A Technology Fast for the Day of Atonement


Last year, for Yom Kippur I opted for a tech fast in place of a food fast. I hit on the idea after reading this piece in Kveller about not fasting on Yom Kippur. A friend suggested a “Facebook Fast” but I decided that wasn’t enough—I went old school and did a tech fast instead.

For observant Jews, my tech fast would not be earth shattering. I shut down my computer and my phone for 25 hours and opted not to watch TV during that time. I was curious to find out what would happen if, rather than abstaining from physical sustenance, I abstained from the intellectual and emotional distraction that has become so ubiquitous in my life. Would making that switch make Yom Kippur more meaningful to me in 5775 than it had been in 5774 and years past?

Shutting down the computer wasn’t that difficult. I’m a journalist; I posted my final story on Friday and clicked the switch. Shutting down the phone proved a little more challenging. Not only was I being cut off from Facebook, Twitter, Feedly and the somewhat ridiculous games I play at night while wasting time on the couch in front of the TV—I was cutting off my friends. What if Karen wanted to text me about where to sit in synagogue tomorrow? What if Jen decided at the last minute that she needed an extra bottle of orange juice for break fast? I reminded myself that a) we have a landline phone, b) my husband’s cell phone was still on and c) I was doing this for a reason. The point was to be unavailable and to focus my thoughts inward instead.

After dinner, the kids and I spent the evening playing Scrabble. I took comfort in the fact that if I wanted to have a snack, I was “allowed,” since I wasn’t food fasting. The enormous food anxiety that has always reared its head during Yom Kippur in the past evaporated. The kids went to bed and I worked on a jigsaw puzzle. Every time I felt the urge to check in on Facebook or see what the world was up to on Feedly, I reminded myself that I was practicing denial to be in a purer state when I asked for forgiveness—mind uncluttered and more focused.

As with traditional fasting, my challenges started the next day, and that’s when I realized just how much I have come to rely on my phone for just about everything, from the weather forecast to snapping pictures of my kids when they’re doing something silly, to choosing what I listen to on Spotify or via podcast—in addition to traditional calls, texts and social media connections. Even getting directions to a friend’s house was a challenge, since I couldn’t access the Evite with her address.

But with each mental “I would be using my phone for this,” I thought, “I am fasting to make Yom Kippur more meaningful. I am giving this up to recognize what is important and holy in my life.” If I had been fasting from food, honestly, those thoughts would have been “I am so hungry right now I might just chew off my arm” and “How many more hours until I can plow face-first into the kugel at Jen’s?”

After 25 hours, I turned my phone back on and dipped a toe into the waters of social media. How much had I missed? How many phone calls and texts? Did the world stop turning on its axis because I opted out for one day? Of course not. Did I have a more meaningful Yom Kippur experience? You bet your apples and honey I did.

Spring 2015

I’ve been able to cover more features over at Elevation DC, so I’m posting some of them here. Enjoy! It’s always hard when I overinterview and can’t include everything in the articles I write. I had some great insight from the Virginia Cyber Security Commission that just wouldn’t fit in my allotted space, so it had to be cut. The interviews provided some keen insight into what the state governments are doing to beef up cybersecurity from within the government itself. Rear Admiral Bob Day and I talked about education–providing a pipeline of people qualified to fill cybersecurity jobs both within the Commonwealth and within the country–as one solution.

The Cyber Beltway: the startups tackling 2015’s biggest challenge

I also went behind the scenes at Union Kitchen for a peek at Jonas Singer and Cullen Gilchrist’s new space in Ivy City:

Behind the success of DC’s unstoppable food incubator, Union Kitchen

And last, but definitely not least, I wrote a comprehensive “Where Are They Now?” update to what’s been happening in StartupLand:

A year after Startupland, where are the founders now?

For a comprehensive look at all of my clips, head on over to Elevation DC and visit the Innovation and Job News channel. That’s my regular beat.

Happy Spring!



Headed into Fall

So I picked up a new gig this summer, covering tech for Urbanful, a new national publication from Smart Growth America. Here are two recent stories I wrote for Urbanful (which needs a catchy nickname–UF?).

