Parenting through election hell, Pt. II

Pretty humbled that my Medium post resonated with a few people last month. It feels good to be writing a bit again. My posts are one-part flexing creative muscles, and two parts kicking the tires on various publishing platforms like WordPress and Medium. Very few people read my stuff here, and I don’t promote it. I also don’t post with any regularity so I don’t expect many clicks.

In this case I did want to try distributing the post, and I was right that I’m not alone in feeling all this. I put the link on Facebook, and was happy to get compliments and see it shared by friends and acquaintances and some of their friends. It didn’t go viral by any stretch, but it’s definitely the most-read thing I’ve written in a few years.

Then, through a former colleague, I was connected with journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams who was working on a similar piece for Salon with, you know, the actual reporting that my commentary lacked. Williams thought highly of my piece, and asked me for an interview. We never could connect by her deadline so she instead included a snippet of my post in her excellent article. Thanks @embeedub!

I followed through with my promise to watch the Michelle Obama video with my son. We watched the whole thing. He took it all in and was very thoughtful when it ended. I asked him what he thought. He said it was good, and that it was important for leaders to be respectful to others. I didn’t press him with more questions or a lecture, but rather just let him absorb her powerful speech. He gets it.

The struggle this topic hasn’t ended. I volunteer with Project Cornerstone at my kids’ school, and we talk a lot about bullying, being respectful, being an “upstander,” and the like. Today in a volunteer meeting we parents discussed how we can teach kids to avoid both real and virtual bullying traps. We talked about judging people, and possibly using an example like the video of golden-voice Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent as a great example of how first impressions and judging people can be so wrong. The judges and crowd ridicule her onstage before she sings, and then of course she blows everyone away and becomes famous overnight because of her angelic pipes.

I argued that produced shows are made to dramatize failure and/or surprise results like Boyle, even though it’s true that we as people judge others all the time. We see this in media consistently, never mind the judges in produced reality/competition shows tearing people down. We’ve got reality show star and presidential candidate Donald Trump on the campaign trail shaming women and others.

So what’s a parent’s to do? Some in the meeting said: vote with your eyeballs. Don’t watch the stuff, and resist the urge to click on crap online. Kids need to be told they have the power to avoid these traps. Another said they should also be exposed to positive messages, including the Obama video. She’s right, and I think a segment of it might be worth showing the class I’m reading to this month for Cornerstone.

As Obama says, “When they go low, we go high.” It’s an incredible tagline and message. And here it is yet again. Watch it with your kids.

Parenting through this crazy election

I wrote some words on Medium about the election and trying to raise civically minded and responsible kids. TL;DR – it’s not easy.

When I was young, political news and 60 Minutes sparked an interest in journalism that carried me through college and into a career in media. In addition to a newspaper internship, I worked on two political campaigns, one of which sent our congressional candidate, Walter Capps, to Washington, D.C.

Now we watch the debates after the kids go to bed. Election news on TV is almost worse than watching late-90s Jerry Springer. After this last week I can’t even fathom watching the next debate on Oct. 19 with kids in the room. This does our kids a disservice. Hoping this election will just go away isn’t doing anything to make our kids more civically minded. Shielding them from the process isn’t doing anything to help them formulate their own opinions about issues and candidates.

Celebrate Every Day Left

This weekend we’re walking again in the annual National Brain Tumor Society’s Silicon Valley Walk. Held at Vasona Park in Los Gatos, the event draws hundreds (thousands?), celebrating the people in their lives who are fighting what are often deadly brain tumors.

karyn1This year’s walk will be especially emotional. We lost one of our most dear friends, Karyn
Wilder, at the end of June. Known to our kids as “Auntie Karyn,” she had been fighting a glioblastoma for about four years — much longer than most predicted she could have fought. We’ve been participating in the walk for a few years now, and each year the event (both sadly and thankfully) has been growing.

Because of Karyn’s fight, we and others rallied around her and her family in hopes of lending a hand and some comfort during their incredibly tough time. Sadness and hardship have upsides and positives, though. We’ve become closer to the Wilders and to their immediate family and friends. Through these walkathons in recent years, we’ve raised some impressive money and this year the team has raised an incredible $27,000+ for the National Brain Tumor Society.

