Foglio's Field Notes

Leif Utne's random rants, musings and meditations

Prince: Purple Majesty

with one comment

miles-prince-viola-christen-lien

My closest brush with fame — actually with the two most personally impactful musical icons I’ve ever been in the presence of, Prince and Miles Davis — happened on New Year’s Eve of 1987. I was 15 years old, almost 16. As a combined Christmas and birthday present, my dad and stepmom brought me along to a gala fundraising dinner and concert for the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, hosted by Prince at Paisley Park, his studio complex in suburban Minneapolis, where he was found dead on Thursday.

As we were shown to our table in the sound stage where the dinner was held, I looked around the room and began to recognize a few faces. At the next table to our right were Prince’s father, John L. Nelson, and Quincy Jones. And at the table to our left, slightly hunched over and wearing his trademark wraparound shades, sat Miles Davis.

As a precocious budding jazz musician, I couldn’t waste the opportunity to say hello to a master. I walked up to Miles and said, awkwardly: “Excuse me, Miles. I just wanted to say thank you for everything you’ve done. My name’s Leif, I play jazz flute, and I’m a huge fan.”

He sipped his drink, cocked his head and quickly shot back in his gravelly voice, “You play the piano?”

“Uh…yeah. I’m taking jazz piano lessons, too,” I stammered.

“Always learn to play the piano first! Hmph.” He said it with a bark and jerked his head away with a that’s-all-the-time-you’re-gonna-get-kid finality.

I said a meek “Thanks” and walked away thinking “What an asshole.” Looking back, though, I know how right he was. And I can respect the efficiency with which he dealt out that advice, which he probably gave to many adoring fans who accosted him wherever he went.

As we ate dinner Prince was nowhere to be found. But after dessert, as the staff rolled away the tables and chairs in preparation for the concert, I went down the hall to the bathroom. As I reached out to open the door, it flung open, nearly hitting me. I stepped back as this little waif of a man in 4-inch platform boots and a tight purple body suit shuffled out, looked up at me from under his tall plume of black hair and said, in a high-pitched voice, “Oh, excuse me.” I froze, transfixed, as he scurried down the hall toward the room where he would take the stage a few minutes later.

Prince’s show that night was mind-blowing. One set that must’ve gone on for well over two hours. Miles joined him onstage for several songs, jamming along on his muted trumpet, staring at his feet, mostly with his back to the crowd, throwing in a few sparse fills and stabs here and there, as was his style.

The most memorable part was actually Sheila E’s drum solo. Her drum kit was like Alex Van Halen’s — two huge bass drums, a sea of tom-toms, and at least 6 huge cymbals. Near the end of the show, Prince introduced her, then he and the rest of the band exited the stage to let her have the spotlight.

Sheila looked like a goddess in her white spandex unitard, as she slowly built her solo, showing off every instrument in her massive set. It came in waves, each one building with a crescendo louder than the one before, till she was playing so loud and hard she started breaking her drum sticks. She would break one, grab another from her quiver and keep going, break another, and continue on again. By the end she was on her feet, banging on the toms and cymbals till she had no sticks left. But she was in an altered state. Throwing her entire body into it, hair flailing and sweat flying, she finished by pounding the cymbals with her fists over and over until she couldn’t go any longer. Her knuckles must have been bruised and bloody.

I don’t know how long her solo lasted. It might’ve been 5 minutes, 10 minutes, a half hour. I could’ve stood there all night, leaning against the edge of the stage barely 10 feet away. It was like watching the goddess Kali in a musical rage, the closest thing to sex that I had had.

To this day, that drum solo, and the entire night, stands as one of the most transcendent musical experiences of my life.

Thank you, dear Prince. Rest in peace.

(And big thanks to my dear friend, the wonderful violist Christen Lien, for posting the above photo on Facebook, along with her own musings about what both Miles Davis and Prince have meant to her as a musician. That’s what jogged this beautiful memory out of the dusty back shelves of my brain.)

