Hi, I’m Michael and I’m a product designer at Mozilla where I work on Firefox. I spend a lot of my time watching how people use browsers and trying to make it easier for them. Outside of that, I love to make things and do triathlons (1X Ironman).
I’ve had a ton of past lives including: nuclear sub engineer, performance/video/theater artist, high school media teacher (my students went to Sundance), freelancer, and virtual world ad agency creative director. I was into videoblogging, pre-YouTube, turned one of the first screencast tutorial sites into a tech book and helped organize a conference. I’ve also been involved in a robot talk show and kinda inventing Kickstarter years before Kickstarter.
It’s amazing how powerful childhood experiences are and I was incredibly lucky to grow up surrounded by adults who loved and encouraged me. Looking back, I see the roots of much of my fifty-year-old self.
Between the ages of six and thirteen I was immersed in science, science fiction and art. It was, I thought, a pretty exciting time in the world. People had gone to the moon, some lived in a space station and we were sending probes out to explore the solar system.
The future was getting here in a hurry and I was hungry for exciting ideas about it. There was always something exciting on TV — The Twilight Zone, Space 1999, Planet of the Apes, or a Godzilla movie. My favorite, though, was Star Trek.
I loved (and still love) Star Trek. Mom let us watch it every night at dinner and my brother Joe and I played Star Trek all the time.
And then NASA actually built the Enterprise and we watched it fly on TV.
My Mom was always reading. I remember wanting to read like she did so she helped me read books outside of school and I’d write book reports about them. The one that’s stuck with me all these years is “The Forgotten Door”. It was about a boy from another planet who was super smart, could talk to animals, was a vegan and a pacifist.
Another thing I loved when I was a kid was drawing and painting. It came naturally to me but I also learned a lot from others. The first lesson I remember was Grandpa Verdi teaching me how to observe. He helped me recreate a painting of Captain Kirk from the action figure blister pack by breaking it up in a grid and focusing on the details.
Lori and Gene Harvell were the next artists in my life. I loved their love of teaching. They literally changed my life. I remember being confused by a piece of pottery that Gene had made, and I said, “but I thought you were an artist.” The conversation that followed felt like being extracted from the Matrix. And once outside, I was ready for things like watching David Bowie perform on SNL.
My Dad was, and still is, my biggest cheerleader. Being introduced by him when I was a kid was always a little embarrassing but also made me feel like I could do anything. And for some reason (maybe it was because I was always reading Starlog and planning my sci-fi epic or maybe he just didn’t know what else to do with kids home all day during the summer) he started taking us to see movies all the time. It seems like we saw every movie that came out in the summer of 78 and 79. I also remember waiting in a long, cold, midnight line to see the premiere of Star Trek the Motion Picture. But my most memorable movie experience was with my Dad and his friend Lance. Lance worked at a fancy TV and stereo shop. He took us in after hours one night and we watched 2001 on a ten-foot screen. It was art; it was science; it was the future! It’s been my favorite ever since.
And then I used our brand new VCR to record, watch and re-watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Both the show and the book start with this:
“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there’s a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.” — Carl Sagan
All these years later this still brings happy tears to my eyes as I think about my connection to these people that I love, how thankful I am for them and how singular that is in all the Cosmos.