Dr. King’s dream is my dream, too

Today, we in the US pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a national holiday honoring his legacy. I am grateful that we have such a holiday to honor Dr. King. The meaning of the holiday is expressed beautifully through the words of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King:

On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.

It is a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation and sharing. No other day of the year brings so many peoples from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood. Whether you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, whether you are Caucasian or Asian-American, you are part of the great dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America. This is not a black holiday; it is a people’s holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.

The expression of Dr. King’s dream in his famous “I have a dream” speech (full video) is all the more remarkable because it wasn’t planned. It came forth spontaneously when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson — there on the podium behind Dr. King — raised her voice and said, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!” You don’t hear her exclamation in the audio, but you can see the change in Dr. King in the video. He had been looking down at his notes throughout the speech but after Mahalia Jackson’s plea, he looks up from the podium (video) and doesn’t look down again for quite a while as he utters his soaring words, sometimes with his head tilted towards the sky. Even setting aside the incredibly inspiring content of the speech, it is a remarkable display of rhetorical skill.

Dr. King’s dream has grown more personally meaningful to me with every passing year. Five years ago, my wife and I welcomed an adopted son from Korea into our family, making our family a multi-race family. Our family is a tribute to the purity of love — my wife, son, and I are not related to each other by blood but bonded only by our love for each other. That unconditional love for my beautiful son has opened my eyes to racism in a way they had never been opened. My son has been asked what is “wrong” with his beautiful eyes. People have said upon just meeting him, “I bet he’s good at math” (he isn’t particularly good at math). I’ve learned that these comments and other things are “normal” and that Asians are the most-bullied in school. We simply do not live in a color-blind, post-racial society even in 2017. That is why Dr. King’s words remain so important today and more meaningful to me than ever before: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (video)

Like Dr. King, I can see a world where we can reach across the boundaries of race and culture to build lasting bonds of love based on our common humanity. I know this is possible because I’ve experienced it with my own family. I’ve learned that one of the tragedies of racism is that it prevents people from seeing the humanity of others and opening themselves to love and be loved by people who are only superficially different from us. I’ve experienced the profound love that can happen when you erase those boundaries and it gives me hope.

On this “people’s holiday,” Dr. King’s dream is my dream, too. And I will always be grateful to Mahalia Jackson for saying to Dr. King: Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!

Congrats to Gil and Tacoda

I read this morning that AOL announced that it’s entered into an agreement to buy Tacoda. A special congrats to my friend Gil Beyda, EVP of Corporate Strategy and Development there.

I first worked with Gil back in my Salon.com days when he was CTO of RealMedia. We became the first company to implement the Linux version of the RealMedia Open AdStream software, which was running on large sites like USA Today and Playboy.com back then. I was intimately familiar with the commercial ad serving market at the time, having been the technical product manager for CNN’s rollout of NetGravity shortly after NetGravity hit the market (aside: check out this history of ad serving on Wikipedia). When I came to Salon, I wanted something that ran on Linux/Apache. As I recall, I met Gil and asked, “Does Open AdStream run on Linux/Apache?” and he said, “Sure, we can compile for Linux and we have an Apache module that handles the ad serving piece.” After some more due diligence, we chose Open AdStream and Gil and his team provided phenomenal support throughout (his chief engineer cheerfully answered my phone calls at 3am in the days leading up to the launch). When you’re an online media company supported 100% by advertising, choosing an ad server is a big decision and working with Gil and his team was probably the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had with an outside company on a critical project.

(For you kids out there, migrating to Linux was a big deal back then! We put out a press release announcing the fact and we were featured in Slashdot, PC World, and Wired’s Webmonkey. I also did a talk at 1999 OSCON about it along with Jeffrey Radice.)

I ran into Gil at OSCON last year and we had a nice dinner where we talked absolutely none about technology and focused instead on family, travel, and my recent engagement. Gil is one of the good guys and I’m glad to see him do well. Congrats, Gil!

Welcoming Jon Williams to the blogosphere

I just go an email from Jon Williams, a friend and CTO of Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, and he let me know that he is now blogging (feed here). Excellent! Jon is one of my favorite CTOs and an all-around good Jon Williamsguy, as evidenced by the fact that Jon was on the very short list of only two CTOs I interviewed for my short-running CTO Connection podcast at InfoWorld (check it out).

Though the podcast didn’t get off the ground before Yahoo! came calling, I wrote well over 200 weekly columns at InfoWorld, and Jon figured prominently in two of them, one about the very successful New York CTO Club that he co-founded seven years ago (still going strong), and another about having the management sense to know when to step back from a situation and let things happen without interfering.

Jon and I still keep in touch, but now we talk mostly about our guitar-playing (a subject we discussed in the podcast) and music. Tonight, Jon told me to check out Andrew Bird (his latest album got a solid review from Pitchfork). I’ll put that on my list. . . .

I’m really glad to see Jon in the blogosphere, and I’m looking forward to reading more of what my favorite Aussie guitar-playing CTO has to say!

Jon Udell and Yahoo! Pipes

I read Jon Udell’s post about Yahoo! Pipes today in which he said of Pipes: It delights me! I’m not sure if Jon remembers this or not, but when I had him over to Yahoo! to give a talk last March, Pipes creator Pasha Sadri described the general concept (then just floating around in his head) to Jon in a really fun session after Jon’s talk. I happened to snap a grainy cameraphone shot of the exchange:

Pasha Sadri and Jon Udell

If Pipes is a milestone in the history of the Internet, this shot feels like an important historical artifact. As Tim O’Reilly wrote today, some of the concepts Jon has been talking about for years were realized in Pipes. Tim also noted:

. . . it really is amazing how easily we forget the details of the past, and how important it is for future history for us to keep our notes. It gives real perspective on more distant history when you realize how hard it is to remember the sequence of events, and who influenced whom. . .

