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30 Things I Did Before Turning 30

In anticipation of my 54th birthday, I answered this question on Quora:

What are the 30 things you did before turning 30 in your life?

  1. Learned to skateboard ramps and pools. Memorized every ditch and was part of an informal word-of-mouth network that knew when a new ramp appeared in Ventura. Convinced my parents to drive me to skateparks all over Southern California, so I skated a bunch of the first-generation classic parks. My home was Oxnard’s Endless Wave with it’s odd, over-vert double-pool. Favorite trick: Frontside air. Second favorite: Inverts. Pool Skating Will Never Die. Biggest lesson I learned from skateboarding: Always get up after you fall. That applies to pretty much everything in life. Fail. Get up. Try again.
  2. Lived in Lausanne, Switzerland for a year, where I studied French. That would inspire me to improve my German and learn Italian. I was also part of a Swiss skateboard team that toured that small country.
  3. Took piano lessons for 13 years. Practiced every day. Played in recitals twice a year. Learned to play the trombone in high school, then taught myself saxophone. Played in a free jazz punk band called The Love Shortcut that played high school parties – much to the dismay of the kids that were there to drink and have under-aged sex. The band turned into several solo performance art pieces and later to readings at poetry slams. I learned that if you put your mind to it, you can pretty much  learn anything.Karl Schmieder 1981
  4. Had crushes, fell in love, had my heart broken. Finally kissed a girl. Eventually had sex but didn’t have it again for a long, long time.
  5. Skateboard culture with its emphasis on self-reliance gave way to punk rock and its Do It Yourself aesthetic. I would eventually grow bored with punk music philosophizing but never with self-reliance and DIY. This would inspire the way I approach business. See the Lesson mentioned in #1.
  6. Saw tons of live bands during the hey-day of early West Coast punk. Favorite venue: The Whiskey A Go Go. Favorite show: 45 Grave opening for The Cramps. Kept seeing a steady diet of bands in Boston, Denver, New York, and wherever I happened to be traveling.
  7. Started a lawn care business so I could pay for my skateboard habit. Took jobs as a glazier, a lab assistant, a Spanish-English translator, a transcriber, a temp. Learned that I could get a job in 24 hours if put my mind to it. Also, learned that even if I worked for someone, I eventually was going to be my own boss.
  8. Read far and wide, learning that I like bold ideas and works of the imagination. Focused on science fiction and science fact which inspired me to study science and become a science writer.

    Over Junipero Serra’s shoulder

  9. Moved from my hometown of Ventura to Riverside for college, to Boston, New Orleans then Boulder and Denver for grad school. I miss Ventura every day.
  10. Spent way too much time putting off the real-world by staying in school. Got a Master of Science in Biochemistry, a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, took more writing classes. Eventually decided I needed to learn business, took classes on selling and marketing.
  11. While working on that MFA, studied with Keith Abbott, Kathy Acker, Fielding Dawson and Allen Ginsburg.

    Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs.

