Giving the Gift of Receiving

When you’re a little kid, the proverb “It is better to give than to receive” sounds like nonsense grown-up talk; most little kids would rather get a toy than give one away.  But here’s a story about giving and receiving that shows what the proverb is really trying to express.

In 2010, I went to Burning Man with a bunch of friends.  My friend Debby and I were walking around the city there, checking out all the art projects, and Saturday afternoon, after we’d all been living in the desert for a week, we came across a Wishing Well.

Here’s how the Wishing Well worked: you could make a wish, or you could grant a wish.  To make a wish, write your wish on a rock (provided), along with your name and where you were camping.  To grant a wish, rummage around through the stones that other people had written their wishes on, and see if there are any wishes you can grant.  If so, take the stone with you, go find the person who wished on it, and make their wish come true.

I decided to make a wish.  I wrote on a stone that I wished for a trinket to bring home to my daughter.  I added my name, camp location, and tossed it in the Wishing Well.

 

While I was doing this, my friend Debby was rummaging around in the wishes that other people had tossed in the well.  She held up a few stones that said all sorts of predictable things, and then held up a stone that said that “Dave” at such-and-such a camp was wishing for “fresh pineapple”.  The entire population of the city had been camping in the desert for a week, and fresh fruit was an exotic wish indeed.  But then Debby said, “I’ve got one.”

“You’ve got one what?  A pineapple?”, I asked laughingly.

“Yes.  A whole fresh pineapple.  I have one.  It’s been packed in ice all week, in a cooler, back at our camp.”

I was incredulous.  “What were you going to do with your pineapple? Do you have a plan for it??”

“No”, she said, “I didn’t have a plan.  It just seemed like a good thing to have.”

“Well, do you think we should bring it to ‘Dave’, and grant his wish?!?”

“Definitely,” Debby said.

So we took Dave’s wishing stone, went back to our camp, dug the whole, entire fresh pineapple out from the cooler, and set off to find Dave.  Black Rock City (Burning Man) is never really entirely organized. In 2010, the population was over 50,000 people, and even though we had an approximate address of where to find ‘Dave’, Debby and I had to wander around quite a bit, and ask a lot of people for directions and clues before we triangulated on Dave’s camp.

When we found the right camp, we started asking “Does anyone here know Dave?  Is Dave here?”  After a few minutes, Dave poked his head out of a tent and said “Who are you?  Why are you looking for me?”

We said, “We’re here from the Wishing Well.  Are you the person who wished for fresh pineapple?”

“Yes?  Yes…” he said starting to choke up, disbelieving, and getting emotional.  “Yes, I did wish for that, but I thought it was impossible… oh my god…”

We handed the fresh pineapple, still cool from the ice, to Dave, who took it.  He stared at it as if it weren’t real, as if none of this was really even happening.  He broke out in tears of joy, hugging first the pineapple, then us, then the pineapple again.  Debby and I told him to enjoy it, and we went on our way, grinning and laughing.

 

The next day, someone I didn’t know stopped by our camp, asking “Is Mark here? Does anyone know Mark?”  I said “I’m Mark”, and they handed me a little hand-made necklace with the Burning Man logo on it, and said “This is for you to bring home to your daughter; I found your wish in the wishing well.  I made this necklace, and I want you to bring it to her!”  I gave a big smile and a big thank you, and a hug, and tucked the necklace away somewhere safe for my trip home.

 

Later, I was reflecting on these two experiences: receiving the thing that I had wished for, and giving someone else what they had wished for.   It was exceedingly clear to me which had been more rewarding to me. While I did like receiving the necklace to bring home, granting Dave’s wish for pineapple had made me feel absolutely wonderful inside, and that feeling still stays with me today.  So, I thought, I guess it really is better to give than to receive.

 

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that the real gift had been the one that Dave gave to me and Debby: by asking for something, Dave had given us the chance to give it to him, and then to feel wonderful about it.  It’s the same gift that I gave the necklace artist by asking for a trinket to take home: a chance to do something nice for someone and feel wonderful about it.

I think about this story when people offer “Is there anything I can do to help? Is there anything I can bring you?”  My first impulse is often to say “No thank you, I’m all set”, because I don’t want to impose on them. But then I think that maybe a better answer is to say “Why yes, actually, there is one small thing that would be nice…”, because then I am giving them the gift of being able to do something nice for someone, and to feel good about it.  It’s “giving the gift of receiving”.

Sometimes, by asking for something, we can make other people happier, and that seems worth doing.  Someone’s got to toss their wishes into the well, so other people can grant them.

