May 29, 2013
Apr 29, 2013
Well, I guess that it's typical
To cling to memories you'll never get back again
And to sort through old photographs of a summer long ago
- Conor Oberst
Luckily, in NYC then there was this thing called Public Access Television. It used to be on channels 16 and 17 via Manhattan Cable. Community, DIY programming. Anyone could have a television show. In a moment of Wayne's World delusion, we figured that we could make our own program. We walked into the offices of Manhattan Cable on East 23rd Street, filled out a one-page form (that's all that was required), handed it in, and got a slot on the spot. Thursday at 7:30pm. Right before the Simpsons. Prime time. Just like that. We had to come up with a name so we did so. The Underground Railroad: Independent Music for the Independent Mind. All we had to do was have the video tape - a 3/4 inch tape - delivered to 23rd street every Friday at 6pm for the following week. It was as easy as that. We were on our way.
Now the real work began - we found an old portable video cassette recorder with integrated mic. We called and wrote letters to labels asking for videos, for interviews, for anything. We plastered the east village with flyers. We got introduced to a ex-tank operator named Amit with war stories to tell but who was also an editor and had studio time - from midnight to 3 am. He accepted payment in cash or contraband or any combination thereof.
Over the next few years we pretty much put on a show every week. Hundreds of 28 minute episodes. The first video of the first episode was Shonen Knife - Red Kross. The second was Ween - Pollo Asado. My friend Steve and I were the "hosts" of the first episode, filming the introductions and "wrap arounds." Somehow, I think by calling up Mammoth Records, we were invited to interview Julian Hatfield, on the eve of the release of her first solo record, outside CBGBs. I had never interviewed anyone before. Luckily, she was more nervous than me. It was a disaster.
But we did it, each week, for a few years. Spending half a day driving around in an Econoline van with Mike Watt. Meeting Mudhoney. Drinking with the Afghan Whigs. Interviewing Evan Dando in 1992 and listening to him play on acoustic guitar a song called "Fuck and Run" by an unknown female singer from a demo tape he had been listening to. Writing letters to Sub Pop. Meeting Jon Spencer. Begging SST for videos (they never gave them up). For years we got on the guest list of every show, everywhere, backstage and all. Had to get a P.O. box and cut a special deal with the mailbox operator because we got too much mail - videos, CDs, swag.
When I tell people this story, they mostly have the same reaction. "You need to put the shows on Youtube!" The video tapes - cartons of them - are spread out. Maybe in California. Maybe at my mom's place. Some in Woodstock. Maybe they are gone. These requests usually set off a flurry of internal emails amongst ourselves: should we do this? Have you watched them? Which one should we digitize? This year we will really get around to it, yes this year we will, right?
And then when I think about it, I realize we probably shouldn't, and most likely won't, digitize them and put them on Youtube or Vimeo or wherever.
It would ruin the memories.
Those memories are amazing. We had no idea what we were doing. It was DIY. It was punk. We were going to be famous. Get a "real" show someday. Something like that. The memories are also bittersweet: there are episodes we filmed downtown with the Twin Towers in the background.
And as the years go by, and the specifics fade, these memories retain and enhance something even more. The romanticism of youth. Of music. Of friendship. Of Greenwich Village. It all seemed so fun, the stories are wonderful. We still tell them to each other.
But the reality was also something different. The memory is that editing the shows with a stoned tank operator editor was exhilarating. The reality was that it was a huge hassle doing it in the middle of the night, we were tired and cranky and fought all the time, and he was a terrible editor, it took him hours to do something simple.
The memory is that calling Jonathan Poneman of Sub Pop and speaking with him was fun. The reality that was that bothering a small businessman and begging for music videos was lame, tedious stuff, as was debating endlessly over and over what was really "independent" or not.
The memory of meeting and hanging out with your "heroes" was spectacular. The reality was that these were just people, sometimes cool, sometimes jerks, living in some surreal existence and we were bothering them, playing along to some bizarre post-teenage groupie game.
