• Exploring a new flavor of single malt with Highland Park's #DarkOrigins

    Exploring a new flavor of single malt with Highland Park's #DarkOrigins

    Tomorrow night I'll be shooting some photos for Highland Park's #DarkOrigins launch event in the Mission. Highland Park's newest Dark Origins Single Malt is interesting in its richness, nutty character, and its use of "double first fill sherry casks". This Drink Spirits review does a very good job of describing the flavor experience:

    Dark chocolate covered dried cherries literally leap out of the glass, while underneath there is fig, date, honeyed malt, a soft nuttiness, and a touch of smoke. Highland Park Dark Origins’ sweet chocolate cherry and honeyed malt entry is well in line with the soft and lush openings of Highland Park 12 and 15, but that’s where the similarities end. The opening is actually a little bit of a head fake, and the soft, sweet entry is quickly replaced by a bold, spicy, and smoky midpalate. In the midpalate the honeyed malt moves to a supporting note and the chocolate begins to dissipate. In its place a more acidic and spicy character emerges with green apple, black pepper, and allspice. There’s also a fair amount of heat added to the equation, far more than with Highland Park 12 and 15.

    At times sipping this whisky I could taste the youth of the malt — almost reminiscent of a Charbay or White Dog that retains a bright, corn-like character. There's a lot going on here, including a "wash" of peaty smoke that doesn't overwhelm but instead adds a desirably gritty tone. 

    Whatever the case, I'll be taking over Highland Park's Instagram account tomorrow — a first! — and posting moments from my experience. I'm excited to see what comes out of this.

  • Themeword 2014: Discover

    Themeword 2014: Discover

    As I did in 2008, I've chosen a themeword for 2014: #discovery.

    As I'm recently funemployed, I feel like this word best captures where I'm at personally, professionally, romantically, intellectually, and optimistically. Having spent more than three and half years inside of Google, and then nearly six months in a frantically-paced startup — I've come to realize that I've got a lot to learn, and to look forward to!, that's been just outside my periphery for some time. 

    Thus — even if I end up finding the next thing to work on later this year — I expect to stay committed to various forms of discovery throughout in my personal life, in my relationships, in my skills and interests, and in substances that can augment or alter how I think about or perceive the world.

  • Funemployed!

    For the first time in 10 years, since I moved to San Francisco in 2004, I’m funemployed. That’s a long stretch to go without stopping to really pause, reflect, collect oneself, integrate, and recompile. And so that’s what I’m going to be doing for the first little while of 2014.

    It’s about time.

    Yeah, you may be asking yourself “What happened with NeonMob?” (or not, depending on how well you know me). On the one hand, Mike and I couldn’t calibrate our approaches. I’m a longer term, bigger picture, holistic, strategic thinker and doer. I like the slow build ups and making connections that add up to something much bigger, later on. But what Mike needs right now is a tactician, someone who works differently than I do. Once we realized this, we agreed that the advising role I had before I joined was a better fit. And so that’s what I’ll be returning to — which suits me fine.

    Of course, I’m glad to have rubbed elbows with teammates like Rogie King,GuillaumeMean Jim, and Todd, and expect to see more of them in 2014. I’m proud of the artist interviews I conducted and wrote, and found it enlightening to be on the other side of social media production, with the health of the NeonMobsters community on Google+ an early sign of success.

    On the other hand, lack of calibration is only part of the picture: Fate had grown impatient with me. Like, before, during, and after I left Googlein August last year, folks were telling me to take time off and not jump right into the next thing. But did I listen? No way! The idea terrified me! “What would I do with myself if I didn’t have a job?,” I fretted. “Ever since I’ve been in Silicon Valley, I’ve always had a job! Who am I if I’m not working on something? What would I talk to people about?” And on and on.

    Stopping or slowing down would raise more questions like these that I wasn’t ready or willing to confront, and so, given the off-to-the-side advising I’d been doing, it seemed like I could just ride out of Google through one of its famous slides and land softly at NeonMob, without skipping a beat, losing steam, or thinking too hard.

