I wake up because it’s nearly 5 a.m. and that’s the time I wake up these days. I check my Sanyo phone for missed calls and my new Blackberry for overnight e-mails. A quick skim of ABC News’ The Note brings me up to speed on today’s politics. An e-mail from Apple informs me that Mac OS X Panther is out today, but I won’t have any time to play with it.
My roommates are still asleep so I sneak out quietly. It's still dark outside. I’m always self-conscious cranking up my rusted, white Buick Century this early, but the blue velour bench seats comfort me. The campaign is withholding our paychecks again before the fundraising quarter’s end, so I haven’t had any money to fix the fuel injectors. The smell of gas fills up the car after a few miles. If I can make it to my office in the next twenty minutes I should avoid getting a headache from the fumes. First I head to McDonalds.
McGriddle. Check. Large orange juice. Check. Cinnamon melts. Check. Hash brown — just one. Check. It’s important to have a big breakfast and certainly twelve hundred calories will do the trick. At six foot two, I have ballooned by nearly forty pounds in just nine months. I’m Morgan Spurlock but with no movie to sell. This is all before my afternoon Taco Bell, midday venti caramel frappuccino, and late-night pizza. I have let food become the thing that keeps me going through such long hours.
On my morning conference call I review the campaign’s online traction for our satellite headquarters in New Hampshire and Iowa. I love our fancy phones from Cisco, which were left over after they downsized and abandoned the lease. Our Raleigh, North Carolina offices are unlike most campaign headquarters. These are clean, neat, well-organized spaces, save for the refrigerator in the break room. The refrigerator is disgusting. A sign in our research department reminds us the caucus is just days away and we are still dead last, somewhere between Wesley Clark and write-in candidate Bart Simpson.
After the conference call I get to work. My day is kept busy by our blogging community, which has gone from a few dozen members when I launched it to more than ten thousand now. It’s built on some open source software called Slashcode, the same software that powers Internet heavyweight and web server-destroying Slashdot. I send a fundraising newsletters to our half million subscribers, another target no-ask Iowa update to our volunteers, and do impressions of Governor Arnold Schwarzzeneger for my cubicle neighbors. “Vee must fix ze budget and do the hawd tings zat vee don’t want to do but vee must do them any-vay!!!”
Like everyone on the campaign, I work until at least eleven each night. Some people stay overnight in sleeping bags. If we perform as poorly as the polls and media predict, it will all be over very quickly. All the work, the late nights, the sacrificed friendships, the money troubles, the weight gain; none of it will matter. Howard Dean will be the nominee and he will certainly lose to President Bush. Yes, I think to myself, our candidate is so much better. But nobody really cares.
I’m here because our candidate’s wife had an unhealthy fascination with the Internet and blogs. She was famous for posting comments, often under a pseudonym, on sites like Reddit or Democratic Underground. Earlier in the year I had found her sitting on the floor in our research room. She was hand-signing hundreds of thank you letters to donors while keeping an eye on C-SPAN’s coverage of her husband’s first debate.
“John needs to learn the details of his own health care plan,” she said to herself.
I sat down next to her with my laptop, coding casually as an excuse to make an introduction.
“He’s just got to learn this and take it seriously,” she said, growing agitated. “We spend all this time thinking these programs through, putting together so many details, and it just doesn’t matter to him. People can’t think John is shallow.”
Elizabeth was brilliant and her thoughts her wonderfully disorganized, like my own. She spoke quickly, and it would all seem like a jumble of nonsense if not constrained by her delicate, warm southern accent. She would dart from sentence to sentence, like the way her father, a navy pilot, moved her from base to base as a child. She spent some of her childhood in Japan, but eventually made her way back to North Carolina. She studied law in Chapel Hill, one of North Carolina’s most beautiful towns, and caught the eye of another law student named John Edwards. They married in 1977 and gave birth to a baby boy, Wade, just a couple years later.
We all knew about Wade and knew not to talk about him.
In 1996 Wade, then just sixteen, was driving his Jeep on I-40 heading to see his family in Wilmington. High crosswinds overturned the Jeep and Wade was killed almost instantly, though his friend in the passenger seat survived. Elizabeth once said, “It was like the wind just swept him up and blew him away.”
