…I moved to New York in January 2000, shortly after the media’s apocalyptic predictions of the world shutting down thanks to a software glitch failed to pan out. I had spent the last 2 years leading up to the millenium as an Adjunct Professor of English at Illinois State University, teaching introductory composition classes and writing across the curriculum classes. I had earned my MA in English Studies at ISU, teaching the entire time, and more importantly for my future, teaching in computer classrooms the entire time. I learned to troubleshoot the computers in the lab myself, just so I could keep things moving along in my classes. I learned how to use in-class chatrooms to get non-talkative students to communicate with their peers. In late 1999, I was accepted into Fordham University’s Doctoral Program in English. I had applied for a program that they advertised as being cross-disciplinary between the English Department and the Theology Department, thinking that I would continue to examine Biblical Literature and the influences of ancient archetypal patterns on modern and contemporary literature. When I arrived at Fordham, I discovered that this cross-disciplinary program was really all about taking a few theology electives and writing a dissertation that dabbled across the disciplines. This was disappointing, as, unfortunately, was much of my life as a student at Fordham.
When I first moved to New York, I rented a one bedroom apartment on Crescent Avenue off of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx for $500 a month. I stumbled upon the apartment by sheer luck, while walking around the part of the Bronx surrounding Fordham University. I saw an old grey haired man walking outside an apartment building that I liked the looks of. I asked him if he knew if there were any apartments for rent. He turned out to be the owner of the building and showed me an apartment on the 5th floor which I quickly rented. My parents helped me move from Illinois to New York using two trucks and some walkie talkies to communicate between them. When we arrived, my landlord had some guys that we paid to move all my stuff up to the 5th floor. My dad told my landlord to take care of me. He was Spanish and owned a “Member’s Only Club” on the first floor of the apartment building that was frequented by several old Italian men. He called me Buzz, because I had a buzz haircut at the time, and the day after I moved in, suddenly everyone in the neighborhood was calling me Buzz and seemed to know who I was and where I was staying. He regularly tried to loan me money, pulling a roll of 100s out of his pocket. I never took him up on it, although a few times I did ask if it would be okay if I paid the rent a little late. He was always accommodating. It was an interesting life.
Since I arrived at Fordham in January, there were no teaching fellowships available to me. So I applied for other on campus work. They noted that I was familiar with teaching in computer classrooms, and as a result I was fortunate enough to get placed in the computer labs as a Graduate Student Supervisor, which basically meant that I managed the schedules for undergraduate student workers manning the computer labs. I held that position all of my first semester at Fordham, over the course of the summer and into the beginning of the fall. Everyone noticed that I knew how to actually troubleshoot and solve multiple computer problems, and so when a position opened up for a lab supervisor to run the computer labs at the Graduate Center in Tarrytown, I was asked to apply. I did and I landed the position. I suddenly found myself with a salary and a position that was flexible both in terms of hours and in terms of time when I was expected to be “on call” but not really doing anything else. I had also taken on a teaching fellowship during that semester, so I taught one class at Fordham, but unfortunately I couldn’t retain the teaching fellowship and the full time job, so I gave up the fellowship and took the Spring semester of 2001 off, so that I could get past the 6 month milestone of Fordham employment where my tuition became free.
There was lots of time to fill during that semester and I had both computers and a free internet connection ready at hand. I’d started blogging on a livejournal in 1999, where I basically kept a public diary of all my antics (I have since eradicated this site from the internet, back when you could still remove such things). I also started a site on Radio Userland called Kopfschmerzen, where I simply ranted about all sorts of things I read online.
Also, while at Fordham in the Fall of 2001, I spotted Kristin walking in the hallway while I was sitting in a lecture. She was a senior at Fordham in the accelerated Masters program that allowed her to begin her first year of her Masters degree while completing her final year of her undergraduate. During the class break, I introduced myself to her, offered her some Pringles (which she took), and invited her to have some pizza and beer with the Graduate Students after class. She came for the pizza, declined the beer, and sat next to me all night. She drove me back to my apartment that night before heading back to her parent’s house on Long Island. When she dropped me off, I said something to the effect of, “Listen. There’s clearly some chemistry here. You should breakup with your long distance boyfriend. He’s clearly just a shield you have in place to protect yourself from being distracted in college by people like me. But, you’re clearly in to me, so break up with him and we’ll go out.” She called me a fool and laughed at what I said. However, she soon became a regular at pizza and beer and spent more and more time with me. It took about 6 months but I finally managed to get her to break up with her boyfriend. We then dated for six months before I proposed to her. During that time, she convinced me that I needed a pet, and I bought Misha, my pet Eclectus parrot, in the Spring of 2002. I proposed to Kristin in the Fall of 2002. I bought my first apartment in Bronxville, New York shortly thereafter, and Kristin moved in with me. We were then engaged for two years before our marriage.
