Where is Glee for engineers?

Recently, my wife has been subjecting me to the musical stylings of the show Glee.  While I will let some other blog do an analysis of the fragmented and dry dialog, I couldn’t help but think that the show must be doing something to revive interest in the arts in high schools across the country. When was the last time that the arts had such a cool headliner?  It really is fantastic for them and I couldn’t be happier that they are getting some more of the spotlight, and ultimately, mindshare with our young people.

Yesterday evening I was at my wife’s sister’s house for Passover and we were all discussing what one of her kids would be best suited for as a career.  Of course, her daughter is only 5 years old, but the makings of some intelligence are clearly there.  After a few people suggested lawyer, because of her argumentative personality, and other miscellaneous professions, I posited that she is already showing that she has what it takes to handle engineering.  If you ask me, she has the knack.  Never mind that she is always inquiring about the inner workings of things.  I caught a few sideways glances, and then someone gave her some math problems to work out, and without any math training, she was able to complete them all except for one.  After seeing her math ability, I proclaimed that from now on she would only get scientific types of gifts from us and that I was going to do everything in my power to glorify the science, technology, engineering, and math professions for her.  But wouldn’t it be so much easier if I had some help?

If poorly written and highly produced TV can glorify the lifestyles of Glee club members, what about a show for engineering?  We need to make it easier for kids to see the impact that engineers have on society, and it should start by finding a way to enter the collective conscience of TV viewers.  And if you think I am crazy, think about how much we glorify GERMAN engineering in this country, and that is mostly just based on car commercials.  But short of TV, what can we do to make engineering seem more glamorous?  Is it playing on the successes of startup founders?  Tell me what you think in the comments.

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A meeting with my future

About a month ago, I ventured down to Austin to SXSW for the first time. Chris McCann told me it was spring break for entrepreneurs. Steven Chau told me I really should go, and he hasn’t been wrong about these kinds of things very often. So I looked into the prices for a pass to the Interactive sessions, and they were obnoxious. Chris assured me that the best way to go was *without* a pass so I could spend all of my time networking and talking to people at the parties. If I was disciplined and persistent, I figured I might even be able to swing a few meetings from some of the crowd that would be in town. So I thought about it some more, and asked my friends from other towns if they were attending, and it turned out most were. But the cost of a place was so high, I wasn’t really ready to commit. I went through my list of people that I want to meet face to face to see if any of them were coming, and it turned out Mark Suster was coming. That sealed it for me; I had to go too.

The backstory here is that I first found Mark’s blog well over a year ago when I was spending lots of time reading about my ADHD and what it meant to me. I started reading his blog regularly and after a while I started to notice that what he was writing seemed to be exactly how I thought about something, and when it was a topic with which I was unfamiliar, his writing still made complete sense. In March of 2010, he wrote an article about Twitter that made things really click for me. I immediately activated my twitter account and started @replying him pretty regularly. From that point on, I was usually asking questions in the comments of his blog, challenging his assertions on twitter, and for the most part trying to find any way I could to dig into his brain without being obnoxious. And for the most part, I guess it worked.

So I told Mark that I wanted to meetup while in Austin and he agreed to do it. He warned me that I would have to stay in touch with him. It felt weird to have someone tell me to pester them, but as an ADHD person, I knew that he meant he would be busy but he didn’t want to forget about me. Once I got into town, I pinged him to see if he wanted to grab lunch, and he did. Honestly, I couldn’t freaking believe I was actually going to sit down and talk to someone whose thought process I could understand so clearly and yet had so much life experience. I was truly ready to learn. We met up for some Texas BBQ, which wasn’t bad in my book, with two guys from a company he had invested in. We didn’t get to talk much directly, but I got my first cool experience of the trip when he invited me to some exclusive party that evening. Score one for the little guy from Kansas! I walked with them towards the convention center, where Jason Calacanis saw Mark on the street and came over to chat. I was really just like a fly on the wall, trying to keep up and process as much as I could about media and advertising and other things that I generally don’t know very much about. Mark said we should try to get together later for some one on one time, which I thought was generous, and we went our separate ways.