I’m glad to have that shot to remind us.

Looking ahead at Web 2007 panel on Tuesday 1/9

I’m honored to be part of a panel at next Tuesday’s Jewish High-Tech Community meeting organized by Bill Lazar, the topic being “Looking ahead at Web 2007.” I’m looking forward to meeting Evelyn Rodriguez and Jason Hoffman, and seeing Anil Dash again. The panel is described as follows:

Each of our speakers will open with a list of important events, tools or understandings on, about or for The Web that they think will likely happen in 2007 and then discuss them with each other and the members attending.

One of the reasons I enjoy the work I do is that the future can be very unpredictable, so I’m interested in listening to what the other panelists have to say as much as participating myself. I’ve been bookmarking others’ predictions in my del.icio.us feed to get a sense of what other people are saying: predictions+2007. Evelyn has been bookmarking hers, too.

The event is at Fenwick & West in Mountain View and runs from 6:30 until 9 or so. (Hey Bill, how about posting these events to Upcoming?)

Web 2.0 narcissism and geeking out in Northeastern Wisconsin

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m in Appleton, Wisconsin for the holidays and aside from chilling out after a really amazing year, I wanted to see what was going on around here from a tech perspective. Back when we were putting together Open Hack Day, I got an email from Bob Waldron (who lives in Appleton), who was putting together Barcamp Milwaukee (along with Justin Kruger) on the same weekend as Open Hack Day. I told Bob that I would get in touch if I was ever in Appleton, so I sent Bob an email earlier this week and he set up a local geek gathering in short order. After hooking up with Bob, I was looking forward to talking tech and meeting tech enthusiasts in a place I had never visited before. This is one of the reasons I love the Internet — pulling something like this together wouldn’t have been possible (or at least so easy) 15 years ago.

Northeastern Wisconsin geek gatheringAs Bob was setting up this gathering, I came across “Love American Style: Web 2.0 and Narcissism” by Philip Dawdy, a “fine rant” (as Nick Carr called it). It’s worth reading the whole thing, but the argument boils down to this:

this whole Web 2.0, social networking, virtual community business is essentially a pornography of the self—a projected, fictionalized self that is then worshipped by the slightly less-perfect self. Human existence has been this way to a degree once we became the leisure society (am I dabbling in Veblen here? I think so.), but with the Web 2.0 we are so much more willing to spread our selves and our self-infatuations around. If you don’t believe me, cruise through MySpace—a house of mirrors if there ever was one—where we are all rock stars, hotties, vampires and gangstas with flava.

I don’t think that Dawdy’s argument is entirely invalid. What he says about MySpace is difficult to argue with and the writing itself is entertaining, I just think it’s the “half empty” point-of-view of the social value of the web. When I can use the Internet to connect with interesting people in any city in the world (not just the U.S.) and meet them face-to-face for a pleasant afternoon of conversation about things we’re all passionate about, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Meeting in person certainly takes a little more effort than commenting on someone’s blog or sending an email, but the Internet is ultimately the catalyst for building real relationships with people you might not have otherwise met (and this isn’t just “Web 2.0” — it goes all the way back to USENET, the WELL, etc).

After getting beat up a little by the blogosphere, Dawdy comes back to clarify his position:

Most commenters missed my global point that the Web 2.0 is essentially creating a mirror world in which narcissists can play in a weird context-free universe and that Google itself also does a fine job of creating its own context-free universe while stripping much revenue away from the mainstream media without adding any real value to the equation.

This is still “half empty” as far as I’m concerned. All of these tools probably do amplify narcissistic tendencies that already exist in our culture, but they also amplify our ability to connect, and I for one am happy to accept the tradeoff for now.

If you’re interested in hooking up with tech folks in Northeastern Wisconsin, here are some things you should check out:

(Above photo, L-R: Drew Fleck, Bob Waldron, Todd Hanson, and Justin Kruger. Lisa Zeise joined us earlier, but I forgot to snap the photo before she left!)

What was your first Amazon order? (and why George Jones matters)

I was logged in to Amazon tonight checking an order and followed the link to “orders by year.” The first order in my history was placed on December 23, 1997 and appeared to be a last-minute Christmas gift for my mother. I ordered these two books:

  • Kay Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind: a look at the connection between manic-depressive illness and creativity. I bought a copy for myself — it’s a fascinating subject.
  • George Jones’ autobiography I Lived to Tell All. Now, a title like I Lived to Tell All might seem a little melodramatic to some, but for George Jones, living to tell all is a truly unexpected achievement. Wikipedia describes George Jones as follows: “an American country singer known for his distinctive voice and phrasing that frequently evoke the raw emotions caused by grief, unhappy love, and emotional hardship.” That barely scratches the surface. Anyone who cares about American popular music (or humanity itself) should keep a turntable around loaded with a couple of scratchy George Jones records. George Jones lived his life squarely inside the agonizing parentheses in song titles known to all country music fans. . . If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will), These Days (I Barely Get By), A Picture of Me (Without You), Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Losing You). These songs are clever in their expression of abject sadness (“these days I barely get by“), but never cute — they hurt every time. I saw George Jones perform at the Masonic in San Francisco in February 2000 (see photo) and the place was 2/3 empty. 1/3 full is a triumph for a man who once rode a lawn mower to the liquor store when his license had been revoked.

Life can be hard at times, and my mother’s old George Jones records taught me just how bad it can get (and the book I gave her was just a clear explanation of the story behind those records) — but they also taught me a little something about resilience and faith. (A 1999 piece about George Jones in Salon.com makes it all clear.)

So, what was your first Amazon order?