This week, I get the pleasure of asking Breki Tomasson 20 Questions. Breki is a podcasting force based in Sweden. He has a podcasting network, CSICON. where his podcast, Geekdays, resides. That podcast focuses on geeky things in a not necessarily North American context. He is also a frequent contributor to many of the podcasts that I listen to such as DTNS and Current Geek, and recently was a focus on Patrick Beja's podcast the Phileas Club where Patrick grilled him about life in Sweden. He has a different perspective concerning tech and all things geeky than I do because, well, (aside from the fact that he is informed while I am uninformed rabble) I live in the US and he lives in Sweden. I do not know terribly much about Mr Tomasson, but this 20 Questions aims to change that fact.
I started out my professional life as a cartographer. I love stories that involve place and space, specifically, I enjoy people's personal geographic stories. For example, I was born just outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, moved to Montgomery, Alabama early in my life, and relatively quickly the family moved a hike north to just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. I went off to school 12 hours drive away from the parents to Kent State University in the northeast of Ohio in Kent. There I met my fiance (now wife). We moved to Columbus, Ohio in the center of the state for marriage and grad school and have been in that area for the last 18 years or so.
Question 1: What is your geographic story?
I was born in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, back in 1980. My father was an economist and my mother was a former flight attendant who now worked as a teacher. I don't remember living in Iceland, as shortly after my fourth birthday, the entire family moved to Stockholm, Sweden. My father had gotten a job there with the Nordic Council, a form of inter-parliamentary forum for cooperation between the Nordic countries; Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.
Since we didn't speak any Swedish when we moved - Icelandic and Swedish are significantly different so as to not be understandable in more than just the broad strokes - my six year older sister was put in an International School. She already had some basic understanding of English, so my parents figured this would be an easier way for her to hit the ground running. I was still a year or two away from school, so when I started it was in a Swedish-speaking school.
By the time I started fourth grade, it was time for me to move to the school my sister had gone to. My Swedish was fluent, and I'd picked up enough English to manage. Having gone to an all-Swedish school to now going to the International School of Stockholm was a big change; my best friends over the next few years would turn out to be American, Dutch, Greek, Turkish, Indian, and British. It gave me a very solid understanding of the different cultures out there and how we're all, when it comes down to brass tacks, mostly the same.
When I started working, right after high school, I ended up working for Ericsson. About a year into my career, I was traveling abroad to perform installations, and moved on to perform technical training as well. Over the course of three years, I visited twenty-something countries throughout the Middle East and Africa, countries that I would never have seen had it not been for this kind of job. I was nearly jailed in Cameroon for not paying a bribe they expected. I saw a man washing himself in a puddle outside of my hotel in Guinea-Bissau. I went to a very strange Soviet history museum in Uzbekistan. I relied on my high school French to explain directions to a cab driver in Morocco. I fell asleep on a deck chair next to a swimming pool in Kuwait. I got lost taking a long afternoon walk through Tehran, Iran.
My traveling days are behind me now, as my responsibilities and duties keep me fairly bound to Stockholm at the moment. Still, I've been to more countries than most people could name, and I've had far more interesting adventures than I would have expected twenty years ago. I don't know if I'll stay in Stockholm, Sweden, all my life. I still have some ambitions that might lead me elsewhere, but for now I'm very happy where I am.
I love asking most the Europeans that I have asked 20 Questions this question because I am always surprised by their journeys.
You have traveled all over the world, Question 2: Where in the world do you think is the best place for you to vacation?
The best place for a person to vacation is a tricky question, as it depends so much on what kinds of things a person enjoys out of their vacations. Personally, I'm the kind of guy who fills up my days with so many activities that a vacation, for me, is the ability to relax and just put things aside. The ability to sleep, relax, read, and not worry about e-mail, my phone, my dog or anything like that. The ideal, in that case, is to bring my Kindle, loaded up with books, and lie down on a warm, sunny, beautiful, beach where I'm being served drinks and food. I'm fairly flexible about the place, as long as those basic amenities are being met. I'm a big fan of Rethymnon in Crete.
