2011: Travel, Unexpected Attention, Reunion, and Loss

And I thought 2010 was nuts.

This year was very backloaded. Did anything even happen before June? The answer is yes, but the post is long enough just covering the last five months.

Travel

Here’s where I went, that I can remember:

June

  • Vinarós, Spain to see my beautiful wife, Lyla.
  • London, UK to visit Nathan Matias, one of the new additions to the Center for Civic Media. During this trip I learned exactly how many awesome connections to civic folk and civic organizations a person could share in a 48-hour period. The answer is at least 8.

October

  • Berlin, Germany to attend Knight-Mozilla’s #Hackcoberfest run by and attended by a whole swarm of awesome people. This was where I started on the Meta Meta Project (although, sadly, this project has since gathered a few layers of dust).
  • Miami, FL to attend a Knight summit about 2012 election coverage. This was the first brainstorming summit I’ve attended and I finally got to meet Bill Adair in person. I also got to spend my birthday drinking milkshakes with incredibly inappropriate names.

November

  • London, UK to attend the Mozilla Festival. At this point it was announced that I would be a Knight-Mozilla Fellow at The Boston Globe next year.
  • New Jersey to see my friend Rob Muth get married.
  • New York, NY to attend #factfest at CUNY. I got to meet some awesome people (for instance Craig Newmark, Jeff Jarvis!) and talk about fact checking and where we want technology to take it.

December

  • Phoenix, AZ to attend News Foo. This was awesome. More on this in a later post. In the mean time here is as an embarrassing video of my first attempt at an Ignite talk. It is full of “Ums” but at least I have something I know I need to work on for next time.
  • Washington DC to attend a fact checking summit led by the New America Foundation. This event immediately upped the quality of my thesis project by 50%, and you can read first person accounts of some of the speakers here and here on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog.

And in September, October, November, and December I also managed to sneak home to see family! That was very nice :) It also means that I have driven from Boston to Philly about seven million times this year.

Looking at this list again I realize that no, I wasn’t imagining it, I really didn’t spend much time in Boston. In December, November, and October I was only home for THREE weekends total. No wonder I wasn’t able to get anything done!

Unexpected Attention

I did manage to get some stuff done. In particular I now have a thesis project: Truth Goggles. It’s an automatic bullshit detector. I always liked the idea but I was surprised to find that a lot of others do too. As I’ve posted about before, this is where one major chunk of unexpected attention came from. The other half came from the previously mentioned Knight-Mozilla Fellowship.

It occurs to me that if the Knight Foundation didn’t exist I would probably be flipping burgers or something right now. Or at the very least being a code monkey for some evil corporation.

Reunion and Loss

This section reflects the deeper parts of my life in 2011.

Lyla came home in July, finally ending the long long Odyssey of separation. We lived through long distance during our four years of college but were expecting it to be over. Then she had to get a Fulbright and I had to get into MIT so that meant that our first year of marriage would be spent separated by an ocean. We’re glad that type of thing is over forever. We also moved to a new apartment in Arlington! This is a story of terrible landlords that deserves a post of its own.

My grandmother died. I have so many memories with her. This is the first time I lost anyone, and one of the biggest takeaways is that in so many ways nothing has changed. I still have the lessons learned, the memories of farms and fields, a love of birds and fly fishing. I still know how to pronounce asterisk (“Pretty Mary donned her skates upon the ice to frisk. Wasn’t she a silly girl her little *”), and when to say lie vs lay. I know how to play cribbage and solitaire, and how to make peanut butter fudge. I know a good pumpkin when I see one. I also know patience, love, and how to take life just seriously enough to get stuff done. I also still don’t know how she was so good at finding four leaf clovers.

Of course, all these constants makes the changes so much more noticeable. It was a bittersweet Christmas.

I do think of her often, though, and I hope that doesn’t ever stop. Lyla, Erek, and I finished watching Lord of the Rings last night and of course I kept thinking of her. They were her favorite books (she had read the epics at least seven times over the course of her life). LotR was spiritual for her, supplementing her religion. She was also one of the people in my life who provided a potential avenue for spirituality. (I’ve never been religious, but I do aspire to be spiritual. Gramma didn’t talk with us about religion much even though it was so important to her, but I know that when I’m ready, my memories of her will help).

I’m still reflecting on it all. It was really hard to speak last words to someone, but it was her choice.

And that was my 2011.

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  • http://twitter.com/kzhu91 Katie Zhu

    What a year. Congrats again on the fellowship! Let me know if you make it to Chicago.