If I think hard about it, I recall that we fought all the time making this show. Oftentimes, it felt more like a burden than a joy. Friendships were strained to the breaking points.
You see, I don't need to remember the pain, humiliation, the crap. If I watched those episodes again, if I posted them online to be available for posterity, I am pretty sure I would be disappointed. Embarrassed Reminded of alot of time and money wasted and stupid things done and said.
Instead, I just want to remember that, for a little while, we got a little closer to something, maybe to being cool. We got to touch those who we thought we ourselves wanted to be. We got to pretend we were rock and roll. It was, yes, romantic.
As the details fade, the stories - what we remember of them - become more interesting as the rough edges smooth out. My memories are better than the reality. Not only is that ok, it sustains me as I get older.
Maybe not everything needs to be preserved outside of our minds. As imperfect, fading and fleeting as our memories may be, maybe that is precisely what makes them - and us - special. I'll stick with those instead.
at 7:39 AM
Apr 10, 2013
The musician Prince recently found short videos clips from the Twitter-owned video sharing service Vine to be offending because they contained clips from his music:
A representative of NPG Records wrote to Twitter to say eight video clips hosted on Vine contained “unauthorized recordings” and “unauthorized synchronizations” and asked the company to remove them immediately - The Next WebHere is one of the clips in question.
This is not the first time Prince has gone on this crusade: "Prince, of course, has earned a somewhat unflattering reputation for his tireless efforts to hunt down unauthorized fan recordings across the web and have them obliterated."
In all likelihood, this is simply a case of a control freak "optimizing for control" (says @anildash). Not realizing the passion of his fans who want to share their experiences listening to his music.
But what if this is something more than that, something maybe ingenious that may not only be inoffensive to his fans, but also may enhance aspects of their fandom that were otherwise lost in the digital era. What if Prince is trying to manufacture scarcity where it no longer exists.
Back in the pre-Internet day, buying a record took some work. You had to find out about it (radio, fanzine), scrounge up some cash, get yourself to a record store (Tower Records on Broadway, for one), buy the platter, get back home, and listen. Then get a cassette, record some tracks, give the tape to a friend. A lot of friction, sure. But also a process that, because of the scarcity of getting a new record, had its own rhythms of fandom. Being the first to have something mattered in a different way. Not a better way, but a different way. I remember the first time my friend Steve played us Husker Du - he was the guide, we were his followers. We felt inside the process of discovery.
Which is why I always struggle when something, some content, is described as "quality." For isn't a degree of excellence purely subjective? Which is not to say that content does not have value, it's just that maybe it has less inherent value than we previously thought. My idea is that, prior to the Internet becoming a mass distribution platform, the value of a piece of content was more related to its scarcity of distribution than it was to any measure of its value. In equation form, we could think that traditionally Value (V) = Scarcity (S) * Quality (Q). Q of course, being largely subjective, is hard to measure. But S is not. I believe that S then acted as a multiplier of value. Seinfeld was a good show, surely; but it was only available at 9pm on Thursdays. Tuesdays were the exciting days when new records were released. And we didn't have even near to the number of alternative choices to occupy our time as we do now. Thus a massive S, and thus a massive V.
Maybe it follows then that, because there is so little scarcity of distribution anymore, the whole value chain has been disrupted, maybe even inverted. We need new forms of finding and exchanging value. Live performances. Kickstarter campaigns. 15 episodes of a new show all released at once.
Or, you can try to create scarcity, or at least the appearance of such. The feeling of scarcity.
What if this is exactly what Prince is doing. Regardless of whether he cares or not about his rights or control, what if, by policing or attempting to police Internet distribution about himself, he is making it feel as if Prince music is scarce? Manufacturing scarcity. You can't get it everywhere. You can't user-generate content about it. You can't bootleg it. He would be wrong, of course; there is no way to stop this sharing of digital content. But by issuing take down requests of random 8 second clips, he sure is ensuring that everyone is talking about . . . Prince.
