Interview with Ryan Block(@ryan)

As the countdown to Junior year begins, and the pages of my summer-reading seem to grow instead of shrink, I find it challenging to focus on my APUSH textbook. However, rumors of iWatches and sapphire glass iPhones push me on.


Ryan Block has without a doubt been "around the block," (no pun intended) when it comes to the ever growing technology world. Ryan started gdgt(which was later acquired by AOL) and also served as the editor for Engadget. 

Currently, Ryan works at AOL and lives in sunny San Francisco(which apparently isn't too sunny right about now). Ryan has worked on numerous projects such as about.me, and Milk, and was kind enough to answer five short questions for me. 

Transient

How would describe your time at Engadget? Is writing still a part of your life?

Crazy, exhilarating, life-changing, and perhaps above all unbelievably instructional. Most important learning experience I've ever had. I still write something for someone every once in a while, but it's hard to find the time these days.

Apple is said to be releasing a wearable product, many people believe will be a watch. What do you hope to see from this product? And make your call, will it be another blockbuster hit?

It's impossible to say whether it will be a slam dunk, but there are two important things. First, I think the space is ripe for a major player to take the lead, and Apple has a track record of taking up and coming categories (as Jobs called them, products coming into their summer) and defining them. Second, Apple is right a hell of a lot more than it's wrong, so it would be totally foolish to assume they don't have something important brewing.

If you could travel back in time and talk to your 16 year old self...what would you say to him?

Probably not much. Maybe either try harder in school, or just drop out entirely. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing right.

What is the best book you have read recently? Why?

I'm really loving Brad Stone's The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. Very compelling, well written, and exceptionally well researched.

Follow up: by what means did you read it? 

Kindle, natch.

Lastly, describe your future in five words. Why those five?

Whereas I love everything about the future, I really don't spend much time thinking about it in specific, actionable terms.

Interview with Adam Lisagor(@lonelysandwich)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video camera captures multiple frames per second, and an editor weaves those pictures together into a single video, doesn't that mean a video is worth thousands and thousands of words?

No one knows the untapped power of a strong video more than Adam Lisagor, founder of Sandwich Video. Sandwich is a company designed to create kick-ass videos for kick-ass products, and they succeed basically every time. At the helm of this ship is Adam, a veteran sailor in the sea of video production. Through passion and obsession(the good kind) Adam and his team are able to present ideas in clean, short, sweet, and infectious videos(not as easy as it sounds).

On the Sandwich website all the way down at the bottom(which you should not get to unless you have watched every single video before it) there is a short "about" section for the company. One line in the brief description is: "We're not here to sell - we're here to share through the medium of video." After talking with Adam I can see why Sandwich Video values this statement so strongly and moreover, how this attention to the medium makes them the best at what they do.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, Adam and I covered everything from cameras to zombie apocalypses and everything in between. It was a real honor to sit down and chat with the Sandwich King himself.  Enjoy.

adam

Please note what is transcribed is not the full conversation, rather the main questions and their corresponding answers. I would highly recommend taking the time to listen to the full audio. Adam said some pretty awesome things. The answers are abbreviated.

And yes, this was a little more than five questions. 

When in your life did you decide you wanted to make videos? 

I was eleven years old. I'm thirty-six years old now, I was born in 1978, and in my generation(by the way in terms of film making you can break up generations into different chunks of time because it's all technology dependent. So a generation in film school context  is probably five years or so, and I would consider a generation in a more board respect as 15-30 years), when I was a kid, the way that young, budding filmmakers learned how to start making films was that probably your parents had a gigantic VHS camcorder and one day you were bored with your friends and your tried to make something, tell a story, or replicate something you had seen on a favorite movie. In my case, one of my favorite movies had this little sketch bit where a basket of fruit was on a table and then you here "bing" and it disappears, so I thought how do they do that!? And you start experimenting. Back then we didn't have iPhones, we didn't have HD cameras in our pockets or in a container smaller than the iPhone. We had a cassette that you put into a machine and then you press stop and start and that was basically how you edited. So I discovered that if you set up the camera and put something in your frame and then pause and move that thing from your frame and then press record again and then play it back it looks like that thing disappeared. That's how I discovered visual effects essentially. That started happening when I was eleven...

Why is a great video, possibly a viral one, the current "go-to" marketing tool for startups and new products? 