During that time, I continued working at Fordham in the Instructional Technology department. I started Sample The Web some time in 2002, as my personal blog. I retired Kopfschmerzen and began a blog called 3650 and a 12-inch in 2003, which was all about using my 12-inch Powerbook with my Nokia 3650 cell phone. I wrote some basic AppleScripts that allowed one to share the internet connection from their Mac out to the Nokia 3650 over bluetooth, which were called Share2Blue2th, and were mentioned in Mac OS X Unwired by O’Reilly Press. I wrote to the editors of the book, told them I was a writer, blogger, and technologist, and told them I’d be interested in contributing to their books. Rael Dornfest contacted me and I became a contributor to Mac OS X Panther Hacks. Sometime after that book came out, the iPod arrived and I started the first blog about the iPod, called My iPod Blog that was originally hosted on Radio Userland, before I moved it over to Blogspot. I wrote Rael and asked if O’Reilly would be interested in having me write a book devoted to the iPod. I discovered that the book was already being worked on by Hadley Stern. As a result of my interest, I had the pleasure of contributing to and being Technical Editor for Hadley Stern’s iPod and iTunes Hacks. Hadley and I became friends and I became a weekly columnist for Apple Matters. At some point or another in 2004, Jason Calacanis spotted my writing and started trying to contact me to discuss me possibly writing for Weblogs, Inc. He and I played email and phone tag a few times, but nothing really came of it. Around this same time, Fordham took over Marymount College across the street from the Tarrytown Graduate Center, and I began to help manage the computer labs on that campus as well.
I also found myself missing teaching, and so during the Fall of 2004 and Spring of 2005, I taught as an Adjunct Professor at Iona College in New Rochelle a few days a week in the mornings.
Kristin and I were married in November of 2004. Kristin had begun teaching high school English at the time, so we couldn’t take our honeymoon immediately and scheduled it for Winter Break of 2005. Shortly after the Christmas break and before our Hawaiian honeymoon, Barb Dybwad contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in writing for The Unofficial Apple Weblog. I then spoke to Judith Meskill, Managing Editor of Weblogs, Inc., at the time, and agreed to start writing for them as soon as I returned from my honeymoon on March 1st, 2005. I did so, and started writing an average of 12 blog posts per day on TUAW. A week after I started, Jason Calacanis called me, told me he loved how much I was writing and asked me to be the lead blogger for the site. I agreed, although I don’t think either Scott McNulty or Laurie Duncan (the other TUAWers at the time) believed me when I told them I had switched from being the new blogger to being the new lead blogger so quickly.
As all this was going on, I was still working towards my Doctorate degree, beginning a two year attempt to get my Dissertation proposal into a state of acceptance, and I still wanted to write a book for O’Reilly and continued to pitch them ideas. In the summer of 2005, I wrote my first book: PSP Hacks. Around this same time, I transitioned from being a Lab Supervisor for Fordham to being Instructional Technologist for Fordham University, running the Instructional Technology Centers across the 3 campuses and helping Professors with using technology in their classrooms. I was regularly commuting to the Lincoln Center campus in the city, and working at Rose Hill in the Bronx, with infrequent trips up to my old haunts in Tarrytown. The new responsibility meant that I could no longer manage to continue teaching at Iona, so I again left teaching. I also started blogging for various other Weblogs, Inc blogs besides The Unofficial Apple Weblog, including TV Squad, where I eventually co-hosted the Lost Podcast with Ryan Budke and Cinematical, where I occasionally reviewed a movie. I helped launch Download Squad and Judith and I, after doing a recruiting set of posts on TUAW for new bloggers, hired on a particularly adept commenter, Victor Agreda Jr., to be the lead for Download Squad.
