquia, the Boston based provider of services, support and tools to build, deliver and optimize websites and other digital brand experiences built on top of Drupal. I work at Acquia as the vp of corporate marketing, but offer this link to a post published on his personal blog because it resonates with my view and concerns over the direction of the open web

Dries invented Drupal as a student in Antwerp and was inspired to put it into the open source world because of his admiration for such legends as Linus Torvalds and other pioneers. Today Drupal is the basis for some of the world’s most crucial and well-known sites, powering countries, cities, Fortune 500 brands and yes, even blogs.

Coming the day after this chapter from a forthcoming book — Follow the Geeks (chronicling the career of my friend Om Malik, another Open Web visionary) I sense something in the wind, a questioning reflection as the web moves into its third decade and takes on a new meaning as it shifts from browsers and desktops to apps and phones and tablets.



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May 27 2015

Be Here Now

Published by under General

Richard Alpert was the Boston born son a railroad executive who tuned in,  and then dropped out at Harvard in the 1960s under the siren song of Timothy Leary and LSD. He was reinvented as  Ram Dass and began to preach a transcendental mantra of “Be Here Now.” There were copies of that book in many a college dorm room in the 1970s as I experienced the sunset of the hippies and the rise of the Grim Professionals.

Nick Bilton wrote a essay in the New York Times about seeing the world through an iPhone as he snapped a shot of a Pacific sunset and realized he was staring at devices and not the world around him.

“Then, I stopped. Here I was, watching this magnificent sunset, and all I could do is peer at it through a tiny four-­inch screen. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought. “I can’t seem to enjoy anything without trying to digitally capture it or spew it onto the Internet.”

There used to be plastic laundry baskets outside of the conference rooms at the Googleplex for people to park their phones and laptops so they could focus on the agenda and the meeting and not use the time to catch up on email and IM back and forth. I’ve been in meetings where CEOs have demanded PCs be closed and unless I am expected to present, I try to attend a meeting with nothing but a notebook and a pen.

Yet more and more I find myself in meetings, sitting attentively, watching people on their PCs, tapping away, half there, half not, enduring long pregnant pauses as the meeting turns into a strange communal exercise in “bowling alone together.”

Hang up people. Put down the fucking phone. Look up and watch what’s going on around you. You might pick up some important cues you’re missing. Be here now.

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Apr 20 2015

Published by under General


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Mar 19 2015

Squirrels Eating Pizza

Published by under Weird,WTF?

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Feb 12 2015

Adventures in Robotics

Published by under General

I can’t embed this in the post for some reason, but for some reason this video fascinates me. Why the spinning Popeye Arms?


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Feb 12 2015

Another day, another annoyance

Published by under Rants

So two new types of spam to hate.

First are the LinkedIn abusers who send the guilt inducing emails asking me to buy their super-duper marketing automation systems; and then a week later act all butt-hurt and demand a yes or no answer. Those dickheads get to meet the Man in the Chair.


LinkedIn has turned into a shallow money trench of desperate lead generators and sleeve-tuggers. As a so-called “thought leadership” platform it is where good ideas go to die on the altar of buzzword bingo. Once a resume network, it’s now a bazooka of spam. At least About.me leaves me alone.

Second inbox trend are the morons who think it’s okay to sign up for an app that spams people asking them to confirm their contact details. Brewster is the big villain. For example I get a few of these ever week.


Jamie — whoever he is — is “so close” but in reality is so deleted. Do your own legwork people. Figure it out. If you don’t know who the right person at my company is who is going to buy your amazing social analytics Big Data customer delight solution, then you’re not looking hard enough. If you can’t be bothered to managed your own contact list, please don’t ask some drone service to bug your contacts for it.

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Feb 11 2015

Inn Keeper’s Disease

Published by under General

The blizzard's moving in
Looks like you're wrong again
When cabin fever hits
It sends us into fits
Of innkeeper's disease
And screaming in the trees
The blizzard never ends
The blizzard buries them

Blizzards, Buzzards, Bastards -- Scissorfight

I haven’t been outside for more than five minutes at a time over the last three weeks of this wretched winter. My skin feels like I’ve been belt-sanded while I sleep. Vitamin D levels are at all-time lows. The cars have slush udders and are rusting out before my eyes. The driveway is where hips go to break. Yesterday I staggered to the shower, turned it on, stepped in and shrank my head in water piped down from the taiga thanks to an empty oil tank (who knew the oil guy can’t get his hose from the street over a eight-foot tall cornice of grey plow drifts to the pipe around the back of the house?). The dog defecates freely inside the house, having long ago called bullshit on any of my attempts to drive it out into the drifts to do its business. Strange birds desperate for food and water hang around the feeders and fight among themselves. The 180 miles of daily driving on the wonderful highways of eastern Massachusetts each and every morning are doing evil things to my soul.