According to the NTBS, over 700,000 people in the US are living with brain tumors, and through these walks we raise some money for researchers to find a cure and to help general needs of those fighting the disease. All cancer f’ing sucks, and brain tumors are some of the worst types.

img_3324Two years ago, about halfway through her battle, Karyn won the event’s “Champion” award for her efforts to educate via her blog, and because of her dogged persistence to fight what she called the “beast” lodged in her brain. Karyn was a great writer, and she gave a beautiful and heart-wrenching speech that year. In that moment, surrounded by her loved ones, you’d have thought there was no way she could lose her fight. She did, ultimately, and this year the folks running the walkathon renamed the award in Karyn’s honor. It’s now the Karyn Wilder Champion Award. We’ll be devastated that Karyn isn’t walking with us but we’ll celebrate the times we’ve had together.
So this year we’ll walk a few miles, we’ll rally again and shed a few tears, and watch her husband and our friend Todd give the Karyn Wilder Champion Award to another deserving warrior. We’ll remember her fondly and we miss her dearly.

If you’re interested in helping in this fight, donate to the NTBS through our team page.

Go EveryDayLeft Right Left!

Pain, in the ass

I’ve done it again. Hurt my back, herniated a couple of discs, and have a pinched sciatic nerve. L5/S1 discs are jacked, and I’m in constant pain and discomfort. The feeling often described for sciatica is correct. It’s like someone is sticking me with a knife in my right butt cheek, hip or hamstring.

This has happened before, about six years ago. That’s my x-ray on the right. I was generally not in great shape, stressed with a crazy job and infant twins, and after trying to demo my patio with a sledgehammer instead nearly broke apart my back. The injury my spine, 2009was worse then than it is now. For a couple days then, my spine was literally crooked.  I tried a chiropractor, which worked for a bit but ultimately made me worse. Recovery was lots of medicine, and ultimately an epidural steroid/cortisone injection, plus a few months of physical therapy.

After that, I committed to keep myself in better shape. I’ve done a pretty good job for a busy family guy. Some fitness highlights over the past few years have included climbing Mt. Whitney, training for and completing a mud run, rededicating myself to surfing and snowboarding, swimming miles of laps in the pool, and going to the gym often. At night instead of sitting in front of the TV, I’m typically watching from the floor while doing various core and hip strength exercises, straps and a Bosu ball, stretching and yoga poses to stay loose. All that has worked for seven years. Until now.

Last month we took a great trip to Sunriver, Oregon. While there, we did a day at Lake Billy Chinook where we had a blast zipping around on a speed boat, tubing and (unsuccessfully for me) wakeboarding. So it seems a combo of laying on the tube and being bounced over wake chop at 30 MPH, plus the jarring up-and-down slamming on lake waves while sitting in the front of the boat did me in. I was sore the next day, and then sitting in the car on the 10-hour drive home I knew things were going downhill. I thought my back was pretty strong, and it sucks that something so stupidly enjoyable could damage me like this.

So I’ve been to the doctor, had my MRI, have a shelf full of new pharmaceutical and natural medicine, none of which is working very well. I’m waiting in agony for a physiatry appointment Monday, where I’ll probably get options like the epidural.  Then I’ll have to wait for that procedure. I’m hoping that’s all I need. It worked last time and I’ll sign right up to do it again if it’s recommended.

I just got a new surfboard and I can’t use it — that’s driving me crazy. I can’t pick up my kids, couldn’t bounce at their birthday party yesterday, can’t even swim now as kicking and pushing off the wall is too painful. Walking the dog at home and around Los Gatos at lunchtime is keeping me somewhat sane.

The mental challenge is real. The lack of sleep and nighttime pain is the real killer — I’m only getting 3-4 hours of sleep per night, broken up by being unable to turn over and then painfully getting out of bed and stumbling around the house in the dark to try and loosen up. I have reduced movement overall, and I can’t lift my right leg far off the floor unless I’m really loose, like after a long (slow) walk. Stretching is becoming more difficult, but helps a bit sometimes. Getting off the floor feels impossible at times. I can’t sit in the car for more than 20 minutes. You don’t realize how much you need your spine until it’s injured.

With all the sports I’ve played over the years, despite a few broken bones, bumps and bruises, I guess I’m lucky this is as bad as it’s been. And, this is probably temporary — others suffer with chronic pain far worse than mine.

So, my healing process begins again. Just hope I can get back in the water by the end of September for my annual surf trip and to finally get some turns on that new board.

On bleeding purple (or why perhaps red is OK)

Mixed emotions for me — and anyone that ever worked at Yahoo — as Verizon has acquired most of the company, including the media properties in which I spent the most time (primarily with Y! News). They also get the ad business, which I’m also intimately familiar with, and much more.

My Facebook feed is full of stories, blog links, and photos of people and company swag as we “XY!s” look back to celebrate the good old days there. There aren’t many companies around Silicon Valley that illicit such fond memories, which is why this new chapter in Yahoo’s history is particularly painful to swallow, no matter how rocky that history may be.