More articles will be coming soon from Urbanful (UBF? URF?), including a profile on Waveborn and other things I can’t let out of the bag yet. To get the latest, you can subscribe to Urbanful and have it delivered to your inbox. Or, if you’re using Feedly or another RSS aggregator, you can subscribe to individual pages, like, um, Tech, for example.

I also wrote a fun piece profiling Arlington, VA, as an urban destination that’s getting it right. I interviewed Jay Fisette, Paul SinghJennifer Ives and Jonathan Aberman. The article was published in the September issue of Northern Virginia magazine. If you live in the area, you can pick up a copy and check it out for yourself in “Buzz.”

Over at Elevation DC, my normal beat, it’s been fun watching companies I’ve covered since their inception be acquired (RideScout), launch new products (Speek and Zoomph) and meet and surpass funding goals (Hugh & Crye). I also wrote a feature about social enterprise that has gotten a little attention and recently found a second life on Twitter (who knew?). At EDC, we publish “Who’s hiring?” (tech job posts) and “What’s happening?” (free or low-cost events of interest to the DC tech community) regularly. So if you ever have one to share, please send it my way.

It’s spring!

And that means it’s time for an update!

For many students, spring means standardized testing. No one likes it, but many see it as a necessary evil in our public education system. Are Common Core tests (currently in pilot stage) any better than previous iterations? I wrote a piece for Greater Greater Education on the topic.

At Elevation, we launched a new series called “60 Seconds With…,” wherein I get to do a quick interview with different founders in our D.C. startup ecosystem. There are five in the series so far:

Elizabeth Shea, founder of Speakerbox Communications

Shahab Kaviani, founder of CoFoundersLab

Carla Valdes, founder of Handpressions

Donna Harris, cofounder of 1776

Paul Singh, founder of Disruption Corp

And just for fun, Elizabeth turned the tables and interview me for her company’s blog, Ask the Influencer. That was amusing.

Another piece of which I’m particularly proud, and which continues to trend on Elevation, is the Top Ten Startups in D.C. Our publication is not going all Buzzfeed on our readers, even though people seem to love those lists and quizzes. As a transplant to the city, I enjoyed researching this article, as I got to know more about some of the veritable institutions that are woven into the fabric of the area. There are parallels among cities; reading about Woodie’s reminded me of shopping in Shillito’s in downtown Cincinnati as a teen, and though Hot Shoppes is long gone, it certainly brought the modern-day Aglamesis experience to mind (or Farrell’s, which, interestingly, was bought by Marriott).

My roots are showing! It’s time to sign off.


The Shared Economy

So excited to share my first national piece for IMG, a multi-market feature about the rise of the sharing economy. I profiled Parking Panda in Baltimore, Philadelphia Sculpture Gym in Philadelphia and SNOBSWAP and GoodShuffle in DC. Two other companies that didn’t make it into the article were the Toronto Tool Library in Toronto, Ontario, and the Open Book Exchange in Tampa Bay, FL. Had I had time and space, and more of a local focus, I would have also included ideaspace, a new maker space that is opening in Navy Yard in Southeast DC in late February/early March. Very cool space and concept.

One of the biggest stories to break in DC tech news last week was that Jonathon Perrelli and Simon Rakoff are closing The Fort, the startup accelerator part of Fortify Ventures. I interviewed JP about the closing, and to clarify a few questions that seemed to have been circling about the issue.

Oh, and while searching for a holiday present for my sister, I discovered Crunkcakes out of Union Kitchen. Who knew?!

Hobnobbing with angels

This is allegedly a half week, or light week, over at Elevation, but I’m chasing down two finicky stories that are proving somewhat difficult to get. Like nailing jello to the wall, to use a tired cliche. As a result, I’m spending a lot of time in the old desk chair, waiting for my phone to ring or for an email to pop up in one of my many inboxes. So I have a few minutes to blog and update on the latest and greatest to rock the INJ (innovation and job news) world this week.

