Ok, a little late on this (again). I realize this blog has become neglected, but hope to start posting a bit more again soon, but in the meantime, I need to repeat last year’s tradition, totally ripped off from Dennis about my “year in cities,” highlighting every city where I spent at least one night… So, here we go, in order of attendance:
San Carlos, CA (home, so multiple times)
Washington, DC (multiple times)
Many thousands of feet over the Atlantic ocean (multiple times)
Huntington, NY (multiple times)
New York, NY (multiple times)
San Diego, CA
Hmm. A fair bit of travel, and definitely a bunch of international travel. Shorter than last year’s list, but that’s because last year included a nice road trip. This year has already started off with a bang, but is going to be a much lighter travel year overall (very much on purpose).
My presentation at MidemNet last month in Cannes has received more attention than I ever imagined (nearly 17,000 views on YouTube at this time!). If you haven’t seen it, here it is:
However, being that this is a personal blog, I wanted to discuss some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that went on and answer some of the other questions that have been asked by some folks.
First, I have no idea how I got asked to do this presentation. Despite writing about the music industry for a while, and pissing off numerous lawyers who work for the industry, I very rarely hear from the business folks. I don’t think they have any clue who I am. However, I apparently got onto someone’s radar screen, and they called me out of the blue and asked me to present (they picked the topic).
I wasn’t joking (at all) about the jetlag. When I gave the presentation I had a killing throbbing headache the whole time. I wasn’t working on very much sleep. I arrived in France about 24 hours before I was to give the presentation — and I barely slept on the plane at all. I tried to do some work in my hotel room, but it was crazy hot (turns out there’s no way to turn off the heat, despite it being warm outside). Everything I did to try to turn off the heat (or get the AC on) seemed to increase the heat. I finally slept for an hour before heading out to meet with the conference organizers.
Due to my original hotel closing down, I ended up in a hotel about 10 km away from Cannes itself. During the conference there was supposed to be ongoing shuttle service between the conference and the hotel (in practice, it existed, but wasn’t as trustworthy as promised). However, that first day the shuttle was not running. I was told I could take a train… but the train was apparently on strike (this turned out not to be true). Instead, I ended up taking a bus. While waiting at the bus station, I kept my streak alive: whenever I am somewhere new and taking public transportation *someone* will ask me for directions. I babbled in English, and the woman walked away in disgust. Lesson learned: if you can’t speak French, at least learn how to say “My French is really really bad” in French. Then they treat you much nicer.
The conference organizers were *awesome*. I really can’t say enough about the crew, who were amazingly well organized, professional and super friendly as well. It still amazes me, though, that they put me on the mainstage on the morning of the first day of the conference, having no idea if I’m any good as a presenter (though, they had been nervous and kept asking for my presentation well before I was ready to share it). They also kept repeating over and over again that I *really* was limited to 15 minutes. They were quite afraid I’d go over it. So I promised to practice my talk to get it within those 15 minutes, without fail.
An offshoot of the Midem event is the NRJ Awards, which is sort of the functional equivalent of the MTV music awards here in the US (though, with the same musicians, basically). So, security was crazy tight, and just to get backstage to see where I going to speak, I had to wear a special badge, as the backstage area intersected with the backstage for that show (some friends later got tickets to the Awards show and got to walk up the red carpet with 1000s of screaming teenie boppers). There were a lot of teenie boppers around trying to photograph famous musicians (Chris Martin, Katy Perry, some others were around).
The night before my talk (the night before the event started) there was a dinner for all the speakers. My original intent was to (a) not drink (b) go home early (c) practice my talk and (d) get plenty of sleep. None of those things really worked out as planned. First, it’s France, where there is no such thing as an early dinner. Dinner wasn’t until 8:30pm. Then, I was told that the guy who sponsored/organized the dinner was a wine connoisseur and had picked the wines himself… so I had to partake somewhat, especially with the awesome French cuisine. On top of that, I was having such great conversations it was difficult to get away. Eventually, though, Martin Thornkvist and I agreed to head back to Juan les Pins (he was staying in another hotel nearby as well). He had taken the train over (strike apparently wasn’t real) and had looked at the schedule, saying that there was another train back to Juan les Pins a little before midnight. We walked to the trainstation where that turned out not to be the case. There were no more trains to Juan les Pins, but there was a train to Antibes, one town over, where we were told we could catch a cab.