I have heard good things about Crete. Who doesn't love the Minoans? So, you are a beach guy. Good to know.
Now onto my typical Question 3: Cake or Pie? Which specific kind and why?
Oh, wow. Cake or pie? I'm probably going to have to go with cake on this one; although I do make a kick-ass pineapple pie that everybody who's tried it absolutely loves. But as for what my favorite cake is? That's easy. Carrot cake. It's close enough to food so as to not give you a guilty conscience, and it tastes good as well!
Going with carrot cake is a fine choice, especially with cream cheese frosting. mmmm, cream cheese frosting.
You are the driving force behind Geekdays, a podcast that focuses on all things geeky and pop-culture.
Question 4: What subject in pop/geek culture that you cannot help but consume like there is no tomorrow?
Geekdays is a bit of a passion project of mine; I've always wanted to do a great geek news show, but the format, focus and perspective has never quite been clear to me. Geekdays is the fourth iteration of this kind of show, and it finally feels like I've gotten the format down pat. I've got some great writers helping me pick stories and write the content. All I really need to do nowadays is just show up and read the script, really.
As for geek culture, I love television series. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I follow around 30 - or more - series on a regular basis right now. I'm following every single superhero-themed TV series out there, almost all of the science fiction-themed series, and a whole lot more on the side. I can't even stop watching NCIS or Bones, for some reason. When I'm at home, I'm usually watching a TV series while doing other things, whether that be working, eating or playing video games.
That is a large amount of TV shows. Wow. I have 6-ish shows that I consume. I am thinking about 7, but not sure.
Question 5: What is the best TV show on the TV/Streaming services at the moment in your opinion?
That's a good question, as it so often depends on my mood. There hasn't been a truly great TV series since Lost went off the air, even though Fringe did scratch my itch for a few seasons and Happy Town was extremely promising. I'm a big fan of the superhero genre, and both Marvel's Daredevil and Jessica Jones have been among the best things I've seen on TV in a long time. I've got high hopes for Marvel's Luke Cage as well.
Apart from those, I think my biggest positive surprise this season has been the launch of the Limitless TV series. They seem to be going in a very interesting direction with that one, and it's a welcome change over the generally poor performance of other series that launched this fall.
For my money, Daredevil is the best show I have seen on the TV. Jessica Jones did carry the torch, but DD really was the best one. I am watching the WB superhero stuff, and those are fun. I wish they would cool it on the secrecy for secrecy sake plot lines. The amount of angst that could be taken care of with some simple conversations is alarming. The angst is unnecessary, they are superheroes fighting super villains... there is enough conflict without the silly stuff... but I digress.
Lost was hit or miss with people. It hit more than missed, but the finale seems to have bifurcated its fans. I have not seem Limitless, so I cannot make comment on it.
Question 6: What property do you think is set-up perfectly for being a TV series, but has not been made as of yet?
Absolutely, Daredevil was the better of the two - not by far, but by a significant enough margin. As for Lost; yeah, the final season absolutely split the fanbase in half, but the end of the plot was never what drove me to love the show. It was talking to other fans online, following the character arcs and the interactions. Whether a specific fan theory is true or not was less important to me. A show is either character driven or plot driven, and people's disappointment in Lost, I think, seems to come from people expecting it to be a plot-driven show when it was written as a character-driven show.
There are a lot of great properties out there that are begging for a good cinematic or television treatment, but I think my favorite would have to be the Wheel of Time book series. It'd be an extremely ambitious project, on a scale about five to ten times the complexity of Game of Thrones, but if it were done well, it could be one of the greatest things on television. Barring that, a ten to twelve episode Marvel series about Hawkeye, starring Jeremy Renner, following the mood and theme more recent comic book run.
Bro, a Matt Fraction Based Hawkguy show would be great, bro. I would pay really good money for that. That needs to be pitched to Renner, like yesterday.
