Please Fire Me (Don't Actually)

When I was in New York, I interned for Adam Chromy of Artists & Artisans, a literary agency- but one with larger media aspirations. After moving to San Francisco, Adam called me up and asked if I would help research for some humorous websites he wanted to created in the vein of FMyLife, Texts From Last Night and Overheard in New York. Adam's first idea was to make a site for people stuck in terrible jobs; to give them a place to vent and while doing so, entertain the rest of the internet. The idea intrigued me a lot because at the time I was unemployed but still felt pretty good about my life. I was more sympathetic to my friends who were stuck in jobs they hated because they needed the money.

Fast forward to January 2010, which is when Please Fire Me launched and started to grow quickly. It got some press on local radio stations and eventually in March, got a book deal with Citadel Press. The sister site, Please Dump Me (for people in crappy relationships) launched in March. Both websites are maintained and run by Adam and Jill Morris, and I'm very proud of the job they've done. I'm very curious to see how far these two fun ideas can go, please check them out:

From the TEDBlog: Book review

One of my latest assignments for the TEDBlog relates to what I currently do for them: reading and recommending books on subjects related to Technology, Entertainment or Design for their book club. Please keep in mind that this example (reading industrialist Ray C. Anderson's book) was a separate assignment from the book club. Below I've included the text of my review and here's the link to the original post.

Ray Anderson (watch his TEDTalk), the chairman and founder of carpet company Interface Inc., is part of a new industrial revolution: one that demands ecological awareness. Simply conforming to government regulations didn’t satisfy Anderson, who has made the march toward total sustainability an integral part of his company’s customer appeal. For Interface, being “green” is not just a trend or a term, it’s a serious way to curb production costs and make quality flooring.

In 1995 Anderson challenged himself and his employees to hold Interface to the highest ecological standards possible: “to take nothing from the Earth that can’t be replaced by the earth.” Interface proudly promotes its Mission Zero -- the company’s goal of achieving total sustainability by the year 2020. This mountain of a task is the subject of Anderson’s new book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist. In it, he chronicles the thought process leading to this radical innovation, the opposition faced, and how the results have (so far) validated this turn. The book is a guide for entrepreneurs who are looking for new models of production (especially ones with environmentally friendly attitudes) in a market that’s always reinventing itself.

Interface’s journey is far from over, and Anderson knows this. While he admits that promoting Mission Zero may have given Interface an edge in the market, he still wants to see more companies join the cause. One of his most persuasive techniques are the amazing statistics he drops; such as that since 2003, Interface has “manufactured and sold over 83 million square yards of carpet with no net global-warming effect.”

Anderson’s business perspective comes through in every paragraph; his concern for the planet’s well-being pulses through the page. Ever the optimist, he insists the human species can find a way to be productive and not destructive. The only thing inhibiting this is our own apprehension to hold ourselves to such high standards. This leads to Anderson’s ultimate message: Sticking with the status quo is no longer an option, and we must learn to truly maintain the finite resources we’re lucky to still have.

Read an excerpt from Chapter Two of Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, called “The Power of One Good Question,” which describes the impetus for Interface’s trek up Mount Sustainability.

Download the excerpt >>

From the TEDBlog: YouTube specials

A couple of times while writing for the TEDBlog, I wrote what I termed a "YouTube special." This always included an embedded YouTube clip, followed by relevant text or links, and then some pointing to an appropriate or related TEDTalk (either embedded or not).

Here are two example posts: one about the anniversary of the Apollo moon launch (which features the clip of JFK's "We will go to the moon" speech at Rice University), and the other about a PBS special regarding economist and TED speaker
Eleni Gabre-Madhin.

From the TEDBlog: Event coverage

Every now and then, the TEDBlog will post a summary or some information on a TED-related event. This could be anything from a TEDx conference-- which is a beta project that lets people host their own TED-style event (more info on TEDx right here)-- to a former TED speaker on tour. I covered two of these events, TEDxKibera and Chef Ann Cooper's lecture tour during the summer.

TEDxKibera (photo on the right by Wilfred Mworia) is really worth reading up on: it was a cool event made even more interesting by the fact that it was held in Africa's largest slum. And I just happened to be in Washington D.C long enough to catch Ann Cooper's lecture, which illuminated the fact that most schools are only given a lunch budget of one dollar per child. Amazing and shocking stuff to say the least.

From the TEDBlog: On posting a new TEDTalk and a speaker bio

When posting a new TEDTalk, the text that goes in the blog follows a set formula. It aims to introduce the main concept in the talk, the speaker behind it and entice readers to view the whole thing. After the text, the video is embedded and links to RSS feeds, podcasts, Twitter and Facebook go below the embed. Here's what I wrote about Daniel Kraft's 2009 TEDTalk (I've included the video above):
A better way to harvest bone marrow: Daniel Kraft on

The stem cells found in bone marrow are one of the most valuable resources your body produces (they can help treat terminal diseases such as Alzheimer's and leukemia), but normally the process of retrieving that marrow is a many-injection procedure that takes time, money ... and pain. Physician and innovator
Daniel Kraft has revolutionized this process with his minimally-invasive Marrow Miner, which requires only one puncture and accumulates ten times as much marrow compared to the old manner. (Recorded at TED2009, February 2009 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: 4:14)
I also wrote philosopher Alain de Botton's speaker bio for TED Global 2009, which you can read right here. His talk on the philosophy of success is also worth watching and turned into one of the hits from the conference.

