Category Archives: Technology

E-Bikes, I Want One

23rd October 2014

Bosch sponsored this post, but the enthusiasm is mine.

A few months ago Bosch sent me to The New Wheel to borrow an e-bike for the day.

I’d never heard of an e-bike, but they’re bikes with electric motors. Riding one is a lot like riding a regular bicycle, you have to pedal and you still get exercise, but you can set the motor to give you a boost when you’re climbing a hill, or getting tired from riding a long distance, or coming home from eating a lot of pasta.

None of this meant much to me until I was climbing vertical San Francisco hills like Wonder Woman on an adrenal high.

Guys, I have worn some adventure helmets in my day, but this was incredible. I don’t even like to walk up those hills, but biking up made me feel like I should be holding a tiny parasol and waving at passersby.

We biked places I would never take a regular bike — over massive hills in Pacific Heights and out to the Golden Gate bridge, up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower, and right through the nightmarish traffic on Fisherman’s Wharf. We even climbed the massive Potrero Hill to see the city lights. In 15 years living in the city, I’ve never seen as much of it in one day. It was so much fun!

This guy wrote a piece on Medium about why he sold his car for an e-bike, and I was doing the same calculations in my head as we rode around.

Karen, who owns The New Wheel with her husband, loaned us the bike and led the way. She told me that lots of their customers are buying e-bikes to replace cars — new ones run about $3,500 and up.

While we rode around, Bosch asked me to catalogue some of my favorite places in San Francisco that are harder to access by car. So check that out if you’re interested.

And if anyone ever asks you if you want to try an e-bike, do it. And then keep it.

Humin Beta

24th April 2014

Update: I’m out of invites, but if you’d like to join the beta you can request an invite direct from Humin.

My friend Lane Wood, who spoke at Camp Mighty last year, is helping make an app I think you’ll want. It’s called Humin, and it takes the contacts section of your phone and adds some of the info and functionality of a social media platform. So now my contacts look like this:

Humin pulls down a photo, employment background, any meetings you have on your calendar with this person, mutual friends, work experience and common friends at those companies, and educational background. I’ve learned a lot I didn’t know about friends, just by opening my phone to call them, and Humin has even alerted me a couple of times when friends are in from out of town. So neat.

I’ve found it indispensable enough that I replaced my contacts app with Humin, so now I make all my texts and calls through the app. It’s exponentially more useful, and frankly prettier, than my old contacts.

If you’d like to try it, request an invitation to the beta right here, and I’ll email you one. Let me know what you think.

How Grieving is Shifting in the Face of Technology

22nd April 2014

Do any of you remember when Twitter was young and John Mayer was one of the first celebrities to sign up? I followed him for the hell of it, and then freaked a little when I realized I’d started to care about him. I know it’s morbid, but one of the first things I thought was that it was going to be weird when he died.

For years, I’ve wondered what it’s going to be like when these thousands of people to whom we’re connected start to age. Not only will the rate of deaths increase, we’ll have so much material to review to keep those memories alive. It feels to me like the first generation of Web natives might be headed toward a grief overload.

I wrote up an essay about it on Medium: Grief Capacity, Mourning in the New Century. Have a look and tell me if you think the idea of grief overload is nutty, or whether it’s something you’ve thought about too.

Psst, Secret App

10th February 2014

Have you tried Secret yet? It came out a couple weeks ago, and I am a 13-year-old.

The app is like an intimate PostSecret for your phone, an experiment PostSecret tried and then abandoned back in 2012, because they felt they couldn’t create a bully-free environment. Foreshadowing.

Once you load Secret, it searches your iPhone’s contact list for friends, and then marks secrets as coming from “friends” or “friends of friends.” If you don’t have enough contacts in the system, it fills your feed with popular posts from others, which are marked with the user’s home state.

To keep things private(ish), you can’t see secrets from friends until you have at least three other friends in the system, though I wouldn’t share where you hid the bodies anytime soon. Randomized avatar icons help you understand who’s talking when a comment thread goes conversational.

And about that bullying thing, people are sometimes called out by name in negative contexts, which can make it embarrassing to use the app for the real-live grownups in the crowd. But Secret has been interesting overall, and sometimes a nice way to support friends going through tough moments.

Have you tried it, or its more random cousin Whisper? And if not, what do you think about the whole deal?

XOXO Festival Recap

1st October 2013

I missed a few sessions, but these were my XOXO Festival highlights:

MAX TEMKIN
Creator of Cards Against Humanity

Max, who is just a real solid guy, talked about how good projects start with shared values, which then lead to strategy, and finally tactics. It reminded me of Simon Sinek’s Ted talk, “How great leaders inspire action,” which you should watch:

He said that one of their values was that success is not a zero sum game, meaning that they don’t believe their success is offset by someone else’s failure. This is an operating principle of my life, and one of the things I look for in other people. Can you celebrate with me? Here’s a stupid hat, I’ll get you some champagne.

ERIKA MOEN
Cartoonist

Erika wins for the most quintessential XOXO Festival sound bite:

“I never set out to be a full-time sex cartoonist.”

Continue reading

XOXO, The Doubleclicks, and Being a Geek Girl

26th September 2013

There were quite a few moving moments at XOXO, but I’ve been revisiting one in particular — when The Doubleclicks took the stage to perform “Imposter,” a song about the Mars Rover.