The Wheel of Time is huge. It would be a compelling series if done well, but the initial investment would be titanic. The series would have to be done absolutely perfectly to separate itself from Game of Thrones since GoT is done so seriously and well. Otherwise it will be considered a GoT knock-off regardless of when Jordan started the series. I think the next genre defining series needs to swing back to Sci-Fi, but I am unsure as to the property that would be good.
On to a different tack of questioning, just because I do not know that much about Sweden. Question 7: What would you say is your favorite aspect of Swedish culture?
Bro, I know, bro! That'd be the best broing show around! And I see your point, absolutely. I was thinking a proper Dune reimagining, but they've tried that before. (Tried and failed? Tried and died.)
That's a good question! Some of the things I like most about Sweden are also some of the things I like least. Swedes are generally a very reserved lot; more prone to leave you to yourself if you're not disturbing them. We appreciate our privacy here, and are pretty much free to live our lives as we want without other people trying to impose their own morals, ethics and principles on you. Groups like the Westboro Baptist Church would just be laughed out of here, and anybody who is trying to explain why their lifestyle is right would just be shrugged at.
While this is often a good thing, it also means that it's very hard to get any real sense of unity here. There's no real Swedish identity, and nothing that unifies us as a people. While Americans might be able to talk about something being "Un-American", a Swede talking about something being "Un-Swedish" sounds downright silly. We can talk about people who love French culture as being francophiles, but there's no such thing as a swedophile.
That is a very interesting and nuanced answer, which is exactly the kind of answer I would expect from someone who is both interesting and nuanced. People in the US have a preconceived notion of what Swedes look like (I know it is most likely incorrect), but have no real idea as to what we think it is to be "Swedish." If pressed, I could probably come up with something, but I would rather not.
I know that you regularly collaborate with a people from North America and presumably other places. Question 8: Other than the time difference and scheduling mess, what is the most difficult aspect of working with an international collaborative group?
I think the most difficult aspect, barring the obvious one with time zones, is the availability of various forms of media. We have different release schedules for movies and television, and services like Netflix offer very different content depending on where in the world you are. Talking about a new television series can be very difficult as the European release dates tend to be a couple of days behind, so you're essentially forced to either rely on piracy or accept the fact that things will be a bit later than you'd want them to be. Similarly, we get movies on a different schedule in Europe. We get lots of Disney-properties a day or two early; so most Marvel movies and the upcoming Star Wars movie will hit theaters in Europe a day or two early, which means I have to hold my thoughts in until my North American counterparts have seen it as well and do a show about it.
The release schedule thing and the licensing from territory to territory is an aspect of long distance work relationships that I have not thought about. My wife works with people from all over the globe, and for her, since she is not dealing with content that needs to be released, the scheduling across time zones is the most difficult. Release schedules... who knew?
Question 9: What content from 2016 are you most looking forward to?
Wow, that's a tricky one. At the moment, it's a tossup between three things all competing for the biggest and most significant release of next year.
Firstly, it'll have to be Deadpool. He's such an interesting comic book character, and I'm both worried and excited to see how he translates to film. We've seen precious little in terma of clips from the movie, but the PR campaign has been amazing.
Secondly, I'm going to have to say the obvious one, Captain America: Civil War. The Marvel franchise is my favorite ongoing franchise and it doesn't seem they can do anything wrong. The trailers for this make it seem amazing.
Third, on a very personal note, we're launching a brand new design of the CSICON podcasting network on January first. I've put hundreds of coding hours into this thing and am really curious to hear how people like it.
I am super excited for Captain America: Civil War. I am trepidatious about Deadpool. That one will either be absolutely amazing or terrible, with very little middle ground. I have my fingers crossed for amazing, just because of Ryan Reynolds' love of the character. I will definitely check on the CSICON design as well. I love me some UXD. One of these days I will have a jobby job doing something in the UXD space.
Question 10: Fill in the blanks: I find that I am mostly ______. Others find that I am mostly ______.
