Happy Birthday, Facebook: A Thank You

Happy Birthday, Facebook: A Thank You

There is much navel-gazing going around about Facebook today, because today was its 10th birthday. Where will it go? What will it become? What has it done to our society?

While I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, I do have one very, very strong memory of Facebook from a very sad time a very long time ago… a memory and a use case I felt compelled to share, because that’s what you do on an important birthday, you share important feelings and memories to mark the occasion. While my feelings about Facebook are many and complex, its servers are the only place on this earth that friends, classmates and professors still exist and I will never, ever, ever forget what they did for us without even knowing it on what was absolutely the worst day and the absolute saddest week of our lives.

tl;dr Dear Facebook, Thank you for turning Maroon and Orange–I’ll never forget it. Love, a Hokie

Is it half empty or half full? Glass edition.

So this happened today:

White girl wearing Google Glass
Watch out, y’all– white girl wearing Google Glass!

And I’m still not quite sure what to think about it, though I do have a few very important questions for its makers about functionalities that, let’s be honest, should just be standard on all internet-enabled devices:

A little known fact about me: I’m horrible with new technology. At first, I approach it, whatever it is– a coding language, some SQL database thingy, a new app– and I am full of “Ugh! WTF is this?” only to turn around a day or so later and give it another try. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was essite when I got my hands on them and put them on– because I was, how could I not be?!– but I didn’t get that magical transformative feeling that I’ve heard so very many people describe when they got their hands on Glass for the first time.

I’m well aware that my opinion doesn’t matter on this, and that there are many, many others out there ready to tell me what I should think about Glass and why I should think it, but I had a thing on my face today and I’m not quite sure what it was really about. It sat on my head funny, it was totally confusing to use, it didn’t take directions well (and we all know I deal with that) and I just can’t see wearable devices making sense unless the experience is just right. I’ll give it a few more chances, of course, but I didn’t love the distraction that it created or that it very literally got in the way of my being able to focus on and interact with the world around me.

My Love Affair with Betaworks

sweetheart confetti

If you’ve been anywhere near me on Twitter in the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed one thing: I can’t stop raving about how much I love Betaworks.

Have you ever played Dots? Have you shortened a link with bit.ly, saved an article for later reading with Instapaper,* used the new Digg, clipped a quote with Findings, or chased down a much sought after GIF on Giphy? If you have, or you’re crossing your fingers and toes in anticipation of their Google Reader replacement (because I am not down with Feedly, oh HALE no) you’ve used or hoped for a product in the Betaworks family, one of my most favorite ever companies that builds and ships beautiful, beautiful products. (Note: Instapaper was a Betaworks acquisition, and thus was not a product of their own creation. Thanks for helping me keep the facts straight, Allen!)

When we think of engineers, we very rarely speak of them in the same terms that we use for people commonly accepted as creative– artists, musicians, architects, writers, etc. Most of the reasons that we don’t consider our engineers and coders creative, however, have to do with the incredibly poor state of web literacy, and a widespread miscomprehension of the basic underpinnings of the web and the many technologies we use as a part of it every single day.

The building and shipping of technology products is both an act of creation and a creative act. Every bit of technology that we use on the web was created by a person– or by many, many persons. There is very, very much creativity there, behind the scenes, though that creativity is not signified through the commonplace tools that serve as tokens of an artist or creative. Instead, the invisible tools that solve the problems of a technologist– Python, C++, PhP, Javascript, Coffeescript and Node.js– are all unspoken languages filled with the awkward use of semicolons, parentheses, brackets and quotation marks that mean next to nothing to the rest of us, yet power so very many things that have become necessary parts of our daily lives.

When it comes to technology companies and the products they build, it is no surprise that I am full of opinions. Being on the technologist side of the equation– I’m forever teaching myself to code, though I’m not quite there yet–  I am the first to analyze the hell out of a product, a company, a terms of service agreement or a privacy policy to determine whether it is good for users. One of the first ways I can tell whether technologists care about their userbase is through product and Ui/UX design; a well thought out user experience and feature set can tell a user everything they need to know about the people behind the product they’re using. (The second way to tell whether technologists give any fucks care about their users is through security– given my propensity for security engineers, however, that is a whole ‘nother post for another day.)