I’m one of only a couple of people I know of who have once worked for Yahoo and were also scooped up by Verizon in its first splashy Silicon Valley acquisition of Intel Media (aka OnCue). Thought I’d share some thoughts that are both cathartic for me and potentially insightful for any Yahoo that’s about to go through this latest acquisition, although there are many reasons the Yahoo deal will be very different from what I went through.

My entire life I’ve treated jobs as stepping stones, opportunities to grow, to learn and explore myself, meet new people, form new relationships, and get better at what I do. However, my own experience entering Verizon was relatively rough compared with my time at Yahoo.

When I was hired at Yahoo in 2004, it was a major career milestone. I was leaving TechTV, the other best place I’ve worked, after almost five years. We had just been acquired by Comcast and would become the G4 Network, focused on gaming and relocated to LA. It wasn’t for me.

yahoo badgesYahoo was beginning to build and significantly invest in its media group. I was one of a small group working directly on Y News. My plan of transitioning from print journalism to digital media felt nearly complete. I joined as a producer, my boss was the product manager. I quickly became a PM after being offered the choice between product or editorial. I was more interested in developing new elements of the site. It was also clear Yahoo was big on talent development, and moving people into new roles. I wanted to learn more technical skills, and work was hardly work. It was fun. I had creative freedom and the ability to run with new projects. Everyone around me was smart and interesting. We did meaningful stuff including early streaming video curation, spawning new verticals like Yahoo Tech, and developing Yahoo’s first original content projects on new platforms. We were beating everyone in the online news industry and attracting tens of millions of users each month. We were building a name for ourselves.

My affinity for the company goes way back. I became “senders” in 1997 when I opened my Yahoo Mail account while at Cal Poly. I taught myself HTML in part on Geocities. I’ve worked under every Yahoo CEO (only as a contractor under Tim Koogle’s reign) except for Marissa Mayer. In 1998 I got a freelance gig on what may have been one of the first online branded content projects. I was paid a rich $30/hour (!!!) writing copy for a silly Procter & Gamble ad campaign called Hot Summer Relief, where a fictional group of college students spent a summer traveling the world, and for some reason each traveler was in constant need of Pepto Bismol.

Ten years later in 2008, it seemed certain Yahoo would be sold to Microsoft. When the news broke, I remember emailing my nervous family that I didn’t know whether I’d be moving to Redmond or not. Yahoo was getting pounded in the market and by analysts, and most everyone was sure Yahoo was a goner. Jerry Yang would ensure we stayed put, which made us feel victorious yet also seemed like a huge missed opportunity for the company. It never recovered, of course.

I left for a startup for a couple years, and that didn’t go far. I still loved Yahoo and gave it another go in 2010 in a different product role, when Carol Bartz seemed firmly at the controls. The company had new life. Our team, at least, was helping the company make a ton of revenue. Work was fun again, for a while. But the revolving door of CEO and management changes, and the never-ending re-orgs continued to drain and distract me and the company. I left for good in 2012.

I’ve sometimes described Yahoo as a security blanket — familiar, warm and fuzzy, and always there when you need it. Many employees felt that way, for better or worse, as I was hardly the only “boomerang” to serve more than one tour of duty.

Later in 2012, I joined Intel Media, which was known as OnCue, and in 2014 was acquired by Verizon. You might know it now as the Go90 mobile app, as OnCue technology and people are behind the service.

We started off at Intel Media with a clear direction and mandate, doing some really amazing and creative work with a variety of talented people from all facets of the movie, content and digital video industries. When I joined the project was so stealthy I didn’t even know what we were building other than something to “revolutionize TV.” Regular Intel employees couldn’t enter our separated building. It didn’t feel like Intel, but like a rapidly growing startup. The org was very flat. We were releasing beta boxes to users and the service was effectively live — I had one in my house. But after Intel went through a CEO change it was clear Intel saw no real future in set-top boxes.

Enter Verizon in 2014, which most of us knew little about other than the company built mobile networks and ran internet and TV service via FiOS. The merger was fairly well bungled from the start. OnCue went into stasis as we waited, waited and waited for some direction or for anything, frankly, to happen. We watched the World Cup in the office, knowing there was no work waiting for us during or after the games. Employees began to leave. After more than a few months of going nearly nowhere, Verizon managers started kicking the tires. The leadership team began leaving. The HR and employee onboarding/transition process was a confusing mess. We got slow drips of mixed messages about the plan. Would we continue to be OnCue? Nobody knew. To its credit, Verizon leadership owned up to its initial mistakes, and promised to make things right.

