Root canals and bike accidents: an unlikely pair

January 21, 2013 at 5:21 pm

IMG_4804.JPG In 2012, I experienced severe pain in my bottom right molar tooth. I went to the dentist and he said that it was infected and I would have to have a root canal operation. I had heard that root canals are one of the most painful operations, so I wanted to get a second opinion to make sure that it was the only option.

Another dentist looked at my tooth with a magnifying glass headset and said there was a hairline crack which explained how the tooth got infected. He said that the crack was likely caused by a severe impact. When I told him of my bike accident in 2010, he said that was almost certainly the reason for the cracked tooth.

Of course, it hadn’t been infected at the time of the accident and because there was no pain, it had gone undetected. Fortunately, the second dentist referred me to a third endodontist who performed a relatively painless root canal. Sadly, the tooth was too rotten to save, so it had to be removed, also pretty painless operation (no strings tied to doors).

I kept the tooth hoping that it would serve as evidence for the insurance company (didn’t want to lose the smoking gun!) but my insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of the root canal and tooth removal because they said it had to be reported within 48 hours of the accident.

So the moral of the story is if you’re in an accident and suspect you may have hit your teeth together, go to the dentist soon after to get them checked out. The same goes for tick inspection if you’ve been walking around in the woods. Take it from me – you don’t want to get lyme disease!

How I got past my hangups and decided to resurrect my blog

January 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Nate’s News

It was the year 1995, and I had just moved to Copenhagen, Denmark to finish my senior year of college in a study abroad program. Living abroad I needed some way to share my experiences with my friends and family back home. So I started an email newsletter called “Nate’s News” that I sent out about once a month. This was in an age when blogging hadn’t really taken off, and many still didn’t even have email addresses (gasp!)

What started out as a simple way to bulk communicate, turned into a regular publication with a loyal and vocal readership. The best part about writing Nate’s News was getting feedback from friends. Some wrote to give me tips on places to go when traveling, and others wrote to say that they were living vicariously through my adventures.
It changed how I spent my time abroad knowing that every experience could be crafted into a story in Nate’s News. I didn’t hold back in experiencing new things, knowing that good or bad, it would make for a fun story. I became more observant, taking note of what was happening around me, the conversations I had with the Danes and other expats I met.
In looking back, I’m thankful that I had Nate’s News as an outlet for documenting my experiences, because those moments likely would have been forgotten had I not been writing about them. I have an archive of those newsletters and some day I’ll post them here.

Hungry readers

When I returned to the U.S. to study music at Berklee in 1997, I stopped writing Nate’s News. I don’t think it was a conscious decision – I just got busy with a heavy courseload, practicing 8 hours/day and spending the evenings jamming with other musicians.
I started getting emails from friends asking if they were still on the Nate’s News mailing list because they hadn’t seen one in awhile. That’s when it struck me that I had readers that were hungry for more.
As a consolation for not publishing a regular Nate’s News, I launched a blog, and announced that from now on, my readers could follow my activities there. But like many who start blogs, I was lousy at keeping it up-to-date, and after awhile it was abandoned too.

Hazy memories

I was just back in Minnesota for the holidays and my mom implored me to go through the boxes in her basement and throw away some things. I found a box of stuff from when I was at Berklee, mostly course materials, but also notes from private lessons. This brought back a flood of disparate memories, but it was mostly hazy fragments.
I felt sadness that these two years of my life flew by and I had no record of what I was feeling at the time, or how I was incorporating all that I was learning into my playing.  What insights may I have discovered, had I been writing about my musical experiences and learning process while at Berklee.


It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was only the two years at music school that I didn’t write, but once I stopped writing, I lost the momentum and didn’t write for another 6 years!
After I had been running my consulting business for a few years, I became very active in the Plone community, an open source CMS, and started a blog in 2006 to document my activities around the Plone4Artists project.
Sadly, this too was short-lived, and by 2008, I had stopped writing in my personal blog. I did start writing in the Jazkarta company blog, but the posts were sporadic at best.
My two Jazkarta colleagues at the time, Aaron and Sally really pushed me to blog more. Whenever I came back from a sprint or conference, I would tell them that I was going to write a trip report on the blog. But once I got back to the office, there was always lots to catch up on and the blog post would be deprioritized. Eventually, I had forgotten the highlights from the trip, and it was old news anyways, so I didn’t bother to write about it.
It became a running joke in the company that Aaron would do unheard of things if I would write a blog post. So strong was my aversion to blogging, that he could say he would do anything, knowing full well that he wouldn’t have to do it.