All of that being said, it’s incredibly, incredibly rare for me to develop the kind of affinity I have developed for Betaworks for any company, and yet they have absolutely won my heart. Every single Betaworks product I’ve used (even the ones in beta!) I’ve loved, and every time, I still walk away thinking “Damn, that was good.” That they care about their users in the most important ways is easy to see. And as an avid reader, how could I not love a company that has this to say about the act of reading?

“We believe that reading as an activity still matters: the display and delivery may change (from paper to big screens to small screens and tablets, from human carriers to wires to wireless), but reading remains one of the most wonderful parts of civilization. We’ve bet on reading in the past and we’re going to keep making those bets.

No startup nor codebase nor user interface nor user experience is perfect– they are the work of humans, after all– but together, these things can be studied and analyzed to determine whether an idea, a company or a team are deserving of the time a user may invest in their product. When it comes to technology, the better the design and the user experience (and the better the security), the better the chance that the technologists behind the product care about their users.  When it comes to Betaworks, more than any other group of builders I’ve seen out there, they just get it– they nail it every single time, even when they’re experimenting and rebuilding and launching, and even when they pivot a product entirely. I won’t say that they can do no wrong– everyone, everywhere can still come up with a way to do something wrong– but I have absolutely fallen for their artistry, their creative spirit, their cleverness because it is all so very prevalent in everything that they do. I’m incredibly proud that (because they funded the company that I work for) that they are somehow part of my startup family tree, though they may need to apologize to Couple for blowing my mind and rendering me useless if I uncover another artist-inspired dots badge, say… one by Damien Hirst for getting a score of eleventy million.

Finally, the good news [#52weeks]

After what has been one of my favorite weeks since moving to San Francisco 2+ years ago, I finally have the time to sit down and share the news:

HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP
Approximation of self-portrait while essite = complete. (Image by Allie Brosh)

After taking some time to find my place in the world, I’m incredibly excited absolutely thrilled to share that I’ve joined the team at Couple as their first Community Manager. The app is a messaging app, availible for iOS and Android, and is designed to strengthen the bond between two people by serving as their main channel of communication. (Note: it works well even if you aren’t in a romantic relationship with the other person)

When it comes to work– a place where, depending what’s going on, I could end up spending 40-80 hours a week (otherwise known as ALL of my time)– there are three things that are very important to me:

  1. I have to believe in the product,
  2. I have to believe in the team (and their motivations), and
  3. I have to be in a position where I can make the world a better place.

In addition to having all three of these workplace dreams fulfilled, I can say that I absolutely adore my coworkers to bits. I’m proud to join the team and be a small part of an incredible family tree of investors and technologists. Having shared the app with [dude] for quite some time (holy crap did we thumbkiss forever), I can firsthand attest to how much strong and deeper of a bond it created between us. I couldn’t be happier to work for a product that I truly believe in, and it has been an absolute pleasure and privilege to get to know the community for which I will begin supporting and advocating over the next few weeks.

For some of you, I know that this raises an important question: what about edtech? Are you gone for good? Because of my adventures with the Plaid Avenger, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for education technology, it is part of my DNA. I will continue to support Boyer + Katie in any way I can, and I will continue to participate in the edtech community, to attend EdSurge meetups, and to advocate for thoughtful technology integration in schools. Will I go back one day? Only time will tell. But for now and for the forseeable future, I am happy to be in a place where my  contributions are valued and where I am truly needed.  

Over the past few months, I’ve been on an incredible journey to find my place in the world and to answer, once and for all, the questions I have about faith, love, and of what happiness is made. One of the things I’ve learned about myself in that time is this: love is the absolute most important thing to me in my life. It can’t be an accident that, at a time when I am very much thinking about love, I am in the position to positively impact the love communicated by over a million people each day. Even if the mystery of who I will love that way is nowhere near solved, I could not be any better situated to embark on this particular leg of my journey.

The Thermodynamics of Tears [#52weeks]

In case the internet hasn’t said it yet, I’m going to say it here: This week was a no good, very bad week from hell and I would like for it to be gone, very, very much gone and over as soon as possible or else.

I haven’t quite figured out what the “or else” part of that statement should look like, but if you have any ideas, please let me know.