Yeah, UXD is a lot of fun. I've put so much time into getting the design just right, but I'm guessing 75% of my work has been the codebase. The current average load time on CSICON is 2.5 seconds, but with the new design I've been able to pull that down to 0.5 seconds just through optimizing code, combining scripts, moving things to where they need to be and so on. Very impressed with my work if I may say so myself.
That's a good question! I've got two candidates that both fit.
I find that I am mostly drawn from passion to passion, others find that I am mostly busy.
I find that I am mostly lost, confused and trying to make ends meet, others find that I am mostly in control of my own destiny.
Good IA and back end code leads to good UXD. Very rarely do people/companies/organizations strip down to their base code and do that level of optimization. Good on you for doing it and dropping from a 2.5 second load time to a .5 second load time is mightily impressive. Well done to you.
Your responses to Q10 are pretty interesting. The first set lines up pretty well from your personal projection to others' projections. Going from passion to passion often leads to one being busy. However, your second set of answers are almost diametrically opposed. Question 11: What leads others to think you are mostly "in control of my own destiny" when you mostly feel "lost, confused, and trying to make ends meet?" Why do you think that disparity exists, or is this particular disparity just you having Impostor's Syndrome?
I think most people would say I'm the kind of guy in control of my own destiny since I've got a very well paid job, a lovely apartment in the dead center of the city, a successful podcast network, a healthy love- and sex-life, and so on. I'm fairly intelligent and never really seem to struggle with things, and generally have a very easy time accomplishing whatever it is I want to accomplish.
My own perception, however, differs. It's absolutely to a large extent Impostor's Syndrome; I know that there are people who do what I do so much better than I do them, and they're just waiting to realize that I'm just pretending to be as clever as they think I am. Bigger than that, though, is the feeling that even though things are good and everything is going my way, it takes a lot of focus, attention, care and hard work to keep it that way. I can't take a vacation from most of my work, passion or activities for a single day without them collapsing like a house of cards. It's at the point where I sleep far less than everybody I know and don't really have any time for leisure activities. I used to play video games and be able to veg out in front of the TV, but that just doesn't happen any more. I've already had stress-related issues twice in my life, and I'm taking steps to try to figure out how to fix it.
Imposter's Syndrome is a nasty beast. It is said that people of above average intelligence tend to get caught up in instances of Imposter's Syndrome, but people who are dumb as bricks a amazingly confident in the skills that they do not have. Ignorance is definitely bliss.Blissful blissful ignorance.
Question 12: Do you ever find yourself jealous of the blissfully ignorant?
Yes, imposter's syndrome is a nasty beast at all.
To answer your question: No, I don't think I've ever been jealous of the blissfully ignorant. Every day of my life I try to better myself, improve and expand my knowledge of things and become better at what I do. Curiosity is such a natural part of who I am, that I can't help myself. I think blissful and ignorant is a contradiction in terms, even though more knowledge and more understanding often makes life more complicated.
Here we are at unlucky 13. So... Question 13: do you have any superstitions or rituals?
That's a good question! It's not the kind of thing I ever think about - superstitions - but I'm sure we've all got something like that going for ourselves, especially when it comes to rituals. We all prefer doing things in ways we're accustomed to and tend to be creatures of habit. I could go for simple and say things like how I always put my left leg into a pair of pants first, how I put my left shoe on before my right, but that's just habit - I don't think something special will happen if I break my habit and put my right shoe on first. I pat my back right pocket, my front right pocket and my left inner jacket pocket before I leave home, but that's just to check if I've got my wallet, keys and phone.
I tend to see rituals as something tied to superstition and religion. I'm not a religious kind of guy, but I do consider myself to be what I call a secular Buddhist. I follow the Eight-Fold Path, and so there are some habits - possibly rituals - that follow along with it. I meditate, I try to practice right thinking, right speech and so on - but it's still a far step away from being a ritual, it's more of a lifestyle.
So no; I don't think I have any superstitions or rituals in that kind of way.