We took the train and discovered… no cab. So, we wandered. Generally following the street signs and made our way successfully back to Juan les Pins, after wandering through unknown French villages past midnight. I was very thankful to have Martin along as well, as it would have been a bit more frightening on my own (Martin was great company — and it was great to have that time to chat).
So… back at the hotel at approximately 12:30… and exhausted. Sort of half practiced the presentation once and fell asleep. Got up early, took the shuttle (I was the only rider on a full sized coach bus) back to Cannes, and watched the morning sessions. There was the opening debate, then a short 15 minute presentation, and then a coffee break. Then me.
The opening debate was great. Then the 15 minute presentation began. Assuming you’ve seen my presentation, you know that the one thing I depend on is having those slides change when I click the button. So as I’m watching the guy on stage go through his presentation, I begin to notice that he seems to be talking about things that aren’t showing on the slides. In fact, it looks like he’s stuck on a single slide. After about 5 minutes, he notices this as well, and has to actually stop his presentation and call out the tech support guys. This happens 3 times, after his slides refuse to proceed when he clicks.
My heart sinks. My headache starts pounding even worse. I have 280 slides to go through with, if not precision timing, at least a decent sense of timing.
By the time the other guy has finished his 15 min presentation, it’s taken nearly 25 minutes, in part due to all of the requests for tech help. I head to the speaker’s lounge to convey a… polite sense of worry. I’m told, repeatedly, that I shouldn’t worry. My presentation is fine. The problem with his had to do with (a) last minute changes to the slides and (b) the use of different views (on the laptop it had a notes view, rather than the presentation view on the screen). Still, I’m nervous. With a headache. And tired. Really, really tired.
I’m given my special pass, escorted backstage, where the tech guys insist (again) not to worry. Everyone in the theater is out getting coffee, so I run a quick test, and indeed the slides do seem to be working. Since the last presentation ran long, the Midem folks want to make sure people have enough time to have some coffee and get back into the theater. So they say they’ll wait and won’t start my presentation for about 10 min after the scheduled time (11:45am). But Ted Cohen, the MC of the event shows up and is bouncing up and down saying that we gotta get going… even though people aren’t back in yet. In fact, they’re just starting to stream in, and only a few have taken seats. The Midem people suggest waiting… which lasts about 30 seconds before Ted says he’ll just head out and talk to the audience for a bit to encourage them to come in. His talk lasts about 20 seconds (“how’s the show going this morning so far? Good?”) before he says, “Now I’d like to introduce…” and I’m on.
When I walk out, there are probably only about 1/4 of the people actually in the theater, and mobs of people streaming in and talking, but the big red clock on the stage has a 15:00 on it, and I’m not supposed to go over on the time, so I say something along the lines of “I see people are still finding their seats, but, let’s just get going…” and that’s where the video starts.
As you can see, it mostly did go off without a hitch. Mobs of people were still streaming in the doors until about 5 or 6 minutes in (a lot of people contacted me afterwards noting they had missed the beginning), but overall it worked. I also freaked out around the 11 minute mark when I started mentally calculating in my head how much more I had in the presentation and if I could do it in 4 minutes. You can sorta see that I shift into a different gear as I start “chapter 4.” I went just slightly over on time, but no one seemed to mind.
I finished, Ted shook my hand, told me how much he liked the presentation, and I walked back stage and collapsed. They gave me a bottle of water and told me to relax until I felt ready to go back to the speaker’s lounge, which I did about 10 minutes later, at which point I asked for something (anything) for my headache, and was given a packet of some sort of medicine to dissolve in water. That seemed to work… and I finally began to feel good again.
So… there you go. The story behind the presentation.