People my age who live in this wretched snow globe all have a Blizzard of ’78 story and every single one has the following structure:

  1.  It begins in a frat or dorm in Allston, Brighton, or the Back Bay
  2. It involves a “packy run”
  3. on x-country skis or a sled
  4. A guy named Sully
  5. An arctic expedition through snowdrifts
  6. Fruit-flavored brandy or schnapps
  7. Massive intoxication
  8. The police

This winter seems to be more about lynching the new governor, Charlie “The Darkness” Baker, the decrepit MBTA, and sucking it up. In the words of the Norwegians, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

But I love it here. For this makes us Spartans.

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Jan 15 2015

Why the recent podcast revival?

Published by under Journalism

Over the holidays my daughter spent hours sitting in an armchair, headphones clamped to her ears, staring at the window at the bird feeders, listening intently to her iPhone. She was addicted to “Serial” — the 12-episode tale of a 1999 murder of a high school student in Baltimore and the detailed investigation by public radio reporter Sarah Koenig. Each episode is about an hour long and so last night, during my evening commute I listed to all of the first installment and most of the second. It’s pretty compelling stuff and apparently has become the most downloaded podcast in history on iTunes.

I despise wasted commute time and as far back as 2000 listened to stuff like the history of opera on cassettes sold by The Great Courses. When I was making a weekly four hour commute from the Cape to Manhattan I listened to Audible books from my android phone Bluetoothed into the car’s FM radio, finishing Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire over the course of countless drives through Rhode Island and Connecticut.  Over the past few months I’ve switched to more contemporary fare ranging from books on IT and the cloud to the pearls of wisdom of Peter Thiel, Chris Anderson at Wired, and others. I also use the time to listen to Acquia’s (my current company) podcast, hosted and produced by the inimitable Jeffrey A. McGuire, better known as “JAM.”

I was really into iTunes enabled podcasts ten years ago when I was working at IDG. I was a big fan of Christopher Lydon’s OpenSource podcast as well as the Gillmor Gang hosted by Steve Gillmor. But, overtime I lost interest in the medium. They felt like a pain in the ass to produce, I have never felt the urge to do one myself because I’m a writer and not a talker.

Anyway, I’m back into podcasts now. Mostly thanks to a great Android app called PocketCast. I subscribe to the JAM/Acquia podcast, Lydon’s OpenSource, O’Reilly Radar and of course the Serial. I don’t think I’d listen to one in an idle moment of leisure, but as a way to salvage some value from the brain dead purgatory of a commute it does make me feel a bit like Doctor Evil’s father, the “relentlessly self improving” baker given to outlandish claims such as the invention of the question mark.

Cover art

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Jan 11 2015

Frozen Harbor

Published by under Cotuit,General

I’ve had to do this and it is not fun. The way it works is this: you leave the boat in the water through January expecting to do some clamming, then one night the temperatures dip into the teens and you realize your beloved watercraft is about to get locked into the ice. So what to do but don those waders and find some friends and do a little ice breaking?


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Jan 11 2015

The best tree in Cotuit

Published by under Cotuit

There are many good trees in Cotuit, but only this tree makes me happy to see standing year after year. This is at the Bell Farm property managed by the Barnstable Land Trust. My daughter calls it the “Crazy Tree.” My son calls it “The Tim Burton Tree.”

The Tree

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Jan 11 2015

At random…

Published by under General

I know. I suck. I’ve been ignoring this poor blog and that’s not right. So, in no particular order, here’s a dump:

  • Boston Olympic Bid: As an Olympic junkie I’m all in favor. We have the infrastructure with all the collegiate venues available. We’re a big sports town. And I want to see Olympic Rowing on the basin of the Charles. These things aren’t that disruptive to the population. Trust me. Yes there will be a lot of athletes and their families in town. Lots of big brand hospitality programs, but it didn’t kill Beijing, it won’t kill us.
  • Daily Constitutional: I went FitBit before the holidays and also installed a Withings digital scale. I’m trying not to be obsessed with the “quantified self” thing, but I do weird things (like march to Loop Beach in the dark after work) to hit my daily quota of 10K steps. This is all a preliminary phase before getting back on the erg. And no, no CRASH-B’s this year. Paired with a new set of awesome Asolo trekking boots (the Ferrari’s of footware), I am a walking machine. These things are amazing. Got mine under the Christmas tree (that tree is now in the burn pile ready to spark off the annual spring burning of the brush) and I would wear them to bed if I could. They are that comfortable. Walking is the most underrated thing in the world and I prefer to refer to it in 19th century terms as my “constitutional.
  • Banned words: I am repulsed by the following corporate words:
    • Pivot: VC-speak for “your business is failing, now figure out plan B before you run out of cash.”
    • Impactful: shut the fuck up please
    • Content: “content” is dead and makes a book commit suicide every time it is uttered. Engineers who can’t write call whatever their systems “ingest” (another despised word) “content”
    • KPI: they are not key, they don’t perform, and they are noise indicating nothing.
    • and many many more. “omnichannel” needs to be buried. “Inbound marketing” is hooey.
  • Good words: 2015 is the Year of Empathy and doing unto others, etc. Is also the year of getting shit done.
  • Reading list:  I’m going back in time to the marketing wisdom of Regis McKenna and reading his “Relationship Marketing” which merely proves the more things change, the more they remain the same. I am also delighted that Doc Searls and David Weinberger have come back to the Cluetrain Manifesto with some “New Clues.” Their pronouncements on “content” and “native advertising” are worth the read. Son gave me a volume of Rilke poetry which is up next.
  • Movies: saw the Interview on the xBox over the holidays and was ashamed to say it felt like a pretty weak blow for freedom of speech and democracy. Personally I find North Korea to be a good source of entertainment in itself. I know people are starving and there are nukes, but still…… if the best they can do is hack some Hollywood emails then bring it on.
  • Consumer Electronics:  other than the Fitbit, no new toys in my life worth talking about. And no, I don’t miss going to Vegas for CES.
  • Cooking:  I’m teaching myself to cook a decent Tom Kha Gai (Thai coconut chicken soup) thanks to a great cookbook and the tutelage of Acquia’s CEO, Tom Erickson.
  • Boozing: messing around with different single malts. Highland Park is scoring high. Also the Balvenie scotch that ages in old rum barrels is way too sweet. I’m totally a peat freak and keep coming back to good old Talisker.

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Dec 08 2014


Published by under General

A poignant post by Om Malik  that I guess was sparked by my maudlin post on the good old days. Funny how  he celebrates his eight years off the cigs when I posted a snapshot of the entrance to the old Forbes.com newsroom where we’d loiter on the sidewalk smoking his Dunhills talking trash talk about our corporate overlords.

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Dec 06 2014

Note to a new journalist

Published by under Journalism

Hey Kid,

I introduced myself as the “Flak” when you sat down next to me for the media dinner with the executive I was guarding. There’s no use in glossing over the word “flak” with an excrementitious title like “Vice President of Brand Marketing.” I know what you think about 50-something ex-reporters like me who turn into corporate whores. I thought the same thing about them in my 20s. They were the middle-aged burn outs who couldn’t hack a mortgage and college tuition on the thin gruel of an editorial salary; Quislings who betray their knowledge of the secret rituals of a newsroom with them to the executive suite and whisper them into the ears of CEOs, divulging the the secrets of manipulating the press with Jedi mind tricks.

Flak. Mouthpiece. PR professional. What became of old reporters in the early 20th century before Edward Bernays adopted the psychological tricks of his father-in-law, Sigmund Freud, and persuaded the people of America that their weekly Saturday night bath wasn’t enough to prevent them from smelling and in the process sold a lot more soap for his clients at Listerine, the brand that made the word “Halitosis” a nightmare of every Babbitt and Dale Carnegie in the 1920s; thus inventing the art of Public Relations? Did those old hacks suddenly turn into Sidney Falco in The Sweet Smell of Success, going from the hustle of the newsroom and barking “Get me rewrite!” into pay phones, to whispering night club calumnies into the ears of whatever J.J. Hunsecker they doted and depended on?

I know you wonder if that’s the fate that awaits you on your reporter’s road. I wondered about it too. I knew then that people like me didn’t especially like me, or thought my insights were as brilliant as they pretended. I knew my twenty-something powers and influence were vested in the names of the newspapers and magazines I worked for and not my sparkling words or probing mind. A week after I hit the big time and started working for Forbes I reached the chairman of General Motors five minutes after calling the generic switchboard of the company’s Detroit headquarters. He took a call from Forbes. Not from Churbuck.