I have personally lumped in any specific methodology to get myself in a particular frame of mind into the category of ritual. Therefore I would consider mediation to be ritualistic... If that meditation is achieved by following a set of prescribed steps. That is a ritual I need to get on top of this year. My brain box needs some help.
Question 14: is there anything that you are looking to add into your life this year? Less a New Year's resolution and more a goal?
I suppose there are two things that I'd like to see as goals during 2016, and they relate to two very different parts of my life.
The first is the perennial favorite; getting back into the habit of going to the gym. I had a really good thing going back in the days, but just over a year ago I broke two ribs and had to stop working out. Once the worst bit of healing was over, I got into the habit of running instead, and ran a 10k (about 6.2 miles) in 55 minutes, which I thought was pretty good, all things considered. Then, with all the stress of my mother's illness and death, my move, and everything else that conspired against me, I never really got back to the gym. I've started going again now in the past two weeks, and want to make it a habit to go two or three times a week, four if time permits.
The second is more business-oriented. My podcasting network, CSICON, has grown by leaps and bounds over the past five years that we've been running it, but it's never quite managed to break through that invisible ceiling that allows me to cut back on my hours at work or even replace it entirely. I don't expect 2016 to offer me any major change in fortune when it comes to podcast earnings, but Iwould like to see 2016 be the year when the trend shifts. Somehow, our Patreon campaign has been dropping while our listener numbers have been increasing, which is very counter-intuitive. If 2016 can see that trend shift and move us more towards a place where we can start bringing more shows on board and paying for interesting opportunities, that would be absolutely wonderful.
The habit of going to the gym is one of the easiest habits to break. I remember one time I had been going to the gym regularly for 9 months straight. Lifting and cardio every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 9 months straight. I would be at the gym by 5:30 those mornings. I felt great and was seeing results. I forgot my gym bag one Wednesday and did not go back to a gym for 3 years. I completely understand the desire to exercise more. Good energy to you on that.
I really dig the Geek Days podcast, but I haven't really delved any further into your other suite of podcasts on CSICON. I need to see what other content you have.
I am stealing this Question from the esteemed Patrick Beja, Question 15: Are you happy?
Yeah, the gym is tricky. One of my philosophies there is that it's better to go there and do a little rather than aiming for an amazing workout every single time. As long as you just keep the habit going, you're better off than doing nothing at all. It's the old "it's better to succeed at something mediocre than fail at something spectacular" mentality.
Oh, and it's Geekdays. One word. Like Weekdays, but with a geek. ;)
As for the question? Yes; I'm absolutely happy. I'm healthy. I'm loved by my friends, my sister and my nephews. I've got a partner and multiple other girls who want to see me. I've got enough money to get around and put some aside. I've got an apartment in the heart of downtown Stockholm. I look good. I've been to 35-ish countries all around the world. I'm able to be creative on a daily basis and put my creations out to tens of thousands of people every month. I know it's easy to be blind to what you have in your constant quest for more, but stopping and thinking of your blessings every now and again really does a person good.
(Sorry about the "Geekdays" slip. I could blame it on autocorrect, but I am sending this from a PC)
I love when people are happy. I always enjoy asking this question because the answer has been typically positive. Often, I have noticed, that before I ask the question I may be in a pensive or unhappy mood, but merely asking the question tends to make me take true stock and and realize how happy my life is overall. I feel like I could kick that up a notch or two by getting a more fulfilling job.
Question 16: Is there a question that you were expecting me to ask that I haven't?
I think the way the question is framed kind of primes you to stop and consider how you're feeling and what you have to be happy about. If you never stop to consider if you're happy or not, I think it's easy to think you're not. You just get caught up in the moment.
I'm not sure what kinds of questions I was expecting, to be honest. You haven't asked why I got into podcasting or what my overall ambitions with it are, which I probably expected earlier on, but I'm generally very happy with the questions. You ask short and concise questions that still leave lots of room for me to talk and speculate around, leaving yourself out of the loop. That's a sign of a very good interviewer, a skill that I've still got lots to learn about. It wouldn't surprise me if you've left some of the harder or heavier questions for the end, and I'm very curious to see what comes next!
