November 15, 2014

The Gift of Great Radio

WNRN has been a mainstay in Charlottesville since 1996. I recall discovering the station on a Saturday morning back then during their Grateful Dead show - two hours of live dead. It was love at first listen.

Years later I moved to Charlottesville and listened on a regular basis. I found out that NRN plays much more than the Dead. They play about everything you can imagine from acoustic to alternative to hip hop to 80s to bluegrass - music you won’t hear on commercial radio.

And that’s the other great thing about NRN - they don’t play commercials. They are listener-supported. Twice a year they do on-air fund drives. I started donating a few years ago, but this summer I signed up for their evergreen program. I donate 5 dollars a month for as long as I want. It’s a simple way to give. It’s also a simple way to get cool things too.

NRN has a VIP program for evergreen and other regular members. Every Monday we receive an email with an opportunity to win prizes or be included in special private events. Through the VIP program since Labor Day, I’ve seen Delta Spirit play a catered private show, had lunch with The Head and The Heart, and take my family for a catered dinner at First Colony Winery with a performance for kids by a local duo, Tom and Mary. I also won tickets to see Kings of a Belmont play at The Southern. I repeat - all since Labor Day and all for 5 bucks a month.

NRN is the best radio station that I’ve ever regularly listened to. That alone deserved my donation. Now they’ve raised the bar. Their staff and volunteers have done a wonderful job with these VIP events and giveaways. I plan to increase my donation and if you listen to NRN you should become a VIP member. If you haven’t listened to NRN before now is a good time. The Grateful Dead and Phriends show kicks off at 9 this morning.

October 21, 2014

Learn By Example

Looking forward to Charlottesville’s Tom Tom Founders Festival by looking back at Brooklyn Beta.

I’m not a conference junkie, but I make sure to hit one, maybe two, a year. Brooklyn Beta has been my choice of conferences the last two years. Fictive Kin runs the conference and does a tremendous job. It is the best conference I’ve attended.

Last year I volunteered my time for Charlottesville’s Tom Tom Founders festival by contributing to the programming (securing speakers, not writing code). Tom Tom and Brooklyn Beta are totally different events, but there is one big overarching similarity. Brooklyn Beta celebrates making/working on something that you love. That’s why many people become entrepreneurs. Tom Tom’s innovation track focuses on founders, start-ups and entrepreneurship. Two weeks ago, Tom Tom launched Founding Cville, a program that recognizes founders from our community.

Brooklyn Beta was such a good conference because:

  1. It was extremely well run. I mentioned that already, I know. Hats off to Chris and Cameron and the entire team behind it.
  2. It was not too expensive. The price was $299.
  3. It had an atmosphere of intrigue and surprise. There is very little promotion leading up to the event. The website is always very simple. You also have no idea who is speaking until they take the stage.
  4. It celebrated Brooklyn through its vendors and sponsors.
  5. We, the attendees, were always the focus. Instead of head shots and bios of the speakers, the website displayed all of the attendees’ Twitter bios. The conference provided long breaks for us to socialize and meet new people. We had two hours for lunch, an hour in the late afternoon for beer, whiskey, and rainbow sprinkles, and the first talk didn’t even start until 11 giving us plenty of time to walk around, drink some coffee, and see who was there.

I think the innovation portion of Tom Tom can take a few cues from Brooklyn Beta. Obviously celebrating local has always been in the forefront. The fall block party last month was a great example. That could spill over to the innovation track with a local food truck serving lunch and a local beer sponsor providing afternoon beverages. Give the attendees an atmosphere to engage with one another instead of making it all about the speakers and the topics.

Even though Charlottesville is a great place to visit, the fact remains that it will always be much more difficult to get here than Brooklyn or Austin or Portland. Thus it’s going to be harder to pull in people from outside our region to attend. So let’s focus on getting a few out-of-towers as the speakers to entertain and enlighten the local (and regional) design and tech community here as attendees. The best chance to put fannies in seats is by targeting local design and tech professionals In Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Richmond, Culpeper, Lynchburg, Roanoke, and DC.

Finally I think the innovation track should provide talks that are focused on stories of creating, building, and founding something that someone was driven to do. The brand name doesn’t matter. What matters is their story. Find the best stories to inspire the crowd, mix in Mudhouse coffee, The Bavarian Chef for lunch, background music courtesy of WNRN, Wild Wolf on tap, and that crowd will keep coming back to celebrate entrepreneurship in Charlottesville on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.