This also does more than simply keep him top of mind though; for it then spawns a subculture of people who want to share and trade Prince content. But they have to use obfuscatory techniques. Like posting videos of live recordings that don't use "Prince" in their title. By pushing it underground, it then becomes cool again. Hardcore fans know how to find it, what to call it to ensure it remains hidden. You can't simply use Google to find it. You have to know the passwords, the secret handshakes. You have to work to find it. And then real personal points are scored when you do, and you pass it along.
By aggressively trying to prevent sharing, maybe he has engendered a richer culture of sharing itself. Maybe he has somehow increased S, and given people the feeling of an increase in V.
And therefore - maybe - Prince has created an environment where the perceived value of his art, his content, has increased. He has manufactured the elements of scarcity. Perhaps the information age technology which has basically eliminated this scarcity has also created new, different methods of value.
I'm sure all the above are the ravings of someone with too much on his hands to think about conspiracy theories. And to be clear, I don't necessarily believe that withholding in this way is the best long term value creator. See, e.g., this.
But what if.
at 9:00 AM
Mar 7, 2013
For many introverts, the Internet was and remains revelatory. Allowing for intimate (yet distant) connections that are asynchronous (yet real time), anonymous or pseudonymous (yet expressing identity), frequent (yet levying no cost to walking away from), and multi-dimensional (yet involving no eye contact), at some level it feels like the "Internet" was designed definitionally to solve each and every insecurity of the introvert. I recall with total specificity the first time I dialed into the SonicNet BBS in 1995 using a Gateway computer from our apartment on T Street in Washington, DC; really, it blew my mind. People just talking about stuff. Strangers. Compadres.
And therein lies the Introverts Dilemma. Because the Internet so readily solves the problems for us, it has also spawned new ones. For these online connections, discussions, friendings, tweets, message boards and sharings, over time all invariably lead to . . meet ups, IRL get togethers, face to face human contact. Participants in the online groups we join in eventually want to meet each other with real life person-to-person interactions. "Hey we should get together in person." "Let's do a meet up someplace." "Let's have coffee we should get to know each other better." It's natural and beneficial; but man, the horror for the introvert.
I was thinking about it this morning, however. Maybe unlike other dilemmas this introverts dilemma is not a problem, but a solution.
I force myself to talk in public even though I abhor it. I am pretty sure I have chosen the profession I am in even though it forces me to meet people all day. I have made amazing (or lucky) personal decisions because she makes me confront the quiet.
Perhaps all these things occurred because otherwise I would sit alone all day and talk to myself, in my head. Thanks Internet for, in part, solving this dilemma for me by opening up the world to these possibilities.
at 4:16 PM
Feb 20, 2013
Yesterday I was on the subway, listening to music or something. We came to a stop and a gentlemen walked by me to exit the car. As he did, a button on his jacket caught my headphone cord, which pulled my phone out of my pocket, flipped it up in the air, spun it around, and then we both watched it fall into the crack between the subway car and the platform.
He looked at me, and me at him. He half-apologized; it was a very weird event seeing the phone spin up and down through this 3 inch crack. A guy next to me shouted "No Way!" The doors closed and the train moved on.
Shouting man asked me what I was going to do. I shrugged, dejected, and said "I suppose I will go to a store and buy a new one and set it up." He went back to looking down at his phone, I could see his hand tense up as he held his device tighter.
So later that morning of course I went into a store and bought a new phone and went back to my office and set it up. It took longer than I wanted, so part of my day was spent restoring things. I lost some pictures, apps, songs that weren't backed up. But I got it back and running eventually.
This could be a story of how amazing our technology and devices are. After all less than one day later I have most of my things and you wouldn't know the difference. All my phone numbers and email addresses magically appeared - even some old voice mail messages. If I didn't write this you wouldn't know it happened.
