During the last few months I've taken a sabbatical from the past twenty-five years of my working life to catch up on what's new and exciting on the Internet and to learn by doing. One of several areas I immediately became interested in was social media, and I started spending time each day exploring various blogs and web sites, including the increasingly popular one called Twitter. When I recently passed 64,000 in my number of followers on Twitter, I thought of the old TV game show from the 1950's, "The $64,000 Question", which passed into the lexicon with the meaning "most important question". It was not my original intention to amass such a huge number of followers on Twitter, in fact at the beginning I actually blocked anyone who tried to follow me! After I started interacting with a few more interesting people, I began returning the follow of everyone, unless they were a spammer, pornography promoter, or other "suspicious" type, in which case I blocked them (and still do!). So, after several months of "being myself" on Twitter and posting about my life as an American ex-pat in Prague and things that interest me like history, politics, technology, and cultural diversity, I now find myself with an online global "Rolodex" of more than 64,000 contacts. While this number may not be staggering when compared to some of the mass media celebrities on Twitter, it still puts me in the top few hundred out of Twitter's several million users, and way ahead of many well-known social media experts. In fact, I discovered recently that I have myself become a social media expert, after consulting in social media for a handful of local companies and finding them eager for more.
So the "64,000 Follower Question" is, what next? My sabbatical is nearing its end and I now need to restart my revenue stream. I would really like to apply the expertise and understanding of social media and social networking that I've gained over the past year as PragueBob on Twitter and other places around the Internet, so I'm open to consulting or even full-time employment offers that will allow me to do this. I would like to keep Prague as my home base, but I can travel extensively internationally. I also have my own ideas for new social media and social networking sites that I would like to pursue either individually or with others in a start-up environment, provided seed capital is available. Both of these scenarios fit my (Myers-Briggs) ENTJ type, and since I draw my energy as such from interaction with other people, I'm also interested in any suggestions, comments, and answers to the "64,000 Follower Question" from you, my readers.
Early in 1999, I visited Paris with the two Czech owners of ANF DATA in Prague, Stepan Kotva and Jiri Svanda, for whom I was working as a consultant. My task was to convince the historic French company SAGEM to outsource the ongoing development and maintenance of one of their products to us, which I did, successfully. We had some spare time afterward for sightseeing in Paris and one of our stops was the Sorbonne. We decided to take a peek at one of the main lecture halls. Since it was lunchtime, the lectern was vacant and many students were sitting around in the large auditorium eating bag lunches. On a whim, I walked up to the whiteboard and to a list of dates and names I added "1999 - Bob" at the end. This activity attracted the attention of some of the students in the hall, so I flourished my hand at the list as one of my travelling companions took this photograph of me "lecturing" at the Sorbonne. I'll leave it as a homework assignment for you, dear readers, to determine from the other dates and names on the list, what the original lecture was all about.
It's Mother's Day and my mom passed away in the summer of 2005, so I can't be with her today, but if you'll bear with me I've written a word or two here in grateful remembrance. The photograph is the last taken of her, at age 79, on the Charles Bridge in Prague, with her hand over a spot where there's an embedded plaque in the shape of a hand that people touch to make a wish. At the time I took that photo she and I were the only two surviving members of our immediate family, and knowing her, I suppose her wish was for me and not for herself. I'm glad that I was able to arrange for her to visit me in Prague a couple of times in the last years of her life, because she was never able to travel and to see as much of the world as she would have liked. My mother grew up during the Great Depression and left the university to elope with my father near the end of WWII. Following the steel industry south, my parents settled in Birmingham, where I was born in the mid-fifties. My dad prospered in the early years of my life, so my mom was a housewife who spent her time split between caring for my older sister and me, and her volunteer work helping victims of cerebral palsy. Our family's idyllic post-war prosperity was gradually impinged upon by the strife of the civil rights era, then the malaise of the Vietnam era, and finally a string of assorted personal tragedies that all left their devastating marks. Throughout all of the troubled times and until the end of her life, my mom was always there for me, a pillar of support, and although in one of her last conversations with me, she told me how happy she was to have had me as her son, I feel that I have let her down. She deserved better.
It's been many years since I made my first solo flight, but I ran across this old photo recently and it reminded me of a certain afternoon in 1987 at Paine Field, just north of Seattle. It had taken a long while before I finally found an instructor who would teach me to fly in that Grumman Yankee AA1 beside me in the photo. The plane was designed by Jim Bede and had developed a reputation for being a touchy one to fly. It had low-wings, a freely rotating nose wheel, and stalled at an indicated airspeed of 67 mph (108 km/h), which meant that landing the plane was a bit more exciting than in your average Cessna that most people learn to fly, since it was necessary to dive at power for the end of the runway at 90 mph (145 km/h), flare and land on the back wheels as the power was cut, and touch down the nose wheel as the final step. Failure to do all this correctly could lead to an unforgiving crash, most likely ending in a permanent "dirt nap", as my instructor called such an untimely event. So I was a bit surprised when my instructor, a veteran Navy jet pilot, told me after a lesson to take the plane up on my own and climbed out of the right seat, leaving me all alone in the plane. After all, I only had nine hours in my log book, which was just a couple of hours off the record for anyone soloing that particular plane. But then I noticed some local pilots pulling lawn chairs out of their hangers and waving at us, so I guessed my instructor had told them today was my day. I nervously began my pre-flight checklist. Getting into the air was a snap, but it's hard to describe the feeling after completing the pattern around the runway and being on final approach for the first time when it is just you and the airplane. It's similar to that first leap off the high-dive at the public pool. You know you're committed and you'd better "straighten up and fly right", but the ground is coming up fast, it is isn't water, and you're surrounded by screaming metal. It couldn't have been a more perfect landing, and I got a long round of applause from the crusty old veterans on the airfield. And then my photo was taken, though it's fading now...
Watching a biography of Vladimir Lenin on the History Channel today, I was reminded of the first time I stepped off a plane in Prague, Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1992 (yes, this was before the Czechs and Slovaks decided to split, which happened in 1993). I was standing in the passport line and a Czech couple was whispering behind me, "My God, he looks like Lenin!" Realizing that they were talking about yours truly, I was a bit disconcerted, since I knew that Russians, especially historic commie ones, were not exactly popular at this point in time in Prague, where the Velvet Revolution and fall of communism were still fresh in the minds of most of the locals. As it turned out, any resemblance I had to Lenin was the least of my worries in Prague.
Interestingly, a few years earlier my good friend and well-known Seattle artist, David Kane also thought I looked like Lenin, as witnessed by the monoprint he made of me and hung at his exhibition at the Cornish College of the Arts, where he was teaching at the time. I think it's easy enough to tell from the photograph, which of the two of us is the artist and which is the art. :-)