Making things more awkward, we were stuck on the Intel campus for months while Verizon purchased and furnished a new office building in San Jose that we were to move into. Slowly, execs began visiting and getting involved, trying to understand our strengths and detailing how we’d go about working together. Without going into too much detail, I’ll simply say that the transition was challenging, rocky, and made many on the Intel team pretty upset and confused. Ultimately, I didn’t fit in, the product I was working was no longer interesting to me, and so it was time for me to move on. Learning experiences, right?

Today I hear many of the issues I experienced have been ironed out, yet plenty of challenges remain as the company continues to evolve. I was gone when the AOL acquisition was executed, though as I was leaving in June 2015 I knew it was being discussed. With AOL running media, I thought there was some hope for the remaining OnCue crew. Now Verizon and AOL has Yahoo, which for AOL must be some kind of sweetness, snagging the company that always thought itself superior in most ways.

I’m hoping now that OnCue was Verizon’s learning experience in how to go about acquiring talent and operating in Silicon Valley. Yahoo’s like an ex-girlfriend to me now. You know you’re not right for each other anymore but you just want her to be happy with whoever she’s with next, and you hope she’s treated well.

Given all the analyst and media chatter over the past few years, I’d assume a fairly large Yahoo layoff is coming, especially as there are likely plenty of overlapping roles within AOL (oh look, synergies!). What gives me some hope for Yahoo is that AOL heads up most if not all of its digital media and advertising, it has played in the Valley since it bought Netscape, and will be a better natural fit for Yahoo than OnCue was for Verizon. It knows content and advertising, as does Yahoo, so they ought to be able to operate together.

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of good, caring, long-time Verizon employees here in the valley and beyond that are genuinely excited about the company’s buying spree and perfectly happy rolling with the changes. In many ways, this venture into digital content is the most exciting thing that’s happened to Verizon in years. I’ve seen joking about whether Verizon employees “bleed red,” but I know that there are hundreds if not thousands of proud employees that think the world of Verizon. The difference I’ve seen, in my travels through the company, is that many of their sites are relatively isolated and if your gig has to do with cellular or TV infrastructure, there are only so many places in Texas, Virginia or New Jersey you can work. Yahoo exists in ultra-competitive Silicon Valley, and so the pride and loyalty to the company we all felt was fairly unique. Maybe only the likes of Google and Facebook as big companies carry such clout with masses of employees nowadays.

Verizon does a good job retaining, developing and keeping people, even if by most Valley standards its operating MO felt strange to me. There were plenty of stories about how people at Verizon HQ in New Jersey only wore slacks and ties to work before they acquired OnCue. Once we started showing up to meetings in untucked shirts and jeans, the culture shift was rapid and apparent. It’s a huge company learning how to reinvent itself, and that’s a good thing for longtime and new employees.

I can’t imagine how Yahoos are feeling now, but assuming the onboarding and org changes go more smoothly than they did for me, there’s probably some very good potential ahead. Verizon is a 170,000 employee behemoth — it isn’t going anywhere. It has a massive cell network and will be expanding its TV footprint over time with IPTV, another vestige of OnCue. Video and monetizing it is the company’s focus. You’ll get attention, resources, and more scaled technology to do great things. The company is amazingly nimble for as big as it is. Credit leaders like CEO Lowell McAdam and SVP Marni Walden who are really smart, passionate and personable people. Hopefully you’ll get to hear their vision firsthand, as I was able to. It’s compelling.

Having seen where Verizon was going from the inside and knowing AOL was on its radar, it was fairly obvious Yahoo would be next. After OnCue, it was clear Verizon was hungry for more digital content and the ad networks that help fuel it. After all, more eyeballs on content — and especially video — means more data being consumed on Verizon’s network. Verizon gets access to nearly a billion Yahoo users on top of the content and advertising businesses it’s purchased. That’s a lot of devices on which to serve a lot of content. And it’s well documented that it’s spending like mad to secure rights to exclusive and other content. There’s no doubt it’s serious about being a player in the space.

So old foes Yahoo and AOL are joined together under the umbrella of a massive, shifting telco. I remain impressed by Verizon’s realization that it needed to pivot to mobile services and content — it’s a strategic move that makes perfect sense and it’s doing what it said it would do. Time will tell whether it works out for everyone. And since I’ll always be a Yahoo, I’ll always be disappointed that the company I loved couldn’t carry on independently. That it’s finally sold is the right thing — time to rip off the Band-Aid.

I only hope AOL and Verizon will do its best to ease the transition of people from a once very proud company. There’s probably a good future together if all sides want to make it happen.