Art and the Blockchain

It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite! You see it, right?   – Hamilton

Sometimes an idea comes along that connects your multiple identities. The one that tries to keep up with emerging technologies, with the one that defends and touts the value of the liberal arts, and with the one that wants to fight for equity and equality for all.

So, blockchain…art…I’m here for it.

I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Whitaker out here in San Francisco at a dinner for Williams women, and our discussion of her book Art Thinking was one of the most powerful examples of cutting through the b.s. with new people that I’ve ever experienced. One small exercise and I was sharing with strangers one of my most inherent truths and fears.

But I digress.

After seeing Amy’s name pop up in a blockchain newsletter I read this week, I caught up on some of the work she’s been doing to advance a very powerful idea: a blockchain registry that lets artist keep an equity stake in their work, letting them share in the gains if their works go up in value.

“We’ve democratized creativity, but we haven’t democratized ownership,” says Whitaker, an assistant professor of visual arts management at NYU Steinhardt.

She’s proposing a way to do just that. By registering artworks with blockchain to establish authenticity and create property rights which can then be split off and traded, artists can retain an “equity share” in the works, much like the founder of a startup retains an ownership stake that grows in value as the company expands.

Source: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-blockchain-money-artists-hands

I love the idea of helping artists share in their own success. But equally, I love how this example has the potential to make the concept of blockchain more accessible to people.

Read more:

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Pure Heart: The Legacy of Bill Nack

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A sentence can hold multitudes. Bring you to tears with just a few words. Or it can fall flat.

Some of us fall in love with the art of the sentence. And some of us do not–and that’s ok. But for those of us that do, what riches await! Sometimes around the most unexpected corners.

So it was for me upon encountering the late, great Bill Nack’s opus on Secretariat. I already knew it would be good–Tim Layden’s memorial to Nack pre-decreed it so. But still, when I made my way to the back pages of the SI issue where it was reprinted I wasn’t prepared for just how quickly and fully it would draw me in. And in turn reduce any sentence of my own to obvious amateurism. But that’s besides the point. The point is to experience it. To learn from it.

I mean, just look at this paragraph:

Oh, I knew all the stories, knew them well, had crushed and rolled them in my hand until their quaint musk lay in the saddle of my palm. Knew them as I knew the stories of my children. Knew them as I knew the stories of my own life. Told them at dinner parties, swapped them with horseplayers as if they were trading cards, argued over them with old men and blind fools who had seen the show but missed the message. Dreamed them and turned them over like pillows in my rubbery sleep. Woke up with them, brushed my aging teeth with them, grinned at them in the mirror. Horses have a way of getting inside you, and so it was that Secretariat became like a fifth child in our house, the older boy who was off at school and never around but who was as loved and true a part of the family as Muffin, our shaggy, epileptic dog.

COME ON. Brushed his teeth with them! Grinned in the mirror! Just gorgeous, visceral. The emotion and wisdom of a whole person poured into a paragraph.

And then there’s the sentence that made me fall for good.

The gift of reverie is a blessing divine, and it is conferred most abundantly on those who lie in hammocks or drive alone in cars.

As I’ve written in the past, I fear what is lost if and when we lose the road trip, and in turn our ability to let our minds wander during the drive. Nack goes onto say:

The mind swims, binding itself to whatever flotsam comes along, to old driftwood faces and voices of the past, to places and scenes once visited, to things not seen or done but only dreamed.

An even more perfect encapsulation of the gift of reverie.

So, as I wipe my eyes and step off the elliptical, why do I even care if anyone knows about this article? I guess it boils down to a conviction that these emotions matter and need to be shared. If anything the act of turning thoughts into writing opens the possibility of connecting with those outside of our immediate circles. SI and Bill Nack have done that for me, and if I’m being honest I hope to someday do the same with my words. Because if we’re doing it right, sometimes, there is pure heart behind them.

Read the full Bill Nack article here.

Meeting Senator Murphy

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Tonight I had the chance to spend some time with Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT).  It was my first time attending a political fundraiser, and my attendance was in no small part driven by the fact that he is a fellow Williams alum (and rugger!).

I am an unabashed fan of Ephs succeeding in the world. Textbook basking in reflected glory, I suppose. And so in addition to fangirling for Tim Layden stories on SI and eagerly streaming each Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It episode, I’ve followed Senator Murphy on Twitter for a while, always happy to see what seemed to be a real person coming through.