June 23, 2013

Off The Road

Like many, I grew up taking Griswold family-style vacations. Our route typically covered I-95 from Northern Florida to the Jersey Shore and sometimes all the way to Maine. I loved it.

Then in college, I would drive back home every break - 600 miles each way. I took plenty of other road trips too - mainly to see my college football team play or to follow the Grateful Dead & Phish. Jacksonville to Chicago. Miami to New Hampshire. Chattanooga to New Orleans. Blacksburg to Key West. DC to Vegas. Those were just some of my travels on the road during my 20s.

During that time period something happened that turned my love for the road into fear. I started having panic attacks behind the wheel, specifically as I approached and drove over bridges and overpasses. On one spring day I had to drive from DC to Philly and back for a job interview. I had a panic attack on the way there. I spent the rest of the day with anticipatory anxiety that was building until I got in the car again for the trip home. I took another route in an attempt to avoid another attack. But as I approached and drove over the Girard Point Bridge, I thought I was going to die. It was the worst panic attack I had ever experienced. I haven’t driven over a bridge of similar size since. That was 16 years ago.

Things got so bad shortly after that trip that I felt anxious driving over small overpasses near my home. I started seeing psychologists, taking medications, practicing relaxation techniques. My initial question was why. Why am I afraid of the road after loving it for so many years? I also was ashamed and embarrassed. Until this point in my life, I felt like I could do anything in the world without anyone’s help. After the panic attacks started, I became confused and depressed because I believed that asking someone else to help with something so simple as driving was a sign of weakness. For a long time, my girlfriend (who later became my wife) was the only one who knew. Without her support, I don’t know what I would have done.

Years since that bridge over Philly, I finally learned to live with my anxiety. I still have it. I still avoid certain routes. I still can’t help my wife drive during certain stretches of our own family vacations. But I am enjoying the road again. I stopped being ashamed and stopped asking Why me?”. When I finally started telling others about my driving issues - typically because I needed their help driving - everyone was supportive. Whether it was a close friend, family member, co-worker, or even a client, they were all understanding. Their positive reactions helped me along a road to recovery. It helped me become comfortable with a problem that I was so uncomfortable with. It helped me realize that it’s ok to ask others for help. It helped give me the strength to write about my issue publicly, which I decided to do for the first time when Medium posted this weekend’s writing challenge on road trips. It helped me enjoy the road again even if I can’t grab the wheel like I used to.

June 4, 2013

The Family Network

How Facebook has become useful to me again

Love it or hate it, Facebook still has one thing that no other social network has - your family. I’m not just referring to your immediate family. What about all those aunts, uncles, and cousins? Do they all tweet or blog or pin? I doubt it, but I bet they are on Facebook.

Of all things, my work introduced me to Facebook in 2007. My company completed one of the first Facebook applications for the launch of Facebook pages that fall. I opened up my Facebook account to prepare for the project and did what most people did - friended” everyone I could find. Since then, I’ve deactivated my Facebook account at least twice, maybe three times for reasons that are documented ad nasuem in countless What I hate/left Facebook” posts. The bottom line is that I don’t want to use Facebook to stay in touch with real friends. I prefer other methods.

But, I’m on it again though and family is the reason.

When my father was growing up, his extended family was his immediate family. He lived with a couple of his cousins. They all grew up in the same or nearby neighborhoods in north Jersey. Then parts of the family started to move away. During my generation, the family was based in Florida, North Carolina, and Jersey. Still though, we would take the station wagon up I-95 every summer to be with my aunts, uncles, and cousins for weeks at the Jersey shore. Those summers are some of my fondest memories growing up.

Then I went off to college and drifted apart from my extended family. That was twenty years ago. There is a whole new generation now and my kids only see my cousin’s kids at weddings and funerals. They don’t even know who they are. That close bond that existed within the extended family during my Dad’s generation no longer exists, but my desire to have one still does.

Enter Facebook. Like everyone else, my family members started to join. They eventually became the only reason why I checked Facebook, but I still hated it. Updates from my family would get lost among the 350 friends” and hundreds of pages I liked. I tried fiddling with filters and settings and preferences, but I just didn’t have time to constantly tweak my Facebook account. So that’s when I decided to unfriend and unlike everyone and everything that wasn’t family. That left me with 22 friends and nothing liked. Now I don’t miss an update from my family. Granted, there are only a few a day, but they all have meaning. All the noise generated by friending 350 people and 200 pages is gone and the bond with my extended family is starting to grow again. On top of that, I can’t get this information anywhere else. All thanks to the social network I love to hate.