Shiny old things

We’ve lived in New England for 25 years. It’s been a great place to raise a family but that’s done, so we’re moving to northern California. The key attractors are weather and opportunity.

Winter has never been our friend, and if we had needed convincing (we didn’t) the winter of 2013-2014 would have done it. I am half Sicilian, my happy place is 80-degree sunshine, I am not there nearly enough. Luann doesn’t crave the sun the way I do, but she’s ready to say goodbye to icy winters and buggy summers.

The opportunity, for Luann, revolves around her art. Ancient artifacts inspired by the Lascaux cave are not exactly in tune with the New England artistic sensibility. We think she’ll find a more appreciative audience out west.

For me it’s about getting closer to Seattle and San Francisco, the two poles of my professional life. Located between those two poles I’ll still be a remote employee, but I’ll be a lot less remote than I am here. That matters more than, until recently, I was willing to admit.

Earthquakes don’t worry me too much. I was in San Jose for the ’89 Loma Prieta quake. We were at an outdoor poolside meeting, heard it rumble toward us, watched the ground we had thought solid turn to liquid, got soaked by the tidal wave that jumped out of the pool, heard it rumble away. What impressed me most was the resiliency of the built environment. Given what I heard and saw I’d have expected much more to have broken than did.

What does worry me, a bit, is the recent public conversation about ageism in tech. I’m 20 years past the point at which Vinod Khosla would have me fade into the sunset. And I think differently about innovation than Silicon Valley does. I don’t think we lack new ideas. I think we lack creative recombination of proven tech, and the execution and follow-through required to surface its latent value.

Elm City is one example of that. Another is my current project, Thali, Yaron Goland’s bid to create the peer-to-peer web that I’ve long envisioned. Thali is not a new idea. It is a creative recombination of proven tech: Couchbase, mutual SSL authentication, Tor hidden services. To make Thali possible, Yaron is making solid contributions to Thali’s open source foundations. Though younger than me, he is beyond Vinod Khosla’s sell-by date. But he is innovating in a profoundly important way.

Can we draw a clearer distinction between innovation and novelty? That might help us reframe the conversation about ageism in tech.

7 thoughts on “Shiny old things

  1. Tim M (@schmerg)

    I’m your junior by about 10 years but still faced similar inherent ageism issues when I did my startup (mysparebrain.com – a web app to combine context and personal state over lots of otherwise silo-ed web services so I’d like to think somewhat along the lines of what you suggest as innovative). Techies and the startup crowd themselves were fine with a 40-something techie who wasn’t just “looking for developers”, but VCs, incubators and investors were all geared to 20-somethings in so many ways.

    And it showed in how they viewed “new ideas” – they weren’t looking for something genuinely innovative, but wanted young founders with a novel twist on an existing (proven) idea, someone that I think they’d also like to feel they could dominate financially and then control as needed. So they’d refuse to believe I’d had the idea, designed the product and built it all myself – they were sure I must have outsourced the coding (despite the fact that I built it largely to disprove those who said it couldn’t be done etc).

    Innovation versus novelty is an important distinction, but when looking for the chance to “make money” (as opposed to “creating value”) I think a lot of people know the difference, but consciously choose the latter. Or maybe I’m just an ageing cynic :)

    Good luck with the move too

    Reply
  2. carpetbomberz

    Yes good luck to you and Luann, it was a great run. And looking forward to the future posts and narrations of what you are working on. Ageism is a pernicious little thing. Dave Winer is very sensitive to it and rails against it every chance he gets. And at the same time I find myself reading Dave’s blog, Doc Searls, et. al.

    The thing is, it’s the people who are still writing or taking time to write who are collectively keeping a record of where we’ve been and where we would like to be. That kind of record is not collected up or communicated easily or curated when it’s SMS messages and Tweets over time. At least seemingly un-novel things like weblog let the community witness and understand value over time. That’s the key difference between the novel versus the valuable. It’s time. Novelty is eating itself, value doesn’t seem to consume itself as much. OR it seems to do so a slower pace.

    Reply
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  4. mikecaulfield

    Jon — I’d love to talk to you about Thali. I have some time to tinker at this new job (at least until they take the time away from me) and I really want to build a peer-to-peer wiki for use in edtech (and anything else).

    As for ageism, age is probably a downside in many ways, but having watched two waves of Ivy League Online Will Save Education hysteria it feels so nice to just stand there while the wave breaks in front of you right where you predict it will that I don’t care. Plus, I always mention that Ward Cunningham was in his 40s when he invented the wiki, and this federated idea he has is a mess in practice, but one of the most radical ideas I’ve seen for a while.

    Miss hanging out — miss it quite a bit — but if leaving helped encourage you to finally get out West — even a bit, it’s probably good. I think we might have been a bit co-dependent in terms of Keene life. ;)

    I do think there are neat new approaches to things, but they are new in the way that new music is new — a recycling of the old through the capabilities of the new. The hybrid web/desktop app recaptures a way of thinking about technology that is old, but has a new level of feasilibilty yet to be explored. Etc.

    Reply
  5. mikecaulfield

    (Oh and agree 100% that we don’t reuse enough stuff that works, don’t recombine enough, and don’t push enough of the logic of things into social process space where it is more fluid. Everyone wants to build the black box app, and we pay a price).

    Reply
  6. Rick Grehan

    Dude, I remember that earthquake and the pool emptying out. What amazed me most was how violently the trees waved around … and all the pollen that got released.

    The other night, Judy showed me a video of a swimming pool during an earthquake. “The one in California was cooler,” I told her. “The water literally geyesered out of the pool … this is just waving a bunch.”

    (Oh, and as I recall, Fred Marple had just gotten out of the pool moments before most of it emptied.)

    Reply
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