Well it's essentially advertising and advertising has been the same thing since advertising was invented. You're trying to get as many people as possible to realize and recognize that you exist. And that's the same now in this new form of maybe the two minute product or app video then its been since I Love Lucy days, since radio days, since "Step right up and test my new magic snake oil, it'll cure all your ailments." It's all the same stuff, I'm just doing it in a more modern and progressive package. But I wouldn't call them viral and "powerful", thats subjective,. It's important to note that the intention of these videos is never to reach as many people as possible, because once that becomes your intention your motivations are corrupt. Once you say you're making a viral video you're doing it for the wrong reasons, or you're doing it for the right reasons and you're just a sucky human being. To go back to the question: why is this format becoming such a influential format for the industry of tech and startups and what not, and it's because they're trying to advertise their goods just like Coke and Pepsi are. They just don't have the same means to do it. So what't interesting is we approach the market of it accidentally by doing things that were smaller and more quaint...

(Included in this answer: talk of the innovator's dilemma and what we deemed to be corporate agility)

If I had a company that was growing really fast, would you have any tips for me to keep our dexterity and agility? 

One thing that almost every business person says almost universally is "overhead is bad for business." When you're talking about "overhead" usually you're talking about anything that costs money on a regular basis that you have acquired to support your business. That can mean more computers, that can mean more office space that you have to rent, that can mean more people that you have to pay on salary. All those kinds of things mean you have to keep doing what you're doing. There is no way around it. You can't stop and say, "I don't want to do this anymore I want to try this other thing" because if that other thing doesn't work, if you're taking a risk on another thing and it fails, then all that stuff you have acquired goes away. Somebody comes and takes your computers, and they evict you from your space and the people that get a paycheck from you to pay their rent can no longer do that. So that's why...it's all fear motivated. What you have to do to combat that is always be weary or rapid growth. In term's of the resources you need: try to do as much as you can with less than what other people think you need...

If you had to order the idea, the equipment and the editing in order from most important to least important, how would you do it and why? 

Ideas, editing, and equipment. By far. Not even close. Those are orders of magnitude different from each other. Ideas are the thing of the most value in this world. You can say that unequivocally. Editing falls into the purview of execution. More than half of what we do, and what makes Sandwich, Sandwich is editorial and by that I mean deciding what not to do. These are all maxims that come right out of the Apple playbook. You decide what in your product line does not need to be made. I decide on a constant basis what clients not to take on. And that means some of them are big, huge clients that you certainly know and have products of those in your home, and some of them are small things you've never heard of, but you know they won't probably make any sort of dent in the universe. So when you're making those choices you're editorializing, you're sort of focusing your scope. The other side of that is more on the content side: film editing is a very very powerful thing. I feel like we have a unique voice in our editorial style, that no one else can do because it's our voice. People can sort of do something similar, or maybe they have their own editorial voice, and it's just as prominent as the "additive voice." Editing is subtractive but what actually goes on camera is more of an additive process...

(Included in this answer: discussion of Inside Apple by Adam Lashinsky, and what leadership is evolving into). 

If you could travel back in time and talk to your 16 year old self, is there anything you would want to say to him? 

It's such an amazing question, a hypothetical question: what would you say to yourself at 16. There are a couple examples of this kind of thing. There's an incredible video on Youtube that there's a scene where this guy interviews himself as maybe a twelve-year-old. So beautiful. Somehow this kid as a twelve-year-old had the foresight and was just goofing around like I was making videos and he and the foresight to go: "wouldn't it be amazing if me a twelve-year-old conducted this imagined interview with thirty-year-old me." And he asked his thirty-year-old self all of these questions and then as a thirty-year-old he dug up that tape and did the other side of the interview. It's one of the most brilliant things I have ever seen. Anyway, what would I tell myself at sixteen? Holy shit. There's so much. Yes, it's important to work hard, but it's also important to explore and not work sometimes. And it's okay if you fuck up from time to time. The people in your life that are telling you have to do everything perfectly right now in order to achieve a certain future, they're not doing that so you do everything perfectly. They're doing that do have a better chance to correct your huge mistakes...

(Included at the beginning of this answer: discussion of Boyhood (the movie), also included at the end: what would I tell my fifteen-year-old self)

If you had to pick, which of your videos is your favorite? 

The Knock video is what what I would consider the most pure example of what I do. Which is just show an amazing technology working. And if you get the opportunity to do that without words, even better. So Knock was good. Breaking News was really fun because when I was on the phone with them for the first time, the Breaking News people, and they were talking about this idea that the tradition and respect for news lost, and in my mind I got this crusty, old Walter Cronkite type character railing against what the news has become. And so that came together pretty organically. I really like the Warby Parker one because it was also organic how that idea came to be, because I was just hanging out with my friend Noah, who is the guy in the video (a real photographer), and we're out at dinner and I'm telling him about Warby Parker and he's like...