Somewhere around 11:30pm on Friday night, I lost my ability to cope with this very bad week. After pepper-spraying a would-be assailant on my way home from a birthday gathering, then spending the rest of the night locked in my apartment and on FaceTime with a friend, my Saturday wasn’t much in terms of productivity, either. And though I made it to church in one piece this morning (exhausted), somewhere right before the homily I devolved into inconsolable flood of tears that just would not end. I cried and cried and cried I kept crying until, and at some point, I had absolutely no idea what I was crying about anymore. An hour and a half later, I had cried enough to self-soothe, and with my very puffy face and a very large post-cry headache, I reached a point where maybe, just maybe I just could (even) with today.

Whenever I find myself in this state– tear-stained and puffy, with a lingering headache– I can’t help but think of everything involved in my fit of tears in terms of science.

It all starts when I think of emotion as a system. When I apply the laws of thermodynamics to systems– these laws, by the way, are very much about order and disorder– it all falls in place and all of the crying starts to make sense in a very abstract way. Why I gravitate towards science when I get a huge case of the feels, I will never know (actually, wait, yes I do!) but here is the way my thinking generally works:

  • The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transferred/ transformed into one form from another.
  • The second law of thermodynamics states that as energy is transferred from one form to another in a system, some energy is lost. (We usually refer to this as the law of entropy, and the energy is usually lost in the form of heat.)

When I apply this to emotions– remember, we’re considering emotions as a system here, nothing else– it works like this:

  • The first law of emotions is that they cannot be created or destroyed, but they can be transferred or transformed into other emotions.
  • The second law of emotions is that they can be transferred from one emotion to another, but in this process, some energy is lost.

For me, thus, it follows that when I get an overwhelmingly major case of the feels, particularly the negative ones, they can’t be destroyed, only transformed into something else. And because systems are always moving towards a state of equilibrium– stability may be a more fitting word to use here– it’s the job of that system, when I’m overwhelmed, to transfer my feelings into something else entirely. When there is too much disorder going on, whether that disorder is happy or sad, my system can transforms that energy into tears or butterflies in my stomach or some other physical reaction (entropy) or whatever else it takes to make the system self-stabilize. (As the energy– or whatever the damned feeling is that’s taken over and wreaked havoc on me– decreases, so too does the disorder, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing). Once enough of that energy is lost, things return back to normal. We may feel pain again or we may remember the pain we suffered in its original state, but it will never be as strong as it once was when its energy first entered our systems.

When I think about it, I don’t think that it’s an accident that we share tears or other similar reactions as a response to sadness or to trauma of any kind. I know that the crying doesn’t fix everything, that it isn’t a real answer to all of the sad and scary and frustrating and terrible things that happen in the world, but is an important step in transforming one kind of emotion into another.

I’ve often wondered why, when I’m upset, I find myself turning to scientific laws for consolation. When it comes to the processes behind my tears, though, when the actual feelings are ripping into me, it’s so very hard to have the faith that they will get better. Sometimes, especially after weeks like this past one, though, it’s a relief to think that systems, whatever they may be, are constantly moving towards a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, towards a place where things “get better” or become “optimal.”

I can tell myself all day long things will to get better, but it’s difficult to have faith and truly believe that in the face of fear and bad feelings. It’s better when science says so, because I cannot, cannot, cannot argue with science in the face of reason.

“No one deserves a tragedy.” (4/16/13 edition, for Boston) [#52weeks]

After yesterday’s bombing during the Boston Marathon, we have another date in April by which to mark a tragedy. April 15th is theirs. April 16th belongs to those who were killed at Virginia Tech. April 19th is for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and for Waco, TX. April 20th is for those who were killed at Columbine High.

This is not a very good week for us– a very not good week for us indeed.

Much of yesterday’s media coverage and social media discussion encouraged focusing on the good that prevailed in the face of the terror that has killed three and injured 165+ more. Look to the first responders who immediately ran towards the bombing to help those who had been hurt. Look to those who opened their homes to runners who were unable to make it home because their cars and hotels were inside of the evacuation zone. Look to those who, immediately after running a marathon, gave blood, offered their services as doctors and nurses and as concerned human beings to those who needed it most. Look to the good in the world, it has been said, and in this they are not wrong.

