Jim Ponichtera, 1968-2014

This afternoon brought a joyful, awful occasion in the memorial service for Jim Ponichtera, an old friend who died suddenly last week. From the first moment I saw him on stage, a few days after I started my freshman year, I idolized -- and envied -- Jim. He was wildly funny, brilliantly silly, and sharp as a Ginsu knife. His wit was sly and devious, marked by a magical ability to conjure unexpected, pitch-perfect cultural hooks, both high and low. He harbored love of equal depth for John Donne and Scooby-Doo; Cassavetes and ComicCon; Le Bernadin and IHOP. Anyone who knew Jim knew what it was to cry from laughter;  it was his singular talent to find the comedy in anything, not least himself, even when he was battling the cancer he ultimately beat. 

After college, I hung out with him first occasionally, whenever I found myself in San Francisco, then rarely, then not at all over the past decade. I regret so acutely that long drift. What shone at the memorial service was his most excellent life centered on his much-beloved wife and 11-year-old son, with whom he did everything from Tae Kwon Do and the latest flavor of Super Mario to learning banjo and wearing coordinated, bacon-themed apparel.

If this is how it begins -- the long, slow march of loss and heartache -- it seems unconscionably cruel that it should start with Jim. He was one of the truly good ones. RIP.

This photo, posted by Brook Butterworth, captures Jim as he was when I first got to know him.


Boldness and Daring at MIT

MIT's Media Lab has announced that Joichi Ito will be its new director.  Many on the Internet are raising their glasses with rowdy cheers.  In choosing Joi, the Media Lab has made a daring, inspired, energizing, and one might even say subversive move.  It's particularly remarkable because Joi hasn't actually gotten around to graduating from college yet.  Instead, he's been wasting his time as a DJ, ISP CEO, search engine CEO, angel investor and venture capitalist (think: Flickr, Six Apart, Last.fm, Kongregate, Kickstarter, and Twitter), CEO of Creative Commons, and board member at ICANN, Mozilla, WITNESS, Public Knowledge, and Global Voices.

Most importantly, Joi is a deeply ethical soul who devotes vast (and uncompensated) energy to improving the world he inhabits -- provoking and sustaining entrepreneurship and innovation, particularly outside Silicon Valley;  building communities of common interest across national, cultural, linguistic, generational, and class frontiers;  and tending loyally to his circle of friends around the world.  (Or, in the case of Joi's World of Warcraft guild, doing all of that at once.)  Joi combines raw brainpower with tireless energy, boundless curiosity, fearless introspection, and serendipitous creativity, all alloyed together atop his foundational commitment to values like openness, integrity, liberty, community, and the transformative, democratizing power of technology.

The celebratory outpouring over Joi's new appointment is a testament to his many good works, his great character, and to the Media Lab's laudable ambition, courage, and great good sense.  It's so unusual -- and so bracing -- to see an institution of long standing, particularly an academic center, boldly embrace risk and invite creative disruption.

Congratulations, Joi & Media Lab!