Written by leifutne

April 22, 2016 at 4:48 pm

Posted in music

Tagged with , ,

Translation of Ecuadoran Government Declaration Dissolving Fundacion Pachamama

with 2 comments

Ecuadoran Environment Ministry declaration dissolving Fundación Pachamama

When the Ecuadoran government raided the Quito offices of the Fundacion Pachamama on December 4, they handed over this declaration dissolving the organization, which has spent 16 years working for indigenous human rights and the rights of nature. The government took this action in retaliation for Pachamama’s opposition to expansion of oil drilling in the Amazon rainforest.

Pasted below is my attempt to translate the declaration into English, followed by the original Spanish text. You can also download the translation in the following formats:

For more information about this unfolding story, follow the websites of the Pachamama Alliance and AmazonWatch. Or follow the Twitter hashtags #pachamama and #yasuni.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by leifutne

December 5, 2013 at 4:04 am

Posted in environment

Tagged with , , ,

Ecuadoran Government Shuts Down Fundacion Pachamama

leave a comment »

On Wednesday, December 4, the Ecuadoran government shut down the Fundación Pachamama, where my brother Oliver works, in retaliation for its advocacy of indigenous human rights and the rights of nature. In particular, the government is frustrated by Pachamama’s opposition to expanded oil drilling in the Amazon, which has caused the failure of the government’s latest round of auctions for Amazon oil leases.

Fundacion Pachamama president Belen Paez released this statement today:

“We regret to inform you that today, Wednesday December 4, 2013, officials from the Police Administration of Pinchincha came to the offices of Fundación Pachamama in the city of Quito and proceeded to close the offices and left us a resolution from the Ministry of Environment stating that our organization is dissolved.

“This closure is an arbitrary act that seeks to suppress our legitimate right to dissent from the decision of the National Government to concede areas of Amazonian indigenous nations to oil companies, without respecting their constitutional rights and to free, prior and informed consultation, according to the standards of the International Law of Human Rights.”
Read the full statement

My brother and his colleagues are okay for now. But the situation is tense. The best sources of information are the Pachamama Alliance (US-based sister org to the embattled Ecuadoran group) and AmazonWatch. I’ll be posting updates to Twitter and Facebook. If there’s something worth a longer post, I’ll put it here.

Meanwhile, please spread the word.

Written by leifutne

December 5, 2013 at 3:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

OfficeXpats Turns One!

leave a comment »

Last night, well over 100 people turned out to mark the one year anniversary of OfficeXpats, Bainbridge Island’s friendly neighborhood coworking space. Since I was OfficeXpats’ first member (they call me “Xpat #1”) a journalist at InsideBainbridge contacted me earlier this week for a quote for this article. I went a little overboard in my response, so I thought I’d post the whole thing here:

I’m thrilled to see OfficeXpats mark this milestone. I work remotely as the VP of sales for a software company in Minnesota, and working alone at home can get isolating. I’m at OfficeXpats about two days a week and I love having a place where I can work side-by-side with my peers – other remote workers, freelancers and independent entrepreneurs who would otherwise be holed up in their home offices. Coworking is great because it’s quieter and more professional than a coffee shop and, more importantly, it gives me access to a community of creative entrepreneurs. And the regular events – classes, lunches, happy hours, etc. – that happen there create a space for me to get to know my island neighbors in ways that just don’t happen through school functions or youth sports.

Coworking is about more than renting a desk. It’s about creating a community space that fosters collaboration among professionals. There’s a kind of accelerated serendipity that happens in coworking spaces everywhere. People come in, look around the room, and find others with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to collaborate on projects and get work done better and faster. OfficeXpats is no different. We’ve got programmers, graphic designers, writers, marketers, financial experts, nonprofit managers, an HR consultant, a personal trainer, an EPA administrator, furniture designers, an archaeologist. When you mix that kind of diversity together in a common workspace, magic happens. That’s how projects like Ignite Bainbridge, Accelerate Kitsap, the West Sound Time Bank and the Agate Pass Exchange were born. All because OfficeXpats created the space for them to happen.

