In 2004, I co-founded a company (with Josh Petersen and Buster Benson) that conceived of and built the social networking site 43 Things. The purpose of the site was to ask the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” With this prompt, users created a list of up to 43 life goals (43 was a somewhat random number we felt was doable — less than 50 things, and conveniently a prime number). The idea was pretty simple: state your goals publicly, get support from a community of like-minded users and thus increase the odds of accomplishing said goals. It was an empowering tool and philosophy. I forget the exact stats, but I believe the site rose to 3 million users with an exponentially higher number of goals. 43 Things won a Webby in 2005 for Best Social Networking Site, edging out MySpace (this was before Facebook was open to users who weren’t currently in college).
During this time, my Seattle Central District house was the epicenter of several confluent activities. My band Maktub rehearsed and recorded there. It was the birthplace of The Robots (aka the 43 Things staff). I began building an office space there to house The Robots, right next to Maktub’s rehearsal space. David Heinemeier Hansson visited there over a weekend to show Buster, Josh and me the beauty of Ruby on Rails (43 Things would soon become the largest Ruby on Rails site in world). It was where my comedian/musician friend Reggie Watts lived for a time. Producer Bob Power (the record producer whose roster includes De La Soul, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, A Tribe Called Quest, Meshell Ndegeocello, and India Ari) shacked up with me for 3 months there while producing a Maktub record. It was where Printz Board of the Black Eyed Peas crashed while recording demos with Maktub. Jason Fried of 37 Signals visited to help The Robots with the design of 43 Things. That house was the center of my then seemingly ever-expanding universe.
Back to goals. I probably completed more than 500 goals during my 43 Things lifespan — everything from “eat a banana” to “start a company that survives two years” to “get married.” But after I moved on from 43 Things, my life became less expansive in scope, more focused and (in many ways) more reflective. Eventually, I stopped thinking about the things lingering on my list and formed a new life with Brangien in a new house, with cats, a small vegetable garden and a basement piano. 43 Things faded away.
But the recent death of my former Robot co-worker, Laurel Fan, got me to thinking about 43 Things, the fleeting nature of our human connections and the things we aim to achieve. The best homage to Laurel was written by fellow Robot, Todd Gehman. Suffice it to say, Laurel was always one to quietly do what she wanted and not make a fuss. It was only upon her death that it became clear to so many of us how much Laurel had done in her short life. What goals had I left on the table?
Starting at age 14, I had always flirted with recording my own music. My earliest experiments were using a digital delay to layer guitar on top of guitar on top of more guitar. Today that’s called looping or sampling, but as a young kid in Alaska in the ’80s this was pretty expansive tinkering. I soon graduated to cassette and 4-track recorders. I sequenced and recorded analog synthesizers. When I moved to Seattle to pursue music, I recorded with countless bands, but was never at the helm of the mixing console. Other people turned the knobs and changed the 2” tape reels. One of the longest standing (but never accomplished) goals on my 43 Things list was “record an album in my basement.” When I left 43 Things, that goal remained on my list. When 43 Things shut down on New Years Day 2015, it took with it “record an album in my basement.”
But today, I can finally check that goal off my 43 Things list. It took me until my 47th year. It took getting married to Brangien, buying a house with a suitable basement, soundproofing, acquiring and learning how to use the software and outboard gear needed to record a decent-sounding album. Now I’m pretty good at using Logic and not horrible at finding my way around ProTools. I know how to position a mic.
Writing and recording in our basement, Brangien and I have completed 11 songs we’re releasing under the band name The Argument. For the next 11 weeks, we’ll release a song a week. You can read about it here on Medium, and get the backstory on our website, www.theargument.us. Completing this goal resulted in creating a new goal: get 100 people (yes, friends and family count) to listen to what we’ve been up to. In the meantime, the remaining zucchini and tomatoes need to be picked. The basement piano needs a tuning. And, as I often say, the cats aren’t going to pet themselves.
See you tomorrow with our first of 11 songs.
The Argument is releasing 11 songs in 11 weeks. This essay was originally posted on Medium.