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“Build” – Play Review (about a startup in Silicon Valley)

Written by Michael Golamco, “Build” is CityLights’ Executive Artistic Director, Lisa Mallette’s yet another bold venture aimed to bring thematically relevant plays to the Silicon Valley audience.  Set in the heart of Silicon Valley, in Palo Alto, CA, this is a story about — what else? A startup! And what could be more hot than a video gaming company?

I am going to skip a more typical review with detailed plot description, in favor of giving you a glimpse of the future envisioned in this production.  To give a little background of the plot, Kip (George Psarras) and Will (Max Tachis) had earlier conceived a brilliant game that resulted in a grand success, leading to what appears to be a milestone based buyout deal.  Unlike Will, dapper and immaculate, Kip, the creative genius, with disdain for money, and for following procedures, and grave dislike for documenting details to make hand off of work easier for others, has a harder time with monetary success, fast cars, suits and board and shareholder meetings.  Kip spends his days cloistered in his home mourning the loss of his late wife, and has abandoned social life, in favor of staying indoors, in his cluttered apartment, working on his next big project; only this time to give it away via open source and cloud.  And who else to keep him company but an “artificially intelligent” being, an AI robot, oddly resembling his late wife Allison (Morgan Voellger).

English: IBM's Watson computer, Yorktown Heigh...

English: IBM’s Watson computer, Yorktown Heights, NY (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you think that it might be too far fetched, think again.  Sometime back, IBM’s AI computer, Watson made history when it appeared on Jeopardy, the popular game show beat most of the contestants .  Watson is a computer system, capable of answering questions posed in natural language.  This is no small feat.  Human language is infinitely complex.  That alone makes for a huge challenge in building an artificially intelligent, interactive being.  Puns, idioms, and other contextual expressions, and even the tone of voice  and a pause at a different place in a sentence, can completely alter the meaning.  In medicine, AI computer like Watson is expected learn the nuances of the language to offer complex diagnosis, and even indicate the level of confidence it has in the diagnosis offered.

ASIMO uses sensors and intelligent algorithms ...

ASIMO uses sensors and intelligent algorithms to avoid obstacles and navigate stairs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In “Build”, Kip’s AI being is keenly aware of her identity “16 terabytes of data”.  But she is far superior than any ordinary machine and he has built it in human avatar.  The robot takes on Allison’s personality, even the loneliness Allison experienced when she was married to Kip and Kip was occupied with his gaming venture.  This AI machine made out of code is incredibly smart (beats Kip in the word game they play), is intuitive and curious, and even talks about her dreams.  When Will discovers Kip’s secret AI being, he is both astounded and concerned that Kip will forever stay a prisoner of his home, as long as he has the companionship offered by the robot.  Along with this ulterior motive, Will also has fond memories of Allison and is mesmerized by Allison-like-robot.

This is not stuff of idle imagination.  Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have all said that we should be concerned about the future of artificial intelligence.  Louis Del Monte, an entrepreneur, has said that some day, machines could surpass humans and could become the most dominant species, and Hawking has said that machines could eventually “outsmart financial markets” and “out-invent human researchers”.  Days may not be far when machines will fulfill the roles of companions and caregivers.

While it is challenging to imagine the future, this production is tackling the challenges of reproducing that “future” on stage.  It takes the audience into the fascinating world of video gaming as Will and Kip work on deliverables, cleaning out bugs, and packet drops.  Then with the help of high tech design and lighting, the audience is introduced to the AI robot.  Video designer, Nick Kumamoto has worked wonders with some scattered computer screens and lighting.  While AI robot appears caring and concerned, and seems to be a perfect companion, the story revolves around three human beings, one who has passed away, leaving behind memories, and two friends who struggle through their growth and transformation, to keep the ties that brought them together in the first place; gaming, innovation, and their urge to “build” something, in the heart of Silicon Valley.  “Build” will be running at CityLights in San Jose, till February 22, 2015.  For tickets, go to

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On writing a blog Part 1 – When NOT to Write a Blog

I hear frequently from friends and acquaintances that they want to write a blog but they are not sure and they often ask for my advice.  So I decided to write an article on when to write a blog, how to blog efficiently, how to determine the target population and how to market the blog.  However, before I get to that part, I felt I must share first about when NOT to write a blog.  This is the first part of a 3 part series on blog writing.  In the next post, I will blog about top 10 reasons when you want to seriously consider writing a blog and in the third part, I will share about how to market your blog and reach a broader base of readers.

