2/29/12: One year later, various online services have tried to address this topic. Timehop is the best expression of this blog post. And, of course, Facebook itself launched Timeline.

I just read a great TED talk by Dan Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, on experienced vs. remembered happiness. (TED has a transcript for every video. Wonderful.)

It’s fascinating from so many angles. The one I want to focus on: ”How much do we consume our memories?”

Looked Again At That Amazing Beach Photo from 2009? No?

His answer is, not much. True. But is that really because we’re that uninterested, or because it’s too much effort? Pre-Facebook, how much did most people consume their friends’ lives? How about now? Technology enabling a natural behavior. Hold that thought.

I rediscovered this old Livejournal (Yeah. Remember Xanga? Or… Myspace?) entry recently:

I’ve also wondered what would happened if I found my soulmate (assuming there is such a thing, or its equivalent, yada yada) sometime before, say, 2012. Wouldn’t I be just as happy working on something enjoyable (still a small tech company, just not a highly risky all-life-consuming one with huge potential) if I’d managed to obtain the greatest thing? (“…to love and be loved in return.”) I think I would.

so summary, the two best-case scenarios for my happiness in 2016: 1) google jr. 2) kalvin jr.

I can’t believe I wrote this. In fact, I’ll deny writing it right now. Wow.

Anyway, the point is, the times I stumble across a great [IM/email thread/journal/photo] from years ago, almost always while searching for something else, I’m delighted. I think this is a common feeling. Sometimes I even learn something. But it’s too much trouble to do actively, there’s too much friction.

Twitter: Way Easier To Consume Than that Old Blog You Can’t Remember the Password For

Consuming new content, on the other hand, is easy. It’s just like watching TV; it’s a 24/7 cycle that focuses so much on the shiny now. But the past, particularly when it’s personal, can be far more valuable than the present. It comes with free added perspective and context.

We just don’t notice because–oops–it scrolled off our feed. Realtime web? More like unrealtime web. (Try looking at Bieber results on Twitter. Go on. Wait 30 seconds. There will be a few hundred more tweets since you started, if it’s a slow Bieber day. Just like real life… if humans formed a global hive mind.)

Rediscovery As a Core Philosophy

There are services that offer rediscovery as a feature. Memolane and Momento, which look beautiful, feel like next-gen scrapbooking and diary-ing, respectively. But there’s a big difference between a feature in an existing product and building a product around a philosophy. I want a service whose core essence is resurfacing personally meaningful content, preferably relevant to this moment. Not just organize or aggregate it, but actually resurface it.

Like Ohlife‘s “peek at the past” feature, or Facebook’s Photo Memories feature (did you know it doesn’t show you photos of anyone you’ve ever been in a relationship with on Facebook?), but for everything, not just old photos of my friends. If Twitter is a discovery engine, I want a self-driving rediscovery car. One that feeds me delectable rediscovered-content grapes. (See: Hedonism-bot)

In Summary

The Internet is capturing more and more of our past. A lot of it can be meaningful or relevant to our lives today. And it’s just sitting there unloved and forgotten! Let’s figure out how we can get it more attention.

BTW, Twitter says: 38,092 new Bieber tweets since you started searching.


I enjoy reading. Consuming content is so much less effort than producing it!

I originally Instagrammed this while packing the night before I left California, with the caption “Books to read, books to return, books to gift.” (Instagram is like Twitter, but you don’t have to think of something to say. Just take a photo and the whole world can see what you had for dinner. You don’t even need to know what it’s called. No, I kid, Instagram is great and destined for success. And they have a fancy new API. But I digress.)


Basically I Need More Bookcases So I Can Stop Using the Floor

  • Vagabonding – Really, really great. Thanks @cansar. Surprising number of parallels between “quit my job to travel as a lifestyle” and “quit my job to do a startup”. Will have to write more about it sometime. Gave it to a theater student from Idyllwild on the plane. It felt appropriate for it to keep traveling.
  • Dream Big – Also really great. Very inspirational. Makes an excellent gift for all ages! Even more so if the recipient is a fan of determined piglets, and who isn’t?
  • XKCD, volume 0 – When Randall Munroe came to the Bay Area for this book tour, I went to both the San Francisco and Mountain View “readings”. I also bought posters, t-shirts, and three autographed books. (My excuse is the profits went to Room to Read.) I guess this is why he was able to quit his job as a NASA rocket scientist to draw comics full-time.
  • Kafka on the Shore – On the reading list. Either my second or third Murakami book since high school; I can’t remember whether one of them was a crazy dream I had or a book I read.
  • Uncharitable / The Bottom Billion – Had to return these when I left, but definitely borrowing them back again. Especially the latter.
  • Designing Interactions / How to See – Returned! I’m not a designer, though I would have liked to be one in an alternative life (I have many.) So I basically flipped through these and don’t feel qualified to recommend them. But I liked them. And I’m told they’re classic.

One of Many Wonderful Quotes from Vagabonding

Traveler, there is no path

paths are made by walking

–Antonio Machado, Cantores


Last summer while working at One Block Off the Grid, I helped put some solar panels up with a couple of 1BOG interns, @ecokeally and @stephenayang, thanks to the Oakland nonprofit GRID Alternatives. They train volunteers to install solar panels and inverters for (and sometimes with) low-income homeowners.