Sometime that summer, multiple Weblogs, Inc bloggers met up in NYC for dinner hosted by our two bosses, Jason Calacanis and Brian Alvey. Kristin said that that dinner was the first time she realized that Weblogs, Inc was actually a company and not just some hobby I was preoccupied with in my spare time. In late 2005, AOL bought Weblogs, Inc. We had a big meetup of all the lead bloggers for Weblogs, Inc, our first Winstock, at AOL HQ in midtown NYC that Fall. We met all Saturday talking about how to grow the blogs and strategies to increase our traffic and influence, we partied heavily that night, singing karaoke and drinking too much, and the next morning, I was the first person back at AOL’s offices waiting for day two’s festivities to begin. I remember that several of the more active bloggers were being hired on as blog producers with Weblogs, Inc. (Barb and Victor were two of the early hires in that role, I believe), and I remember commenting to Jason at one moment, “I’d love to do this, but with my current salary at Fordham plus the money I’m making blogging for you, it just doesn’t pay enough.” He said, “We’ll find something for you. Be patient.”
I was, but I was also very wary of my predicament. As Instructional Technologist for Fordham University, I was already making more money than I could ever think about making starting out as a Professor beginning the climb up the tenure ladder. I’d also grown very sick of the academic hazing that is so widely accepted among academics. For such smart people, they are very stuck in stupid patterns. I was tired of academia and so when in January of 2006, Jason approached me with the opportunity to be the Managing Editor for the New Netscape and try to build a new type of social news site that reported on top of the activity to be found on social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Digg, I jumped at the opportunity. I resigned my position at Fordham, I stopped pursuing my Doctorate and settled for a second Masters of Philosophy in English, and began recruiting people to help run Netscape, while continuing to contribute to various Weblogs, Inc. blogs, and helping launch World of Warcraft Insider with Barb.
Netscape (re)launched in the Summer of 2006. Things were great for several months post launch as we grew the site, converted Netscape’s old audience into users of social media, and began covering various events with the Netscape Video team. Kristin and I sold our first apartment for twice what we’d bought it for and moved to a new two bedroom apartment on the Eastchester side of Bronxville. The main reason for the move was because I was working out of my home office most of the time, and the home office was part of the living room in the one bedroom. The new apartment gave me a room of my own for work. Also, the new apartment building actually allowed all sorts of pets, so I got Kristin Thatcher for her birthday that year. Our family had grown to two humans, a parrot, and a pug, sharing a two bedroom apartment.
In late 2006, Jon Miller
was forced out of left AOL. Jason resigned shortly thereafter. The entire atmosphere at the company seemed to go downhill under the new regime. With Jason gone, I was promoted to Director of Netscape and its General Manager. I was reporting to Jim Bankoff at the time. I had just had a very productive meeting with him about the future of Netscape when the Valleywag story broke that he was planning on leaving AOL. Myself and several others who were in the meeting decried the blog post as being entirely false in the comments. A week later, Bankoff resigned. I was reporting to someone else suddenly and I couldn’t gain an audience with him to discuss next steps for Netscape. This continued for about 3 months until finally, I sent him an email resigning. He called me 15 minutes after I sent the email and talked me out of leaving immediately, asking me to stay on for several months to help him transition Netscape to new management. I did so, but with the stipulation that I would only work a set amount of hours past a certain date and that I would be free to look for other endeavors during that time.
Jason had started Mahalo already, albeit in stealth mode, and I contacted him and went out to LA to visit and get a tour of what he had planned. I liked what he had planned, I told him I wanted to be a part of it, and so he offered and I accepted the position as Editorial Director of Mahalo, and we launched the site in beta in mid 2007. I was working bi-coastally at first, flying back and forth between New York and LA. Around easter of that year, Kristin and I thought Misha was too lonely, and we bought Sonja, a female Eclectus parrot, to be his companion. Our family had grown to be two humans, a pug, and two Eclectus parrots.