When you meet people in real life, there’s always the risk of finding out that it was all a façade. That without the scripts, or the ability to edit, people won’t live up to your expectations.

And so it was great to meet Chris and come away feeling that he is exactly who he seems to be. A little funny and a little angry, but mostly determined, hard-working, sincere, optimistic, and above all genuine.

Chris opened the dialogue with the concept that American history has always been the story of two steps forward, one step back. At one point someone asked about the frustration of dealing with morally bankrupt Republicans, and the discussion included something to the effect of: you’ve got to pick your battles.

But maybe we don’t.

A few weeks ago, when news of the Parkland school shooting broke, I think many of us settled in for another round of “thoughts and prayers.” But then the Parkland kids lit a fire under America and now it seems like anything’s possible.

March For Our Lives, San Jose 3/24/18

A few weeks ago, gun control wasn’t on the list of battles you’d pick (and expect to win). But now it is. We had become complacent, and now we are not.

What other battles are similarly ripe for disruption?

We hear a lot of talk about how a blue wave is coming, or maybe even a tsunami. But maybe it’s more grounded than that. Maybe it’s more manmade. Maybe it’s a dam about to burst, on all of these issues that Americans overwhelmingly support. Maybe it’s a blue flood.

Whatever we call it, I am here for it. And I’m glad Senator Murphy is, too.

 

Last Hurrah at the Garf

Look at this beauty. I’ll stipulate that it’s expensive to maintain and the opposite of energy-efficient. That it contains some of the coldest, smallest rooms on campus. That some nights I would have to warm up my bed with my hair dryer before crawling in.

But just how many 19,000 square foot 167-year-old Tudors are there any more?

Last I read, the recommendation on Garfield House was for it to be razed, and it was going before the historical commission for a final decision.

Sadly, I do not have the billions needed to pay to restore and/or have it transplanted somewhere, and assuming no other savior steps forward, may I present another option, a consolation prize of sorts for those of us who have lived in and loved the Garf:

A Last Hurrah at the Garf.

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Picture it. That enormous, glorious lawn filled with tents.

Generations of Garfield denizens coming back to Williams.

A weekend to enjoy and celebrate this 1850s classic that has given so many of us lifelong memories.

At my 5th reunion, the 50th reunion class sponsored a fireworks show off the roof of Baxter before it was razed. In a similar way, this could be simultaneously a fitting memorial and a great community-building event.

Imagine if we could get an art/comp sci student to work on some sort of epic VR experience? How epic would a “walking through history” virtual reality module be, where you could go back in time and walk through Williamstown at different eras? See how the campus and buildings are changing, even walk into the future and see the future campus plans? It would be incredible! Lines around the block!

And don’t get me started on the merch opportunities! Koozies are table stakes where I’m concerned, of course, but we could also have a charity auction of historical items and memorabilia. Proceeds could go to a charity or future historical restoration projects—the alumni version of the athletic department tag sales.

Given the chance, I’d be there in a heartbeat, and I’m hoping many others feel the same.

Stay tuned…

Eclipse

First day of Astronomy 102: The Solar System, my freshman year at Williams.

The professor walks into the room, and after a brief info, pulls out a camera. He wants to take a class picture that he can print out and pass around the room for us to write our names by our faces, so he could learn our names.

That professor? Jay Pasachoff, who I would soon learn was, if not already by then, on his way to becoming the world’s foremost expert on solar eclipses.

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Image: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

And so after enjoying that wonderful eclipse—through eclipse glasses, a telescope, a homemade rig, and a welding helmet—I was thrilled to see Professor Pasachoff on the front page of the LA Times.

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I probably didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. Scratch that—I definitely didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. And I definitely don’t remember everything I learned in that class.

But I will always remember that first day, and how this man at the pinnacle of his field cared enough to get to know each and every one of us by name.

Oh, and wasn’t that eclipse awesome?

 

Hamilton and Me

“I should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.”

Ok. So I know there is nothing novel in gushing about Hamilton. But I still wanted to capture here how seeing Hamilton hit me hard on three levels.

Put simply, the first act of Hamilton is nothing short of perfect art. I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t make me want to be a better person.

What I was struck by most was how it hit me on three levels:

ONE

At the highest level were the parallels between our country’s beginnings and now.

“History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be in the greatest city in the world.”