 

 


#68: Clearway, For Inventing CDN

Bear with me here, because about 200 words from now I’m going to make a huge brag that I hardly ever talk about these days. OK, thanks. Let’s go:IMG_0172.jpg

In January 2001, “Web Hosting Magazine” published their “Top 100 Awards” issue.

Clearway Technologies, a company that I founded, shared an award for “Fastest Growing New Market: CDNs”.  C.D.N. stands for “Content Delivery Network”, a system of helping deliver web pages, images, and videos faster over the Internet; the CDN that some people may be familiar with today in 2016 is Akamai, but back in the 2000’s, there were half a dozen CDN companies, all trying to get a slice of the CDN revenue pie.

On pages 42-43, Clearway, SolidSpeed, Speedera, EpicRealm, and Akamai were all called out for awards #5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, in the overall CDN area, and for developing this hot new marketplace.

And then, later on in the list of awards, we come to #68, given exclusively to Clearway, and to me, “For Inventing CDN”.

IMG_0174.jpg

And you know what?  They’ve got the facts right here.  By the time Akamai was just barely getting started, I already had Clearway Technologies up and running, and we were already shipping our first CDN offering, and I’d already filed for the patent on our core technologies.

So while I’m a little too modest to be comfortable saying it, as far as I can tell, it’s true:
I invented the first CDN.

Now, while I do get to say that I invented the first CDN, “FireSite” and “FireSite.net”, I also have to say that I didn’t get rich from it.  Clearway was initially a ‘bootstrap’ startup, and so grew very slowly at first. Here’s the entire company, in August 1996 doing our initial product launch at Macworld in Boston.

1996-08-MacworldBOSa.jpg

Later, we took in venture capital, and we grew Clearway to over 200 people.  Here’s the team that helped do our ‘big’ launch at Networld/Interop 2000 in Atlanta.

DSCF0109a.jpg

So we grew the company and ultimately we sold it to Mirror Image Internet, another CDN company with complementary technologies and assets. And while Mirror Image is still around today, it, also, is not a success story.  Mirror Image was never able to successfully monetize the union of their existing network infrastructure and Clearway’s advanced CDN technology, and so the company has never seen the growth that we hoped.  (And thus I learned the meaning of the term “reverse stock split.”)

Other people have gone on to build bigger CDNs — most notably Akamai, who has become the dominant player in the CDN market, and they’re doing fine financially.

My original CDN patent (U.S. #5,991,809) was filed on July 25, 1996.  In the U.S. the term of a patent is twenty years from the first priority date. That means my first CDN patent will expire in two weeks, on July 26, 2016.  These twenty years have been a heck of a ride, and looking back, I’m proud of what I invented, and happy to see what it’s become.

-Mark Kriegsman, July 12, 2016.


 

Here’s the full text of what Web Hosting Magazine had to say about the invention of the CDN:

from Web Hosting Magazine, January 2001, page 77.

#68
Clearway
For Inventing CDN

Akamai may think of itself as the grandfather of content-delivery network services, but let’s not forget the man who invented the idea: Clearway Technologies founder Mark Kriegsman.

Akamai’s business plan was entered into MIT’s annual $50,000 Entrepreneurship Competition in 1998, by which time Kriegsman had already received Patent #5,991,809 for his “web serving system that coordinates multiple servers to optimize file transfers.” The U.S. Patent Office abstract somewhat cryptically describes Kriegsman’s intervention as a “networked system consisting of one primary and at least one secondary server, both capable of storing static and dynamic content. In addition the primary server houses at least one look-up table, with which the system can use various criteria to search for specific data files and allocate transmission of each file between the primary and secondary servers based on these criteria.” (What can we say? It was 1997.)

Put in more modern terms, the patent covers intelligent redirection and intelligent optimization of compound web objects, such as HTML pages, JavaScript or streaming media metafiles.

So Akamai and Digital Island can sue each other all they want about patent infringements, but Mark– we know who really came first. Wink, wink  ; )

 


First light – five years later

Five years ago today I got my very first piece of LED art gear to light up for the very first time.

It was a Color Kinetics panel that you sent data to over ethernet, not an addressable LED strip & embedded microcontroller coding situation at all. The panel itself previously belonged to an LED art pioneer, “Frostbyte”, who had taken it with him on his desert adventures before his untimely and accidental demise. His old electronic gear was auctioned for charity, and without really knowing what I was getting in to, I bought this massive (28 pound!) metal box with 144 RGB LEDs in it, and the network controller to match.

Frostbyte lives

I could find no open source software to drive it, and owning the commercial sequencing/design package was out of my reach. For three years, the panel sat in my workroom idle and dark. But at some point, I found that the vendor had a simple free “test program” available, and I decided to see what I could do. Since the color data was sent from the test program to the panel over ethernet, I was able to capture the network packets, reverse engineer them, write my own code to talk directly to the LED panel, and TA-DA! First light!

