Familiar lessons from closing a business

Thanks so much for sharing this Bryan! I’m a huge fan of Makeshift Society even though I’ve figured out that I’m one of those folks who gets more work done alone at home. Very glad you all took the opportunity to create this experience—and glad you were able to make this experiment and extricate yourselves from it with relatively minimal pain.

Seems as though about two years is the right amount of time to figure out that the plan isn’t going to work. When I had my one-woman bookstore in San Jose in the mid-1990s I spent roughly that time in site prep (built-in bookcases, signage) and being open. By a couple months before the end I had determined that though the store could pay for itself, it could not pay me. My initial runway was shortened radically when the long-term relationship I’d been in while planning and opening the store and during its first year ended, leaving me with a need to pay my own security deposit and rent for a new apartment, and thus needing the paychecks I’d been getting by without.

Thinking through “What if we learn we’re wrong about something and we need to close in a year or two?” is a great exercise for anyone planning a business. I was able to safely walk away from the end of my grand adventure because I’d planned my payments to my major investor such that I could continue making them while working a post-adventure full-time job. Sure, a painful expense comparable to car payments or hefty student loans, but doable—and enabling me to keep both my honor and my credit rating.

There’s certainly no defeatism in doing this planning. Something hard to predict could turn out to be a major factor—as with the differences between SF and Brooklyn you found—or a huge influence on your market could appear after opening—as occurred for me when Barnes & Noble opened 30,000 square feet of bookstore space in the south bay within a few months of my 400 square foot store opening, or when after I’d managed to pivot to add games to my offering as a funny little sideline called Magic: The Gathering came out, quickly becoming 70% of my business, the supply of Magic: The Gathering dried up for a couple months. You just never know. You make your best guesses, work up a range of spreadsheets, and go for it.

The best thing about sharing experiences like this is how it helps everyone guess better.

Small Business
Planning
PostMortem

[This was a comment on the article “The mystery of the white dress shirt: Death and life of a Brooklyn coworking space” by Bryan Boyer on Medium.]

The sort of ideas that come to me at 1am: a deeply detailed, historical, world census

Drifting to sleep, maybe asleep and resurfacing to wakefulness my mind was flitting around from idea to idea, from memory to memory. What I remember and was left fully awake with was two things: Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now' stuck in my head and the notion that it ought to be possible to create a deeply detailed census of the entire world population at a point in the past, provided that point was recent enough to be reached by many genealogists, but not so recent that the world population was in the billions.

Now, the more recent a point, the more accurate the data and the greater the likelihood of living descendents, but also, the more daunting the project (due to the number of individuals described) and thus the less likely of enticing participants to join in the grand adventure.

As interested as I am personally in the year 1600, I know from my own genealogical and historical research that it is distant enough to be problematic. Jumping forward to 1750 would give an estimated world population of 700-825 million people. Or, by other estimates, of 629-961 million. That's a lot, but not an insane number of nodes. For example, using the former range, it's about the number of articles in Wikipedia in Chinese or in Portuguese.

1750 has also got the inspirational benefit of a big anniversary coming up within the probable lifetime of the participants or their children—300 years in 2050.

So, how to begin?

Infrastructure is vital. It must be incredibly robust and flexible. It must have profound internationalization support. It must allow for advancement and diversification separately of its data storage, software interfaces, and human interfaces.

Data will come in in many forms and must be clearly associated with its source, so that later conflicts on details can be weighed based on their respective supporting data.

Detail will vary wildly from broad guesses of total population in a country to general counts of categories of individuals (e.g., heads of household, taxpayers, members of the military) to detailed nodes about a specific person (both the famous and the genealogically derived).

Eventually, participants will no doubt be interested in assessing the relationships between individual nodes, thus it would be helpful to be able to retain data details (e.g., membership of an individual in a particular tracked category such as "the 12th regiment of Lord So-and-So's light horse", or "household at 123 Elm St, Anytown, New York, USA", or "inventory of the slave ship blah-de-blah", or "signatories of proclamation X".)

Such detail nodes will, of necessity, be much greater in number than the number of individuals alive because merger of them as applying to the same individual will be a more gradual and difficult process. This is a vital factor in infrastructure design.

 

So what do we know about 1750?

It's used by some sources as a baseline year for the end of the pre-industrial era; rather nice as a stake in the ground for pushing back our knowledge of individual human participation.

The population of North America is only about 2 million, thus forcing U.S. participants to think about the world outside their borders (which I think is always a good thing). It also makes an enticing early goal for "near complete description", which is the best I'd expect we can hope for in any region.