Your enthusiasm for your beat was like a tonic. “I’d have hired this kid,” I thought as your eyes lit up talking about hackers and botnets and the seamy underside of the Internet. I chased that beat once. It’s fun. It’s challenging. It can make a career. Ask Adam Penenberg.

I asked you about life in a modern Internet newsroom. About the Buzzfeed-ification of the press. Of Nick Denton’s focus on dashboards and traffic. Of your need to not only report the news, check the facts, write the words, but also distribute it — like a digital newsboy — tweeting and “plus-oneing” and cross-linking and  hoping you found the magic combination of keywords and techniques to make Google love your post.

Then you spoke about your influence and the challenge of getting someone at Google to talk to you. “It’s about my audience,” you said. The numbers. The bigger the numbers, the more the influence.”  I couldn’t tell if you were resentful of the old media cows and their 100-year brands, inferring I rather be talking to some old reporter from the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal than a bright guy from Techcrunch or GigaOm. So I probed with a question, begging forgiveness before asking it: “Would you rather be where you are, in the new world working with an awesome content management system, in a hot, hip newsroom. Or would you rather be working that beat for the New York Times?”

You were honest. You picked the Times. I didn’t feel vindicated, only sad that you would probably not have the experience of walking through an airport and seeing your story on the cover of Fortune or Forbes, sitting there for the world to see and read for a week or two. Wistful that your best efforts, doubtlessly as good as mine back when, would slip down the river of news into the memory of the Google. That you knew sticking a numeral in a headline made it perform better than one that didn’t. That no one would give you two months to develop a 10,000 word monster of a story that would make headlines of its own.

It must be grueling. We talked about fact-checking, holding back when there were doubts about the facts, about the shame Newsweek felt when it identified the wrong inventor of BitCoin….the fast twitch Adderal-fueled news cycle where any flak like me can claim to be a Forbes contributor thanks to a new model where any semi-literate can build their Klout score by submitting drek to their LinkedIn feed.

It was edifying for me and I wanted to tell you to take a second to appreciate your beat and to soak it all in. That you were doing what every new generation needs to do, inventing the new way, the new methods and models.

Yes, I’m a flak now. I walked away from the newsroom in 1995 when I filed my last print piece on the retirement of Bill Ziff for Forbes in the twilight of his brilliant career, a long, thoughtful and emotional piece (at least the first version was) where he said from the wisdom of his years, “Business saved me from a life of abstraction.”

I’m not sure what those words really meant — I think it was a comment on how the death of his father while he was a student studying abstract philosophy in Germany pulled him out of academia and into the hurly-burly world of New York publishing — but, like my other mentor, Jim Michaels, who pressed into my hands a VHS tape of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara just to hear Undershaft the arms merchant’s defense of profit and progress,  they were passing on a torch and understood that the raw talent and energy of a twenty-five year old is a very short walk away from taking on the same solemn responsibility to do the same with the next generation.

The trick is not to be portentous about it, because nothing is worst than bad advice delivered under the veil of earned wisdom.

I wish I could offer encouraging words about the future of journalism, but it’s no less under-appreciated and challenging than it was in 1980 when I wrote my first piece (on a sewer bond hearing which my editor cut in half and said, “Don’t cry kid. This isn’t a short story about granny’s funeral you know.”). And I hope it is every bit as weird and fun as it was for me — there’s no better place I can think of than a newsroom on a good news day for, as General Gavin said to the nervous paratrooper approaching the drop-zone over Normandy  on D-Day: “Buck up son. Don’t be nervous. Don’t you like jumping out of airplanes?” And the soldier said, “No sir, I don’t. But I like hanging around guys who do.”


I walked past the first offices of Forbes.com the next morning, the entrance to 85 Fifth Avenue where a couple dozen of us in 1995 made up a new medium through trial and error. We knew it was likely going to be the so-called best years of our lives and thankfully we had the energy of our youth to pull through late nights of hard work and even harder play. The names that passed through that drab open newsroom on the second floor on Fifth Ave. went on to do even more marvelous things. We were you once and now you are us. Good luck. You will walk by that Tribeca loft in thirty years, look up and remember when the tidal wave crested and carried you onwards. And don’t worry about being a flak, it’s actually a ton of fun. Trust me.



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