Hello. It’s me.
(Record scratch noise).
Now, you may be wondering why you’re getting this email, so let me try to quickly explain before you unsubscribe.
(Don’t worry, I really don’t mind if you unsubscribe).
This is a newsletter by me, Dan Hon (here’s my irreverent and sometimes sincere Twitter account), wherein I type in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way about anything and everything that has caught my attention.
Some of you who have never received a newsletter episode from me before (I idiosyncratically call them “episodes” and not “issues” because I am in charge of my typing fingers and you are not) may start to feel alarmed at this prospect of a random person’s thoughts appearing unbidden in your already overcrowded inbox.
And yet! At last count, over two and a half thousand people have somehow decided to receive these emails! Sometimes I talk about advertising (mainly bad advertising, but occasionally I am a Good Person and I praise the Good Advertising). Sometimes I talk about technology, and boy is there a lot of that about these days. Also I sometimes talk about what it means to take an organization that has not really been that bothered about technology (say, a large well-known British broadcaster that has some sort of corporate body), and then forcibly introduce it to the internet and watch it try to do its best. And I might also do that to, say, large government organizations!
Also, if I’m being honest, I probably write quite a bit too much about Star Trek as a metaphor for everything that’s horrible about technology these days.
Anyway, you can find a good three-hundred odd newsletter episodes (see! Still not calling them “issues”!) in these here archives, which I have dutifully imported from Tinyletter, which is owned by mailchimp and for which I am forever grateful.
So! Feel free to unsubscribe. That’s totally okay.
Now for all of you returning people who’ve been quietly waiting to see if this newsletter will ever start up again: yes, I’m back, and we’ll see how this goes. Hello, how are you, I hope you’ve been well, my how you’ve grown, etc.
Yes, you caught me. I’m just another person, their email standing in front of you, asking to be monetized. It’s 2019, and if I want to be sure that my family will have a secure bunker and supplies to wait out anthropogenic climate change and the collapse of all civilization, I’ve got to make sure I can buy all the supplies.
What this means:
On Monday 23 September, 2019, Things That Have Caught My Attention will go paid subscription and I will finally be practicing what it means to hit a keyboard with my hands until coins come out.
As ever, I will be jumping on the paid newsletter bandwagon significantly later than everyone else, despite having jumped on the regular newsletter bandwagon significantly before everyone else and having had time to get a combination of anxious, bored, jaded, stressed etc. as the entire rest of the world decided to start writing newsletters, just like when we started blogging back in the late 1990s.
What it’ll cost:
So, the pricing is a bit weird.
You could pay:
$0.00 per month, and you’ll get one or two public newsletters a month. I used to write newsletters every weekday but let’s admit that trying to do that now is insane. My aim is to write around one newsletter a week.
$7.00 per month, and you’ll get all the newsletters that are fit for my fingers to type.
Or, you can pay $150 a year, which—get this—is more than you’d pay if you paid $6.99 a month, and you’ll get exactly the same as everyone who’s paying $6.99 a month, but I will get more money, and you’ll get to fill in an expense claim for “research”. Look at me, disrupting sane, well-founded pricing models by just being weird.
(In other words, two prices: one cheap one, and a more expensive one for people who can afford to pay more.)
I will not be accepting bitcoins or Dunning-Krugerrands although seeing as Stripe are the payment processor and I have no control over what they accept, I guess I may well end up accepting weird cryptocurrency against my wishes or without my knowledge. Knock yourself out and pay by le crypto if you want.
You mean, why am I suddenly experimenting with some sort of exchange of monetary value for my typing? I don’t know. It partly has something to do with noticing that internet hero stacy-marie ishmael has started her own newsletter, The Main Event, which had a particularly good opener about What It Is Like To Be Of A Certain Age On The Internet, but she had a better title for it…
It’s probably got more to do with the fact that I owe a non-fiction book proposal and a good sixty thousand more words on a novel and I’m co-chairing a conference for the third time, and there’s nothing like having an outlet for procrastinatory writing.
I normally open my newsletter episodes with a sitrep: a situation report. It is called a sitrep because it sounds vaguely tactical and the thought of using a vaguely tactical military word like sitrep to describe something as mundane as the beginning of an email is funny.