The tragedy rocked the Edwards family and the community around Raleigh. John Edwards’ partner, David Kirby, took over the law practice that had made them both millionaires.
Elizabeth was known to be harsh, or at least blunt, but I sensed something else. There was an insecurity to her. She obsessed over her husband and the advancement of his career. She cared deeply about people and issues, and felt strongly that the campaign was a vehicle to do good. Elizabeth was as hard working, genuine and forthright as she was crazy, difficult, and impulsive.
She identified, incorrectly as it would turn out, Howard Dean as her husband’s greatest obstacle in the primary. She felt strongly the campaign needed a presence on the Internet. This led to a position in the Internet department, which at the time consisted of a single person. I learned about the opening just a few months after my eighteenth birthday. I hopped in my car, drove ten hours to Raleigh, and submitted by resume to the volunteer coordinator. I was immediately offered an internship, among thirty others, with the understanding that only two would become full-time staffers. One of those people was me.
The day of the Iowa caucus is chaotic in the morning and afternoon. Normally our research team is pouring through transcriptions from the major news networks or viewing hours of campaign footage recorded to VCR tapes. Today most of them are called to phone lines, asking Iowans to head to their local caucus. I’m asked to do this too, but I’m too shy to cold call voters, so instead I hide out in my cubicle and try to coordinate some of our Iowa bloggers.
Our campaign manager Nick Baldick, a lawyer who once famously billed a client more than 24 hours in a single day by taking advantage of the changing time zones on an international flight, is treating ulcer medication like Tic Tacs. One of our fundraisers had been rushed to the hospital after feeling pain in her left arm, but she left the hospital in order to push for more dollars. We are sleep deprived and worried about tonight’s outcome.
A poll shows Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt vying for first place with nearly 35% apiece, while we to stand at around 4%. Dean is racking up major endorsements, including Iowa’s own Tom Harkin. Our spirits lift somewhat when we learn that Wesley Clark’s event coordinator has sent him not to a barn-burning pep rally, but to hand out coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through window.
At around 8 o'clock I witness something unnerving at our headquarters: near silence. There just isn’t much to do now but wait for results, so instead we sit around nervously. I move into our research room and call my sister. I run through polling data and explain why we think Dean’s numbers are weak, including a rumor that he has been paying college students to bring friends to his rallies. I tell her that the South Carolina primary, where we should be a shoe-in, is just around the corner. I say we have the enough money to go on. I make excuses and bite my fingernails.
I look around the room and I see young people with authentic, genuine passion for their work. The whole team trusts one another implicitly because we all put the hours in. We never gloat or compete; we just get our work done and move on. I think about what will happen to these people — these friends I've made — once it all ends. Some of them will go to Washington to work for PACs or non-profits. Others will head back to school and become lawyers, judges, or politicians themselves. I'm too young to have any idea what I might do.
The results come in and I nearly fall off my chair. We place second with 33% of the vote and just two delegates less than the winner, John Kerry. We pull off a miracle and then we witness Howard Dean’s infamous meltdown on national television.
As much from exhaustion as excitement, we cry at different times. I rub and dry my eyes, and then I go to a bathroom and start crying again. Somehow I have set aside the fact that our work is only just now beginning. In this moment, I feel relieved of some burden and a tremendous sense of pride. I played my little part. I was asked to do a job and I got it done using every piece of me.
We are it. We shock the world. We do the impossible.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
I met John Edwards a few times in person, but he never seemed very engaged. A few months before the caucus, he signed a copy of his book, Four Trials, which was actually written by Elizabeth and an author named John Auchard. Once, during a private fundraising event at the Hilton in downtown Raleigh, I bumped into him as he was leaving the bathroom. Breaking an unspoken staff rule, I said, “Senator, it’s Chris from headquarters. I run your blog!”
In one fluid motion he looked at me, gave me his big, toothy smile, and continued walking past me as he said, “Oh! The blawwwwwwwwwwg!”
Of course, John Edwards was not the nominee in 2004 and did not become president. After the excitement of Iowa, we fizzled in New Hampshire and only met expectations by winning our neighboring state. We ran out of money and were promptly destroyed by the Kerry machine on Super Tuesday. We were simply spread too thin. And after eight years of President Clinton, people were, smartly, never truly sold on John Edwards. Months later, we were able to force a vice presidential nomination, but the ticket lost later that fall.