I’m sort of a coworking “power user”. I’m a member of three different coworking spaces – OfficeXpats, the HUB Seattle and CoCo in Minneapolis. And when I’m on the road, I seek out local coworking spaces because they’re better to work in and always full of interesting people.

I follow the growth of the coworking sector pretty closely, by reading things like DeskMag, Shareable Magazine and the global coworking listserve. That sector is growing like crazy, as more and more independent workers are seeing the benefits of getting out of the home office, and more companies are supporting flexible, remote work arrangements for their employees. According to DeskMag’s latest global coworking survey there are now more than 1100 coworking spaces worldwide, and that number keeps growing fast. [UPDATE: DeskMag posted a more recent estimate of 1800 coworking spaces worldwide, as of August 9, 2012. 93% more than a year before.]

As OfficeXpats turns one year old, just I want to congratulate Jason and Leslie on what they’ve accomplished in such a short time, and wish them success as they continue to nurture and grow this amazing coworking community. And I want to encourage others from all corners of Bainbridge to get out of their home offices and give coworking a try.

Written by leifutne

September 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Worldchanging.com Acquired by Architecture for Humanity

with 6 comments

Well, the cat’s finally out of the bag — Architecture for Humanity has acquired my former employer Worldchanging.com. As a member of AfH’s Worldchanging transition advisory group, I’ve been sworn to secrecy for several months. But now I’m thrilled to be able to share this announcement with you:

Architecture for Humanity Acquires Worldchanging.

Will merge with the Open Architecture Network to develop a robust center for applied innovation and sustainable development.

San Francisco, CA (September 19, 2011) Architecture for Humanity is honored to announce the acquisition of Worldchanging, a leader in solutions-based journalism, and to merge its’ assets with the Open Architecture Network to create a robust and informed network to bring solutions to global challenges to life.

It’s an exciting match, since design increasingly includes discussions of policy and planning, communication, social justice and science; issues that once fell outside the traditional bounds of architecture are now at the heart of professional practice. Bringing these two worlds together is a logical next step in sustainable development.

Cameron Sinclair, Executive Director of Architecture for Humanity, says, “We are thrilled to connect with the Worldchanging community in order to expand the ways we can continue to make a difference across the world. Each project we do requires innovative solutions, resourcefulness, and passion.  It’s a perfect fit.”

Architecture for Humanity is thankful to the Board of Directors of Worldchanging for their hard work in helping create a smooth transition.

“I am grateful to the Worldchanging Board of Directors for their active stewardship of Worldchanging during this transition” said Stephanie Pure, Board President of Worldchanging. “Thanks in part to this positive team effort, Worldchanging has a bright future with Architecture for Humanity.”

Over the next six months Architecture for Humanity plans to transform their current Open Architecture Network (www.openarchitecturenetwork.org, an on-line network that empowers architects, designers, builders and their clients to share architectural plans and drawings, into a robust platform that provides dialogue and tools to support a shared vision of a more sustainable future across sectors.  The combined strength of these communities, both created out of the TED Prize, will help spur innovation, learning, and best practices.

The new site, which will be managed by an independent entity, will include project management tools, offer case studies on innovative solutions and provide tools for aid and development organizations evaluate their programs in the field.

“Last decade was about imagining the solutions that could help us meet big planetary problems,” said Worldchanging co-founder and former Executive Editor Alex Steffen. “This decade will be all about putting those solutions to work. This exciting new version of Worldchanging is set, I believe, to become the online epicenter of applied innovation.”

Over the summer, Architecture for Humanity met with over sixty writers, contributors, stakeholders and supporters to envision the transition of these sites. “Worldchanging has helped frame the global conversation on sustainability over the past seven years, and we couldn’t be more excited for Architecture for Humanity to take the reins and continue to push the boundaries of what we can achieve together,” Worldchanging co-founder Jamais Cascio noted “I can’t imagine Worldchanging being in better hands.”

