Year of Thanks

Andy Nelson

I met Andy Nelson as a junior at University of Colorado. It’s all a little fuzzy to me now, but I think that would have been around 1993, maybe ’94. We were both heading in to RA positions in the dorms and ended up on the same residence life team: Baker Hall. 

He was in film school at the time, I was in J-school, and we were both goons for movies. But there are people who enjoy films, celebrate the craft, and collect them on then-VHS tapes, and there are those who invested heavily in laser discs. The latter group developed a special relationship with the films they viewed, diving into “Special Features” and “Alternate Endings” long before they were cool. Choosing to listen to the director’s commentary track on a new addition to their library before the main audio track because — who are we kidding — that’s the more interesting stuff, anyhow. 

Andy was a laser disc person. 

My final graduation project senior year was a documentary film that covered the making of Andy’s graduation project, a short film shot on location at the Denver International Airport. Yeah, long enough ago that we could bring in lights and cameras and film in the terminal without actually paying for a flight. 

We lived together for a while after college. We have files of ideas for scripts and projects in mothballs. In spite of best intentions — and some terrific ideas, of course — time and circumstance never saw favor for us to finish.

Then, in 2011, after some years of cajoling, I managed to talk Andy into joining me for a friendly podcast in which we might just muse on movies we like. We did one on Raiders. Then we did one on Temple of Doom. Suddenly we were meeting every single Thursday night like clockwork. After 20 years of trying to actually make movies with this guy, the project we get to stick is a podcast in which we talk about movies. Strange tides. 

Andy lives in Phoenix now. He has a fantastic family — they totally outclass him in all the best ways. His was one of the few ports in my drive which gave us a night to do a few shots (the kind in a glass) and set up a fun shoot (the kind with a camera). We went with a poker theme, as we’d just done The Sting on the podcast and I wanted to do an aged piece for Andy, something we might composite into a movie poster some day. Funny thing is, I don’t actually know if Andy is any good at cards. After all these years, we’ve never played. 

To Andy, I owe great thanks for so many things. He is an inspiration to me in his love of his craft, and he teaches me more about the art of the story with every conversation. He operates with a machine’s efficiency, putting my own efforts at productivity to great shame. But more than anything, he’s a man of honor. In my own efforts to live true to myself and my word to others, I have Andy as my ballast, always in my head, reminding me what it means to be strong. I’m deeply proud to be working with him and look forward to many years to come. 

Gina Trapani

I didn’t know I had discovered Gina Trapani when I first discovered Gina Trapani. In fact, I’d been reading her work for years before I made a more personal connection with the writer herself.

Gina is the founding editor of Lifehacker.com, one of the most addictive websites for enterprising nerds interested in living systems, and she’d been noodling around my computer in the form of selected Gmail plug-ins she’d written. At the time, I wasn’t in the habit of putting names to developers behind the software I was using, content instead to download and click and strive for freeware as often as possible.

When I quit my job to freelance in 2007, people became more important to me. Not just people, but creative people. That’s when I began to take note of great work, and of the great people behind it. It’s when I developed a taste for favorite bloggers outside of my own circle of nerd friends. It’s when I started to read bylines.

Gina, insofar as she is a technologist and entrepreneur, also taught me to think about marketing in a new way. She is member of a caste of professional creators that invests heavily in her community, representative of the shift in the market conversation that puts weight not just on the product, but on the maker of it. In following Gina’s blog, Lifehacker, her show (This Week in Google), I was able to learn enough about her as a person to inform me about the decisions she made in the products she created. This affinity made me more inclined to continue my relationship with her as a customer of her scripts, her writing, and more curious to investigate new projects she launched.

I had been a long-time supporter of her social data aggregation tool, ThinkUp, as an open source project. I’m thrilled to be one of the first round of backers of ThinkUp as a commercial project launched in the last few weeks. It’s a testament to her great savvy as a technologist and community wrangler that this is turning into such a useful and well-intentioned product.

I photographed Gina beneath the Geisel Library on the UC San Diego campus. If you’ve been following Gina for any time at all, you’ll note that one of her key defining characteristics is just how damned nice she is. Seriously. You’d think she was medicated how nice she is. The tagline for her company is, “It’s nice to be nice.” In thinking of what I wanted to capture in the frame, I couldn’t think of anything other than, “Get Gina mad.”

That’s remarkably difficult to do.

I tried insulting her. I tried calling her names. I tried making faces. It all just rolls of her back. Finally, I said something about a hot story on Fox that morning and she bristled just in time to catch a nice, sturdy growl. Then she laughed.

We shared a delightful walk that day on the UCSD campus, sharing thoughts and insights from social media to parenthood. And while our paths haven’t crossed since, I’m honored to have shared this brief time to connect with a great spirit.

To Gina, I owe great thanks for her work as an advocate in open source, and as a model for positive and engaged interaction online. She’s an inspirational creator and a warm and charming individual to boot.

Joe Cockrell

When I met Joe, I was a corporate refugee. We had each joined the communications department at around the same time — Joe from outside, me as a transfer — and ended up as two legs of a three-legged public relations stool. At the time, I was brought in as the nerd to handle “new media” relations — bloggers, web relations, and the like. Joe, the press. 