On the last day of the campaign, I saw John Edwards a final time. He came to headquarters with Elizabeth to thank his war-worn staff. We had begun packing up equipment and tapes into brown boxes. Hundreds of manilla folders filled with research were tossed into the car of our research director. There really wasn’t enough work for the entire team, but everyone knew Edwards was coming to talk to us. He arrived in a black SUV, enjoying the last few days of his Secret Service protection. He wore light brown khakis and a light blue dress shirt, the sleeves, as they always were, rolled up to his elbows.
We stood in the research room, huddled in a group. We all expected a heartfelt, inspiring speech, but instead he simply said, “I love you guys. I’m gonna hand it over to Elizabeth.”
Those were the last words John Edwards spoke to most of us. I’m gonna hand it over to Elizabeth.
Looking back, that was true of the campaign all along. The story of John Edwards is actually the story of his wife, Elizabeth. She was the brains of the campaign, its emotional core. She helped draft policy. She called my cell phone in the middle of the night to share an idea for the blog. She gave birth to and raised the children. She lost a child, her own, and recovered from it with the help of her daughter Cate. An election cycle later, she fought through cancer to keep the campaign going, then she lied to herself and the media to cover up her husband’s affair. She died in 2010, seven years after I met her, and was the last chapter of her husband’s public life before his trial.
People sometimes ask me what it was like to work on a presidential campaign. I keep it simple and say it was “a lot of fun.” In truth, life on the presidential campaign trail is physically and emotionally exhausting. It will test friendships, put enormous strain on family, empty wallets, and break you down to dull little component pieces. You are left to reconcile the enthusiasm and passion you had for the work with the stunning emptiness you feel when it ends. You think about what it means for the country that your candidate lost and someone else’s candidate won. You wonder whether you’ll ever do it again, and what that will be like.
Every campaign inevitably closes a chapter on you, and you’re left to feel like the wind might sweep you up and blow you away.
A version of this originally appeared on Medium.
Some the section headers refer to a poem by Christina Rossetti.
The events in this article took place in 2003 and 2004.
Since Steve Jobs' passing, people have been on the lookout for Apple's slow spiral back into irrelevance and obscurity. To quote the movie Barbarians at the Gate (adapted from a great book by the same name), “People worship success. What they root for is failure.”
I think there are 50,000+ Apple employees, top-level executive talent, a long product pipeline, and $137 billion that will ensure that doesn't happen. But I do worry about the polish of Apple's personality. Apple may be losing some of its strut and swagger, which I believe are key elements of its brand.
Since 2011, Apple has bungled the rollouts of both Siri and Maps. Their stock price, while still up about 20%, has fallen around $250 per share, and their earnings have twice disappointed Wall Street. iCloud is a big idea but it is one that is, so far, not executed very well. iOS, while still technically superior to Android (flame retardant: a Nexus 4 is my primary device), is showing its age and not keeping up with the pace of Google's innovation. I would even argue the design of the iPhone 5 is deficient: it feels awkwardly shaped to me and elicits no emotion. Where the iPod was warm and friendly, the iPhone 5 is cold and distant.
But I think Apple's biggest problem lies elsewhere, so let me put it plainly: Apple CEO Tim Cook talks too much.
Wherever Tim Cook goes, I hear him talking about how much he just absolutely loves Apple and he is so excited about its future prospects. Of Macs, he says “you should get one, because it's really cool.” Cook notes he gets no bigger thrill than “going to the gym and [seeing] people [use] iPods.” Of the iPad Cook says “it's amazing … you're using one, my mother's using one, my seven-year-old nephew uses one.” Again at the gym, Cook says “the trainer's using one.” Presumably after the gym, now at a Starbucks, Cook remarks “everyone has [an iPad].”
I believe Tim Cook's sincerity. I really do think he loves Apple. I also know he is speaking a statement of fact: Apple's products are incredibly popular and we certainly do see them everywhere. My household is basically an Apple retail store, without all the glass but with more dogs and baby toys.