(Included in this answer: why the Coin video is Adam's favorite....ever)

Tomorrow there is going to be a zombie apocalypse. What must you have by your side? 

You have to listen to this one! No cheating.

 

I would like to thank Adam one more time for being an awesome interviewee and taking the time out of his ever-busying schedule to talk to a 16 year old about some pretty crazy things. It's hard not to like this guy and I know I'm going to be hearing a lot of Sandwich video in the future.

A Halloween Tribute

This year for Halloween I dressed up as Steve Jobs. I needed a costume last minute to wear to school and tonight and decided to use this opportunity to pay tribute to one of the most influential people in my short life. 

While weaving my way through the clothing aisles at Walmart I felt a certain wave of emotion come over me. This small gesture of remembrance was actually having an effect on me. As I completed my purchase of: a women's turtle neck(only one I could find), and a 10$ pair of running shoes that looked like Steve's 993s, totaling 16$ I became more and more in love with my costume and the way I felt remembering Steve. This was not a joke, but a true sign of respect for a great man.

I think it is important to remember people in everyday life; don't be held to the anniversary of their death or any special occasion. Be able to live with their absence but not life in ignorance of who they were.

So with that I wish you, Steve, a Happy Halloween!

Interview with John Moltz(@Moltz)

Wow! High School has started and boy is it work-heavy. But no worries because we have an awesome interview today with John Moltz.  John runs a sweet blog, which you can view here, and it is most definitely VERY NICE.

If Mr. Moltz had to describe himself in 5 words they would be: 

"Angry monkey galactic turnip vacuum."

John describes his workspace as follows: 

My office is in the attic of my house and I have two desks, one for sitting at and one for standing at. I built the standing desk myself and you can really tell because it looks unprofessionally thrown together. Still, it works and, more importantly, it's in front of the window which affords me a view of the Puget Sound, which is nice. The floor is strewn with pieces of paper I kid myself that I'll neatly file away some day. I have 12 Macs of various generations, dating back to a Mac Plus which a friend found by the side of the road and gave to me. It boots, but I don't have one of the telephone cord keyboards that it needs.

Please enjoy my five questions with this internet legend. 

How/why/when did you get into technology and blogging?

If you can imagine such a dark era, I grew up before everyone had a computer in their home. Because of there were no actual home computers (and this may sound like a joke but I assure you it's true) I made one out of cardboard to play with. It had a cardboard frame for a screen that I could slide different images into and the keyboard was a tray some fancy chocolates had come in that I turned upside down. So, long before we all had it in our homes, I longed for technology. My first Mac was a used SE I bought in 1990 for $2,000. It was love. The rest is history, etc.

What respect do you have for other technology bloggers such as John Gruber of Daring Fireball or Horace Dediu of Asymco?

John is a friend of mine and is wildly successful at what he does because of the thought and intelligence he puts into his posts. So, naturally, I hate his guts. I don't know Horace but that guy is so sharp he comes with a warning that small children should not use him unsupervised.

Seriously, there is a terrific group of smart people that I have been thrilled to get to know since I stumbled incoherently onto this scene. Not only are they smart, they share my interest in technology and are pretty fun to hang out with. I didn't make many friends working in corporate America. But in the wacky world of online technology writing, it's like being in college again.

If you could go back to your tenth grade self and give him one piece of advice, what would it be?

Invest every cent you have in AAPL in 1997 and then get out in the summer of 2012 when it hits 700 and retire early. I hate to tell you that you're never going to be an astronaut or a spy, but your life is going to be pretty good anyway. OK, that's two pieces of advice.

There has been a lot of talk lately of a lower priced iPhone, what is your opinion on the matter? Is it coming? What will it be like?

I think it'll be just like what we've seen on the rumor sites. Apple's tapped out the major carriers so it needs to get into new markets. I don't have an inside track, but I suspect the company's share price has caused them to be more lax about letting details of their plans slip out.

If you could trade places with one person for a whole day, who would it be?

Bruce Lee. Maybe sometime in the summer of 1972. I'd just walk into a dojo and spar with people all day.

Uh, assuming I have all of that person's talents. If not then definitely somebody else.

Interview with Brent Simmons(@brentsimmons)

Well tomorrow is the first day of school, summer is officially over. There is a light in all of this back-to-school madness. That light is an amazing interview with Brent Simmons. 