This could also be a story of how technology doesn't work and we are slaves to digital devices - I lost some pictures that weren't backed up of my mother-in-law's 80th birthday party the other night, as well as some gorgeous shots of mountains in Utah where I was lucky to be last week. Some apps too, maybe. Probably some email and I missed some text messages. I was stressed being disconnected while this happened.
Instead, I don't think it has either of those meanings, and it probably doesn't have any meaning whatsoever. A few years ago I lost a chunk of archived emailed - a few years worth. Some interesting things in there - a few key digital years of my life in the technology business, gone, forever. It sucked. Whatever. We move on. Our technology is wonderful and amazing and connects us in ways we couldn't imagine a few years ago. It can also disconnect us if we don't remember that the crack between the subway car and the platform is only a few inches wide, but pieces of our lives can fall through there. It's both things.
"We were born before the wind, Also younger than the sun"
at 6:35 AM
Jan 24, 2013
Sometimes I forget to appreciate how amazing Internet services can be. By that I mean how often they can expose the real world to us. Which is interesting because the criticism of our Internet-always-connected-society is that it removes us from the real world, it creates false virtual connections in place of real human ones.
at 6:30 AM
Jan 2, 2013
If it is the case that the Internet unbundles things, that the "power of connected networks such as the Internet is that they unbundle all that came before them," then looking at areas that might be in the process of unbundled might be interesting. I've previously thought this was mainly and initially happening in media and education.
You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks, but you're gonna have to serve somebody - Bob Dylan
But maybe it's actually occurring most quickly and aggressively in financial services. The Economist, in a survey of non-bank finance, recently wrote: "this is a time of huge opportunity in finance — as long as you are something other than a bank." Banks and financial instituions often centralize things - capital, capabilities, credit, underwriting, risk assessment - things like that - and clearly the last 20 years have seen the rise of integrated financial institutions, so-called financial supermarkets, that in theory gain from being able to provide every financial service available under one organization. But what if those capabilities were better performed separately, and unbundled from the core institution; would the services be provided better (faster and cheaper)? As the Internet reduces information and even transaction costs (even to zero), not only does the notion of a finance supermarket not make sense, but the economics to those "buying" the services don't either.
So are we seeing this then? I would submit yes. Take just a few examples off the top of my head: Market Invoice, Zopa, Prosper, Funding Circle, Lending Club, Transferwise, Dwolla, Stripe, Pollenware, Venmo, RateSetter, Wonga, Simple, MoneySupermarket, Anthemis Group (some of these are companies USV has invested in). These cover retail banking, consumer lending, business lending, money transfers, receivables financing, payments infrastructure, and more. Each one of those does what a "bank" would do, but in a specific area, utilizing the Internet as broadly as possible for most components of its business, and often at a level of service that is much better than previously offered (and most definitely less expensively). Some of these are peer to peer businesses; and some of these are doing over $1B in volume.
Each one and many more represent the unbundling of the bank. Yet banks are big and entrenched. If and how they respond will be one of the more interesting things to watch in the upcoming years.
at 8:39 AM
Nov 14, 2012
Yesterday it was reported in the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s most popular newspaper, that Samsung has raised the price of processors sold to Apple by 20 per cent. It is well known that Apple has been making strides to reduce its reliance upon the South Korean company’s components ever since the flaring up of the acrimonious court cases these pair are now famous for. One component Apple is unable to source from other suppliers is the central processor. Knowing this, it seems like Samsung has decided to turn the proverbial screw.
The Wall Street Journal reports that “Samsung Electronics recently asked Apple for a significant price rise in the application processor. Apple first disapproved it, but finding no replacement supplier, it accepted the increase.” Hexus.netIn our startupy world, we often think of competition coming from the ability of new companies to innovate by being nimble, fast, using lean principles to iterate quickly and forcefully.
We talk about how difficult it is to be an incumbent, beholden by legacy business models and structures, unable to withstand the momentum of the mighty startup that has nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
But sometimes the most aggressive, even innovative, forms of competition come from the incumbents themselves. Which demonstrates that in an era of connectedness, when information flows so fluidly (and maybe freely), competition can and will come from many places, that it's even harder to compete than ever, and that one's differentiated advantages may only be advantages for a much shorter time than traditional business study has taught us.