Many of the original writers to Worldchanging, including co-founders Jamais Cascio and Alex Steffen, have signed up to contribute to the new site. We look forward to a bright green future together.

Read the full announcement here.

Written by leifutne

September 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Word Cloud of Obama’s State of the Union

with 11 comments

Image courtesy of Wordle.net

This word cloud was based on Obama’s prepared remarks.

Written by leifutne

January 25, 2011 at 9:55 pm

RIP: Worldchanging.com

with 12 comments

Dearly beloved, please join me in a moment of silence to honor the life and untimely passing of another member of our media family. On Monday, November 29, one of the most important websites of the past decade, Worldchanging.com, announced that it will close up shop by the end of 2010. The main reason? The non-profit organization never was able to achieve financial sustainability without editor Alex Steffen maintaining an insane schedule of speaking gigs (more than 400 in the past 5 years). I’m proud to have been involved with Worldchanging, as a fan, contributor, employee and friend. I will miss it dearly.

In its seven-year run, Worldchanging has been an important intellectual watering hole for people interested in the intersection of sustainability and innovation. Under the banner of “tools, models and ideas for building a better future” the site has produced an impressive archive of nearly 12,000 articles on a broad range of subjects, from architecture to agriculture, climate science to microfinance, nanotech to urban design. Fortunately, that archive will live on, says the announcement: “It is our goal to see the archive of work here maintained, though the form of that archive is still uncertain.” Also, a revised and updated edition of the bestselling 2006 book Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century is due out in March 2011.

Worldchanging served as both a launchpad for important new voices — like Cameron Sinclair, Dawn Danby, Sarah Rich, David Zaks and Anna Lappé, among many others — and a new platform for some venerable old hands — like Gil Friend, Terry Tempest Williams, Joel Makower, Jon Lebkowsky and Jay Walljasper. The list of contributors to the site and its eponymous book reads like a who’s who of some of the most respected thinkers and doers in sustainability circles. Worldchanging’s contribution to the public conversation about our common future is undeniable.

I first learned about Worldchanging shortly after its launch in 2003. The site quickly became my favorite source for story ideas about emerging trends in technology and social innovation during my last few years as a writer and editor at Utne Reader. I loved the focus on solutions that co-founders Alex Steffen and Jamais Cascio and their team brought to a range of subjects I care about deeply, which they nicely captured with the optimistic catchphrase “bright green.”

I went to work for Worldchanging in late 2006, when I left Utne Reader and moved to Seattle. I joined the team as Publisher, alongside Steffen as Editor (Cascio had left early that year), just before the launch of one of the organization’s crowning achievements, the 600-page book Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, a compendium of ideas and solutions in the spirit of the old Whole Earth Catalog. The book would become a bestseller and was translated into French, German and several other languages.

We were trying to leverage the attention generated by the book, and the momentum from a major grant from the folks at TED, to grow the site from its origins as a group blog into a professional, multi-channel idea factory. And we wanted to do it our own way, bootstrapping our growth through a variety of diverse revenue streams without having to rely on the largesse of foundations or large donors (and avoiding the inevitable strings attached). We created a series of local blogs covering the green innovation scenes in places like LA, Chicago, Austin, New York, Minneapolis and Canada. And we had big dreams of launching audio and video podcasts, conferences, book series, and turning the contributor team into a speakers bureau and consulting team. My job was to focus on building new revenue streams — initially reader donations, content sponsorships, and ads — to facilitate that growth and ease the pressure on Alex to bring in speaking fees.

Our efforts saw modest success, though nothing anywhere near what we had hoped. I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely ready for the role. I had some successful experience in both software sales and nonprofit fundraising. But I had no training or experience in media sales. I had agreed to unrealistically high revenue goals and had to learn on the job while setting up a sales operation entirely from scratch with no budget. There were other challenges inherent to the site’s content and the business model we were pursuing in an ad-driven media landscape, which I’ll elaborate on below.