The bi-coastal Mahalo work was working well enough until we had a particularly good board meeting where we were basically given the green light to grow even more. After the meeting was over, Jason said rather matter-of-factly, “You either have to move out here or I have to hire you a boss.” I didn’t want to move, but I didn’t want to report to anyone other than Jason. Kristin and I discussed it for some time and ultimately decided to move to LA. Kristin had left teaching English to work full time teaching dance out on Long Island the year before. The announcement that she was leaving created a rift between her and her former friend / boss that was not easy for either of us and which to some degree set the tone for that year in LA.
We moved and put our apartment on the market, but didn’t receive any respectable offers, so we found ourselves living in corporate housing with roommates for part of our time in LA and then ultimately paying for two places simultaneously. I was making more money than I’d ever made before in my life, but it didn’t feel that way. We felt impoverished and miserable. Neither of us liked LA living. Both of us longed for New York. Kristin took up blogging for TV Squad and became the LA Lead Blogger for the site. Suddenly all my relatives were reading her blog posts and I was like “You know I used to blog there too, right?” I was 100% Mahalo all the time, busting my ass for the site. For someone who had become accustomed to doing a multitude of different things over the first part of the decade, being dedicated to one thing was odd to say the least. I enjoyed the work, but whenever I left work, I felt unfulfilled. Kristin and I began trying to have a baby with no luck. We were both miserable. We gave LA a year and then we gave up. I resigned nearly a year to the day after we moved to LA, and we were moved back to New York within two weeks time, returning to our unsold apartment in Bronxville in August of 2008.
Kristin quickly found a new job at her old high school in the Bronx in an administrative position. When I left Mahalo, Jason was concerned about where I would land, and suggested that Brian’s new company, Crowd Fusion, might be a place for me to find work. I contacted Judith Meskill, who was COO of the company at the time, and I was hired as Social Media Evangelist for Crowd Fusion. Somewhere along the way I ended up being one of the editors for Obsessable. Unfortunately, both Obsessable and Super Eco were launched right when the online advertising market went south, so neither had much chance at success. However, they were both powered by a framework and content management system, Crowd Fusion, that far surpassed any simple blogging platform that I’d ever used. The company survived it’s publishing dip, Judith became a board member, and Crowd Fusion restructured its business plan to be focused on being a CMS for powering large enterprise customers.
Kristin and I, after many years of trying, and several bouts of fertility tests that all came back indicating that we were both very fertile, finally became pregnant in mid 2009. Kristin also gained a full teaching position at her school that year. In February of 2010, we welcomed Jackson Patrick Sample into our family.
Kristin was my greatest find of the past decade, but Jackson has proven to be our greatest gift. He is the best thing that has ever happened to us and Kristin and I both love him dearly.
Our family had become two adult humans, a baby boy, a pug, and two Eclectus parrots. I lost my home office, which became the baby’s room, and our living room became yet again divided into half living room and half home office. Moreover, Sonja, who had been the baby of the house before the baby arrived, reacted badly to Jackson’s arrival. She constantly wanted attention and screamed and bit because she was not getting the attention she needed. She also became aggressive with Misha and plucked all the feathers out of the back of his head (they have just now started to grow back). Ultimately, we ended up giving her away to a family on Long Island who can give her the attention she seems to need and she seems much happier for it. Now we are a family of two adults, one baby, one pug, and one Eclectus parrot. We are happy and things are going well.
This past fall, Kristin returned to work, but only half time. Somewhere along the way and through Crowd Fusion’s changes, I became Director of Special Projects, then Director of Product, and now I’m Vice President of Product Development for Crowd Fusion, working closely with Brian Alvey, our CEO, Craig Wood, our former CTO become COO, and Ryan Scheuermann, our VP of Engineering to help plan the future of this growing company. We have a great team of developers, a great group of clients, and the future is looking bright.
Jackson is on the verge of walking. He crawls like a pro and can pull himself up and balance nicely with one hand on something. He spits out a spattering of words like “Hi” and “Dada” and “Mama.” Any day now he’s going to start taking steps and speaking in full sentences. We’ve been reorganizing his room over the past couple of days after returning from visiting my parents in Mississippi in preparation of his transition from helpless infant to walking toddler.
I’ve accomplished a lot over the past ten years. I’m looking forward to the next ten…
Happy New Year and Happy New Decade, my friends!