This episode’s situation report is: it is 10:58pm, my partner thinks I’m asleep and getting a good night’s rest before an early flight to Sacramento for the day job, and I am in the guest room because when I do this commute and I’m in our main bedroom, I wake the kids up when I leave and once that happens, Nothing Good Will Come Of This.
Oh, and I’m nearly 40 years old, I found another grey hair and my right knee hurts. Take that, mundane Bond.
Let’s just ease into things, okay? Two little things this time, both that I wrote about earlier on Twitter, but now edited and slightly better.
So, I am back co-chairing the Code for America Summit for the third time (it will be in Washington, D.C. on March 11-13 next year) and let me tell you that I will be mortified if our keynote speakers all end up as some sort of White, Male, Middle-Aged smush.
And because I do not want some sort of White, Male, Middle-Aged smush (yes, some white men are very smart and very accomplished, but as the saying goes, the world is not all white men), I have been doing my work and I have something to share:
Helen Greiner is a woman I had never heard of until a couple weeks ago. Once I started reading about her, I couldn’t stop, and I realized my lack of hearing about her was equal parts shameful and criminal.
Let me tell you about Greiner.
When she was 10 years old, she was inspired to work with robots after seeing R2-D2 in Star Wars.
(When I told my 6 year old son this story, he wondered if he’d have to wait until he was 10 to see Star Wars and I said no, he could probably see it next year, and that the reason why Greiner had to wait until she was 10 was because it did not exist yet and you should’ve seen his face).
She graduated from MIT in 1989, and got a Master’s from MIT, too.
In 1990, she co-founded iRobot with two other guys. One of which I’ve heard of, but for some reason, I’d never heard of Greiner. I can’t imagine why.
Now, Greiner wasn’t just a roboticist or scientist or “technical co-founder” at iRobot. She was also the company’s President (for 14 years, until 2004) and Chairman (for 18 years, until 2008). And alongside those two hats, she was also in charge of financing and fundraising: $35 million in VC and $75 million when iRobot had its IPO. And they say finance is a man’s job.
While Greiner was at iRobot, she and her team released military robots (Packbots, which are used to do jobs like detecting and defusing IEDs, saving hundreds of soldiers and civilians, and SUGVs), and also the Roomba, the first consumer vacuum cleaner.
(When I got to this point in the story, about the Roomba, the six year old’s jaw dropped and there was an exclaimed: NO WAY THAT’S SO COOL, I’VE SEEN THE ROOMBA AT OUR FRIEND’S HOUSE AND IN SHOPS!)
It gets better.
Greiner demonstrated a “cocoon-delivered behavior controlled robot”, which if you’re paying attention and sounds familiar, “resulted in the MARS Rover Program”. Remember rovers Spirit and Oppy (the ones that lasted forever) and how they landed on Mars? With those airbag cushions around them, bouncing around, until they deflated? That concept was Greiner.
(The six year old CANNOT BELIEVE this, and is a very big Mars Rover fan.)
From Greiner’s LinkedIn profile: “Explored the Great Pyramids and saw into a tunnel and chamber that no one has accesses for 5,000 years - no treasure found :(“
(The six year old’s mom has now told him to respond to each of these points of the story with ‘you shut the front door’.)
Greiner was named a Presidential Ambassador for Global Leadership by President Obama, and she won the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision award, and she’s a member of the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.
Oh, and you can tweet her at @helengreiner. She’s amazing and a new personal hero of mine in a time when a significant portion of my pre-existing heroes have turned out to be trash fires.
Now on to the second part of this story.
I found Helen because, like I said at the top of this piece, I was looking for her. I was trying to make sure that my conference wasn’t stuffed full of Default People. Finding Helen is a reminder to me of all the other inspiring underrepresented, ignored, unreported people I have no idea about because I’ve been lazy, or just haven’t looked. Or because they’ve been hidden by others.
And if you read the above, Helen is amazing. I bet I could find so many more people like her, if I just looked.
And this feels especially important after a weekend at the XOXO Festival talking with friends about the MIT Media Lab trash fire.
