Thanksgiving 2012 – Seattle Edition

I remember distinctly the moment it hit me — the magnitude of the changes my life had undergone over the past 12 months. I was in a taxi hurtling dangerously through the streets of New York on a crisp fall evening in September, having just flown in to support the launch of Nokia’s new Lumia 920 phone. And as the cab weaved and dodged through the smattering of hapless pedestrians on the Upper West Side, I took a moment to reflect on how crazy everything had become. Just days earlier, I’d been in a recording studio in Los Angeles to record the first few episodes of The Tobolowsky Files for Public Radio International. Now, on behalf of Microsoft, I was about to partake in an event with hundreds of the world’s top tech press. A year ago, these weren’t events I could have truly fathomed.

In fact, a year ago, things overall weren’t looking that good for me. I was temporarily living with my parents after a major job offer had fallen through, and I was about to graduate from Harvard into a pretty uncertain future. While I still don’t think my future is written quite yet, I cannot be more grateful for how the past year has unfolded.

Mostly, I’m just thankful for all of the unique experiences I’ve had. In the past six months alone, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing people in Seattle; of collaborating with a storied radio producer for Public Radio International; of working in the office next to one of the most talented PR people in the tech industry today; of being part of one of the world’s largest technology companies as it’s released some of the most important products in its 38-year history; of seeing my brother get married; of witnessing old bonds of friendship reaffirmed and new ones formed; of performing with Stephen Tobolowsky at the Moore Theatre to an audience of over a thousand people; of falling in love; of partying on Sarah Silverman’s rooftop deck; of seeing The Shins perform live as the sun set over the gorgeous mountains of Central Washington; of taking in the immense beauty of that place they call the Puget Sound. Even when times are tough, I cannot find it in me to complain with all of the blessings in my life.

It hasn’t all been easy and fun. In fact, a lot of it has been stressful, intense, painful. And looking towards the next 12 months, I can already predict there will be great difficulties ahead, professionally and personally. But even if my life went completely down the toilet right at this moment, I’d count myself lucky for everything that has happened. And I’d hope that somehow, somewhere along the way, I’d been able to pass at least a small smattering of that happiness to those who’ve crossed my path.

Happy Thanksgiving.

18 for 18

A super cool guy at Microsoft (whose work is tangentially related to mine) just announced he was leaving today after 18 years at the company. I was really moved by his going-away e-mail, which featured the following list: 

18 for 18 – Life lessons from a “lifer” at Microsoft

1995 Sometimes people just needs a chance to prove themselves.
1996 Quitting just because you may fail isn’t an option.
1997 Being good at something has value whether you get paid well or not.

1998 You have to work your tail off to get what you want.
1999 Sometimes failure is a better teacher than success.
2000 People are more than just what they produce.
2001 Having kids shifts your priorities.
2002 Not everyone has your back. (The bus hurts when it runs over you.)
2003 Listening is undervalued but you should do it anyway. It makes you wiser.
2004 Sometimes you have to force yourself into a new situation order to grow.
2005 Working for an idiot is really, really hard.
2006 Stand up for yourself but don’t compromise your integrity to get ahead.
2007 Hire people more talented than you.
2008 If you stay in one job too long you could become irrelevant.
2009 Never burn bridges. You don’t know who you will work with again. (Plus it’s stupid.)
2010 A rising tide really does lift all boats.
2011 Be kind, be direct, and speak truth.
2012 If you leave with friends, you have accomplished much.


Don’t know what trajectory my career may follow, but I can already tell these lessons will be helpful for me.

The First Three Months

I know updates have been sparse on here recently. Honestly, between my job, all my podcasts, and trying to do social things outside of those things to keep myself sane, I barely have any time to do anything else these days.

