TekMountain Mentor

I’m genuinely honored to have been invited on as a Mentor at TekMountain, a forward-looking tech incubator here in Wilmington, NC, where I live. I’ll co-work my first real day there today!

TekMountain has been a fantastic host, thought leader, and citizen in this region since it started up a couple years ago, partnering with Cucalorus on Cucalorus Connect, a new film sub-festival celebrating tech and entrepreneurship, hosting innumerable public forums and meetups on technology and business, taking the lead here in opposition to NC’s loathsome HB2 bill, chartering Cape Fear Women in Tech, tons of stuff.

I imagine I’ve been tapped for my credentials as an IBMer, dilettante technologist, and local gadfly. To earn my keep, I’m proposing to convene, assist or participate in the following projects, many of which we’ve sort of got underway already.

Projects and ideas

  • With John Cornelius at Wide Open Tech, UNCW Psychology chair and brain guy Julian Keith, Watson University IBMer Mike Orr, and Tanner Clayton, we convened a tech talk on artificial intelligence at Tekmountain last year that was really well attended, energetic, and thoughtful–and that only scratched the surface of this topic.Mike and Julian, the two panelists, have already plotted a follow-up and I really want to bring it to TekMountain and enlarge the conversation even more.


  • In that context or some other, I’d like to show off some of IBM’s Cognitive Computing APIs, services like Emotion Analysis and others in our Watson Developer Cloud that you can build into cognitive applications on IBM’s Bluemix cloud development platform.


  • More generally, I think I can demonstrate a bit about Bluemix development, like my man Jeff Sloyer, who works as an evangelist at IBM and at an incubator in Raleigh.


  • Blockchain is white-hot right now. I’d love to talk about hyperledgers, blockchain applications, and how this technology works with transactions, security, and business processes. I’d of course have to learn this stuff first.


  • In similar fashion (i.e., learn by doing, learn by presenting), I  think we could talk about the Swift programming language, which Apple has open-sourced and IBM is building into the enterprise, Linux, and the server side). Maybe also Whiskwhat it has to do with Swift, “server-less” architectures, Internet of Things, and stuff like that.


  • I’m already working on putting Wilmington on the very short list of cities that will host one of Sandy Carter’s tremendous Hackathons


  • I’d love of course to write for TekMountain, and more about the area and technology generally.


  • I really want to do something with programming for kids at TekMountain. For the last few years, I’ve lead tech club and “code camps” at my son’s elementary and in the summer, using MIT’s  Scratch programming environment to introduce kids to coding and, like, systems thinking type stuff, design.


  • I’d also like to connect TekMountain and the Cape Fear Economic Development Council, where I’m a director, in ways beyond the friendly and partner-ish relationship we have now. These two organizations want many of the same things and have great individuals and brain power to combine.


  • Just for fun, and since I’m the guy in the area who in the past has organized informal lunches of IBMers in the region, and there are many (Kure Beach, Ogden, Wrightsville, etc.), I thought it’d be fun to have an IBMer mixer at TekMountain, show my colleagues the facility, the co-working, TekMountain’s new brewing powers.



Is there any better sign of our own alienation than the modern residential featherflag, formerly “elegant”, now ubiquitous, cheese-ball, festooning the front lawns of our would-be neighbors, marking our houses and our neighborhoods not as homes but as markets, as fungible goods?

It seems loony to object to them. Residential for-sale signs are harmless, right? Realtors gotta work. Couples need way-finders for their aspirational weekend home tours.

I think if we really saw them for what they were doing, we wouldn’t allow them. They change the neighborhoods they appear in. Flatten them. They diminish the very things they are advertising!: the single, soulful, peaceable, not-for-sale family home, the quiet lane, the natural setting, the refuge from run-away consumerism. Isn’t that what homes are?

Maybe smart phones will replace these blighting outdoor ads with more useful screen-based location-aware real estate apps. Then you can just see the houses, drive by, feel less like a comparison shopper and maybe see residents looking and feeling less like accessories.

Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival

Shakori. Even the general soddenness does not lower the spirit. You can feel so lifted there you walk on water—over the spring runnels and deep, red, sucking Chatham County clay. There was a lot of mud this year. Sections of the music festival that in years past have been meadows for camping and lying around in were shin-deep in rutted pools. Everything was mud-colored. People were mud-colored. “Hey, mud family!” one dread-locked celebrant yelled to a glistening, caveman-like four-pack who’d obviously done some kind of slip-and-slide down the hill for goofs. Stages were muddy. Cars, of course, whose models you couldn’t make out, slipped all over the place getting in, ours included. We pushed cars out of mud and got help pushing ours. Campsites were pure mud. Experienced festival-goers wore galoshes while the rest of us went barefoot or in subterranean, throwaway tennies.

Photo by Ania Welin

And yet the festival was full and vibrant. It always is. Our friends arrived early, in the classic, corrugated tick-body campers of pros. They set up pavilions and bag chairs and fire rings, made home for our group, set their kids loose. As in years past, we were in the “family camping” area next to the long road that enters the Shakori Hills festival grounds. Also as in years past, we took up with a party of friends and new, friendly strangers, with whom we parented and shared food and spent time. In principle the family camping meadow is quieter and more organized into little plots than the wooded areas up the hill, but the music plays every night until dawn and can be heard from every corner, music from the several different stages and venues merging and reaching into tents and bedrolls. At these volumes and in these circumstances, you don’t hear zydeco, bluegrass, cowpunk, or drum circle. It’s like one big Radiohead album (or maybe Band of Horses is a more appropriate analogy here), ambient but primal, all-night polyrhythms that in their persistence can be just a tiny bit frightening, but also like a lullaby. You sleep to it or just lie there and feel it wash over you. At dawn it is quiet again. Thick fog (or rain) and the sound of the odd tent zipper, birds waking, and cows lowing.

You meet people. Everybody is smiling, greeting one another. Fellow travelers, exchanging pleasantries about all the mud. There are several thousand attendees at Shakori, many of them not only listening but playing, making things, volunteering. There’s a place where you can build little rock towers. A rock labyrinth to walk through. Parades happen. You make a spirit mask or two. Kids in vintage dresses and trucker caps and bright blue hair are making out in the trees above the meadow stage. There are massage tables on rugs under little tasseled pavilions. In the DJ beer tent, there’s a handsome bearded galoot with all his belongings and liquids stuff into a Camelbak, a solo, shirtless, grinning dub-dancing marathoner. Also really classic, unreconstructed hippies–like, first generation hippies with stringy beards and rainbow mirrored sunglasses, two-finger peace signs for everyone and rope sandals (muddy).

The main thing about Shakori is that people from all different ages and walks of life are there together. It seems natural and it makes you feel how unnatural other parts of your life may be, how segmented. Days camping and talking and having coffee with hipsters and little kids, with old couples, fire-breathers, Africans and Appalachian banjo pickers and bolo ties. It’s the natural we don’t have any more.

We give lip service to the idea that music and art and diversity give us “perspective”, but you can feel real perspective in situations like this. Like I don’t have one of those ear piercings that stretches a golf ball sized hole into my earlobe, but when I see those or jaw tattoos or something like them at Shakori, I think, Well I could see how that would be nice. I can see what that young man means by that giant hole there.

Photo by Ania Welin

I want more of my life to be like Shakori. I want to be the person I am at Shakori. This happens at music festivals. You go away eager to bend your life to their rhythms. It’s kind of the idea —as in Shakespeare’s forest comedies, where the ordinary rules are suspended in generative ways. “You must change your life!” the poet said. This is what I felt. This time, my wife and I made a fetish out of campers to contain all our zeal in something concrete (and dry. Our tent was stinky and sodden within minutes of being set up): It was campers that made this communion possible! You lived simply, traveled where you wanted, home-schooled your kids in the back to keep them from being tested out of curiosity, boiled water. Put little blocks under your camper tires when you found your friends.