Yet I find myself extremely annoyed by Tim Cook's public messaging. I think his pitch and delivery is all wrong. You see, companies with great brands carry themselves with confidence. They don't talk numbers or overuse superlatives. They have nothing to prove to you: the relevance and success of their products is a given. At least publicly, a company with a great brand never has to say any of its products are cool — consumers do that for them. Sometimes the less something is said, the better it is known.
Apple should strut through the marketplace with confidence. Tim Cook has nothing to prove when it comes to Apple's popularity. Apple should not adopt a defensive position to its messaging, but instead let the results and reviews speak for themselves. When a brand is portrayed confidently, its best qualities are reinforced in the minds of consumers, and that is far more effective and long-lasting than shoving it down their throats.
I recall one of Steve Jobs' last pubic appearances at the D8 conference, just after the launch of the iPad. When he was challenged by Walt Mossberg on how the exclusion of Adobe Flash might limit the iPad's success, Jobs got fired up and shot back:
You know, so far, I have to say that people seem to be liking iPads. … If we succeed, [customers will] buy them. And if we don't, they won't. And it'll all work itself out.
Steve's blunt lesson on how markets function made the audience laugh, but it also reset the tone of the questioning and established a fact in everybody's mind: the iPad is a huge success. Steve never had to say that explicitly.
So my advice to Tim Cook remains: portray confidence and never look back. After all, the more often you call something amazing, the less so it will seem to be.
I never knew Aaron Swartz. I do not pretend to know much about him personally nor can I imagine what his family continues to suffer through. Like so many people, I have been moved by this tragedy, and my response has been to pour through his writings, reporting, and people's opinions.
Let me be clear. I do think that Aaron acted in a way he felt was consistent with moral behavior and he tried to make the world a better place. I do believe scholarly work should be open and free. I believe sites like Reddit can influence positive social change, as we saw with SOPA. I also think the prosecution exhibited inappropriate behavior, and that a potential 35 year prison sentence is an absurd prospect.
I also think that part of this story is untold or unexplored, and so I shall make, delicately, an attempt at exploring it.
Us Versus Them
Accounts of Aaron's closing days, weeks, and months tell us he was increasingly lonely, sheltered, and cut off from the world. I have some experience with depression when I was younger, and I can tell you some people feel a sort of fog over their head, as if the walls were closing in. Looking further back, though, Aaron's own words we see a glimpse of how Aaron may have seen himself: he was in a battle; it was him versus the world, freedom advocates and hackers versus the elite and powerful corporations.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. … We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web.
In tone and intention, this line of thinking is not dissimilar to people who fear the government is fueling up black helicopters to strip them of their rights. It also reminds me of a friend who habitually uses a variety of drugs, and has since seen his life and relationships completely, tragically, disintegrate. What's left of his intellectual energy focuses on how the courts conspire against him; how his father, a hard working and good man, is just an asshole who doesn't understand “what it's about.”
The commonality that I see is an us-versus-them worldview. I do not understand this worldview.
In fact, I'm surrounded by companies run by entrepreneurs, young and old, who aim to make a lot of money, but also make people happy and support good causes. They care about the result of their life's work. I purchase most of my tech products from Apple, the richest, perhaps most elite and secretive company in the world, which also happens to be affecting real change in their supply chain in truly remarkable, and unmatched, ways. And in the public sector, for all its failings, I know amazing people in government who believe in leaving the world a better place than as they found it.
To the contrary, in both public and private spheres, our world is simply filled with amazing people; Aaron was one of them.
There is a lot that can and will be said about our justice system or the factors that unfairly forced Aaron into his dangerous corner. But I truly hope we examine another facet of this tragedy: this us-versus-them worldview is a dangerous thing and it is showing its ugly head in different sectors of our fragile society.
This worldview makes people feel alienated and in danger. It pits good people against good people, who are suddenly cast as villains. It pushes people closer to doing unthinkable things, either against others or themselves.
If you believe it the freedom of information, as we all should, we must find positive ways to effect change and influence behavior. Breaking through doors will only encourage stronger locks and taller walls. We simply can't afford to be in an arms race against our own people. We must not judge motives or assume the worst of strangers. If an educational institution has an ill-conceived policy, we owe it to Aaron to demand change in loud, but constructive, ways, so that we can preserve both freedom and our society. For corporations, we must as a nation set and enforce clearer guidelines about how information can be obtained, used, and shared, and establish ground rules for how our user data is handled and who really owns it.