The rest of the time I was there was great. Without having to worry about my own presentation, I got to see a bunch of other great presentations, meet a ton of fantastic people, and explore just a little bit of that part of France. All in all a great experience, despite the stress, the headaches and actually trying to get through 280 slides in 15 minutes. I’m hopeful that I get a chance to present again in the future.
I’d been meaning to work on this over the holidays and didn’t, but now that Dennis (from whom I got the idea) put up his annual post of cities where he spent the night, it seemed like I finally ought to get around to it as well… So, here they are: cities where I spent at least one night during 2008 (in order of attendance):
San Carlos, CA (home sweet home, so multiple times)
Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean (well, depends on how you define “night” but I landed at 9am… so…)
Edinburgh, Scotland (looking forward to going back soon)
Huntington, NY (multiple times)
New York, NY (multiple times)
Rockville Centre, NY
Beaver Creek, CO
Salt Lake City, UT
Indianola, IA (outside Des Moines)
Wheaton, IL (multiple times)
Chicago, IL (multiple times)
Santa Fe, NM
Grand Canyon, AZ
… and I think that’s it. Hoping not to do as much traveling in 2009, but already have some trips scheduled that begin next week… Also, anything in and around Lake Tahoe is notoriously absent (first year in ages that can be said). Will make sure to correct that in 2009.
Ok, I’ll admit that I was a bit unsure of the actual usefulness of Twitter, but a couple months ago I figured I’d give it another shot, and it’s been growing on me. The first thing about it that struck me was how incredible it was to follow the Iowa caucuses via Twitter. People who were actually taking part in the caucuses were reporting in real-time on what was being said in the caucuses, and it made it clear that there was a real groundswell of support for Obama. What was most amazing was contrasting that to CNN, which reported a statistical dead heat between the three leading candidates quite late into the night, before Obama’s sizable lead emerged. Yet, watching the real-time reports via Twitter, it seemed clear that there was strong Obama support. That’s only one data point, but it was kind of neat.
Now, a second useful Twitter example. I’m not sure how long ago, but a while back I became an email acquaintance with Whitney McNamara. I’m not sure when/how it happened. I think he may have commented on Techdirt a few times with pretty intelligent thoughts, or maybe sent in some stories/feedback. Just a couple weeks ago, he started following me on Twitter, and I started following him as well. Last week, he mentioned that he was going to Mamoun’s Falafel for lunch with his Dad, which set off a wave of nostalgia for me. I love Mamoun’s. Back in high school, Yuval and I used to go visit record stores in the Village and get Mamoun’s for lunch. It was a pretty regular ritual. I do still try to go to Mamoun’s whenever I’m in Manhattan, though it’s increasingly rare that I need to be anywhere near the Village.
Yet, when I saw Whit’s Twitter about Mamoun’s, I wrote my own about my Mamoun’s obsession, noting that I was hoping to go this week, since I was in NYC. A few twitters/direct messages back and forth, and yesterday, we were sitting in Mamoun’s enjoying the best falafel sandwiches money can buy and having an interesting conversation about online communities. It worked out perfectly, as I had a hole in my schedule and no lunch plans. Here’s his version of the story as well. It’s pretty clear that this never would have happened without Twitter.
Without Twitter, I probably wouldn’t have remembered that he was in NY, thought to get together with him, known that he liked Mamoun’s (or even convinced myself to make a trip down to Mamoun’s). So, while I’m still not totally convinced that Twitter is as amazing as some make it out to be, I’m beginning to understand the areas where it has potential.
As mentioned, I’ve been in Edinburgh, Scotland for the week, thanks to Mike Clouser over at the Edinburgh-Stanford Link. It’s really been a blast. I gave three separate talks (one on market research, one on economics and business models and one on the history of Techdirt) and then we had a Techdirt Greenhouse over at a local incubator, the Alba Innovation Centre (which is a bit tricky to get to apparently). The students have all been fantastic, generating lots of interesting discussions. The local entrepreneurs I’ve met with have been great as well. While there’s definitely some concern from folks about entrepreneurship in Scotland, there does seem to be a fair amount of energy and buzz around.