Now, that evening at the party, there were plenty of VIP’s, but I really enjoyed meeting lots of polished and aggressive entrepreneurs. Sure, it was cool when I was sitting next to Dave McClure and opening a bottle of beer on the edge of a table for him when he didn’t have a bottle opener. He didn’t say thank you so I thought of course he wouldn’t last 10 minutes in the Midwest. But it was an interesting atmosphere and dynamic to find that the most interesting people to me were mostly people that you wouldn’t know. I would also like to point out that it helps when I am feeling introverted to run into someone I know loosely that is a known extrovert. It makes it so much easier to get going and start more conversations later. Thanks Trevor.

At this point, I started running into people I know from other cities that I primarily met last year at the SO Summit, and it felt great to see people that I think really get it. I personally don’t get enough exposure to that here in KC, but I am trying. Over the next day, I combined a little bit of Twitter stalking with lots of accidental bump-ins on the street to keep up with his schedule, which was naturally very busy. The nice thing about the Twitter stalking was finding that there were usually a couple interesting people also chasing Mark. So even though I didn’t grab his attention at one particular time, I could usually fill it with a side conversation with someone that I could learn from. I tried to get him to come over to the Silicon Prairie News party, but it was now Sunday night and there were other things going on. I would have to wait until Monday, which was my last full day in Austin.

On Monday, I was feeling especially introverted. I didn’t want to go out. My friend Robin invited me to a small lunch thing and I still didn’t really want to go, so I decided to walk a few blocks and think about it, where I naturally ran into Mark. We made plans to catch up after an immediate commitment he had, and that I would pester him to make sure he didn’t forget. He was starting to sound pretty hoarse, and he was a popular person on the street, so I went to find a quiet and obscure place after catching up with Robin. I did my obligatory pestering, and after a while he sent back a message saying he had been roped into lunch. I was starting to feel a little unsure it was going to happen. Score minus one for the little guy from Kansas. Then I got a voicemail from him saying we would definitely do it soon, and he would ping me. The truth here is that if you get someone with ADHD to stop and say this is important and we will do it and I will let you know when, then it is probably going to happen. So I went back to the apartment I had rented, read some news, and was ready to take a nap to freshen up. As I was setting my phone down, in came the message. “Free?” At this point, I figure I was probably 14 blocks from him, so I grabbed my bag, and I started running through downtown Austin to catch him before someone else had the chance. Success.

The conversation that happened over the next 75 minutes was nothing short of pure bliss. I won’t waste your time with the specifics, but it was all advice that I would give myself, and in the end, that is really what I thought was unique about him. I am glad I was right, and of course I am glad he took the time for me. I still can’t believe some of the weird parallels between us, and it really felt like I could be talking to my future self. Perhaps if I play my cards right, I will get there. And that was the story of my first SXSW. I planted seeds long ago, and when an opportunity arose to meet with my future, I took it.

Canceling cable TV soon

This is a little bit of something I learned a while ago.  Once upon a time, I dropped out of college and got a job.  It would be easy for me to blame it on video games, but the reality is I didn’t want to be in school very much, so I played video games instead.  When I got home, I got a job working 40 hours a week at something like $8 an hour stocking shelves.  It was really refreshing to live back in my parents basement and chill out for a while.  I did all kinds of things just because I wanted to.  I read A Clockwork Orange during my lunch breaks.  I played video games until I was tired of them.  I spent lots of time thinking about my future.  And it didn’t take me long to figure out that the economics of working without a degree were not going to be very helpful in the long run.  So towards the end of my first semester out of school, I told my parents I was going back.

Now, when I was a freshman they had helped me pay for things so I would not get a job.  However, they told me they wanted me to take an entire year off and that I wasn’t getting any support if I went back early.  I didn’t care, and in retrospect, it was a great decision.  Not only did I not have any money for anything, I didn’t have anything to take with me.  I moved into the dorms over the semester break and managed to get a room all to myself.  I left my computer at home, along with my TV.  And that semester, I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life.  I can get tremendous amounts of things done when I remove a few of the habitual distractions from my life.  The next semester, I bought a new computer and got a TV, and while my grades dropped, I made do.  I still needed some help and support along the way, but I had made it through a major transition in my way of thinking.

As I spend time thinking about the next 6 months of my life, I have come to the conclusion that I am in another transitional period.  So many things need to be different for me to find success in starting mashtun that I need to eliminate as many distractions as possible.  I quit playing video games on the computer last year, but I still periodically play FIFA on my PS3.  All of those games are going away, along with cable TV.  I know that if I dedicate myself and live simply, I will be surprised at my accomplishments six months from now.