Sweden begin taking a census in 1749, one of the very few countries doing so in the mid-18th century, and is thus a logical target for another "near complete description" goal. Conveniently, it's also a good country for online project participation with its highly tech-savvy population. The 1750 estimated populations of Sweden (which I'm presuming refers to its territory then, not its smaller borders now) 1.7 million or 1.78 million. (Pleasantly for me, it's also where I am pretty certain I have personal genealogical data for 1750. Been a while since I was working on my paternal grandmother's line, but I recall it going back that far and farther thanks to the good data there.)

Iceland is also promising for early population data and participation.

 

Now, what haven't I considered yet?

 

***

Thought which came to mind after I went back to bed:

Every part of this idea needs further definition, but particularly the area around what defines a counted individual. Chronological confirmation of someone with a citable source is a big part of it; that is, an individual for whom we have a specific record of them being born, dying, marrying, becoming a parent, or otherwise being specifically one of those alive at some point during the year 1750.

However, those records may actually be less evocative of human experience than the categoric description associated with what I'm calling, for lack of a better term, 'unmatched individual details', or 'unmadeets'. Whose story would you be most interested in, the confirmed individual "Mary Jane Smith born 1750, later the mother of Winifred Harding", or the unmadeet "one of 350 purchased slaves who rebelled on the ship King David at 5a.m. on May 8, 1750"? Which says more about what was going on in 1750?

media I’ve enjoyed recently

Advertising and Selling

Morgan Spurlock: The greatest TED Talk ever sold (TEDtalks)

Full Price Beats Penny Saved for Selling Some Items (60-second Science)

Candidates Affect Viewer Reactions to Ads in Debates (60-second Science)

Creativity

Michael Pawlyn: Using nature's genius in architecture (TEDtalks)

Jacqueline Novogratz: Inspiring a life of immersion (TEDtalks)

100,000-Year-Old Art Studio Discovered (60-second Science)

Education

Bill Gates: How state budgets are breaking US schools (TEDtalks)

Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies (TEDtalks)

Science Grad Students Who Teach Write Better Proposals (60-second Science)

Doodles and Drawings Help Cement Concepts (60-second Science)

Food and Drink

Student Researchers Find Secret Tea Ingredients (60-second Science)

Molars Say Cooking Is Almost 2 Million Years Old (60-second Science)

High-Pressure Food Treatment Can Kill Microbes And Up Nutrients (60-second Science)

Health and Growth

Charity Tilleman-Dick: Singing after a double lung transplant (TEDtalks)

Molly Stevens: A new way to grow bone (TEDtalks)

Gamekeeper's Thumb Condition Outlives the Occupation (60-second Science)

Test Tells Viral and Bacterial Infections Apart (60-second Science)

Poultry Farms That Stop Antibiotics See Resistance Fall (60-second Science)

Endurance Exercise Has Stem Cells Make Bone Over Fat (60-second Science)

Carbon Nanotubes Impale Compulsive Cells (60-second Science)

Online Gamers Help Solve Protein Structure (60-second Science)

Health Data Could Spot Genocide Risk (60-second Science)

City Cyclists Suck In Soot (60-second Science)

Rapid PCR Could Bring Quick Diagnoses (60-second Science)

Pathogen Genomics Has Become Dirt Cheap (60-second Science)

Kid Scientists Show Medicines Can Be Mistaken For Candy (60-second Science)

Fever Increases Numbers of Immune Cells (60-second Science)

Nature and Sexuality

Christopher Ryan: Are we designed to be sexual omnivores? (TEDtalks)

Mole's Extra Finger Is Wrist Bone-us (60-second Science)

Full Moon May Signal Rise in Lion Attacks (60-second Science)

Send Ants to College (60-second Science)

Sea Lampreys Flee Death Smells (60-second Science)

Toxoplasma Infected Rats Love Their Enemies (60-second Science)

Modern Rivers Shaped By Trees (60-second Science)

Upright and Hairless Make Better Long-Distance Hunters (60-second Science)

Electrolyte Balancers Set Stage for Multicellularity (60-second Science)

Flesh-Tearing Piranhas Communicate with Sound (60-second Science)

Politics and Philosophy

Jody Williams: A realistic vision for world peace (TEDtalks)

Martin Jacques: Understanding the rise of China (TEDtalks)

El Nino Ups Conflict Odds (TEDtalks)

David Puttnam: What happens when the media's priority is profit? (TEDtalks)

Steven Pinker: Violence Is Lower Than Ever (60-second Science)

Technology and Physics

Johanna Blakley: Social media and the end of gender (TEDtalks)

Leyla Acaroglu: Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore (TEDtalks)

Dan Berkenstock: The world is one big dataset. Now, how to photograph it… (TEDtalks)

Medieval Armor: Was It Worth the Weight? (60-second Science)

Traffic Cameras Save Millions in Canceled Crashes (60-second Science)

Juno Mission Gets Goes for Launch (60-second Science)

Channeled Chips Can Spot Substances (60-second Science)

Smartphone System Saves Gas (60-second Science)

Sound Sends Electron to Specific Location (60-second Science)

Moon Not Made of Cheese, Physicist Explains (60-second Science)

A link, via Clay Shirky, serves as a reminder to me to explore poetry more often

 

Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles

by Billy Collins

It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.