A call to arms should not be Aaron's legacy. A band of shadowy hackers will not make the world a better place. Hostility, not openness, is the natural result of harming our institutions. If we are to build a better world, the world Aaron envisioned, we would be better served by doing it together.
I was a very quiet kid. A lot of kids are shy; I was very shy. As a teenager, I even found it difficult to order for myself at a restaurant, so I would eat at home a lot instead. Like a lot of kids, I was at my worst when I was at school.
My sixth grade reading class once assigned a project: to create a small diorama that told the story of a historical figure. I chose aviation heroine Amelia Earhart. My dad and I staged a scene in an old shoebox: a plane and a figurine, held to the bottom with Elmer's glue, and some tiny trees from a railroad set in the garage.
On the day of the presentation, I realized I had made a mistake. My classmates came prepared not only with a diorama, but a full costume to transform them into their subject, a requirement I had somehow missed.
To make matters worse, parents had come to see the children present their subject's life details. My parents did not show. After all, we thought I was just handing in the diorama. Yet there they were: famous, if tiny, historic figures like Albert Einstein, Alfred Hitchcock, and even Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog.
Me? All I had was the shoebox. Certainly my attire was doing me no favors. I was dressed in ratty sneakers, worn shorts, and a black Batman t-shirt. I thought it seemed unlikely Amelia would be a big Batman fan, and anyway, there was a larger and more awkward problem: I had chosen a woman as my subject.
It got worse. In the middle of the classroom was a giant, 90s-era video camcorder propped up on a tripod. Every presentation would be recorded.
I began sweating profusely. Sitting at my desk, my body slumped over my sad little shoebox, I pouted into my hands. The classroom bustling as it was, my teacher simply didn't notice me and began the presentations. I couldn't summon the courage to explain to my teacher that I would be unable to present because I had failed to understand the directions.
When my name was called I walked toward the back wall of the classroom. Standing before the camera, I stared at my classroom. They quickly fell silent and glared at me perplexingly.
“I didn't know we were dressing up for this,” I said, blushing, sweating, and ran out of the room.
I have no memory of what happened next. More than likely, I sat out in the hallway, upset, until my teacher sorted things out.
I can't say things got better after that. I was never bullied or felt very lonely, but all through middle school and high school I simply wasn't there. I had checked out.
Eight years after the diorama fiasco, I stood before fifty people at a coffee shop in Cary, North Carolina. The event was a Meetup for a presidential candidate whose campaign I worked on. When his plane was delayed, I was asked to fill his shoes at the last minute. Our campaign manager, Nick Baldick, probably thought my job of overseeing our online blog community made me a good fit, or maybe I was just the most expendable staffer.
Unsure at first what to say to my audience, but with intimate knowledge of our campaign's policies and our candidate's speaking style, I gave a stump speech that night. I talked about how important the election was, the issues we faced, and then I took questions from the crowd for at least forty-five minutes. I was engaging, concise, and likable. I nailed it. It turns out that speaking in front of people is something I love to do.
What's more, today my clients and colleagues think of me as outgoing, even outspoken. How I got from a very introverted childhood to an extroverted adulthood is not a miracle, nor did it require any classes or special help. All it took was the inner confidence that I could get somewhere different than where I had been. It was a fifteen year project, but I had time.
Wherever you need help, you have time to make improvements. You don't ship a product in a day; you don't lose 20 pounds in a week; and you certainly don't overcome your greatest fears by seventh grade. We are all built with the tools to survive, and as we survive, we gain the capacity to thrive. Focus on and believe in your absolute ability to get where you need to go, and you will.
There's been a lot of talklately about Nexus 4 switchers and the decay — nay, demise! — of Apple's ecosystem.
I think the Nexus 4 is a fine phone and I think Android 4.2 Jelly Bean has come a long way. But I also think the central arguments of these posts are flawed. Let's take a look.
Apple doesn't expose hooks.