    But after a couple months, it was becoming clear that Fate wasn’t having it.

    I mean, Fate had sent me to Burning Man immediately after leaving the GOOG to shed some skin (and some clothes!) and to ponder my place in the multiverse — and yet what did I do immediately after returning to default reality? Threw myself into the next thing without so much as catching my breath or buying a sports car. Classic. Here Fate had lobbed me a juicy “take some time for yourself” softball and I whiffed. Heck, I’m not even sure I realized I was at bat. But hey, just because I’m a little slow on the uptake doesn’t mean I’m above learning from my mistakes.

    And so here I am, starting off 2014 in the clear — with an empty calendar and no obligations, and no specific deadline to decide on my next thing, whatever it may happen to be. On Dr. Fate’s orders, I’m taking time to pause, reflect on, and re-discover where I’ve come to and who I’ve grown into over the last 10 years, and to consider where I want to go next and who I want to become — in a sense, to recalibrate and realign, in preparation for the paths and detours Fate has in store for the next decade.

  • Convert a Mov to a GIF like a boss

    So, there's this swell Gist to convert an OS X screencast made with ScreenFlow from a movie (.mov) file to a GIF. I needed this for a new-user email I need to send out to fresh NeonMobsters. The problem with this, though, is that the output of this command was shit:

    ffmpeg -i -s 600x400 -pix_fmt rgb24 -r 10 -f gif - | gifsicle --optimize=3 --delay=3 > out.gif

    No, seriously — not just shit, but 2.3MB of heinousness:

    I'm am not sending this out to new users.

    So I started poking around and discovered that 1) I should install ffmeg and gifsicle and then 2) do something way more complicated, but that would give me the results I was looking for (a beautiful image that was tiny). Here's basically what I ended up doing, after installing those binaries:

    1. The video that I had was a 2.5MB .mov file, encoded with the Animation codec at full resolution, recorded on my Retina MacBook Pro. This means that I had a file that was 2x the size I wanted it to be, which was intentional.
    2. In the directory where my movie ( was, I executed these commands in to convert the movie to a bunch of PNGs:
      mkdir ./pngs
      ffmpeg -i -r 10 ./pngs/out%04d.png  
    3. Next, I ran these commands to create a directory and convert all these PNGs into GIFs (sips is built in to OS X):
      mkdir ./gifs
      sips -s format gif .pngs/*.png --out ./gifs
    4. Finally, I ran these command to generate the GIF from my recently generated GIFs:
      cd ./gifs
      gifsicle --optimize=3 --delay=3 --loopcount *.gif > animation.gif
    The result is nearly identical to the source video and clocks in at an amazing 76KB:
    I then decided to resize the image by 50% to get it back to a non-Retina size using the --resize command:
    gifsicle *.gif --optimize=3 --delay=3 --loopcount --resize 238x272 > animation-small.gif
    ...and ended up with a 40KB image I can use:
    I'm sure this technique won't work for everyone — as it's highly dependent on the video source that you're working with, but it should give you a place to start from if you're trying to do something similar.
    For additional gifsicle commands and optimizations, refer to the developer docs.
  • Yesterday was my last day at Google #tothefuture

    Yesterday was my last day at Google #tothefuture

    I joined Google 1300 days ago. Yesterday was my last day. As someone who likes to think of himself as living in the future, I've known that this day would someday come. Now that it has, I feel optimistic about what's next, but also bittersweet about what I'm leaving behind: great friends, passionate colleagues, and interesting individuals who've taught me a lot about myself and about the Great Big World.

    Next week I'll begin work at a 6-person startup based in San Francisco called NeonMob (sign up here!). I'll be focused on building a community and growing the service, which I believe is building an important, new platform for digital creatives and art enthusiasts. 

    In my time at Google, I helped create Google Developers (, redesigned the Google Profile, and recently launched new designs for the Google+1 button and brand badges. I also built a lot of bridges between people and teams, and hope that I made a positive impact (in some small way!) on how Google thinks about building social products. I’m super positive about the future of Google+ and Google, and have a great amount of hope in the increasing role that design leadership is playing across the company — and it was time for me to try my hand at something a little smaller and closer to a few dormant passions: art and collecting!