BUT! My 1 Second Every Day project soldiers onwards. Here’s a video that shows the first three months of my life in Seattle (approximately):

A couple of observations:

  • After three months of this, it’s difficult to fight some of the “sameness” that creeps into these images. By far, that’s the biggest challenge: trying to make sure what you shoot today isn’t similar to what came before it.
  • The biggest weakness of this project is that there is pretty much nothing here of my work at Microsoft. I don’t really do any shooting on campus because I don’t want to risk the possibility of revealing anything confidential, but it remains a huge part of my new life that remains undocumented.
  • When I’ve presented this project to my friends, the one thing they all overwhelmingly say is: “If I did a project like that, it would be incredibly boring.” As I mentioned in my initial post, maybe if that’s the case you should try and make some serious changes to your life. But I have a corollary now to add to that: you don’t need to have a super interesting life to make a decent video with this project. You just need to be able to find the beautiful, fascinating, amusing things worth highlighting in each day. I think it’s a challenge worth undertaking. 

What Kind of Week This Has Been

[This post appeared earlier on my Facebook, which you can also subscribe to]

There’s an episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION called “The Inner Light” (Season 5 Episode 25) in which the Enterprise discovers a strange alien probe. The probe knocks Picard unconscious, and while the crew struggles to revive him, Picard’s consciousness is transported to that of an alien world, where he inhabits one of its people’s bodies, QUANTUM LEAP-style. While there, he learns the people’s customs and basically ends up living an entire, meaningful lifetime in this world that was so unfamiliar to him not too long ago. But the alien species is dying; their planet’s environment is on the fritz. As Picard’s inhabited body is approaching the end of his life, we find out that the alien race will launch a probe into space, a means of carrying on the species’ memory as they face extinction. And turns out, it was Picard (the original one) who was chosen for this task. He awakes on the Enterprise to discover only 20 minutes have passed in the real world.

Sometimes it feels like a lifetime can pass in the blink of an eye. That’s what this week felt like to me, as though I have experienced enough emotion and learning and intensity to last me for a long, long while. In situations like these, I am overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion. I can only hope to make use of the lessons that I’ve learned, remember fondly those things that I’ve experienced, and honor those that have inspired me.

P.S. Damn, that was a good episode of Star Trek.


Sunset 7-8
This is the third of three posts covering a major transition in my life. You can also read the first one and the second one.

It’s been about two months since I decided to move to Seattle, and yet it has already felt like a short lifetime. I’ve started work at a totally unfamiliar environment, begun exploring some of the rich neighborhoods around downtown, hung out with some really great locals, and found a neat new apartment in Belltown. In the meantime, I’ve also kept producing episodes of all of my podcasts, including the /Filmcast, The Tobolowsky Files, and A Cast of Kings (plus, did you hear? I’m launching a new one too).

I was prompted to write this blog post because I got all nostalgic this week reading /Film’s coverage of San Diego Comic-Con. Not too long ago, I went to Comic-Con for two years in a row, back when my work for /Film was at its peak output. I remember the special place in my geek heart that Comic-Con had occupied since my college days. The place was supposed to be a mecca of pop culture, a place where you could really let your freak flag fly and no one would judge you for it. Indeed, pretty much everything I saw comported with that dream. People dress up in crazy costumes and just nonchalantly waltz around in restaurants and convention halls alike. The gods of the film world frequently make appearances. Every now and then, you get some actual insight into the creation of a film or a TV show, or something crazy happens, or something really adorable happens. It’s like a geek’s dream-world.

But covering Comic-Con was a challenge. I recall endless lines in the hot sun coupled with hours of waiting for no guarantee of making it into a panel, and staying up late into the night, trying to bang out some relevant stories for the site. It was all so thrilling and exciting and wonderful and terrible. But there was so much camaraderie there, amongst all the great writers I had the privilege to work alongside. Sure, we were regurgitating poorly veiled marketing material, but we were racking up a crapton of pageviews, paying the bills, and basking in our love of “the popular arts.” There are few experiences as exhilarating and as cathartic. I miss the people. I miss the insanity. I miss the video blogs (one of which was actually covered by The New York Times).

This year, I didn’t go to Comic-Con. In fact, I spent this past Friday at a business meeting in San Francisco, all day. My life is totally unrecognizable from what it used to be.