In March of 2007, six months after I started, I left the staff mainly for personal reasons — my wife and I had moved to Guatemala to foster the baby boy we adopted later that year. In the three years since then, Worldchanging has continued to produce some of the best, most important content available, despite its continued financial struggles.

In the end, I believe Worldchanging’s demise was due in large part to the organization’s inability to craft a business model that could surmount several challenges endemic to the current ad-driven media ecosystem. (Again, I haven’t been privy to the inner workings of the organization for the past three years. So my analysis could be way off base, or at least out of date):

  • Too General-Interest for Advertisers: In an era when sponsors insist on carving audiences into ever-smaller and more specialized niches, Worldchanging was never quite niche enough. The site was simply too broad, too eclectic, too general-interest for advertisers to fit into their ultra-narrow targeting algorithms. This is not a problem with the content, but with the advertising model. More financially successful sites in the green space focused heavily on a marketable niche, like product reviews (Treehugger), business (GreenBiz.com), architecture and design (Inhabitat) or green news and politics (Grist, which also had major foundation support and a 5-year headstart). We were also reluctant to go after most big corporate brands with large marketing budgets. We didn’t want to help them greenwash their images. And most of the cool green companies were too small and were spending all of their meager ad dollars on search engine ads. This is one of the great tragedies of the modern media ecosystem: general-interest publications, whether online or in print, simply can’t compete. It’s the shadow side of narrowcasting.
  • Not Enough Traffic: Online, as in print, there basically are two ways to attract advertisers — scale and targeting. With enough traffic, you can overcome the niche problem. But we were never big enough to do that. And a couple months into my tenure at Worldchanging, after implementing several stats programs, we learned that our real traffic was significantly smaller than what our raw server logs were telling us. With more time and capital we might have successfully carved out a clearer niche in advertisers’ minds.
  • The “Blog” Problem: Even with some of the brightest minds in the field writing for the site, and despite our efforts to reposition it as an online magazine, advertisers were reluctant to sponsor what they saw as a “blog” where most of the content came from volunteers with no editorial calendar or strong professional editorial filter. Advertisers crave predictability.
  • Focus on Ideas: The site also suffered from its focus on ideas rather than products — something Utne Reader always struggled with as well. In the name of editorial integrity (to his credit), Alex steadfastly refused to add features like green product reviews — the sort of content advertisers will pay top dollar to sponsor. In 2007-08 there was a valiant attempt to appeal more to sponsors while maintaining editorial independence by introducing a stable of weekly columns, with writers paid to cover certain beats. I was gone by then and don’t know the details of the impact the move had, but obviously the new editorial model did not succeed in turning the Worldchanging ship around.
  • Progressive Funders Reluctant to Fund Media: As my friend Bill Weaver says, media makers are the modern sorcerers. Changing the stories we tell can change the way people think. Yet foundations and investors interested in social change have never seemed to get the need to support media. Conservative foundations and corporations supporting the status quo got this long ago, which is why we’ve been outgunned for a generation by the right-wing media and punditocracy.
  • The Economy: It sounds cliche now, but unfortunately it’s true. The cruelest irony of the Great Recession is that so many of the organizations that are rethinking our social, political and economic systems are entirely dependent on funding derived from the existing, unsustainable, consumption-driven economy. And those sources of funding are drying up on every front, whether it’s dwindling consumer spending, shrinking ad budgets, or cutbacks in foundation grants because of the downturn on Wall St.

I’m sad to have to write these words. Though just as sadly, I’m not surprised. Worldchanging changed my world in so many ways. My hat’s off to Alex, Jamais and all of the incredible visionaries who had a hand in this project over the past seven years. Thank you, thank you, and again, thank you. I look forward to seeing what we all created together live on in some form, and I wish you all success in whatever comes next.

Written by leifutne

December 3, 2010 at 12:51 pm