Monday, August 30, 2010


If you want to see how the internet can engage and emote, I highly suggest you check out the new interactive video from The Arcade Fire. Just make sure you are using Firefox or Safari or Chrome. You'll thank me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

And So, The Chapter Ends.

As of Thursday, August 19th, I officially handed in my dissertation. A little before noon, I picked up the two copies as specified by the university: forest green tape for binding, a washed out shade of emerald for the cover, and hastily impressed gold lettering spelling out my name, the year, and my degree. Handing in these 72 pages--almost five months of work when you factor in the planning--felt at once unceremonious and joyful. Meeting coursemates at a local pub for lunch, we joked that they should have given us a ribbon or sash when we delivered it to the grad office. Somehow signing your name in ballpoint pen doesn't quite have the pomp and circumstance one would hope for in such an event.

The days preceding the event were largely drowned in a river of Pepsi Max, pre-packaged sandwich meal deals, and a veritable cornucopia of sweets. I fear a the next time I go to the dentist, he'll examine my mouth only to find myriad greyish-brown caverns in what was once a healthy mouth. I have started flossing to compensate. Long days in the computer lab turned to long nights in front of my MacBook, fruitlessly searching for the perfect word or turn of phrase.

In the end? I'm not thrilled with it. But I suppose that's the nature of the beast. Once it's all over, all you can do is see the flaws, the areas to be improved, the times you should have stayed in to work. Yet, it's done. There's no more work I can put into it. No more graphs or charts. Not one more reference. And it feels good. It may not be my best piece of work, but its the culmination of a year of change.

I finished reading Pillars of the Earth the day after I handed in my dissertation. I'd been reading the book all summer, using it as a form of escape after long nights of work. What I realized was, as they were building their cathedral in the story, I was building mine. I faced setbacks, design errors, and flaws in construction. But I also had (short-lived) flashes of brilliance and delight in the knowledge that my project, bound as it was in its cloak of green, will stand as a testament to the things I've learned over the past year.

Now, it's time to move on to a new chapter in my life: a new job. I'll spend the next month largely looking in the UK. But once my lease is up, if I don't have any leads, I'm going to move back to the U.S., probably to settle in New York. Then again, it may all change tomorrow. Who knows...

*If you have some strange desire to actually read my dissertation, it can be found on my website: under the "Portfolio" tab.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Just saw Inception. Really incredible movie. I especially appreciated the many nods to famous architects and designers, especially Frank Lloyd Wright, M.C. Escher, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbiseur. The architecture nerd in me got excited several times over.

Stupid Dissertation

I am so sick of writing this dissertation. I have to put my thoughts into a format that is not reflective of how I think or approached the project at all. It's all so linear. So formulaic. So boring. Somehow, they've taken what could be a really interesting project and sucked all the fun out of it (as is the wont of academia, I suppose). Instead of describing the project briefly and really focusing on the results, putting all the boring stuff (in-depth methodology, literature review, etc.) in an appendix, we have to make it orderly and describe every step. I think it would be far better to engage the reader in a compelling story of your research and provide the in-depth support in the back, as a reference. Which is exactly what it is.

I don't know, it's probably just looking at the same words over and over, trying to predict what's going to get me the right grade. Either way, I'm finished for today.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Secret Garden

"Home? I have no home."

While playing Uncle Archibald in the Shawnee Mission East High School production of The Secret Garden, I was required to utter this ridiculous line. It was always the line that I had difficultly spitting out, because it seemed so inane. How could you not have a home?

But over the past nine-and-a-half years since I took my bow on that stage, those words have come back to me at various times. They haunted me on that first balmy night I stayed in the dorms, alone, when I went away to college. And they returned when I moved into my first studio apartment. Now, they won't stop ringing in my ears, yet again.

But, for me, these five words express a different sentiment than the OED would tell you.

I have no home. But because I have many homes.

There's my home in Kansas, where I know that various parcels of cheese, haphazardly re-wrapped with their torn Whole Foods labels, await my return. Prior to this will be a father who will excitedly tell me that we have a bottle of scotch waiting at home, all the while asking about the flight, hurrying my oversized duffel to the trunk navy Ford Fusion parked outside. And along side him will be a mother who, on our drive home, will tell me that she dutifully bought Anderson Erickson Cherry Vanilla yogurt (my favorite) and some overly-sugared cereal, preferably Apple Jacks, to welcome me back to normalcy. This is my home. where I spend my time, virtually or physically. It's where I recognize the smell of our musty garage, and anticipate the obligatory glance at the (no doubt) lit pond in the back yard.