However, following in Mark’s footsteps, given the opportunity to wear a kilt, I couldn’t refuse. Timing-wise, it was fantastic. January 25th is Robert Burns Night, or more accurately, a Rabbie Burns Supper. It’s difficult to find something to compare it to in the US, but possibly a mix of July 4th and Thanksgiving. It involves celebrating the Scots “national bard,” Robert Burns, who lived in the 18th century. I’d imagine, for most Americans, all they know of Burns is the song Auld Lang Syne, which people sing on New Years and, it turns out, to close out a Burns Supper.
The kilt is surprisingly complex, though, honestly, it may have been the shoes and socks part that were the most complex. You wear special shoes with excessively long laces, and you have to twist them and then tie them around your calf in a rather specific manner. You also wear a dagger stuck in the socks (you know, just in case the British attack). The kilt itself is quite warm, though walking through Edinburgh on a cold, windy, rainy night still isn’t recommend. You definitely feel the breeze on your knees.
The supper itself is a traditional Scottish dinner of haggis, champit tatties and bashed neeps. People often seem to joke about haggis as a Scottish delicacy, but most of the folks we spoke to admitted that you really only eat it at a Burns dinner, and some of the folks at the table also admitted that they really had been scared to eat haggis for many years. It actually was quite good. Very peppery, but tasty. We actually went to two separate Burns Suppers. Clouser had implied to me that these were strictly black-tie affairs — you either wore a tux or a kilt. It turned out that this was a slight exaggeration. Or, rather, a fantastic exaggeration. In fact, the first Burns event we went to was at the university, and was the “International Post-Graduate Students” Burns Night. That meant that they were all foreign students, most of whom had never been to a Burns Night… and many of whom came dressed as, well, students. Jeans and sweaters were pretty common. We were a bit out of place in our kilts, but it was fine.
Then we moved on to the second, much more traditional Burns Supper. One of Clouser’s old frat brothers is married to a woman who is a member of the local Conservative Party and recently ran for office here. So they got us tickets to the local Conservative Party Burns Supper. Amusingly, everyone we mentioned this to either winced or audibly expressed their dislike for the Conservatives/Tories. Apparently, they’re not particularly popular around these parts. Either way, we showed up, and were still one of only a few folks in kilts. People were a lot more dressed up, but mostly suits, rather than kilts. There were a few kilts, but I think the number of Americans wearing kilts (3) tied the number of Scottish people wearing kilts. Even the former Edinburgh city council member sitting next to me told me he’d never worn a kilt. One of the Scottish entrepreneurs I’d met also told me he’d never worn a kilt.
And, true to what Mark mentioned when he wore a kilt, if you walk through Edinburgh in a kilt, people will ask to get their picture taken with you. Clouser and I were standing outside our hotel in the kilts, waiting for a cab when a group of Irish girls asked if they could get their photos taken with us. At first they thought we were doormen for the hotel. Then they realized we were Americans, but, of course, still wanted a photo.
The actual dinner was a blast. The address to a Haggis was fantastic, done by someone who clearly takes the role of entertaining the guests seriously. This same gent later did an impressively theatrical recitation of Burns’ version of John Barleycorn, pausing to drink a rather large glass of whiskey at each mention of Barleycorn’s name (with one extra at the line “And drank it round and round”). How he was still standing at the end of the night, I have no clue. The other addresses, both the “to the lassies” and “to the laddies” were quite amusing as well. As one of the links above describes, both toasts are “witty, but never offensive, and should always end on a concilliatory note.”
All in all, quite an experience. Prash came up from London, and we dragged him along. He had no idea what he was getting into (he chose not to wear a kilt). Prash and I ended up at one table (Clouser got shipped off to another), and we had a very interesting dinner conversation, about a bunch of different topics from Edinburgh to local politics to India (Prash had just returned from a trip there, and the couple sitting next to us had honeymooned there). All in all… lots of fun. And now I need to go find Prash (staying in a hotel across the street) and figure out how we can try that Scottish delicacy, the deep-fried Mars Bar, as suggested by Mark as well.