  • Hashtags: the Little Prince of all media

    Hashtags: the Little Prince of all media

    Update: Paul Katool of Mad Genius has written these answers up here!

    The day before yesterday, after noticing that Polyvore had adopted hashtags, I openly wondered who'd be next. Lo, not 24 hours later — I had my answer with Facebook finally announcing support, long after being rumored. Considering how Twitter has embraced hashtags for advertising, it's clear to the advertising angle here

    In any case, this was a rather exciting day for me as the Promethean bringer of hashtags to Twitter just shy of six years ago. Now allª but LinkedIn, Myspace, and Foursquare have succumbed!

    Anyway, in honor of this occassion, I thought I'd answer a few frequently asked questions, just to sate people's curiousity:

    How did you come up with the idea for the hashtag? 

    It's pretty well documented on my blog and elsewhere, but basically a bunch of us early Twitter users were looking for a way to help us target our content more effectively, and give people a way to tune into conversations they were interested in. Lots of folks were suggesting that Twitter add groups (with all the typical management overhead) but I felt those ideas really weren't mobile-friendly. It seemed to me that IRC had a useful convention for different "channels", so I cribbed that and suggested that you could just add a tag prefixed with "#" anywhere in your tweet, and it'd get "added it to that channel". Simple, efficient, and worked over SMS — which was the primary way I used Twitter back then.

    When was your "aha moment" — when did you think "wow this hashtag idea I came up with is becoming a pretty big deal!" 

    Basically once conservative Republicans started to tweeting using the hashtag #dontgo to keep Congress in session and force a vote on an energy bill, and I knew that this meant that hashtags were going to break out of the geekosphere and eventually hit mainstream. I mean, if they could be used for political purposes, that immediately blew up their relevance and utility to the rest of the world.

    This is a bit broad, but what's the single most positive impact/contribution the hashtag has made on society today? 

    First, I don't want to overstate the importance of the hashtag — because it's really just a harbinger for the continuous spread of social media over the past decade. I mean, I do like to gloat a bit about how far the hashtag has come — but its success in the marketplace is humbling. I mean, I feel like that guy that invented the GIF, except he did a lot more hard work. I spent a lot of time working on technologies that I'd hoped would unify the social web and give people more choice — and instead of any of those efforts taking off, this stupid, stupid idea I had ending up being the thing that caught fire. Go figure.

    To answer this question though, I think you have to take a step back and think about what's been hard about social media — finding other people to connect with. Many social networks spend an outsize amount of effort getting you to connect to other people, but oftentimes it's really hard to find commonality. Hashtags make connecting with other people who are talking about or experiencing the same things much, much easier. And they're light-weight enough that you can create one on the spot, without much thinking, and suddenly get a movement going — even if it's short-lived. So, from that perspective, hashtags have lowered the cost of participating in the social web for everyone — and made it easier to connect to people in a fun, lightweight, serendipitous way.

    You've got to be proud about Facebook introducing hashtag support. What was it like/how did you feel when you first learned Facebook was doing this? 

    I'll tell you a nerdy secret about me — I love reading app updates in the App Store. It's weird, but whatever. I learn so much and see so many of the trends unfolding just by seeing how apps are changing themselves to meet their users' desires. So — for months I've been seeing loads of apps adding support for hashtags and @mentions. They're just the obvious conventions for new apps to support out of the gate. And when you think about networks that have APIs that allow these apps to publish into them, it's only a matter of time before hastagged content that originate elsewhere starts to become a staple of the first-party experience. And then it's like — why wouldn't you respond to people's behavior?
    There's also a really useful ability to promote hashtags across mediums and across networks — which suggests a nascent advertising opportunity. Twitter's all over this. It's totally logical to find ways to capitlize and embrace emergent user behavior.
    So, any time I see a new app or network add support for hashtags — I'm like, "Sweet! Another win for the social web!"

    Do people overdo it with hashtags when it comes to correspondence/communication with you? If so, does this ever get annoying? 