Samsung, among other things, has been a component supplier for Apple for years. Some peg this relationship at over $1 Billion. For that time period they have watched a new market (so called smart-phones) develop, and participated in that market from the supply side. But now a few years in, it looks like the supply side is not enough for them. Samsung is famously producing its own smart phone devices that look like they may be able to compete with Apple, it's component customer. Not only compete, maybe even outperform: "Samsung's Galaxy S III bested the iPhone 4S in the third quarter of 2012 to become the world's best-selling smartphone" PCMag.com
Think for a moment about this most interesting dynamic - one of Apple's main supply chain partners is now developing devices that may be outselling Apple's core iPhone franchise. At the same time, it is raising the very component prices that it supplies to Apple. It is pushing hard from both the bottom and the top. Competing in both places.
Apple's suppliers are now becoming its competitors as those downstream suppliers have moved upstream.
Competition comes in many forms and flavors, but it is no less aggressive and interesting when it comes from large companies battling each other.
at 6:32 AM
Aug 31, 2012
"Specificity, reflecting the structure of the web, will matter: a guide to the cultivation of daffodils will more likely succeed than a more diffuse gardening title."
What if then this unbundling and resultant fragmentation is some kind of digital/physical force, law or property? If it is a feature, not a bug.
Let the fragmentation begin.
at 7:29 AM
Jun 28, 2012
What if the value your service or company provides may not be the one you originally or naturally think it does? TED used to be a simple conference - you pay (a lot) to attend, and in exchange you get to see, in person, some great speakers and meet some interesting people. Great content and even better networking.
But then TED started giving away the content (TED talks) - basically for free and in almost real time. It also started giving away its brand - allowing the use of the "TED" moniker for other events, conferences, in related and unrelated fields (TEDx). And then giving away its methodology - its format and processes. So what was the result? The TED brand recognition is greater than ever, its content is viewed on the web by millions of people who have never even been to an event, the TED speaker slot is coveted and is even a form of credibility or accreditation, many many more people have been to "TEDx" related events than ever before, and the flagship in person conference sells out as fast as it ever did at the same high prices.
In other words, by giving away what one would generally think of as a company's (a media entity) greatest assets - its content, brand and business processes - the business has grown enormously in just a few short years. "We found that, giving stuff away, we received even more in return" says Bruno Guissani, European director of TED.
at 8:07 AM
May 10, 2012
What happens when the physical form of our media becomes fully disassociated from its function? What happens when there is no longer any physical form at all - it feels like we are basically at that point. Does anyone even remember CDs?
And so, the ol’ cassettes have no value to me anymore. Do I toss ’em and let them become more landfill? That’s seems kind of wasteful and un-green. Try to find a home for them with someone who still collects and plays cassettes? I don’t want to box ’em up and send them somewhere; too hard. It’s a quandary. I’ve taken some off the shelves and put them in bags and boxes, and others are still up on the wall. Sometimes I’ll look over and see the date on the spine and think, “Oh, I love the ‘Scarlet-Fire’ from that show!” I’m getting wistful in my old age.But I know I’m never gonna listen to that tape again. Its time has passed. Its gotta go. - Blair Jackson
It's wistful to remember cassettes as the form that allowed us to imagine and experience. For me it was record liner notes, the inscrutable clues left behind that exposed a world you couldn't be part of. But that was the key - these were worlds (and objects) that were apart from us, we dreamed of being part of them, but couldn't. They were hard to make.
Instead, right now, we can be part of these experiences - and not just as simple viewers. We can be creators, sharers, promoters, discoverers. I think that's why disassociating the physical form from the function matters. It allows for creation and experience that is wide open, accessible, and easy, as opposed to closed and hard and not understandable. And just as obsessive compulsive too. I still keep my cassettes in the closet too and likely will forever. They are good reminders of how much better things are now.
at 12:37 PM
Apr 30, 2012
Just read a wonderful essay in the New York Review of Books from Jason Epstein - "How Books Will Survive Publishing."