 

Brent Simmons was recently linked to by Daring Fireball's John Gruber for his post about Glassboard. 

If Brent had to describe himself in 5 words they would be:

Cocoa developer who loves words.

Brent describes his workspace as such: 

I write and code in a corner office in my home, with two big windows, a skylight, and three giant Boeing surplus desks — earthquake-proof, I’d bet — arranged in a U shape. The desks are clean but not obsessively so. One of them holds my guilty pleasure, a cheap Fender Squier which I play un-amplified (usually). There are a couple book cases, a closet with a hidden door to a sub-basement, a small and ancient TV, and so on.
The most important thing is a mat by one of the windows where my cat Papa carefully watches birds, butterflies, and squirrels in the back yard.

Here are my five questions with this great coder and blogger.

How did you get into blogging?

When I saw the web in 1994 I was astonished that my dream had come true: there was now a way for writers to publish and be read by anybody, all over the world, without having to go through a newspaper, magazine, or book publisher. And do so cheaply — it was only a few dollars a month for an account and a place to put HTML files.

We take this for granted now, but it’s still a miracle, something truly new under the sun.

In 1995 my wife and I created a little web magazine that nobody visited, called Station. A little while later I started working on publishing software, and in 1996 I started working for UserLand Software — for Dave Winer — on blogging software. This was before the words “weblog” and “blog” had been coined, but the form already existed.

I started and abandoned a couple blogs in that era before starting inessential.com in 1999, while I was working on UserLand’s blogging-app-and-CMS called Manila. (I also worked on Radio UserLand, a blogging app and RSS reader, a little later.)

I got into blogging because I saw the web as the greatest publishing platform in history, and blogging was the form we created. (It’s a pretty natural form: it’s what’s-new in reverse-chronological order.)

What was it like when you were linked to by John Gruber of Daring Fireball?

I don’t recall. It was so long ago, and Daring Fireball didn’t then drive the amount of traffic it does today.

But here’s what I remember: in 2002 I left UserLand, went indie, and started working on NetNewsWire, an RSS reader. Around the same time Daring Fireball appeared, and I liked it a ton: it was precise and well-written, and the author seemed dedicated and reliable. (In those days probably MacInTouch was the big blog on the Mac block.)

So when I went to choose the 16 or so default feeds for NetNewsWire, I added Daring Fireball. Back then NetNewsWire was a hugely successful app, and for a while it was the *only* Mac RSS reader. I like to think that it introduced a lot of people to Daring Fireball — but, at the same time, Daring Fireball was going to be as huge as it is even without that nice placement in NetNewsWire, because it’s so good. (I’m not just saying this because John is my co-worker at Q Branch. He’s my co-worker because he’s so good.)

What's your favorite food?

#26 Panang Nuea, 4 stars, with a side of white rice, from Thai Siam on 15th Ave. NW about 15 blocks from my house in Seattle.

<http://thaisiamrestaurant.com/alacarte.html>

I’m lactose-intolerant, and so it’s hard to find anything *creamy* I can eat. That big bowl of coconut milk, peppers, beef, and rice makes me ridiculously happy.

That said, I’ll take a good steak at any time, at any meal. Or between meals. Or in the middle of the night — I’d wake up for a steak. (Medium rare, which should go without saying.)

If you could go back in time to your 15 year old self what would you say to him?

The things I would tell him aren’t necessarily right for every 15-year-old. But I’d say this:

Don’t be confused by Keats’s line “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Aim for *truth*, as it’s the necessary condition for beauty. It’s more difficult and more wonderful than you can imagine — and more painful, too, both in what-it-is and in the struggle to find and express it.

Don’t be impatient. Consider Hemingway: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Start there. You’re not going to publish a novel by age 20, but, if you work hard and keep working, you might write one true sentence by then. There are no shortcuts, and *sounding* true is not the same as true.

Also: start talking to girls now. Don’t wait till you’re 16.

And: almost all the people around you in high school are going to disappear forever from your life soon and you’ll utterly forget them. Don’t worry what they think of you. Take risks and learn from them.

What can we expect from you in the future?

More work on Vesper. I live in developer paradise: I have great co-workers, cool stuff to work on, and people who love the work we do. I can’t ask for more.

 

Thanks so much Brent! 

Interview with Lex Friedman(@lexfri)

What's up guys? The start of school is quickly approaching and with the little bit of free time I have left I have been trying to gather a bunch of great interviews.