First, I learned something new on background from a story I wrote about Georgetown Angels. Three separate sources told me that “angels like to invest in their own backyards.” This is to keep an eye on their investments and lend a hand if the companies they have invested in need help. Venture capitalists, on the other hand, invest all over the map. I realize that I should, in the words of my 10th grade English teacher, “never make absolute statements,” so I am sure there are exceptions–angels who invest broadly and VCs who like to keep their capital close to home. Joshua Siegel, one of the principals with Georgetown Angels, is looking for people to join the angel group he started with Andrew Romans. The pair are holding a pitch event at 1776 in September; I’ve got a link for discounted tickets to the event.

On a completely different note, Shavanna Miller is getting ready to launch Bloompop, a very cool sounding online floral marketplace. If you’ve ever struggled with wanting to buy flowers locally but needing the ease of ordering online, Shavanna’s your girl. She’s initially launching only in the District, but has her eye on other cities. The site allows you to create a profile and save “favorite” arrangements, and it will integrate with social media. So when Facebook tells you it’s my birthday, feel free to send me some white roses. :)

Finally, Rebecca Horton and Catherine Woodiwiss’s company, Trestles, is getting ready for an official launch. Trestles is a creative agency that helps individuals and businesses problem solve by using design strategies and cross-sector teams. They’re kicking off with a workshop at Canvas Co/work tomorrow night at 6 p.m. It’s free, but space is limited.

Finally, mark your calendars for the next …in the City event sponsored by Elevation DC. This quarter we’re talking Transportation in the City on September 25 at 1776. Donna Harris is a confirmed panelist. If you are a transportation startup and want to exhibit at the event, hit Rachel Kaufman up and let her know.

On the Writer’s Block This Month

Despite the fact that summer is often a quiet time for news, there has been a lot to talk about on the DC tech and job scene. The pace has been admittedly slower, or maybe it’s because I’m not rushing in to 1776 every other day to rub elbows with the scene-sters while I jockey for a drink. 

In physical space news, I wrote a piece on Canvas Co/work, a co-working space in the District. Co-working spaces mystify me because I have to write in almost complete silence in order to get anything done. You can ask anyone who knows me about my complete and utter disdain for loud crunchers in any sphere but especially when I am trying to write. But co-working is quite popular, what with the rents being so high in DC. 

Also in the space world, I wrote a piece nclud, a digital agency whose 3D flip book design blew my mind for more than a few minutes. 

Transportation continues to be a huge source of discussion in DC, and companies keep arriving to “disrupt” the status quo. Lyft, a peer-to-peer operations, is in some sort of public/private beta, and Taxi Magic just received the okay to operate as a digital dispatch service in the District–I was completely schooled in dispatching and the ins and outs of being part of a fleet, and how that is different in DC to other places in the country by Sanders Partee, who should really write a book on this stuff. 

Entrepreneurs are working hard to launch their brands, roll out useful products and services, and scale. Lauryn Sargent, in addition to being a new mom, helms Stories Inherited, which rolled out Origin Stories this summer. I met Mercedeh Kordestani and Stephanie L. Brown, who run IT IS SIMPLE, a service for teaching seniors how to use technology (e.g. not “reply all” to every email they receive). PlateDate, a Baltimore-based personal chef service, has expanded to the District. Micha Weinblatt, one of the founders over at Betterific, regaled me with all the goings-on with his digital suggestion box. Jason Weisenthal and I talked images: WallMonkeys scored access to National Geographic’s trove of images. Oh, and if anyone out there in Cyberland knows any Spanish-language app developers, Rick Gilchrist wants to meet you.

As usual, there are funding announcements to get excited about: ReelGenie closed an $850K seed round and Social Tables closed a round worth $1.6M. I also read this morning (or yesterday) that Speek, my favorite conference call alternative, raised $1.1M in bridge funding. Always good to know that the monkey with the crazy banana phone is working to make my life easier. For those startups that haven’t closed funding rounds yet, Georgetown Angels is hosting a pitch event in September at 1776. 

Finally, the District itself has thrown a little assistance to some worthy entrepreneurs. The Latino Economic Development Center and the D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer awarded hardware and software to 21 small business owners in the District. On the side of lending expertise, ConnecTech, an outgrowth of the District’s Department of Small and Local Business Development, is available to help small businesses navigate the Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

In other news…I also had a cold reading of new script I’m working on. That was very exciting and I must give thanks to the wonderful readers who made my words come to life and gave me excellent feedback.