But even with that one LED panel up and running, more than a year passed before I started learning how to use addressible LED strips and Arduino microcontrollers.  Another year after that, I had officially become ‘part of’ FastLED with Daniel Garcia.

And now?  Now I’ve created LED art myself, taken it on my adventures– desert and elsewhere, sold it and gifted it.  I’ve taught LED classes, and I’ve helped build an online community for thousands of FastLED users.  I’m not sure what I expected when I first bought that LED panel, but I don’t think it was all this great stuff.

So if there’s a lesson here, it might be this: If something intrigues you, step toward it.  You never know exactly where you’ll wind up, but the journey will be an adventure in the right direction.


If I’m confused, it must be playtime.

Some things we try because we have a clear idea where we want to be and a clear idea how to get there.

Some things we try because we’re suddenly shocked to find that the heretofore completely impossible has suddenly and surprisingly come within practical reach.

And some things we try just to play, and to explore what if. We start with our heads full of simple ideas that turn out to be wrong, and we awkwardly replace them in torn out bunches with new confused half-understandings that, later, will let us reach something wholly unexpected.

I’m not sure which of these things in doing here, which means it’s probably that last one.

20140320-090628.jpg


What Dark, Light, and Solstice mean to an LED art hacker

We celebrated the winter solstice last night with friends and laughter. I wore a little pin with a circle of LEDs on it, animating a cycle of light and dark.

20131221-065918.jpg
I think that for lightbenders (LED art hackers) like me, like us, the winter solstice is actually a bit of a mixed blessing; I’m as eager as the next guy to start the slow journey back toward warmer weather, but given than our LED creations thrive in darkness, the arrival of the winter solstice means there will be fewer hours of darkness each night to illuminate with our creations.

Likewise the summer solstice marks the start of the shift away from the happy-go-lucky light-out-past-dinner-time days, but it also brings promise of a winter’s beautiful dark canvas, which we’ll light with our love and our craft.

Have a bright beautiful solstice, everyone. And if you keep your calendar that way, Happy New Year!


Monkeys, cucumbers, habaneros, and me.

There’s this experiment:

In this experiment:

  1. Monkey#1 completes a task, gets a cucumber slice.
  2. Monkey#2 completes a task, gets a sweet sweet GRAPE!  Importantly, Monkey#1 SEES this deal with Monkey#2 and the grape.
  3. Now Monkey#1 completes the task again, and gets a dull old cucumber slice again — NOT a tasty grape!  Aaaaand to no one’s surprise, Monkey#1 now HURLS the cucumber slice back at the experimenter.

One can say a lot about this experiment, and how this monkey business is paralleled in human nature, etc., and a lot of people are saying a lot of things here and there.  Whatever.

For me, there’s a personal lesson here, and it goes something like this: the path to happiness lies in enjoying the slice of cool fresh cucumber that I’ve got right here.  Fixating on what other people have that I do not, instead of focusing on the small happinesses right in front of me makes me an awfully dumb monkey.

Other people have more money, more prestige, more friends, more patents, more love, more chocolate, more LEDs, more time with their kids, more travel stamps in their passport, more habaneros in their garden.  If I fixate on that, all it does is sour my feelings for the good and marvelous things that I do have.  I’ve harvested a whopping six tiny little  habanero peppers from my plant this year, and I’m so proud of them you wouldn’t believe it.

Thinking further: I’m doubly dumb if I do what the first monkey did: throw away the cucumber that I have just because I didn’t get a grape!   If my neighbor harvests nine habaneros from her pepper plant, should I bitterly throw away the six I got from mine?  How does that make my life better in any way at all?  (Hint: It doesn’t.)  Can you imagine: you just won $1,000.  But then when you find out that your neighbor won $2,000, you turn around and tear up your $1,000 check. That’s of absolutely no benefit to you, no matter how envious you might feel of the extra money.

Now it is true that if I see my neighbor’s chili plant producing more than mine, I might ask her for tips, or I might wonder if she’s using the same sun that I’m using, or I might solemnly vow to treat my pepper plant better next season.  So there can be some good motivational value in seeing what I could do better next time.  But cursing out my neighbor for her success, or throwing out my own six perfectly awesome little chili peppers?  That’s behavior befitting a creature with a brain the size of a peach pit, a dumb little monkey.  But me?  I can do better. I bet you can do better, too. We all can.  We’re not mere monkeys.  We’re awesome people.

For the record, my garden this year has not only produced six habaneros, but also exactly one (1) cucumber, and I plan to enjoy that one little cucumber like crazy.

Update: the garden also produced one awesome tiny watermelon.