After six years of knowing the pain that comes with senseless tragedy, the only thing I know is that I know nothing at all. I have found in this time, though, that if you look for it, you can find hope and solace in the people around you. There are millions of people who you’ve never met who are thinking of you and who are praying for you, many of whom who want to help and will do so if they find a way. In time, the physical wounds (if you have any) will heal– and so too the other more indiscernible wounds will follow.

And if all else fails, a wonderful little band called Guster sings it best:

Hang on
Hang on

When all is shattered
When all your hope is gone
Who knows
How long
There is a twilight
A nighttime and a dawn

We break
We bend
With hand in hand
When hope is gone
Just hang on
Hang on

“No one deserves a tragedy” or, the end of life as I knew it [#52weeks]

We’re going to have a little talk about Sunday, April 15, 2007… the calm before the storm that erupted six years ago when 32 students were murdered in cold blood on my college campus. We’re going to talk about it because it was the last day of my normal life– I didn’t know it then– and it is the last time I remember life without the anxiety, the heartbreak, the loss, the panic, the PTSD and everything else I’ve had to work so hard to overcome since that terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.

We’re going to talk about it because it was Reema’s birthday, and because Reema was a classmate in an Urban Affairs and Planning Course that I took during my junior year to fufill some Core Curriculum requirements towards graduation. We were in the same 10:10 class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and she was one of the younger students in the French Language and Literature program at Virginia Tech. In addition to being a gorgeous young lady of Lebanese descent, she was smart, she was passionate about dance, and she was incredibly excited about spending her summer working in France.

There’s not very much that can be said about the day itself, except that it was cold and rainy, and that a friend of mine driving through town had stopped in for a late lunch at my favorite restaurant, the Cellar. That Sunday was the rain date for the International Street Festival held by that the Council for International Student Organizations that had taken place for some 22 years, an event that had to be called for rain and moved indoors because of unseasonable weather. Having had fond memories of every other International Street Fair weekend being sunny and beautiful, I was upset that the hours I had spent making Mousse au Chocolat and crepes with others for the French Club fundraiser may have been spent in vain. Despite the crappy weather (so cold! so windy!), though, turnout seemed to hold and the French Club and the rest of the participating organizations were packed into the Commonwealth Ballroom in Squires Center. I was late the event, as usual, but I made it just in time to Reema, my classmate, in the middle of a troupe of Lebanase dancers on stage in traditional costume, doing what she loved the most.

Just days later, I realized that Reema’s parents were there too when she was dancing on stage. They had driven four hours from Northern Virginia to see her dance and to celebrate her birthday that weekend. Through my friends, I found out that her parents were sure to let her know that they loved her very much and that they were very proud of her before driving back home.

They didn’t know it then– and I didn’t know it when I saw her, either– but that day, her birthday, was the last time that any of us would see her alive. The next morning, not even 18 hours later, she was murdered with eleven of her classmates on second floor of Norris Hall in Madame Couture-Nowak’s French class. In total, 30 people lost their lives that morning for no reason other than that they were in the right place– in class, as they should have been– at the wrong time.

After the deaths of so many of my classmates that day, I’ve never looked at an empty seat in a classroom the same way again.

When I think about what happened the next day, my heart breaks every time that my mind wanders to her parents and begins to imagine how they must have felt the next morning when they found out that their daughter had been murdered just hours after they had last seen her. They were so lucky to have had that last day together– so fortunate to have been able to say to their daughter on what was the last day of her life that they were so proud of her and they loved her very much– but so, so unfortunate to have had her taken away from them in such a horrible, horrible way.

On this day, the sixth anniversary of the last “normal” day of my life, I can’t help but think that we could have prevented the parents in every other shooting rampage that has taken place since of the unbearable cruelty and pain of outliving their children. In a convocation speech made just two days after our most horrible loss, poet Nikki DiGiovanni reminded us in her speech that “no one deserves a tragedy.”

We will prevail, she said, and we have. Never forget, she said, and we haven’t forgotten. No one deserves a tragedy, she said, and yet they still happen with frightening regularity.Why, people, why? Why aren’t we doing everything in our power to keep this from happening again?