Mr. Epstein looks at the current conflict between Amazon and books publishers and Apple, over the prices of e-books, and uses that to step outside and look at the real conflict going on. Which, it turns out, is one of a new medium (digital books and booksellers) vs incumbents who are stuck with the latent economics of a different industry.
What matters is Amazon’s attempt to force publishers to conform to the digital imperative by resisting prices that include traditional publishing costs. This is more than a conflict between Amazon and publishers. It is a vivid expression of how the logic of a radical new and more efficient technology impels institutional change.In other words, with new technology comes new economics (of both production and consumption), thus transforming (maybe even destroying) institutions that cannot begin or re-form under the new landscape.
Of course, I think this applies to all media, not just publishing (Media: What's Past is Prologue).
So what does Epstein see as one solution:
Independent editorial start-ups posting their books on appropriate web sites have already begun to emerge and more will follow. The cost of entry will be slight. The essential capital will be editorial talent and energy, as it had been in the glory days before conglomeration when editors were themselves de facto publishers, publicists, and marketers. Many start-ups will fail. Some will not. Specificity, reflecting the structure of the web, will matter: a guide to the cultivation of daffodils will more likely succeed than a more diffuse gardening title."Specificity, reflecting the structure of the web, will matter." Or: taste matters. Web structures matter. Being Internet native matters. In the case of digital web technology, it also requires the transformation of entire industries. And the creation of new ones.
at 11:11 AM
Apr 19, 2012
Information does not want to be free; instead it wants to be distributed friction free. What that means is that information - content - wants to be in as many places as possible, with many options for access, and with an ease of use to access.
Today, we have an abundance of great content flowing through many channels. Hulu, Twitter, HBO, Youtube, AMC, ebooks, Wattpad, Soundcloud, MediaReDEFined, iTunes, Amazon, Tumblr, Spotify, 9gag. Compared to a few years ago, this change has been remarkable.
As a result we are moving to a world where almost everything is available, basically on demand. The problem for users in this environment is no longer "what CAN I watch" (or read or listen to). Instead, the problem for users is now "what SHOULD I watch " (or read or listen to). The problem has moved from *can* to *should*.
At the same time, over the past few years we have seen the transformation of how media is produced and distributed. Many of the traditional roles, or competencies, normally assigned to media companies - financing, production, distribution, promotion, marketing - have been disaggregated. In a world where people are sharing - liking, reblogging, embedding, etc - the distribution and marketing function, while important, may no longer be a central competency for a media producer. (And as Kickstarter has shown, financing may not be either).
In this environment, the role for the "media company" is vastly different than the last few decades. Which is not to suggest that in the networked media economy the role of a "MediaCo" is any less important. To the contrary, I think it is even more important and maybe even more valuable to the ecosystem than ever before. But to do so maybe they need to look to the past for the most relevant business models. In other words, look backwards, not forwards.
If we strip out distribution, promotion and marketing as core competencies, the role of the media company might be, quite simply: curated products chosen by a small group of people who just have better taste than everyone else.
In other words, users need to rely on someone or something for taste. Which is hugely valuable. And branded tastemakers make perfect sense. Because taste matters. This is also how it used to work in the past. For example: MGM films - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, at one point had a brand associated with sophisticated films in technicolor. Later, it focused on musicals. Elektra Records - led by Jac Holzman - was an artists-oriented rock label, associated with the Doors, Love, The Stooges. Miramax films - I still check out what Miramax releases due to the strength of The Crying Game and Reservoir Dogs, back from 1992. HBO original series - From The Sopranos to The Wire. Sub Pop records - indie rock (I still check their new releases every Tuesday). Da Capo Press - historically, maybe the best music book publishers. And so on.