Here are top 10 reasons when you may want to consider options other than a blog, for self expression.

No. 10 – You feel you have lots of opinions and you should express them
Guess what, 85%+ of us, humans are highly opinioned and most of them use family or friends gatherings and FB to express their opinions.  But just because you played doctor-patient as a child, you can’t be a good doctor.  Similarly, you hear many parents of a teen saying that that their child loves to argue and will make a good attorney and it can’t be further from the truth.  So also, because you have opinions when you are talking with your friends, does not make necessarily for a good blog, unless you have cutting edge, sharp way of expressing your different opinions that room goes silent, when you start to speak.  In any case, how your friends perceive you is not the best measure of your ability or lack of ability to write (more on that later in part 3).  Sometimes, I blog to express my opinions (e.g. on Occupy Wall Street movement) but that is not solely the focus of my blog.

No. 9 – Do not have a blog to lament or whine about social ills or popular views
Now you can do this if you are able to notice things from a completely different perspective and express your views extremely sarcastically, wittily, clearly or distinctively.  You may have enjoyed some engaging debates with your friends around some social topics, but in general, lame laments, lamely expressed, do not make good blog topics.  (Sometimes I blog about strong feelings I have for instance, against the easy availability of guns there is my blog poem after Newtown, CT tragedy – and there is my blog poem after the rape of a woman in a public bus in India –,  but that is when I had something specific to say; it was not just to voice a lame general lament).

No. 8 – Almost all of your focus is on one social topic.
For instance, I have a friend who says she loves to write poetry and for years, she has written and submitted a love poem, during Valentine’s day.  This narrow focus not only impacts the breadth of her poetry writing but also lacks the depth.  If your poems have substance then you will have written on a broader range than that (also frequency is important but more on that later).  In writing blogs, if your focus is technical, political etc., you can focus more narrowly.  However, if you are focusing on social issues then you cannot write on a very narrow range e.g. a single topic like romance, or dating, unless you are highly respected and regarded in the field, you have strong credibility, you have deeply researched the area and you are sharing a lot of substance.  Else, it gets boring too fast.  (My blog is too broadly focused and I have been advised to write separate blogs focusing on professional and personal matters, but that would increase administrative time and I cannot spare that kind of time on blogging, so I have continued with many categories on one blog. But at least it is not too narrowly focused).

No. 7 – You are targeting solely your friends as your blog audience.
Your friends care for you but may be poor judges of your abilities or lack of them.  First, remember your friends may not have interest in the topics that interest you.  Your friends may not even look at your blog, unless your viewership increases dramatically and then curiosity will pull them.  Do not take the lack of interest from your friends, personally.  They know your shortcomings and sometimes it may even be hard for them to acknowledge your smartness.  You do the same.  For instance, your friend becomes a CEO of a company and you still think of him as a slouch, someone who shows up late at get-togethers and parties and so on.  When someone asked my friend if I wrote well, she said, “well, English is her second language and she often forgets to put her commas”. (It shook my confidence a bit but it is restored with 30,000 plus views, in 3 years of blogging).  However, your friends are likely to give you honest advice, so pay heed; it can only help you improve whatever you aim to do.  Many friends have been kind enough to look at my blog and add their generous and kind comments, which show up nicely on my blog 🙂 and I am ever so thankful for their feedback.  But you cannot rely solely upon your friends to be the target audience of your blog and I will share more about that in part 3 on how to market your blog.