  12. Started keeping a journal. I knew I was going to write but it was my father who suggested it might be nice to keep a journal while traveling. I did and continue today, 30 years later. I have boxes of journals in my basement and on my shelves. I rarely look at them, but occasionally look for ideas I had in the past. I figure I will eventually either plunder them for something worthwhile or throw them into a landfill.
  13. Traveled alone across Europe, mostly in German-speaking countries because I wanted to learn German.
  14. Interviewed a bunch of German experimental musicians, published those interviews, along with reviews of live shows and records. That was the beginning of my writing career. But I didn’t get paid for a published piece of magazine writing until my mid-40s.
  15. Made a guest appearance on a surreal experimental record with Frank Dommert and HNAS because I happen to be in the right place at the right time.
  16. Taught myself Italian because I had a friend who lived in Chiasso, I wanted to speak with to Italian girls, and I thought it’d be fun. Did better with the Italian than with the girls.
  17. Saved my money so I could move cross-country. Moved to Boston because I didn’t have the guts to make the leap to New York City even though that’s where I knew I belonged. Justified Beantown by telling myself I’d work at a biotech company, instead waited tables, took odd jobs, and taught myself to write.
  18. Drove cross-country in a 1970 Karmann-Ghia with my ex-girlfriend’s dog. Realized there’s a reason why Americans prefer big cars. If your parents or your girlfriend live on the other side of the state, driving a small car is no fun – you want a land yacht.
  19. Taught myself Brazilian Portuguese while living in Boston. I was inspired by David Byrne’s Brazilian compilations and the professionals that had emigrated from Brazil to work in restaurants. Made some great friends. Again learned that you can learn anything if you put your mind to it. Also, learned that if you don’t practice what you learn (Portuguese in this case), eventually you forget.
  20. Danced a lot. It took me 20 years to realize how much I enjoyed it and how important it is for all of us. You need to dance.
  21. Spent a lot of time angry or depressed and lonely. It took me years to realize that bars and dance clubs, drinking and drugs, and spending money are distractions from the real work of writing.
  22. Eventually realized I could write about what I loved and carve out a unique niche. Used that idea to create a network in New York City. I called every health care public relations agency, interviewed at thirty, and was offered jobs by six. Moved to New York.
  23. Shortly after I started working in public relations, realized it wasn’t going to work for me and remembered I would need to become my own boss.
  24. Taught other people how to get a job by networking directly with to decision makers.
  25. Spent every night after work writing five novels and ten screenplays. Collected a stack of form rejections, got close to publishing one of the novels, realized I needed more time to figure out what I was going to write. At the same time wrote dozens of short short stories, published a few, and threw away all the rest because they were all terrible.
  26. Accumulated credit card debt that took me way too long to pay off and learned that it’s too easy – way too easy – to get into debt.
  27. Hiked and camped and learned to appreciate nature.
  28. Learned to listen to myself. I didn’t always pay attention but I definitely listened.
  29. Came to appreciate my parents and my sister, realized I was very lucky to have grown up where I did, speaking Spanish at home, with a pair of pretty great people. My father was a meatcutter who taught me how to work hard; my mother was a Spanish-English interpreter who taught me to use my imagination and creativity. We lived modestly but always had what we needed.
  30. Met the girl of my dreams, chased her from Boston to Albuquerque to New York City and married her.

Karl + Kristen. 1995. 2017.

Of course, I did much more than this.

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Who Takes iGEM Seriously?

This past week iGEM startup PvP Biologics closed a $35 million round with Takeda.

Last year, in June 2016, Ginkgo Bioworks raised $100 million. The company was founded by a team that participated in the first iGEM competitions.

The iGEM startup page lists some 19 startups that originated from the competition.

While Christopher VanLang is right that is “an excellent teaching tool but not likely taken seriously by academia,” I believe it’s more important than we realize.

The Origins of iGEM

As outlined in Rob Carlson’s excellent Biology is Technology, the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition grew out of an independent activities project course in synthetic biology at MIT in 2003, which in turn was inspired by a circuit design course taught at MIT in the last-1970s.

It was organized by Tom Knight, a senior scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and an early participate in designing the Internet precursor, ARAPNet, Drew Endy, and Randy Rettberg, an engineer and former exec at Sun Microsystems and Apple, who now serves as president of iGEM.

In 2003, the idea that biology could be engineered was still a radical idea. (For context, 2003 was two years after the dot com bubble of 1996–2001 crashed and two years after 9/11/2001.)

In 2004, the first official competition included students from Boston University, Caltech, MIT, Princeton University and the University of Texas, Austin. The students that participated created the first rudimentary genetic circuits.

Over the years, the student projects have grown increasingly complex.

The competition has grown internationally and the number of participants has grown exponentially (in 2016, there were more than 5,000 participants from around the globe).

Disclaimer: I Am a Long-time iGEM Fan

I had been following iGEM since 2010 when I started looking to synthetic biology as a way of applying Internet business models to biotechnology. I attended my first competition in 2016 as an observer and to accompany my son, a high school senior who was a member of the GenSpace team.

I was lucky enough to speak with teams from across the United States, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan and Mexico. I watched presentations from teams solving real problems using biology and demonstrating that biology can solve impossible problems.