Today's interview is with an outstanding writer! Lex Friedman is a Senior Writer at MacWorld, the author of two books(The Snuggie Sutra and The Kid in the Crib),  and a co-host of the podcast Unprofessional.
 

If Lex had to describe himself in five words they would be:

Funny, father, writer, motivated, happy.

He describes his workspace as follows: 

It's usually a little more cluttered than I'd like. I think in the right role, I could keep my desk and office closer to spotless. But right now, my office is filled with boxes of products to review and all sorts of related stuff. So the office is always packed.
As almost everyone who knows me knows, I work at a treadmill desk. My desk is at tall standing height, and I walk at 2.5mph most of the day while I work. 

 

Here are my five questions with Lex:

How/why/when did you get into writing? 

I've written for a long, long time. I loved reading books from a young age, and I loved writing as soon as I could figure it out. I used to type up fake newspapers for my families on the Mac in our basement and print them out on our Personal LaserWriter LS growing up. (That was a damn fine printer.)

I found that I especially loved writing stuff that I found funny. I'd read and devour books by folks like Dave Barry, and try to emulate their style. Eventually—and it took a while—I found my own style instead. I wrote a column for my high school newspaper called A Different Perspective, and they wrote the word Perspective upside down in the heading, and I always hated that; it felt like putting Groucho Marx glasses on to show everyone how funny I was.

I wrote for a new teen section of my local newspaper as well. And that started getting me compliments on my writing from people who didn't know me already. Up till then, I only heard kind things from family members, friends, or teachers. I didn't distrust them or anything, but it was cooler when I heard kind things from people who didn't know me before—and when I started getting paid to write stuff, too.

I loved writing essays in high school. Weird, right?

My sixth-grade teacher was one of the 20 best things that ever happened to me. Mr. Meiser took a kid who already loved words and writing and infused me with a love of well-crafted writing, grammatical correctness, and succinct clarity. Everything I know about grammar, he taught me, and I remember and use every single day.

What is it like working at MacWorld?

I freelanced for Macworld for a couple years before I started there full-time. I begged Jason Snell to hire me for a while before it worked out. 

I love writing for a living. I've read Macworld since I was a kid. I take tremendous pride in my job. 

Working at Macworld is fun. When a beta version of iOS or OS X comes out, I get paid to play with it. I get paid to play with new iPhones and iPads and speakers and apps. I get to write about products I love using, share insights I've gained, and all that.

I have a boss at Macworld of course, but I have a tremendous amount of freedom. There's stuff I have to write and take care of, and then a huge amount of latitude to figure out what I want to write and how. 

There are calmer times, and then there days with crazy breaking news, and then there's days when Mavericks gets announced and you're just writing and editing for hours straight.

What is your favorite food?

I love crispy duck, crispy fried chicken, and the least healthy Chinese food variants (your fried battered sesame chickens and whatnot). I also love chocolate milk and chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

How did you get into podcasting?

Back in 2006 or 2007, I started a podcast with my friend, the humorist Seth Brown. He and I first met at summer camp more than ten years prior, and we cowrote stuff there and awful lot, under the name "Leth & Sex." In '06, we started this Leth and Sex podcast, where two of us talked about anything, made jokes about the news, freestyle rapped, and generally had a good time for a listenership of dozens, maybe even a hundred. That podcast eventually fizzled.

About 18 months ago or so, I helped to beta test a podcast app that never got released. During that beta testing process, I met Dave Wiskus, who was working on the app. I told him that he and I should do a podcast, too. Mostly because I wanted to me a famous beloved podcaster and didn't know how to break into the business anymore, and figured if this guy was working on a podcast app, he could be my in.

Eventually, Unprofessional was born on Mule Radio. It went through several names and themes before we landed on what the show is today—conversations with interesting people about anything but their day jobs.

I'm planning to launch a second podcast in September. I'm very excited about that one, too.

My Podlexing side business was a surprising but in retrospect natural evolution of the podcast. We wanted sponsors for Unprofessional, and I found after a while that I was bizarrely good at finding some. Now I book sponsorships for about 50 podcasts. Crazy!

What can we expect from you in the future?

I have a new book that I'm working on, probably for late 2014. I have the new podcast I referenced. 

I feel like I'm always working on a new project or new direction. I hope to keep that up, because I keep having fun. So, I guess I like to come up with new things to do from time to time, that maybe feel surprising at first, but are semi-obvious in retrospect. 

 

Thanks so much Lex for an amazing interview!