And so, I look at how accomplished (not that that even matters! Everyone deserves respect, no matter what you do!) Helen is, and she’s a reminder of how it’s easy to think I’m an ally and still have a massive blindspot. Unless I do the work.
Old me would have just asked people, or tweeted or done a lazyweb request: “Hey everyone, who are the inspiring women in tech I should take a look at for our conference?”
I have to admit, I did think of doing that.
But it’s literally my job to do this work. It’s not the job of marginalized, or underrepresented, or forgotten people to remind me of their existence. It’s my job to find them and, if they’re interested and willing, to have them tell their stories on stage.
When I wrote about this on Twitter, I said I could easily imagine how this story could come across as self-congratulatory about how woke I am, but that’s not what I’m trying to do.
What I’m trying to do in this part of the story is to get you, the professional educated straight white man, to understand how easy this was. I mean, it was really easy. It took just a few minutes. I just had to be bothered to do it and I just had to remember that if I actually give a shit about representation and doing a better job, then… I have to put in the work.
 I am not one, but it’s complicated and intersectional.
The reward wasn’t finding another Woman in Tech (ugh). The reward was finding an interesting, amazing person who’s now a source of inspiration (the six year old again: when I’m older, I want to build robots just like Helen!). And also a bit of the hard work of breaking through some unpleasant personal truths.
So, if you’re a professional educated straight white man, please take a few minutes to find your Helen Greiner.
Look, it turns out if you replace all the mentions of Case’s Ono-Sendai cyberspace “deck” in William Gibson’s Neuromancer with “tweetdeck”, it can be pretty funny if you’re into that sort of thing:
Fooooor example, here are five of my favourites:
“...jacked into a custom cyberspace Tweetdeck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix.”
“You got zip to do with me and my kind, buddy. You’re rich enough to hire expensive razorgirls to haul my ass up here, is all. I’m never gonna punch any tweetdeck again, not for you or anybody else.”
“I gotta punch tweetdeck,” he heard himself say. He was groping for his clothes. “I gotta know. . . .”
“And somewhere he was laughing, in a white-painted loft, distant fingers caressing the tweetdeck, tears of release streaking his face.” [I am in this picture and I do not like it]
“Sometimes he resented having to leave the tweetdeck to use the chemical toilet they’d set up in a corner of the loft.” [same]
So I have a bunch of notes about other things I’m planning to write about:
Social media streams are the new shadows on Plato’s cave, and apparently people are finding it too difficult to get up and look at what’s actually causing those shadows
I have a massive epiphany about the nature of bureaucracy and I’m not entirely sure if it’s incredibly useful (some people think so!) or incredibly trite (I think so!) and the truth is hopefully more toward the former than the latter. Preview keywords: fish, water
Excerpts of writing-in-progress of either or both the novel (complicated) or the non-fiction (significantly less complicated, working title: Balance: A New Deal For Society and Technology)
A brief digression about a new Audi concept car being the result of the production designer from the 2013 movie Oblivion escaping containment and oh my is there a lot going on in there
Gardening and community gardening as it relates to What It Is Like To Live On The Internet These Days
I’m sure some horrendous digital/interactive advertising thing will happen and I will be able to harness my anger monetarily now
Oh, I have a bunch of leftover material from that time I had a piece published in the MIT Tech Review about the Apple Watch and EKGs on your wrist. Did I mention I’d been published in the MIT Tech Review? Yeah! How weird!
So, a reminder: going paid from Monday 23 September.
$7/month or $150/year depending on how much you feel like paying.
I may add another plan! Who knows! It’s all a big experiment. And now here’s a subscribe button. I’m not entirely sure how that works, given you’re already getting this, but let’s just go with it:
Phew. So one thing that’s different is I can’t see a wordcount here, and I can’t tell if that’s good or bad. But, it’s 11:38pm now and my partner is going to be on balance more annoyed that I’m still awake than happy that I’ve started writing again, so I guess we’re done.
Off to Sacramento tomorrow.
How are you? It’s been a while. (God, I hope you can actually reply to this. Let’s find out!)