Emotional barriers

On multiple occasions, I had to ask myself, what was behind this aversion to blogging?
Guilt – There are emails to respond to, pitches to prepare for, leads to get back to. If I’m writing blog posts, I’m not attending to these seemingly more urgent activities. The myth is that writing is a luxury. But the reality is that writing enhances all of those other activities:
  • fewer emails to respond to (“go read my blog post on that subject”)
  • easier to craft a pitch (helpful comments from posted draft pitches)
  • prospective customers coming to you (after they read your blog post and think, “I want to hire this person.”)
Fear – putting down one’s thoughts requires conviction especially when doing it in a public arena such as a blog. You have to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable. “They won’t know whether my ideas are brilliant or stupid if I just keep them to myself.” I remember Dharmesh Shah saying, “you don’t have to write prize-winning content, you just have to suck less.”
Hard work – crafting a well-written essay is time consuming. It’s so much easier to browse my Twitter, Facebook, Google+ stream to see what interesting things other people have written about, than to sit down and write my own original content. It’s like building a beautiful pot out of clay. Writing requires massaging the words until they feel right – eliminating all the unnecessary words.
An hour spent writing a thoughtful blog post will be read 100s or 1000s of times more than any email you may have spent an hour writing. I wonder how many of my emails could be repurposed as blog posts.

Turning over a new leaf

My girlfriend Anna said that since she started journaling, it has had a profound affect on her. Things that were confusing, began to have clarity. Anxiety fades away once the thoughts are out of the head, and in a place where they can be analyzed objectively.
When I re-read my blog posts from just a few years ago, it seems as though I wrote with wild abandon. Maybe you grow more cautious as you grow older, but I’d like to think that I am wiser, more sure of myself and what I believe in, and that will come out in my writing.
I’m out of the practice of writing and it’s painful. It’s like trying to play the saxophone after not playing it for months. My embouchure is weak and the sound coming out of the horn is atrocious. But like anything, the more you do it, the better you become.
Over the last few years, I’ve been squirreling away nuggets of material to be shaped  into future blogposts. Every time I favorited a Tweet, starred an item in Google Reader, clipped a webpage into Evernote, I thought, “This will make an interesting blog post … some day.”
Well, that some day is today. I’m putting away the guilt, the fears, the laziness that has held me back for so long. I can’t guarantee that all of those nuggets are gold, but hopefully there will be enough fodder to conjure up a few good ones.
I ask for your patience as I put the training wheels back on, and attempt to put my thoughts into writing. I’m abandoning the junk food consumption of Twitter and Facebook and reallocating that time to creative producing activities.
Instead of passively engaging with these networks, I’m building signposts and eventually billboards along the information superhighway to direct you to my little shack on the side of the road. Hopefully you’ll find something interesting during your visit.

2012: A retrospective

December 31, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Today is December 31, 2012 and we’re about to start a new year. It’s a moment for reflection on what has happened over the last year – triumphs, disappointments, changes, new experiences, and what one aspires for in the new year.

After a four year hiatus, I’m relaunching this blog because I want to write more and share more of my life. I suspect that by writing about my experiences, it will not only be easier to remember them, but they will feed into a bigger story. Read my blog post about how I got over my hangups and resurrected this blog.

What has happened in the last four years? This blog post would go on forever if I attempted to summarize everything, so I’ll just give you the highlights. Without further ado, here is my retrospective for 2012.

Serial entrepreneur

Chapter 1

I stepped back from my duties as president at Jazkarta, my web development company, to focus more time on Appsember, my new startup company. Appsembler’s mission is to make it easier to find, try and buy open source software.

Last fall, my co-founder announced that he was leaving the company (which was called DjangoZoom at the time). We parted ways amicably and after much deliberation I decided to continue but in a new direction that eventually became Appsembler.

Chapter 2: TechStars

That same fall I applied to Techstars Cloud, a new startup accelerator program in San Antonio modeled after the existing Techstars programs in Boston, New York and Seattle.

Over Thanksgiving break, I got the call from the Techstars Cloud director, Jason Seats, saying that I got in. So in January I packed my bags and moved to Texas for 3 months. It was probably the hardest I have ever worked in my life (grueling 16 hour days) coupled with intense pressure to deliver a working product. (I probably should have spent less time trying to build a product and more time on customer development, but that’s a discussion for another blog post.)

Techstars Cloud demo day

Techstars Cloud demo day

The program ended with “demo day” (see this article in Gigaom) where I stood up on stage and gave a memorized 5 minute pitch in front of a hundred or so investors. Talk about nerve-wracking!

I feel extremely fortunate to have had this experience. (Supposedly it’s harder to get into Techstars than it is to get into Harvard.) I would do things differently if I had the opportunity to do it again, but I don’t regret anything that I experienced. Sometimes learning lessons the hard way is the best way to ensure that you don’t repeat your mistakes.

Chapter 3: MassChallenge

When I returned to Massachusetts, I applied and got into MassChallenge, another startup accelerator in Boston. It’s the largest accelerator in the world with over 100 companies participating so the experience was quite different than Techstars. Through this program I was connected with a bunch of great mentors who now serve on the company’s advisory board.

I don’t know what Chapter 4 of this entrepreneurial journey will look like, but it’s showing signs of venturing into the burgeoning educational technology (EdTech) space. More on that later!