There were hundreds of us in the room, but it was unusually still — everyone was listening to the words of this achy, earnest song about imperfection, alienation, and loneliness. Then the singer just… forgot the lyrics.
Continue reading

PAX Dickwolves Controversy: Nice Guys Finishing Last

5th September 2013

This weekend I attended PAX. If you’ve never heard of it, PAX stands for Penny Arcade Expo, a gaming festival for people who like computer, console, and table games.

Afterward, I heard that PAX has had some controversy over the last couple years, much of it stemming from a rape reference made in a comic called Penny Arcade, which is published by PAX organizers. I had an embarrassed flash of, “Did I just go to a thing that doesn’t like ladies? Ah maaaaaan.”

So I researched what happened last night, and this morning WIRED published a piece about the whole deal. Quick synopsis:

THE PAX CONTROVERSY

  • In 2010, PAX organizers Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, published this comic referencing Dickwolves that rape people to sleep:


    The rape reference upset some attendees.

  • Organizers then published a couple of unapologetic and somewhat flippant posts reffing the incident, and this ham-fisted explanation in comic-form, which further offended the offended parties.
  • Later, Krahulik drew the aforementioned Dickwolf onstage at PAX:

  • Organizers made Dickwolves merch for the fans who felt the controversy had been blown out of proportion:


    And subsequently pulled the merch when some attendees, speakers, and companies voiced the collective equivalent of, “Uh. Seriously, guys?”

  • Krahulik tweeted that he’d still be wearing his shirt to PAX.
  • Then at this year’s PAX, Krahulik said onstage, “I think that pulling the Dickwolves merchandise was a mistake.” (2:34:57 in the video)

    Watch live video from PAX East 2012 on TwitchTV
    Huh.

THE CONUNDRUM

The original comic didn’t bother me much personally, because as Rachel Edidin put it in the Wired piece, the joke was more of “an illustration of the screwed-up ethics implied by the quests in videogames like World of Warcraft.” However, I got more incredulous and angry as I read on.

To be fair, I knew nothing else about these guys going in. Further, I don’t know the personalities at the heart of the complaint, which are always a factor. That said, this was not handled well. Krahulik in particular seems to be in a defensive crouch, belaboring a subject that is obviously painful for some of his fans.

I sat down to write this feeling ready to do another round of, “Rape references are creepy. Please stop being so cruddy.” But then I watched the video above, and came away feeling dejected.

PUTTING A FACE TO THE BLAME

The running theme in that onstage interview, which is actually a conversation between friends and business partners, is what it’s like to be a stereotypical nerd rising to success. I encourage you to watch a bit of it. The organizers are vulnerable, with lots of self-effacing humor about insecurity, the desire for physical and emotional intimacy with women, and surprise that life has granted a measure of success, even as the result of hard work.

Krahulik mentions being glad he met his wife when he did, because he fears his subsequent success would have made it difficult to find someone who really understood him and cared for him otherwise. They tease each other about girls, “Do you remember when you had that girlfriend and your first date was, like, writing up a contract for each other?” Holkins mentions that the team’s financial success unsettles him, having come from a poor background, and worries aloud that he doesn’t pull his weight in the business. Krahulik hesitates before telling a story, “Can I please say it?” he asks his wife from stage, then having acquired her assent, proceeds to tell the world’s tamest story about his first visit to a strip club as an adult who doesn’t like to drink.

These aren’t callous guys. They are guys who have been candid about having some psychological problems, and have trouble seeing themselves as role models.

THE CONFERENCE

I’ve attended years of web, tech, and blogger conferences, and know these events often reflect the intentions and personalities of the organizers. Before I knew about the controversy, I thought the feeling at PAX was lovely.

I was preparing to write a post about how I’ve never been around a huge group of people who were more polite and aware of each other. Lots of smiles and small kindnesses, holding doors open for each other, stepping to the side if someone wanted a photo, noticing if someone had dropped something. There was an overwhelming sense of courtesy, cooperation, and goodwill.

But the actions of the PAX team on this point make it more difficult to enjoy the environment they’ve created. Not because of the original comic, but because of their ill-considered behavior in the aftermath. If they’re genuinely nice guys, as they present themselves, why have they been so reactive?

IN THE LOOP

In these situations, we often cast public figures in one-dimensional roles. For many women who hear about this issue around PAX, Krahulik and Holkins will be the rape joke guys. It’s natural that our tendency to label should spark defensiveness on the part of organizers. We are not mean people. We did not set out to wound you, therefore it is unfair to hold us accountable for your wounds. The response isn’t particularly evolved, but it is human.

What’s more, these are men at the center of a world comprised mostly of men. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, or their unwillingness to listen, but I’m hardly surprised. Living in a tech-centric town, I know lots of nice guys who nonetheless seem baffled when you bring up the most rudimentary feminist issues. It can be frustrating.

In the video, the audience cheers when Krahulik expresses regret at having pulled the Dickwolves merchandise. He’s in a feedback loop of people, many of them presumably decent people, who agree that he hasn’t done anything wrong. That must be good to hear, and must make it hard to hear much else.

Update: Gabe Krahulik clarified his on stage statement regarding the Dickwolves merch, apologizing for much of the incident, but asserting that he believes it would have been better had they not taken further action by removing the shirts.