Source: Poetry (June 1999). [Via Poetryfoundation.org]

Announcing The Art of the Shim—a new book from Dinah!

Hooray! My second book, The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, is now out in hardcover and ebook.

Building this book has been a fun time and—due to an aggressive sub-one-year production schedule—a challenge, but the results are beautiful. Kelly Puleio's photography is even better than my high hopes and the production quality on this, the first offset printed title from Sanders & Gratz, is excellent. I'm very happy that the book has the sturdiness to serve its readers many years on their bar shelves.

Along the way I've been expanding my skills even further into the publisher realm. (Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff is print-on-demand in its paperback form, so inventory management and distribution is a new adventure.)

Some of the lessons have been painful. I've now learned the hard way that Amazon's record of a book can apparently get messed up if the release date is before Ingram has their copies on hand—or at least that's the only explanation I can find for Amazon suddenly switching the book's status to "Out of Print–Limited Availability" sometime between midday Saturday and midday Sunday last weekend. We're now on day four of no order button for the hardcover, which is enough to make anyone trying to launch a book tear their hair out.

In the meantime, I'm keeping fans of Bibulo.us and the book updated on Twitter and Facebook. Also taking deep breaths and saying "calm blue ocean" a lot.

Copies of the book are now in stock at Ingram's Oregon distribution center and lots more will be arriving at their Tennessee one today or tomorrow. Perhaps that will help kick the Amazon status back to normal (though I fear that if their techs don't identify and eliminate the bug, the problem would just come back the next time Ingram or their on hand count hits zero).

Next Tuesday (9/17) will be the New York launch at Pouring Ribbons bar and a week from Monday (9/23) will be the San Francisco celebration at The Booksmith bookstore. Looking forward to those events very much!

Even with bumps on the road, I'm having a great time as an author and a publisher!

Venues Amplify Vibes: Patterns for human-scale festivals

I just published “Venues Amplify Vibes: Patterns for Human-Scale Festivals” on Medium.

[post archived here on MetaGrrrl.com as well, October 2015]

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 4.54.14 PM

Venues Amplify Vibes

Patterns for Human-Scale Festivals

Excellent events inspire their attendees, but some spark more creativity, contemplation, and connection than others. One way to achieve that is simply to have a larger number of people from which something special can emerge. However, when the goal of the hosts is to increase the odds of each attendee experiencing great outcomes—when, ideally, everyone comes away energized and enhanced—then increasing scale is counter-productive.

I have had the pleasure over this past year of being a part of two exceptionally good gatherings: the inaugural occurrences of XOXO, in September 2012, and YxYY, in July 2013. Both launched waves of enthusiasm and seem positioned to be looked back on as having been a key influence in subsequent creative projects and partnerships. Comparisons, for example, of YxYY to the SxSW festival in 2000 have been mentioned by many people with fond recollection of the connections formed at that earlier event and appreciation for the influence those connections had on the development of the Web and online culture.

Participating in all three of these events was a privilege, and I mean that in its multiple senses. One of the risks of small-scale events is exclusion. One of the best way to avoid that, surely, is to let a thousand flowers bloom. In hope that it will help more organizers of small-scale festivals bring their events to successful fruition, here are a few observations about helpful underlying patterns.

Embraceability
Limitation of event headcount helps avoid a sense of overwhelm. Make your event small enough that attendees can imagine it would be possible to meet everyone there, but don’t require them to do so. This mental ability to ‘get your arms around the group’ reduces attendees feeling isolated next to a faceless, massive crowd. The number 400 was chosen by both XOXO and YxYY and seems to work well for the count of core attendees. By the end of the event, many if not most faces should be at least familiar enough for eye contact and smiles—and all attendees should have enough shared connection from the event that it could be the opener to subsequent conversation.

Approachability
Foster an event culture of casual inclusiveness, explicitly inviting conversation between attendees. Encourage people to come up and talk with each other. Picnic tables are a strong emergent sub-pattern here; they are friendly and, because they accommodate more people than the natural groupings that usually start a conversation, they invite new participants. Another important sub-pattern for this is name tags which emphasize the first name (and perhaps only include that, as with YxYY’s brilliant swimming-pool-compatible temporary tattoo name tags).