    With me? Ha! — no. If anything, I probably annoy my coworkers with my incessant use of hashtags in chat, email, and on whiteboards. I'm sure they're annoyed, but they never tell me. That's just how it is. #exceptForTheirPassiveAggressiveHeadshakes 

    What's the single-most creative (or your favorite) use of a hashtag you've ever seen? 

    Betabrand recently added hashtags to their clothing tags. That was pretty awesome:

    Any idea what the first hashtag you used on Twitter was?

    Pretty sure it was #barcamp. In fact, according to some digging I did in my Twitter archive, I didn't use another hashtag for another two weeks after that first one. And even after that, they were somewhat few and far between. To think I have the data to know with certainty — incredible!

    When did you notice that people were really taking it up?

    This question is similar to the previous one — one I think it's a little different in that there was a moment where I thought "Yes, I think this will catch on" (as I suggested above) versus the growing number of situations where it started to see people using hashtags in the wild. Two cases really stick out — one was when I saw a hashtag on a bus in New York City. That was the first time I saw a hashtag randomly in the world around me. The second time was when I opened up a Glamour magazine and they had a bunch of hashtags in their ads. My jaw kind of dropped. It was like — "Holy shit — hashtags in a fashion magazine?!"  That's when I knew they'd gone beyond anything I might have imagined, and had become their own self-propagating thing.

    You have a huge instagram following but you don't use hashtags there. Any reason.

    Well — I use Instagram primarily as a visual medium to just capture pretty or interesting things that I see. I'm not really trying to join a conversation with my photos, or get a ton of followers (though that seems to have happened without really trying #paysToBeEarly). I see people use loads of hashtags and that's fine — but it's just not for me, most of the time. I guess I'm a little lazy when it comes down to it. Or prefer a little obscurity sometimes. Yeah, #ironic, I know.

    ª Where "all" primarily means Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Path, and a host of other networks. It's really just a matter of time. Really.

  • Happy 5th #hashtagiversary!

    Happy 5th #hashtagiversary!

    Today marks the 5th anniversary since I sent the first hashtagged tweet, on Aug 23, 2007.

    Its adoption and use in mainstream media has obviously gone far beyond my wildest imaginings, and given the time that I spent on decentralized social networking during the same period, in some ways I feel justified in claiming hashtags as my greatest success out of those efforts!

    Here's my original post on the subject — clearly only the most elemental aspects of my proposal caught on!

  • And then I was on the front page of the New York Times fashion section...

    And then I was on the front page of the New York Times fashion section...

    Several months ago I was interviewed by Ashley Parker for a piece in the New York Times on hashtags. The piece is live and though it may not provide Twitterers with much new information, it does put the concept and practice in front of a much larger audience.

    Kris Cheng (who just graduated from Stanford) shot the photo at Google a couple weeks ago with a couple friends (the hand in the photo belongs to a Miss Fontaine Foxworth).

    Oh, and for full measure, Ashley just launched her new column "#trendingNYC" today.

  • Results: another three months at Core Performance!

    I wrote about the results of my first three months at Core Performance in February. I've now got the results from the second three months (i.e. a total of six months!) and I'm still making progress, which is gratifying to see:

    Dec 3, 2010 Feb 22, 2011 June 5, 2011 Delta
    Weight (lb): 168.4 164.2 164.2 0 lb
    Body Fat %: 22.91 17.66 15.56 -2.1%
    Lean Mass (lb): 129.82 135.20 138.65 +3.45 lb
    Fat Mass (lb): 38.58 29.00 25.55 -3.45 lb
    Waist (in): 37.5 37.25 36.25 -1.0 in
    Hip (in): 41.5 39.75 39.25 -0.5 in

    Note that the delta is since the last measurement, not over all time.

    Even though my weight didn't change, I exchanged 3.45 pounds of fat mass for lean muscle — which is why it's never sufficient to just weigh yourself to gauge progress!

    Admittedly I've slacked off a bit recently from working out as often as I should — due to a number of things (boredom and schedule conflicts primarily) so I'm hoping I can keep myself motivated as the summer kicks off...