From the TEDBlog: News Items

Occasionally for TED, I'd cover recent news, mostly working off press releases or kits. This generally involved relaying the news in a quick summary and pairing the text with an appropriate TED Talk (some were easier than others). Here are three examples, the first of which covers the recently found "missing link" fossil. That specific blog post set the comment record on TED's Blog. I guess this is proof the evolution versus creation debate still rages on.

TED's Open Translation Project

One of the main projects I worked on while at TED was their Open Translation Project. The OTP launched in May with the goal of helping spread the ideas held within TED's hundreds of talks. As of now (Fall 2009), there are more than two thousand translations available in over fifty languages. I helped manage more than one thousand translators for the OTP and worked with the our software partner, DotSUB, to sort out bugs in the system. The OTP is still going strong and has become a vital tool in spreading TEDTalks around the globe.

From the TEDBlog: Twitter Snapshots

During the TED Global 2009 Conference in Oxford, I spent many early mornings scouring Twitter for reaction from those watching the conference via a live webstream. The picture (featuring Magnus Larsson, photo taken by James Duncan Davidson) gives you a brief idea of how they looked when published.

Here are links to some of the more interesting posts. I personally wrote over twenty during the conference so I'll spare you from scrolling through too many links:

A sports writing sample from

Every once in a while I'll contribute to, a sports website that focuses on the business side of games. Here's my most recent contribution regarding the Washington Nationals:

Finally Good Business Sense
Published on 8/20/09

For a somewhat long-suffering Nationals fan (five years and counting) this has been a memorable week. Not since the first half of the 2005 season has there been this much excitement surrounding baseball in the nation’s capital. This is not to say the excitement now is at the same level it was back then (let’s face it, the team on the field still sucks); however, those who have stuck around with the franchise should realize the last few months featured several good business decisions.

Jim Bowden’s “resignation” was the start of it all. He seemed to attract embarrassing events and is much better suited to being a broadcaster. Giving Mike Rizzo the “acting” tag helped the franchise regain some immediate credibility around the league. This is the very same credibility the team risked losing if it didn’t hire Rizzo full-time. He’s got a fair gaggle of fans in various front offices and slighting him would have made any new general manager’s job a bit tougher. Stan Kasten will work great with Rizzo and the Lerners will love his shrewd and efficient moves.

Speaking of the Lerners, it’s good to see them putting their money to good use by signing Stephen Strasburg-- the 102 mph fireballer wunderkind, future starter in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series and probable savior of the planet from global warming (the sarcasm here is to remind us all that the kid is just that, a kid-- lets see how he handles the Pacific Coast League before anointing him further). The Lerners are the richest owners in baseball, nearly triple what Steinbrenner’s worth, and are finally starting to act like it.

Chelsea Piers, Tyson’s Corner and White Flint Malls (ventures either entirely or partially owned by the family) are still going strong despite this recession, so there’s no reason to expect the dollar flow to dry up. Signing Strasburg for a substantial deal (even if it was below what we all expected Scott Boras wanted) proves that the team won’t hesitate to draft Bryce Harper next year if it finishes with the worst record again.

While it’s too soon to speculate on next year’s draft it’s nice to have people in the front office who are ready to hold the players accountable. Rizzo’s public ripping of Daniel Cabrera (“I was tired of watching him”) and trading of the constantly dogging-it Lastings Milledge to make way for the more talented Elijah Dukes is refreshing after dealing with Bowden who collected undertalented outfielders as if his life depended on it (see Kearns, Austin). All these moves since Bowden’s departure show the fan base that the owners do care about fielding a winning team. Rumor has it they are quite adamant about avoiding one hundred losses, which seems silly to worry about but at least it shows passion for the game.

This Strasburg hype is good for the team, even if he doesn’t pan out (I just knocked on wood, spit three times and bought a rabbit’s foot) because DC fans are known for their passivity-- except when it comes to football-- and this hype gives us all something to argue passionately about. I’m betting that if the Redskins struggle this season, DC-area fans will want a new team to root for and that’s when I think the Nats will pick up a lot of fans. Investing in the team now is a smart move by the Lerners, because they’ve potentially ignited a turn in fan momentum that people will want to jump on (we’ll call this a pre-bandwagon spark).

For these past two seasons, the Nationals have been consistently down in the dumps, both on and off the field. Now it seems like the only place left to go is up, in attendance and in wins. Here’s hoping this rings true.

From the New York Times Magazine

Published on 9/24/07

A response to Rick Perlstein's "
What's the matter with college?"