One argument is that Apple hinders its development environment by not exposing hooks to, say, Siri. I think there could be some exciting things that happen were Apple to expose a Siri API, but I also think the fact that Apple hasn't does not point to some inherit problem with secrecy. Maybe Siri just isn't ready. I would argue Apple rushed Siri out too quickly, as they did Maps, and I cannot imagine compounding that with the release of an API to a freaking artificial intelligence system.
Apple doesn't let me play with the file system.
This one blew my mind. From Ralf Rottman's blog:
On Android, it’s really simple. I can detach the file to a local folder and further work with it from there.
Holy shit. Is that what you miss, managing files? This is a fundamental difference between Apple and Google. Google scrapped together an open source project, rather than inventing it themselves, as they sooftendo.
There's no doubt iOS needs a way to set default applications or, as Ralf points out in fairness, a way to say “open with.” It's just that in the Apple ecosystem, I know Apple will do it right, even if they don't do it first. Apple is solving tough problems because they started from scratch.
Apple locks me in. I can't use Google Now on my iPhone.
It's funny that someone argued openness and used Now as an example. After all, for Google Now to work well, you have to be deep in the Google ecosystem. Like search? Use Google's. Need e-mail? Use Gmail.
Anyway, even with the proper access, there are no guarantees Google would be quick to build Now for iOS. Why would they remove their only way of neutralizing Siri on Android?
How about those movies I bought on my Nexus 7, before it was replaced by an iPad mini? I suppose I can easily download them to my Mac and watch them, right? No, of course I can't.
Apple uses splashy events to debut new products.
The argument is made that Apple has a “big bang” marketing strategy, and that this keeps customers in the dark. Somehow Google's once-a-year IO conference doesn't count, but never mind. If it seems like Google has had more iterations, it's because they were playing catch-up and patching holes. It's very clear that Google's rate of innovation on Android is beginning to slow down — and it should. Since when do we expect major operating system updates so frequently?
But what does it matter anyway, if most Android phones can never run the latest version of the OS? Google says it's gotten better. It hasn't.
What Apple does get wrong
Apple isn't too secretive. How often do companies in highly competitive industries share their product roadmaps with customers?
Apple's isn't too hip. A company like Samsung, with their snarky commercial depicting Apple customers waiting in line, would take those customers and that highly profitable retail store in a heartbeat.
Apple isn't too religious. While things were different in the early 90s when the Mac was down and out, I never beat my chest to Android users. I always say, “Oh, I like Android. Nice phone.” I am a confident consumer. I bought the phone I prefer and use the OS I think is better. Don't agree? Great!
Apple has some clean up to do with their user interface, Siri, and Maps. They have some problems to solve with payments and Passbook, and maybe some disruption to cause in the television space. They have to, at least internally, be humble and, as Steve Jobs might say, stay hungry and foolish. Build something great and then move on. Don't dwell on it, because your competitors are indeed moving fast.
So will 2013 be a watershed year for Apple?
Will the whole business come crumbling down because Tim Cook didn't attend the Bauhausschule? Will Apple's stock plummet when their margins fall from 39% to 38%? Will millions of loyal Apple customers leave the ecosystem because they can't move files to an external SD card?
Meh. Probably not.
Correction: I referred incorrectly to Apple's payment and reward app as “Passport”. I have corrected it to read “Passbook.”
I've been struggling the past couple weeks with a seemingly simple feature. The user submits a business name, we grab some data Factual's places database, and then we import an image from the website of the business. Simple enough.
Two gems have helped implement this: metainspector to crawl the page and return an array of image URLs, and fastimage to determine the dimensions of a given image. To determine which image to import, we make an assumption: the largest image in the array of dimensions will be the best.
For the most part it's worked out, but there are times when the largest image is not the best image. An crappy website tends to have crappy images, regardless of their size.
It's been discouraging to see some of these images in an otherwise beautiful web application, so this feature hasn't quite felt right. I set it aside for a few days, but returned to it earlier in the week to improve it. The results just haven't been there.
Then I found an elegant solution: disregard the image altogether.
It might sound silly, but sometimes the fastest way to remove a blocker is removing the feature from which it originates. Is it really that important to show an image from the damn website? After considering what information matters to the user and spending some time in Photoshop, it became clear that, on balance, these images made the app worse.