But, while this may be my "home." I have other homes.

I have my home in Rome, where ochre-tinted lights allowed us to linger along the Tiber well into the night. The places where I learned to trust myself. To explore the world.

I have the couches where I spent many nights, lazily pontificating to wine-soaked minds. I have the restaurants where I spent so many weekend brunches. The metro stations, from which I rushed home, desperate to discard the day's events.

In the past year, I have added a new home to this list--Leeds. No, it hasn't always been ideal. But, it also has been full of adventures that I never thought possible. Slowly finding new words ingratiate themselves to my vocabulary. Discovering that I'm not alone in my fears. Realizing that it's not easy to start a new life, but it's worthwhile.

In a few weeks, my dissertation will be done, and I'll begin to make a new home. It may be in New York or San Francisco. It may be in Manchester. Or London.

Home? I have no home.

I am always home.


Prop 8 was overturned a couple days ago. Since then, people on both sides have been commenting on the decision, unsurprisingly. One of the oddest arguments I've heard from those opposing the decision was that the judge is gay. People are accusing him of bias, but I don't really see how that could work, since, presumably, a straight judge would be biased as well, just the other way. That's like saying a pro-choice judge is more biased than a pro-life judge in an abortion case. The whole point of judging is that, whatever your biases, you put them aside. There is no such thing as a purely objective opinion, unless you have robot judges (AWESOME!), and even then, you could argue that the programmers could have introduced bias in the way they coded.

Listen, it's fine if you don't like the decision. But don't tell me it's invalid because the judge was biased on account of his sexual orientation.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


In less than 20 days, I will have to hand in my masters dissertation (or thesis, if you like). The prospect is daunting but manageable. Right now I have over 6,000 words, but the hardest part for me, the methodology, is out of the way. I'm in the midst of analyzing my dataset which I secretly get pleasure out of. Thank god for all those years having to do financial analysis, making me a pro at pivot tables. The looming prospect of statistical analysis still hangs over my head, but I think I can minimize that to a large degree.

I should have probably been a bit farther on this bit by now, but I was in London for most of last week. On Tuesday, I went to the BBC proms with a couple of friends. After spending the day traveling, then going to the science museum, we made our way to the Royal Albert Hall for a bit of Beethoven. Hillary Hahn played with the symphony for one piece, and there were several encores to revel in the classical goodness. The highlight (for me) was Beethoven's 5th. Though not my favorite of his pieces--that would be the 7th symphony--it was still wonderful.

Part of the reason for going down, other than the proms, was to wrap up a few things with my internship at ecoConnect, and go to the Green in the City event it co-sponsors with Cleantech Investor magazine. While I didn't get as much wrapped up as I wanted to (you never do), I was able to attend the event and talk to my boss about future jobs. Though there aren't any opportunities with ecoConnect, there may be a few leads through some diligent networking. I suppose we'll see. The event was interesting, talking about the future of road transport and energy solutions, and after there was a networking session (ugh). It's not that I can't talk to people. Lord knows I could do that for hours, it's more the approach part that I dislike. It always feels so awkward and date-y and a bit forced. But I suppose we all know why we're there, so there's some solace in that.

Aside from the travelling and dissertation, I'm on the job hunt, officially. The trick for me is that I have a broad background in a variety of fields--sustainability, strategy, finance, communications, politics, history, stakeholder engagement, etc. Clearly a lot of this overlaps, but describing that in a resume and cover letter can be rather challenging. And, it also makes the job hunt a bit more difficult. If I were doing something specific, like SAP implementations, that would be slighly easier to find, but looking for jobs in sustainable business and communications strategy it just a bit broader. Luckily there seem to be a bunch of great positions. Unfortunately, I have no idea how competitive they are.

It's exciting and scary, knowing that I'm in for another life change, only a year after I settled into this one. What I do know, is whether I end up in London, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, or Des Moines, I'm ready for the change.

P.S. If you know of anyone looking for a sustainability consultant or marketer or CSR guru, let me know at stephen dot nemeth at gmail dot com.