“College as America used to understand it is coming to an end”… and good riddance I say. Mr. Perlstein pushes this quote as a thesis within his commentary. And guess what? It gives off an extremely negative connotation. His piece, after all, is titled, “What’s the Matter with College?” and goes on to suggest that contemporary students have a bad case of intellectual impotence. While I agree with Mr. Perlstein in his point that the perception of college in America is changing, what I disagree with is his argument- that the result of this is something to lament. The decline of higher education’s effect on national culture is actually giving way to something much more significant, a growing consciousness that enables discussion rather than demonstration.

Our notion of college is all mixed up because this is the state of the lives we lead. This country no longer has the powerful all-knowing presence that the baby-boomers grew up with. Just as wars have been changing, from trench battles to IEDS to economics- so have the tactics for instigating change. Thanks to this little thing called the internet, public opinion can be voiced and manipulated in so many ways. This creates a weird wonder of how-to-get-a-point-across when it seems like everything has been done. From sit-ins to hunger strikes, the tools that the baby boomers used for drawing attention to issues on campus have become somewhat dated. Not to say that they are ineffective, but that other mediums have arisen. Blogs of all sorts have essentially reinvented pamphlet literature and allowed the educated to get themselves and their views out in the open. Blogs don’t have the same shock effect as say, a human chain preventing a bulldozer from passing, but that’s because the internet and blogs have allowed for the introduction of a new battle technique- subtlety.

The days for loud demonstrations are gone, we have been taught since Montessori to listen and reason things out. We are being educated and raised by the people who fought for civil rights, freedom of speech; in one word, equality. We look to work things out with discussions, the way our parents wished they could have with the people they were struggling against. Our intellectual liberation is different then that of our parents because it has been effectively handed down to us in lessons of don’t-hit-your-brother-style-diplomacy.

Sadly, we live in an age where the word “compromise” has become associated with weakness. But this (as Perlstein accurately points out) is a country where people are forced into extremes despite drastically divided opinions and needs. It’s been a one-dimensional two-party system for far too long and change will only come when the moderate step up and work cohesively. Granted, this might be a tough concept to sell to college students who know everything about anything (even if we don’t). Slowly but surely, bipartisanship across political, economic and societal lines is happening. For instance, I don’t mind that the Times asked for a response to a 2,400-word article in literally half the amount of the original. So what did I do? That’s right, I compromised. You might call it giving in; I call it allowing the next step in a discussion to happen. This is what a good college inevitably does: teach students how to have discussions.

And now some further investigation on the heyday of the baby boomers is required since Perlstein insists on comparing these different generations. As a child of two boomers, I have had the privilege of hearing countless stories about Kent State, tear gas and fun-loving metaphysical art projects. Yes it all sounds so magically avant-garde, not to mention moving and insightful, but I do not (nor do most of my peers) feel the need to live up to it. Did the baby boomers feel the need to live up to their parents, members of the intimidatingly named Greatest Generation? I asked my mother, Liesel Flashenberg, and she pointed out that her parents wanted “a more secure life” for their kids and for that reason urged them forward to higher education and beyond, instead of holding them against a set standard. Also, my mother said that “it’s not like students in the sixties were coming up with these revolutionary ideas by themselves, they had brilliant professors from places like Berkeley and University of Chicago and even though there was the motto ‘trust no one over thirty’ a lot of great ideas were born out of these exchanges based on mutual respect.” From marching with Dr. King to working in public development- my mother is proof that one must use a variety of strategies in leading in activist lifestyle.

My parents (both of whom were activists/hippies in the sixties) have indeed given me a desire to be active in college, just not necessarily in the same fashion they did. College has become warped in our sense because the very notion of education is being constantly recreated. This means our lives since infancy are filled with added education from media sources and parents. Perlstein suggests that this takes away from our college experience but I say it ensures a realistic outlook on life. Sure, there is supposed to be a line between college and the outside world, but you can only learn so much in those sparsely decorated dorm rooms. College, in modern terms, allows one to come in and take what one wills. It is not always a passionate experience, but the student has the luxury of deciding what to take away.

Going to college in America is unlike anywhere else, and it can be a frustrating experience. But also it can be immensely rewarding because there are so many choices for us to make- from what actual campus to attend, what classes to take, what books to read, what peers to work with, etc. It’s an almost overwhelming amount of choices that previous generations have not had to deal with. Higher education is not an even playing field for everyone today, but nothing in this world can ever be truly equal. That’s a notion our parents fought against but it’s one that we’ve come to accept.

Personally, I think that the current generation of young students focuses more on practical experience. Following this vein, Perlstein makes what I believe is his best point when he says “some of these kids, indeed, might end up having more of a "college" experience when they enter the workplace than beforehand. The workplace may be more surprising, and maybe even more creative.” Students are treating college differently, as giant hubs of resources. Campuses are not the battlegrounds for change anymore. The battlegrounds are where they have always been, layered between the masses of streets and people. We may be so-called “Organized Kids,” but that’s not because we want to adopt into Capitalism Americana. As our society and availability of knowledge evolves, so does the meaning and importance of higher education. College is no longer about transforming the world through tired campus protests. It is about understanding and learning the skills we need to discuss (and hopefully, to actualize) the world’s possibilities.