Happy but not always Healthy

In 2010, I was in a bike accident which landed me in the emergency room. Some of you may recall this gruesome photo that I posted to Facebook. To this day I do not recall taking this photo, or any of the details of how the accident happened. Luckily my injuries were minor, and only suffered a mild concussion. (Thankfully I was wearing a helmet that I had purchased a week before.)

In the fall of 2011, I was suffering from flu-like symptoms and severe joint pain, and my doctor diagnosed me with mono. While visiting my dad in San Francisco and eating a taco, I suddenly experienced paralysis of the left side of my face.

My dad rushed me to the emergency room where the doctor on call diagnosed me with Bell’s Palsy. With this new condition, I went back to my doctor in Boston and after two tests, he diagnosed me with Lyme disease. Two weeks of antibiotics treatment, and all the symptoms (including the paralysis – thank God) went away.

In 2012, I experienced severe pain in my bottom molar tooth. After seeing three dentists, and getting a partial root canal, the tooth had to be removed. Upon inspection of the tooth, it was obvious that the infection was caused by hairline crack – a crack that was most certainly caused by the impact of the bike accident two years earlier!

These three incidents spanning over 3 years was a reminder that health is not guaranteed. Life is a precious gift, and you don’t know how fragile you are until your health is taken away from you.

  • Losing one’s memory and waking up in an emergency room is a scary thing.
  • Losing the ability to smile or eat your breakfast cereal without drooling is a scary thing.
  • Losing the ability to eat solid foods is a scary thing.

I vowed to take better care of myself, eat more healthy foods, always wear a bike helmet, and stay away from ticks!

Footnote: I never found the signature bullseye ring that usually accompanies a tick bite. Had I found it earlier, I could have avoided a lot of pain, anxiety and hospital bills.

Words of advice: if you go hiking, inspect yourself afterwards, or better yet, have someone else inspect your body, because those ticks can hide out in some unusual places!


As many of you know, I love to travel. As the cost of fuel has gone up, and my available time while trying to run two companies has gone down, my travels have not been as frenetic as in past years.

Dorneles sandsurfing

Dorneles sandsurfing

Most of my trips have been domestic, but in summer 2010 I visited Brazil a second time to give a keynote at FISL. This was the last time I saw my dear friend Dorneles Tremea before he was killed in a tragic car accident. See my photo memorial and video that I took of him.

Later that year I visited Bristol, UK for the first time to attend the Plone Conference. I hardly remember the last half of this trip because I was sick in bed – little did I know at the time that it was the beginning of the Lyme disease symptoms.

Both of these trips merit their own blog posts, but for now you’ll have to settle for the Flickr photo sets (Brazil photos, Bristol photos).

Last year I did a month-long trip to Europe where I co-presented at two conferences (DjangoCon in Amsterdam and EuroPython in Florence). By way of speedy European trains, I rode the rails from Holland to Italy, and stopped along the way to visit my long-time friends Nils in Germany and Andrew in Strasbourg.

Love life

P1060347The moment you’ve all been waiting for! It wasn’t only fuel costs that have kept me mostly Stateside the last two years. In early 2011, I started dating Anna who I had already known as a friend for years.

While we were friends, we experienced the Obama inauguration together, played music together (she’s a jazz trumpet player and vocalist) and made short films together. I already knew that she was the woman for me, but she just didn’t know it yet. 😉

Not only do we share a common interest in music making, but like me she’s also a software developer, having previously worked as an iOS developer. In fact, my co-presenter at DjangoCon and EuroPython on the talk “iPhone-Python love affair: Building APIs for mobile” was Anna!

And to top it off, Anna is also an entrepreneur! She is currently running her own startup ZoomTilt whose mission is to help filmmakers get paid for their creative work.

We make a great team and I couldn’t have asked for someone better suited to be my lifelong lover and friend.

Co-op living

After living in my Back Bay bachelor pad since 2005, I made another big change, and this fall moved into the Herbert Simpson Coop in Davis Square, that Anna started a few years ago.

I had been wanting to move to Somerville (and specifically Davis Sq) for a long time, since most of my friends lived in the area. I had even gone so far as to get a pre-mortgage to buy a condo, a place that funnily is two blocks from where I’m living now.

In case you don’t know about co-ops, it’s not unlike a living situation with housemates, except that we share food, cook meals together and organize events together. So far we’ve had several music soirees, storytelling nights (the Froth), many potlucks and most recently the co-op caroling crawl. I’m planning a film night just as soon as my new HD projector arrives!

I had planned on including my goals and aspirations for 2013, but this post has already gotten too long, and there are only a few hours of 2012 remaining. It’s time to go out and celebrate!

I welcome you to comment below to share your thoughts. And please subscribe to the RSS feed or if you prefer email updates to be notified when new posts are published. And if you have any suggestions for blog posts you’d like to see, I’m all ears!

Best wishes for a wonderful and prosperous 2013!