Change “Manhattan” to “San Francisco” and we are in the midst of a tech/AI maelstrom that is changing life we know it. And it’s great to be in the middle of it.

“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now”

Damn right.

And the most gut-wrenching parallel of all came during “Dear Theodosia:”

“You will come of age with our young nation. We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you.”

In the face of a political climate where Republicans openly lie and act in pure self-interest, serving no one, this one especially cut to the core. Will we be able to make it right, and if necessary will I be ready to not just fight, but bleed for it?

TWO

Look beyond the face value of the glaring historical parallels, and we come to the central dichotomy of the narrative, Hamilton and Burr.

What struck me most was seeing myself in Burr. “Wait for It” brought me to tears.

“I am the one thing in life that I can control. I am inimitable, I am an original. I’m not falling behind or running late. I’m not standing still, I am lying in wait.”

“Hamilton faces an endless uphill climb. He has something to prove, he has nothing to lose. Hamilton’s pace is relentless, he wastes no time. What is it like in his shoes?”

I want to be a Hamilton, I really do. And everything Silicon Valley prizes says to be a Hamilton. But I have more Burr in me than I’d like to admit. I waited too long to course correct my career, essentially standing still. Or was it lying in wait? Time will tell. But through it all I have treasured my originality, my inimitability.

I’ve had something to lose. I’ve wasted time. With the exception of being a woman, I’ve been graced with every possible advantage since birth. Can I tap into my inner Hamilton in time, and stop wasting time? Or do I make the most of my Burr-ness?

THREE

Ah, Lin-Manuel. Now we come to you.

The third level that Hamilton hit me was as a creative.

How do you craft a masterpiece, how do you obsess over every word until it is perfect?

As someone who likes to think of herself as creative, I left wanting more out of myself. I want to create something great. To put something forth into the world that is masterful.

Let’s face it, in the short-term that will probably be a sweet Williams koozie. And I’m ok with that. But I want to shoot for a greater North Star beyond that.

“So so so, so this is what it feels like to match wits, with someone at your level what the hell is the catch? It’s the feeling, the freedom of seeing the light, it’s Ben Franklin with the key and the kite, you see it right?”

Can We Stay Restless in the Age of AI?

daniil-kuzelev-293856Most days I’m excited about the future of AI, but occasionally I’m terrified.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it will mean for our love of learning, our love of self-improvement. There’s an innocence inherent to the learning process, a feeling of limitless potential. We teach our kids that they can do anything, be anything. And we hope some of the same is true for ourselves. We believe we can always get better, and we work towards becoming the best.

So what happens if that feeling of limitless potential goes away?

Consider this example of a friend of mine who is an excellent golfer. Now, I myself am exceedingly mediocre, but I still love it so much. Because for me there is still so much potential. To get a new low score, to break 90. Suffice to say the room for improvement is limitless.

But talking to him one night about golf, he seemed deflated, like some of the joy was gone. He explained, these pros are so beyond the outer limits of what regular great golfers can do, and the courses they are playing on have been engineered so that they have become inaccessible to even great-but-not-pro golfers like him.

For him, the feeling of limitless potential was gone, because there are these superhuman athletes who have changed the game, moving its pinnacle beyond his reach.

So, what scares me about the future of AI is that we risk losing our passion to achieve our potential. If you know your potential has a limit—and is already exceeded by an AI—how motivated will you be to achieve it? Does it change our human desire to strive?

George Will’s recent column, Let America plunge toward our fast-unfolding future, frames it in the broader context of accelerated capitalism:

In the accelerated churning of today’s capitalism, changing tastes and expanding choices destroy some jobs and create others, with net gains in price and quality. But disruption is never restful, and the United States now faces a decision unique in its history: Is it tired — tired of the turmoil of creative destruction? If so, it had better be ready to do without creativity. And ready to stop being what it has always been: restless.

We’ve always been restless. Will AI change that?

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

The Women’s March

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As I was singing Edelweiss to tuck my 5-year-old son into bed tonight, I choked up and could barely finish. Because the parallels between what we face as a nation now and what Austria was facing in The Sound of Music are undeniable.

But what is also undeniable is that today was a historic, happy day. The first true day of hope since the election. I was unable to march with the millions who marched today, but I am so proud of my friends and fellow Americans who did.