It’s remarkable, this culture of online pop culture writers that’s sprung up over the course of the past decade. These people travel around the world, interviewing celebrities, seeing stuff before we get to see it, getting their own stuff read by tens of thousands of people. It sounds like living the dream and for many people, it is.

Eight months ago, I was wrapping up my Master’s degree and thinking about my next steps. One of the options I considered was diving straight into doing all of this online stuff full time. Podcasting, blogging, interviews, etc., all of it. If I really made a go of it, I would’ve probably been able to scrape together enough money to get by. But other opportunities came my way and I decided not to go that route.

In deliberating, I was confronted with an unmistakable truth: I just didn’t love it enough.

I’m sure that many of my favorite online writers live comfortably, but it is difficult out there for an aspiring film writer. There are perils everywhere. Write about something in the wrong way or in violation of some arbitrarily established “rules” and bloggers will jump all over you on Twitter. Meanwhile, the old guard will look down on you if they think your writing is not “serious” enough, or if, god forbid, you actually want to make money doing what you do. All the while, everyone vies for a rapidly vanishing slice of nominal ad dollars spent on their sites. For many, these are all just minor inconveniences that are endured in exchange for the vast benefits enumerated above. But for me, it’s not  enough. At least, not right now. There are too many things that I want to do and to learn first, before I start living the life of Reilly. It may not be as outwardly exciting as going to Comic-Con or interviewing James Cameron, but I love the wonder and satisfaction of learning and overcoming and discovering in my current *gasp* corporate environment. That’s not to say that one can’t derive that from online work (it’s usually quite the opposite, in fact). It’s just to say that I can’t right now, at least without frantically worrying about my other life obligations.

At the /Filmcast, we recently marked the four-year “anniversary” of our first episode. It reminded me that while it’s certainly been a roller-coaster ride, the past four years have also been marked with a great deal of uncertainty in my life. I don’t know that I’ve settled into my final destination yet, but after a lot of struggle, things are finally starting to feel as though they have some momentum. I’m loving my new job, my new manager/boss, and all the awesome new things I’m learning. I like the way things are, even as I miss the way they were.

It’s possible that one day I will get back into the writing/broadcasting game and do it full-bore. But in the meantime, I’m content to watch from the sidelines, to remember the good old days, and to cheer on all of my colleagues. Regardless of how much of my life is in it, it’s a great time to be alive and to experience the pleasures of art, and the pleasures of loving it.


Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

My First July 4th in Seattle

Readers of this blog know that I’ve recently settled into an apartment in Seattle after a great deal of searching. I’m pretty happy with my new place in Belltown and anticipated that it would have a pretty solid view of the fireworks, but I had no idea how good. Below you’ll find a video I shot and some photos I took of the show using my Canon 5D Mark II. These were all shot from my apartment out of my window.

A solid show, but it can’t beat the crazy stuff we do back in Boston…

The First 30 Days

What is one year like in the life of David Chen? We’re all about to find out.

Earlier this year, a woman named Madeline released an interesting video on Vimeo. She had shot one second of video for every day of her life during the year 2011. I found the result to be unexpectedly inspiring and moving.

Several months later, /Filmcast listener and all-around awesome dude Cesar Kuriyama took to the stage at TED to unveil his own “one second every day project“, which he’d been filming every day for the 30th year of his life.

Kuriyama is passionate about the project and believes everyone should engage in it. I think the final result is fascinating, a seemingly endless series of context-less images. Context-less, that is, to everyone but the filmmaker. It’s a compelling snapshot of one’s life, a video that is evocative for the creator and intriguing and enigmatic for the viewer.

So, I’m pleased to announce that I am also undertaking this project. My birthday this year was May 20th, right around the same time I uprooted my life from Boston and moved to Seattle. Starting on that day, I have filmed one second of video every single day. Around this time next year, I’ll plan to publish the result, a chronicle of my first year here.