Playfulness
Give and reinforce permission to break down barriers of inflexible behavior. Move a step beyond informality to friendliness, even silliness, and make sure your venue shares this wit. Make instructions playful and let what few rules you absolutely have to have be as cheerful as possible. Wherever possible eliminate things that make attendees feel they are ‘doing it wrong’.

Diversity
Create opportunities for attendees to engage differently with the event space and with each other. Have some activities and spaces which can accommodate everyone (e.g., XOXO’s presentations or YxYY’s prom), some which accommodate many (e.g., XOXO’s parties and tours or YxYY’s pools), and many which accommodate a few (e.g., tables, conversational seating, power strips, room at the edges for one-on-one talking). Ensure that different spaces have the opportunity to be different; allow for variation in noise level, lighting, temperature, etc. This kind of adaptability creates ‘ramps’ into challenging social interactions and it helps to foster connections between people who otherwise might not have talked. That person who on day one mustered the nerve to interact only one-on-one or in a very small group, can by the last day have built connections to support participation in the crowd—and the crowd will benefit from that new voice.

Proximity
Keep your event footprint small enough that wandering between spaces isn’t discouraged. Just as joining conversations should be encouraged, so too allow easy movement out of one cluster or activity into others. The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, where YxYY was held, is an ideal example of being large enough for very different simultaneous activities (e.g., DJ’d music at the main pool while unscheduled talks took place in—yes, in—the smaller pool next to the Commune room, which was accommodating a Settlers of Cataan tournament and crafting tables, all of which were surrounded by smaller conversations and solo time on their edges).

Connected Separation
This goes hand in hand with diversity and proximity; some activities, particularly conversations where intense connection and creativity is happening, benefit from pulling back from the main flow of the action. The ideal venue supports this while still encouraging participants to reconnect and share afterwards. Again, the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs had some ideal sub-patterns for this, one of my favorites of which was the rooms with private patios allowing partial retreat while still being exposed to the ambient sounds of the shared spaces. At XOXO, the coffee bar area developed some of this function for people mentally recharging; I noticed people occasionally sitting alone with laptops or books on the outside deck where the sound of the presentation space upstairs could drift down. A silent ‘chill room’, as at YxYY, offers explicit support for retreat and restoration, which can be vital for introverts at social events and which helps to keep those attendees able to bring their perspective to your festival.

Expansiveness
All of this helps to make the event valuable and foster connection between its participants. To make it exceptional, though, it needs to tacitly inspire taking all these ideas and contacts further. Choose an event site that expands to the world around it. The high ceilings and tall windows of the XOXO presentation hall and YxYY’s openness to the sky and mountains of Palm Springs created a constant sense of unconstrained space and opportunity. It may sound silly, but make sure your attendees have room for their big thoughts to grow above them. This also means not over-scheduling; allow gaps around activities for ideas to stretch out, whether in conversations or solo thinking.

Permeability
Along with that expansiveness, blur the edges. Don’t block conversations that extend beyond the event. Have a hashtag so that those not at the event can still get a sense of it and respond through Twitter, Flickr, and similar sharing sites. Link to blog posts by the participants. Celebrate your attendees’ inspiration. Encourage ongoing discussion about the event by continuing to share these reactions and event-sparked creations through the official festival channels even after the event is over.

Obviously, my thoughts here owe a big thanks to A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein. If you don’t own a copy of this mighty tome, I encourage you to get one and just keep it around, dipping into it randomly as well as gradually reading through it from the beginning. It is, like these festivals, a mind-expander. Unlike them, it can be engaged with slowly, over years, and will still reward whatever time you choose to give it.

I also thank the creators of Medium for building such an excellent space for human-scale conversation about a set of ideas.

Cool poem

Throwdown
by Jena Strong

give me the drag queens, dolled up and delicious
the two moms bickering over the dishes
the orphans, adopted, the chosen, the trannies
the witches, the protestors, tattooed laughing grannies
the boys wearing tutus and all the shirtless
daughters of the revolution playing basketball
on the broken courts of lost fathers
the failures, the forgotten, the throwdown, the freak show
the hurts and the heartbreaks, the hassles and headaches
the beggar, the baron, the shelter, the clambake
trade in the cynical, the stubborn, the splintering showdown
because it's time to unite now, yes it's time to ignite now
it's time to pick up the phone to say, It's me and I love you

This appeared in the Goodreads newsletter as the winner of their May poetry contest. It's tidbits like this that keep me subscribed.

Looks like there are a couple of her books of poetry on Amazon, but at least one of them is available through her site (linked above) and she probably gets better compensation if you order through there.