What these few examples have in common is that the core value provided by MGM, Sub Pop, etc. - is their taste. Not their ability to manufacture, or promote, or distribute - but instead their ability to pick great content. Not everytime, for sure, but often enough that they in turn became brands associated with a certain taste. Ones that could change over time, but ones that were rooted in an ability to make choices that are hard for average users to make. Ones that meant something to people.
So maybe then the future of media is actually to be found in its past. Media companies need to stand for a point of view, a genre, a way of thinking about content, a set of content related principles. They need to themselves become brands, again.
at 8:46 AM
Apr 12, 2012
In the past few days I've seen a few things happen that demonstrate that what were once tech concepts or principles have seeped into non-Internet world, and are being applied in places maybe they were not originally intended, but to great effect.
First, I serendipitously met a woman who runs major marketing programs at Facebook who walked me through an amazing internal presentation they have about applying the principles behind hackathons (try a lot of ideas, solve a problem, iterate fast, be creative, be social, ship, etc.) to solve non-product problems. She showed me pictures of an office area - some group at Facebook was doubling in size and instead of lobbying internally for more space they basically had an internal hackathon and hacked a solution to their existing space - coming up with an idea and then turning a small square space into a bi-level loft area, thus doubling the size of their area and making it much more awesome.
Then I saw this from the record label Ghostly International - they are starting to open up their processes for choosing artwork for their records - writing essays and taking comments about how and why they do it, while they do it. Basically open sourcing and making transparent what was once a closed and opaque process.
Neither of these examples are world-changing, but that's not the point. They are small and simple and illustrations of ideas founded on openness, experimentation, networks - that were originally intended for and applied to the writing of software. But have now seeped into the world at large. And that's the big deal.
at 10:59 AM
Apr 5, 2012
My grandfather Nick lived what looks in hindsight like a cliched life. Born in "Turkey" in the 19th century, as he told us (we only later learned he grew up in Jerusalem, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, ie, Turkey), steamship through various ports ending up in Ellis Island in the early 20th century, immediately shuffled off to a tenement house on St Marks and 2nd Avenue, later escaping to Flatbush, Brooklyn, then engineering degree at Stevens Institute of Technology (graduation picture below).
When we were growing up, we asked him what his job was. He said he was an "inventor" - he invented things and then he patented them because there was no other way for a lone individual to protect his physical inventions. Most of them were useless, but they were his attempts at solving problems, albeit small ones - there was a Phonographic Toy Telephone, and the Multilipstick Holder (!). His idol was Thomas Edison.
In the 1950s on his walks through NYC he noticed something. He used to walk past the back entrance of a supermarket regularly. Because of NYC fire regulations, the exit door leading to the store room could not be locked - from the inside or the outside - it had to allow for free and easy access in and out in case of a fire. But because of that, he often saw people looting from the store - they simply opened the door, walked in, took something and walked out. So he thought up the idea of a door lock that would satisfy the fire code and provide security. He invented the emergency door with the push strike plate - a door that was locked but could easily be opened by someone pushing a plate which would unlock it. Later, an emergency sound was added to the push plate. It became something like this:
It was only about a year ago however that I realized what my grandfather really was - an entrepreneur. Right now, it might be a name used so often that it loses much of its meaning. But in the 1940s and 50s, he didn't have that name, and he didn't have access to people, blogs, incubators, accelerators, venture investors, founder meetups, lean start ups, minimum viable methodology or Skillshare classes to allow him to do more. A Google search for "entrepreneur" has 135,000,000 results. A search for "inventor" has only 15,100,00. So he did what he could: he later sold the patent to a firm which could manufacture and distribute the locks, which enabled him to move out of Brooklyn and live comfortably with Grandma in a one bedroom rent stabilized apartment on East 16th Street.
We don't often think of inventions anymore, and certainly less of inventors. But they are all around us - we've just given them another name and the tools to take the ideas and create more and realize more from those ideas. My grandfather would have loved to see that change.
at 8:45 AM