In doing this project, I’ve made a few observations about how best to approach it. First of all, I think this project works best when the second that you record is somehow representative of the day that you had, or at least, how you want to remember that day. In practice, this can get a bit tricky; often times the most interesting that happens to me is an interaction I have with someone else. While I can frequently “anticipate” when a good “second” will arrive, it’s often inopportune to whip out a camera and start recording. Secondly, it’s useful to record multiple seconds for each day, giving you the option to choose from a number of them. As a result, it’s also important to have a robust cataloging system for all of your “potential seconds.” Finally, I don’t have experience with this yet, but it sounds like it’s useful to create a master file for the final video, then stitch the videos together intermittently and continuously add them to that file, as opposed to doing them all at the end. Alternatively, one could also create videos for each month, then bind them all together in the end. I may end up going this path because it will allow me to release regular video content, but it also robs the final video of some of its uniqueness. We’ll see. 

As a proof-of-concept, I’ve stitched together my first 30 seconds, representing my first month here. You can find this video below:

When I began working on the project, I asked Cesar Kuriyama, “What if you do this every day for a year and the resulting video ends up being incredibly boring?”

Kuriyama responded, “That’s good! Because then you’ll look back on how boring your life was and you’ll resolve to change things.”

Not a bad point, that. I don’t know what the end result will motivate me to do. I can only hope it will show a life lived full, with love, laughter, and friends, a humble aspiration for the beginning of my new life.

[I am indebted to Cesar Kuriyama for his counsel and for helping me to establish a workflow for pulling these clips together. Be sure to check out his other work.]

Is Dave Chen Still Alive?

There are many logistical challenges to moving across the country. One of them is the inability to bring your social network with you. I am blessed to have many friends in the Seattle area, but I am still new here and in the process of trying to integrate myself into the lives of those around me.

I occasionally worry about “worst case scenarios.” Like, what would happen if something terrible were to befall me? What if, God forbid, I died all of a sudden? How would it play out?

As a single guy living in a one-bedroom apartment, it would probably be days before anybody realized anything was wrong. To me, that’s an unacceptably long time for my corpse to lay in my apartment, unattended. “There has to be a better way!” I thought.

Thus, I bring to you

The purpose of this website is to answer a very simple question: Is Dave Chen (me) still alive? The answer will either be yes or no, and is promptly displayed when you visit the website. How is this determined?

I discussed this project with my brother, Mike (a web developer) for quite some time. The way I figured it, I would log in to the website once per day and check some kind of box, confirming that i’m still alive. Mike did not think this was a good system. Here’s my reconstruction of our conversation:

Mike: Dave, you’re going to have to check this box every day for the rest of your life. Are you really ready to add this to your routine? Forever?
Dave: I’ve considered this, and the answer is yes.
Mike: This sounds like a terrible idea for many reasons.
Dave: Why?
Mike: Well, here’s one reason, and I’m just going off the top of my head here: what if you accidentally forget to check the box one day? Then people freak out because they think you’re dead. And then you need to re-assure them that you’re NOT dead. But then in the event that you ARE dead next time, people won’t actually believe it’s the case, thus invalidating the whole purpose of the site.
Dave: Well then, I’ll just have to work very hard not to forget.
Mike: That’s madness. I can easily come up with a better solution.

And he did! So now, every day, I receive an e-mail asking me if I’m still alive. If I click on the “yes” link, then the status quo is maintained. So really, if the site says “No,” then either Dave Chen is dead, or for some reason he did not have access to his e-mail.

So,! Bookmark it and you’ll always know the answer to one of my most pressing questions.

[Related: For those of you reading this also contemplate the journey to the undiscovered country, there’s a service called DeadSocial that will store messages to be delivered to your social networks until you die. Seems like a pretty cool idea, but I can’t say I trust any service with my deepest darkest secret messages, let alone one that will only deploy them when I’m dead. What if there’s a false negative, or more likely, an incident that causes an accidental message deployment? If you’re not dead yet, it could drive you to be!]