By “helped” I mean “provided a pair of hands and an avenue through which to solicit corporate donations.” That’s not a ding on GRID; they’ve got to get money somehow, and this was the equivalent of a fancy-plate fundraiser with more solar and less salmon. Their usual volunteer sessions are (I hear) much more intensive than the one-day Solarthon I participated in.

I took some notes after and thought I’d throw them up here. Lightly edited to remove all the references to 1BOG’s competitors as “asshats,” of course. (Aside: does it bother you that commas and periods always go inside quotes? I’m going to switch to the British system, where logic dictates where they goes. Really, I just looked this up– they would have written it “asshats”. Does that not make so much more sense?)


Random Observations

- You never want to say “heads up” on a construction site, you say “headache” or anything else that doesn’t make people look up– because then they’ll get hit in the face by the falling object.

- The vast majority of the men took yellow hard hats, and most of the women took white or blue hard hats. Why? Tangentially: does stereotype threat exist for physical abilities too?

- I will never hear the words “fish”, “stripper” and “Fresno” the same way again. (The fish, or wire fisher, helps pull the wiring through 100ft+ of metal conduit piping from the inverter box in the garage to the panels on the roof; the wire stripper strips wire; and our intrepid leader loved talking about installing solar in his native Fresno. For instance, in Fresno, they recommend washing panels every 3-6 weeks because of the dust. 5%+ decrease if you don’t. Up to 20% for lots of it. I was surprised because I’ve always heard that you don’t need to wash more than once a year except in unusual circumstances.)

- Our other intrepid leader has a day job as the advertising director for Stanford Magazine (the alumni magazine), helps the GRID student group at Stanford, and has been going to Burning Man since the start, when it was in SF. Really cool guy.

- If we had known they were giving out prizes for donations raised, we could have gotten “3rd place” and a Kill-a-Watt, between us. Oh well.

- For some reason– nobody could figure out why– the install was designed for the north side of the roof, even though an equally large, unshaded portion of the roof was available on the south side of the roof, where they would have produced far more electricity. They have professionals review the blueprints, ostensibly, so no idea why this happened.

- Apparently it’s well-known that installers paid by the job will usually plan to do it in one day, and installers paid by the hour will usually plan to do it over two days. Structure your incentives correctly!

- Mini ratcheting offset screwdrivers are INCREDIBLY COOL. And Harbor Freight sells’em for cheap.


General Observations

- Nearly 200 people participated in putting up a hundred solar panels on 9 houses! About 2 kilowatts per system. And raised $100K for GRID– each house cost $5K+ to sponsor, for starters. (Salesforce.com had their “Earthforce” team, Google had their solar-panel-decorated logo up, several other corporations.)

- 1BOG’s installers use high quality parts! At least, higher quality than the ones used by GRID according to our installer-from-Fresno. Our installers frequently use SMA (Sunpower) inverters, which are more advanced– dual fans instead of a giant heatsink, integrated circuits instead of lots of copper coil. Much smaller and lighter.

- Solar feels less mysterious and intimidating now– someone handy who participates in an installation and puts in a significant amount of time to learn it all, could easily install their own system (though they’d still need an electrician.) The process is still unstandardized– every installer puts in solar differently– but the parts themselves aren’t terribly difficult to work with… it’s not like you’re soldering circuits or something. The 2% who have the motivation to do this, can/should do it. 1BOG works for the other 98%.

- “Solarthon” meant “instead of our usual two-day installations where the primary goal is using volunteers for slightly trained labor, we will do all the prep the day before using our usual volunteers, and then leave all the fun stuff for Solarthon day, so that we can sign up corporate sponsors en masse– oh, right, and their employees can come be volunteers too. Ah, and we’ll serve them lunch too. and invite some politicians.”

- Try volunteering with GRID! It’s difficult to get in individually because the waiting list for their orientations is so long. We got in because one of our funders’ nonprofit, Ordinary People, sponsored a house. But if you want to try signing up yourself just go to http://www.gridalternatives.org/.

Grid-Alternatives Leader Inverter

I personally found the experience very educational and surprisingly fun. (Mostly because the hard work had been done for us.) I would have liked information on what economic impact GRID Alternatives has compared to simply subsidizing electricity bills for low-income families. (Not that it could substitute–I’m just curious.) Regardless, it’s a great way to introduce residential solar–which still seems exotic and unaffordable to many people, even though it’s practical and often a good financial decision–to Bay Area residents.

If you’re interested in learning more about Grid Alternatives, a project manager at Adobe Systems, Rosana Francescato, wrote a great post about her Grid Alternatives experience here.

If you’re interested in putting solar on your own roof and don’t want to spend 50+ hours figuring out what everything means and which installer to go with, check out One Block Off the Grid (“Groupon for solar”). It’s free, you don’t have to worry about getting a great deal and they have real live experts sitting in San Francisco to answer all your questions. You can also use 1BOG’s advanced online solar estimate tool to figure out how much it’ll cost you, and how much you’ll save.

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