When Captain von Trapp gets choked up singing Edelweiss at the festival, and the crowd steps in to support him, the upwelling of solidarity is palpable. Today, as the pics of incredible crowds rolled in, I felt that same upwelling of solidarity. Except this time, it’s massive, it’s global, and it’s personal.

I will hold on tight to that feeling as we move forward in this fight.

Bless my homeland forever, indeed.

Photo credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Muhammad Ali’s Career Advice for Women

Give Me Five

“Where do you think I would be if I didn’t know how to shout and holler and make the public sit up and take notice?”

In its farewell to Muhammad Ali, Sports Illustrated reprinted a first-person piece, Why I Roared, that the then 22-year-old Cassius Clay wrote in 1964 before facing Sonny Liston for the first time.

Fifty-two years later, reading the words he wrote, I was struck by how much I could apply to my own career. How he could give it as a speech at the next Ellevate or Watermark event. The original manifesto on personal branding.

“If I were like a lot of guys—a lot of heavyweight boxers, I mean—I’ll bet you a dozen doughnuts you wouldn’t be reading this right now. If you wonder what the difference between them and me is, I’ll break the news: You never heard of them. I’m not saying they are not good boxers. Most of them can fight almost as good as I can. I’m just saying you never heard of them. And the reason for that is because they cannot throw the jive.”

A man regarded as the GOAT in his profession is saying he couldn’t rely on talent alone. He needed to speak up and be heard.

“I was confident that I could beat either one of them if I had the chance. But I knew I wouldn’t get the chance because nobody had ever heard of me. I said to myself, How am I going to get a crack at the title? I knew I’d have to start talking about it—I mean really talking, screaming and yelling and acting like some kind of a nut. I would be like Gorgeous George, the wrestler, who got so famous by being flashy and exaggerating everything and making people notice him.”

So many times women fall behind in their careers relative to men because we put our trust in meritocracy, thinking that the work should speak for itself. That it will be recognized.

But it’s not enough to just do great work. We also need to shout “I’m doing some great stuff here, people!”

“I said I am the greatest, I am a ball of fire. If I didn’t say it, there was nobody going to say it for me.”

Time to start throwing some jive.

Driverless Cars and the Great American Road Trip

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Photo by Doug Kerr via Flickr

I went back to Williams this past weekend for a rugby reunion. Lately when I go back, I like to fly into Boston or New York (vs. Albany which is closest), and tack on an extra day to see friends. In theory this is about making the trip from the West Coast worth it by seeing more people, but in reality it’s just as much about the drive.

The Taconic is one of my favorite stretches of road. The first time you drive it you can’t quite place what makes it feel so different from other roads. Then it hits you: there are no shoulders. Two feet to the right is a curb, and then grass. It makes for an incredible feeling when driving, so little separating you from nature.

Something amazing happens when you take a drive like this. Your mind has to focus just enough on the road and how fast you are driving (because OMG the Taconic is cop city!) that the rest of your mind is free to wander. To drift off into neglected corners, resurface long-forgotten memories, and offer up weird ideas, steered only by the sights out the window, the soundtrack playing, and sheer freedom.

And it got me thinking: what does a driverless car future mean for the Great American Road Trip?

I have taken dozens of road trips throughout my life. The cross-country trips during college from Massachusetts to California and back. The trip that only lasted 10 miles before my Jeep’s engine melted in a freeway-side fire. Down and back up the East Coast visiting friends. The trip where we spilled a bottle of cleaner the first day, ensuring that our Vanagon smelled Fantastik® the whole week. The 15-hour trip from Chicago to my summer internship in Florida where I needed to drop off my stuff at an apartment then get to the airport to fly to a Williams reunion, only to miss my flight by ten minutes. I-40. 70. 80. 90. And I swear I will do the 10 at some point.

“It’s about the journey, not the destination” is often applied elsewhere as a metaphor, but in the case of the road trip, it’s literal.

It’s about stopping to check out the miniature donkeys you just saw a sign for. It’s about finding that great local diner. It’s about just once admitting when checking into a motel that you really have six people, not four – and they offer you a room with three queen size beds side by side!

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And when it’s just you, it’s about putting your playlist on shuffle and letting each song unlock and replay an old memory.

So, as much as I’m excited for the time when driverless cars mean I don’t have to sit in traffic or endure a tedious commute, I don’t want to lose the magic that only a long drive can bring.

There is value in letting your mind wander. There is value in spontaneity. And there is value in being present for the actual, literal journey.