In addition, as part of the competition, the teams had to engage with their communities. To me, as a science writer, this is one of the most significant benefits of iGEM: high school and college kids learn about synthetic biology but also help dispel myths associated with biotechnology. (Not to mention every team is contributing to the BioBricks project.)

What’s fascinating is giving kids the tools of engineered biology is that they are able to use their imaginations without the constraints of the science they will likely learn in college. This is an important creative exercise. (The new BioDesign Challenge does something similar with design students. It will be interesting to see how that evolves over time.)

I walked away impressed.

Maybe iGEM isn’t taken seriously by academia, but it is taken very seriously by the kids that participate. At some point someone will write a history of iGEM or follow a team reality-show style. It could make for some very compelling, dramatic storytelling.

If iGEM is a leading indicator of what is possible in synthetic biology, then the future is very bright indeed.

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My Three Words for 2017

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Chris Brogan is an inspiration. If you study internet marketing, you’re bound to run across him. He’s smart, honest and prolific. Anthony Iannarino had him on an episode of In The Arena, where he discussed his book, The Impact Equation. I subscribed to Chris’ newsletter and look forward to receiving it every Sunday morning.

A few days ago, Chris mentioned he chooses three words to guide his success every year. Here’s his blogpost on the subject. The idea is to choose themes that overlap in all the important areas of your life.

Here are my three words for 2017:

Creative. I’ve composed music, written and published fiction, and created art. I am a professional storyteller. I help define strategies and solve problems. Creatively. The idea here is to expand and stay focused on my creativity. The science I write about and help companies market always needs more creativity. What I do as a creative will reflect positively in all other aspects of my life. Interestingly, (at least to me) “The Creative” is also one of the interpretations of the first hexagram of the i-ching. It is so important that the authors of this ancient book of divination put it first. Creativity drives all.

Authority. This word suggests two things to me. It suggests knowledge and expertise on a subject. It suggests leadership. I have 20 years experience as a strategic copywriter, have been in business for more than 15 years, have more than 10 years experience as a digital marketer. Authority is a reminder to myself of my experience and experiences, and my need to deliver value always. Authority also includes the word “author.” That’s important as I co-author my first book of non-fiction.

Bolder. An ability to take risks. Smart risks. Bolder suggests stepping outside my comfort zone. It means connecting with new people, testing new things, and moving faster. It’s an acknowledgement that status quo isn’t enough, that the clock is ticking. It’s a call to action.

What are your three words?

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Movie Review: Arrival

Arrival

Arrival does a good job of showing scientists at work.

The movie tells the story of a linguist and a theoretical physicist on deadline to translate the language of an alien species. The aliens arrive in twelve giant, almond-shaped monoliths that float above cities and remote locations across the globe.

arrival-movie-posters-secret-revealed-42

The US military recruits linguist Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams to help communicate with the aliens and understand why they have arrived on earth.

Banks is joined by physicist, played by Jeremy Renner. The two of them work methodologically, tirelessly, making slow progress to communicate with the aliens. They share information with their peers around the globe and share breakthroughs, albeit very slowly.

The clock ticks. The stock markets plummet. And the world’s military powers begin putting pressure on the scientists despite the challenge of communicating with an alien species, despite their progress, and despite the chaos and fear of the unknown that grip the world.

This is the way science progresses. In fits and starts. Slowly. With a lot of failure along the way. It’s not something that can be forced. Discoveries happen serendipitously.

But diverse points of view, listening, and open communication move science closer to a solution.

Arrival is an unusual alien movie. It’s not about aliens invading and taking over the world. It’s slow-moving. The storytelling is not linear – it goes back and forth in time. It requires patience as a viewer, just as doing science requires patience, asking the right questions and being willing to fail in search of an answer.

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What is Strategy?

Image source: http://mishakrylov.com/go/

Strategy is simple.

Strategy is not a fact, a forecast, a plan. It’s not tactics. It’s not a technology.

Strategy is your goal.

It’s your destination. It’s your view of the future that you choose. It should be your guiding framework for what you hope to become.

Strategy is high level.

 

(Image: Go the Game. Source: mishakrylov.com)