No. 6 – You really want to write a memoir
If your life story makes for a compelling read, then write a memoir; a book.  Unless you have amazing life experiences, AND they do not have to be read in a continuing series, AND they are inspirational events, 3 little stories that you want to share about your life, do not qualify for a long-term blog.  They are 2-3 little stories.  (e.g. here are mine summed up in my year-end reviews – 2012, and 2011

No. 5 – You have written a book
If you have written and published a book, it proves, you write well.  But still writing a blog is different from writing a book.  Some book writers also write excellent blogs and some do not.  I have started at least 6 different books at different times and finally concluded, I do not have the tenacity and discipline required in writing a book, and vice versa applies too.

No. 4 – You spend 2 hours or more on one blog entry
You will not make significant money as a blogger.  When you start blogging, you will not make any money.  If you are spending enormous amount of time on writing blogs, in additional to doing your day job then it will soon start taking a toll on you.  In my case, sometimes I compromise best sentence structure and absolutely full proof grammar, in favor of frequency of blog posts because I keep aside a finite amount of time on blog writing  and then focus on my day job.  However, I never short change the content, I check and double check its accuracy and that is a big time commitment, as it is.  (e.g here is one of my blogs on review of the movie “Lincoln”, where I spent almost an entire day to write – .  However, that was extremely unusual and it was because I was enjoying doing the historical research and then wanted to share that information.  If I write a movie review for instance, generally, I spend not more than 20 minutes to write). Consider the commitment of time that a blog will require, before starting a blog.

No. 3 – Overriding objective of your blog is to sell something
This should be fairly self evident.  We are bombarded by people trying to sell on phone, on FB, on Linkedin, and all the emails that go into our junk folder.  No one is yearning for more sales pitches to seek out a blog geared to sell.  One of my objectives is to share my open JOB OPPORTUNITIES, as I do recruiting.  But this is not a sole or primary objective of my blog.

No. 2 – You want to make money through blogging by allowing ads
Same as above.  In any case, you will have to build viewership with great, regular content before you can make money.

No. 1 – You dread writing after your first two posts, in which you were yearning to share something
You may have started a blog because you had some perspectives on some specific social topic that you were yearning to share.  However, after the writing about them, your ideas have dried up and now you dread the chore blogging has become.  In this case, you may be better of discontinuing sooner rather than later.  Regular blogging takes time, commitment, discipline, and constant access to material that is not only of interest to you, but is of broader interest.  If you do not have the time, material or discipline to post regularly, and blog writing becomes a chore that you dread, then blogging is not for you.  It is a labor of love and you must enjoy it.

At any time, I have 4 things in the pipeline that I want to write about and I only end up writing about 1 or 2, due to lack of time.  My work and social activities ensure a plentiful supply of material, in addition to my random perspectives and poems, which are under “Musings and Poems” categories on my blog.  I post regularly with a frequency of 2-4 posts, per week.  I look forward to writing as a stress release and as a reward for focusing on my work.  People often ask me why I write.  Sometimes they say they understand why I write play reviews because I get complementary tickets and why I write book reviews because I get complementary books, but they can’t understand why I write about technologies.  Sometimes they say they can understand why I write about conferences because that is how I get to meet people professionally and generate business, but they can’t understand why I write book reviews and so on.  But I do not write because of extrinsic rewards.  Rewards started coming as my blog generated significant viewers and followers.  But I write because I love to write.  I write because I love many forms of live entertainment and I feel compelled to do my bit to share the information and create enthusiasm (e.g. play “Disconnect” – ).  I write because I love to hear about new and emerging technologies and impressive accomplishments and like to share about them (e.g. Dave Farrucci on IBM’s Watson Deep QA – ) .  I write because I love to read books and love to share about good books (e.g “Minefields of the Heart by Sue Diez – ).  If writing is an intrinsic reward for you, then ignore all of the above advice and write and I will look forward to seeing you in the bloggosphere.

Next part will focus on “When you should consider writing a blog” and the last part with focus on “How to market your blog” and will be posted in the next few days.


BLOG IDEAS (Photo credit: owenwbrown)

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