I now have less code, fewer requests, two fewer gems, a faster app, and, it turns out, a better design. Problem solved.
This week my four-month old daughter reached out and touched my iPad mini's screen. The app responded and her eyes, filled with the glow of the screen, suddenly widened. It got me thinking - and excited - about the opportunities she'll have to learn.
The video tells the story of a Kentucky teacher named Jeffrey Wright. He is everything we want from our teachers: funny, engaging, passionate, and connecting with students on a very personal level. Many of Wright's students are disillusioned kids from deeply troubled homes. They are the types of kids who walk on a fine line between success and failure.
A few minutes into the video, we learn the source of Wright's drive. Wright's young son lives with a disorder called Joubert syndrome, which severely limits the boy's mobility, muscle control, and physical development. After putting everything he has into his students, Wright comes home and does it all over again for his son.
I took two things from watching this. First, while I hope I could have the courage and perseverance Jeffrey Wright displays every day, I'm lucky my daughter is so healthy. Second, when it comes to education, it takes more than app. The best Objective-C or HTML5 cannot replace an inspirational mentor.
This is why we need to reimagine the library.
Too many of our schools don't have a Jeffrey Wright. Too many of our children won't have access to an iPad in the home. The kids who most need both are likely to have neither. It will take time to figure out our schools and scale, but the library is an opportunity now.
My vision for tomorrow's library is a beautiful building made from great materials, filled with free tablets connected to super-fast Internet. While its floor plan commits far less square footage to books, it does contain the very best books in human history; curated, inspiring artifacts that one can touch and feel. The library of the future has conference rooms, flat screens, and open spaces for young entrepreneurs and startups. It is a lively, fluid place where people learn and share ideas. Large floor to ceiling windows bring in natural light and welcome the city in. Its walls feature posters of great thinkers and their biographies, from Descartes and Plato, to Henry Ford and Steve Jobs.
We create a space that surrounds kids who need chances with adults who take them. We give kids access to great content and support them with great mentors. We show them what success looks like and, in doing so, raise the expectations of their own lives.
I believe beautiful structures can inspire people. It's time to hack the library.
I see quite a few weekend projects posted on sites like Hacker News. There's something to be said for mixing the pressure of a deadline with the momentum that comes from freedom and creativity. While the weekend project is a great learning device, I've noticed some people “launching” products Monday morning, complete with paid tiers. With very few exceptions, nothing that can be thrown together by one person in a weekend is worth charging money for. But if you are serious about shipping something worthwhile, there are some tips for creating a successful project.
Have a Plan
Spend Friday night organizing your thoughts. Draw the interface on paper or using your favorite tool (Omnigraffle is good and so is Mockingbird). Don't write a single line of code until you know exactly what you're building. Nothing kills like a refactor. If you aren't sure, you aren't ready.
Along the way, you might get so excited about your progress that you dream up some extra feature. Unless it is truly exceptional, say no. Ideas require patience and nurturing. Great ideas withstand the test of time; they call on you when you ignore them. A tight scope is essential to an organized weekend. Only the lean survive.
Develop in sprints and focus on a single set of related tasks or user stories. If you find that you are context-switching, walk away immediately. Jumping around is a sign you have lost focus or sight of your goals. I like to make a chai or mocha, find the right music, and play with my dogs. If I can't find my way back to coding, I return to wire-framing and sketching. More often than not, my inability to focus is a leading indicator I haven't fully thought something through. When you know what to build, you'll build it quickly.
Make it Beautiful
Twitter Bootstrap is a great tool, but it's one that is overused in production. A stock Bootstrap theme is not acceptable if your goal is to get in front of potential customers. Make something beautiful. Care about your pixels as you would your code. If you are not a designer, find one to partner with before you launch. A hacker knows how tough it is to write an interesting application, but a customer can only feel the soul of a product by the pixels on the screen. Show them you love and care for your product.
The weekend project is about having fun, learning new things, and building something great. But also remember that the weekend project, more often than not, is for you or your small circle. If you want to put it out into the world, make sure you give it the love and care it deserves. Don't rush to deploy, and don't try to charge money unless you have something useful and unique.