But we were both journalists, having traded in the press badges to go corporate at a time when corporate communications was changing radically. 

We struggled together. The organization was under constant fire from the media and keeping up with requests and pitches was a constant fight. I watched Joe manage the deluge with aplomb, not only kicking back eloquent and refined responses to media inquiries, but maintaining a constant flow of new angles for key publications, always fighting to keep the organization moving forward in just the right light. 

Ultimately, our time was not long in the department. The organization didn’t have a clear vision for the conversation they’d wanted to have with the market while we were there which made for a poor fit. I was given the alumni association for a brief period and Joe moved on, but I’ll never forget my time working with him, our introspective lunches, and his keen observations on the industry. 

To Joe, I owe my deepest thanks for changing the way I think about corporate communications, for approaching the media with a producer’s eye, and for refining what I understand as proactive placement. Joe’s one of the best. I’m honored to be in his professional orbit.

Edythe Taylor

Part of a  Year of Thanks .

Part of a Year of Thanks.

My cosmic half-way point was in the Mountain Shadows Assisted Living facility in Tucson to see Edythe Taylor, my 100-year-old grandmother-in-law. She'd had some health issues, but not major. She was mostly plagued by... you know... age. She couldn't hear all that well so I had to scream at her, which seemed rude. She repeated herself occasionally, still, she was pretty well put together for being one of 72k  people who'd hit that mark. I should be so lucky. 

Anyhow, she was great. She loved the surprise, and gave me the gift of a wonderful shot of her big beautiful face. I kissed her goodbye and made my way out.

Grammy passed last week. As lucky as I'd been to know her, I certainly didn't know her as well as my wife. With that, here are Kira's words to be read at the memorial service today.

I have always loved hearing stories about my grandmother, Edythe Taylor. Through her caring and generous spirit, she touched so many lives. She has been recognized by nearly every community group and charitable organization for her work, and the stories of her efforts in making the Quaker Oats man smile and the people she worked with in Chicago predate me by many years. In her scrapbook, I loved seeing her through the eyes of her community.

But my most precious memories of Edythe Taylor are through my own eyes, the eyes of her adoring grandchild. 

To me, she was my Grammy! Looking back, there may have been many other concerns on her mind during the annual spring break trips I spent with her in Green Valley, but our weeks were filled with

  • early mornings feeding the birds, 
  • read-aloud sessions snuggled by the heater in the bathroom while the rest of the house slept, 
  • and cinnamon toast with extra cinnamon and sugar - the way only a grandmother is allowed to make it! 
  • Giggling for hours made us hungry for lunch, only to be satisfied by olive and cream cheese sandwiches ("Make me one just like yours, Grammy!") and labored choices from the large tin of cookies in the middle of the lunch table. 
  • My memories of her are of the strong woman that braved snowy Christmases in Colorado, my high school graduation, a trip to see me in Russia at age 84?!, and her treasured trip out for my wedding. 

In addition to her charitable work that reached so many in need, her loving presence in my life also has far reaches. Though we say goodbye to her today, she will live on 

  • in the birds at my own birdfeeder, 
  • in the cookies on my family's lunch table, 
  • in the way I see those around me in need and how my children see the needs in their community, 
  • in the precious morning hours of every day. 

Thank you, Grammy! We love you!

As I hit the front door, a younger woman came running out of a neighboring room. She stopped me and said, "You know, you were talking sort of loud and I couldn't help overhearing you. What you're doing—driving around the country to thank people important to you?—that's about the coolest thing I've heard of." She put her hand on her heart. "That is an inspiration."

I cried as I pulled out of the facility. First because I'd made it to Grammy. Second because I think I'd realized just how stingy I'd been with my gratitudes over the years. That this trip is such a surprise for so many—even the people I talk to all the time—tells me that I've done a terrible job telling people how important they are to me when it counts, in the moment. 

So, even for such a brief moment of your life that you'd spent in mine, thank you Edythe, for giving so much of your self to your community, your family, and the strength and beauty you have passed on through your daughters, grand and great.

Veronica Belmont

When I arrived at the TWiT studios I didn't expect to meet Veronica Belmont. As a follower of finer podcasts and online media I've been following Veronica's work for some time and have learned a fair bit from her tech and entertainment reviews. See, Veronica Belmont is a personality. She's part of a new caste of online personalities led (in a cosmic sense) by Robert Scoble, for whom the chic comes in the project, not the network. Veronica's audience follows her accordingly, learning of her work not from her employer but from her TwitterFacebook, and other feeds. She has loyal fans, friends, and followers across the net. 

She boasts admirable skill as a producer; she's smart, intuitive, and has a keen understanding of communicating the complex simply on air. But what I have learned from Veronica is this importance of personality. There is no pretense in a Veronica Belmont broadcast, no arrogance. She reads as someone deeply in touch with her viewers not as an audience, but as friends.

Veronica is co-host of the Sword and Laser, a sci-fi/fantasy podcast née book club with Tom Merritt. I was lucky to catch them both in a show meeting on the set itself, and managed to make this photograph of Veronica with her great dragon, Lem. Thanks, Veronica, for taking the time to share with a fan.