Thank you very much for the kind words. It has taken a boatload of interviews to get where I am today, and some were rather bad by my standards today. Honing in on a handful of questions has helped. I have a prescribed 6 or 7 questions I always tend to ask. IT gets tricky when I get to ask someone a second set of 20 Questions, but that happens rarely. I am still kind of waiting for a "home and away" set where I ask someone 20 Questions and then there is a follow-up where they ask me 20, but the time commitment on that would be very high.
Question 17: do you have an ultimate goal for CSICON? What do you think of when you picture your optimum version of your network?
It's not a bad idea, being counter-interviewed, but I understand there's definitely a time issue. And a second set of questions would be an interesting thing to do, but you'd probably have to do question themes in a way. First 20 questions about work, then 20 questions about their private life, etc.
Answer 17: The ultimate goal is basically just continual growth - more listeners, more new podcasts, more hosts, and so on. I don't really have an exit strategy or anything like that, other than slowly getting other people on the network to do more and more of the jobs that I do on a daily basis - so I can focus on other projects as well. I see myself doing fewer podcasts over time, most probably, so that I can focus on the administrative aspect and the business of it all instead. The recent move to CSICON.fm is part of a bigger future strategy, as the dream is to launch a CSICON.tv for video podcasts at some date in the future. But first I want to make sure that CSICON.fm is in a good place so that I can put my energy on other projects; I've found that any new project that I undertake takes too much of my time and attention away from the podcasts, which is not a good thing.
That's a great goaless goal for CSICON. There are a few of your podcasts that I feel I should give a try. You have quite the stable of podcasts.
Now it is time for me to turn the tables. Question 18: Do you have any questions for me?
That's a good one! I think my question to you would have to be what your biggest lesson learned has been asking other people questions? Was there ever any one answer that struck you as unusually insightful or applicable to your own life?
Hmmm... Lessons learned... this method of asking questions is a very different kind of interview, because it does change over time. Sometimes the person who started the interview is not the person who ended the interview because it does take a pretty substantial chunk of time to complete, even if it is going relatively fast. For example, one of my interviewees found out he was going to be a dad while doing the interview, and that colored his responses to the later questions. One of my interviewees had to take a couple week break from the interview to deal with some family issues across the globe. When he got back, he was clearly in a different space than when he started. I have learned that letting this format is best when it breathes a little. The answer that has stuck with me the most is when I asked one particular person if they were happy, and they really answered the question in a very philosophical manner that caused me to re-evaluate how I looked at my answer to that question.
Oh, the penultimate question... Question 19: What are you taking from these 20 Questions that you did not bring in with you?
That's another great question! I think one of the main things that I'll be taking with me from these questions will be something I thought about a few questions back. You asked me if I was happy, and the question caught me a little by surprise, mainly because it wasn't something that I took enough time to stop and consider. Maybe I should do that more often, just make a space in my life to count my blessings and appreciate what it is that I have to be happy about.
That question is deceptively profound. It is such a simple question. Three words and it causes many to re-evaluate their conditions. I love it. I will forever be in Patrick Beja's debt for that question.
The final question is upon us. I cannot express how much I have enjoyed getting to know you and read all of your answers. Thanks so much for committing to the surprising time requirements to answer 20 Questions.
Question 20: What's next? Be as literal or figurative, as short or long term, as concrete or vague as you want to be.
You're so welcome, I've really enjoyed these questions and would love a round two or a followup at some point in the future. Hell, I'd love chatting with you even if it's not for an interview like this. :)
What's next? That's the eternal question, isn't it? We're never quite happy with where we are, there's always a next. A next episode of every one of the TV series I follow. A next episode of Geekdays to record. A next visit to the gym. A next podcast to launch or convince to join the CSICON network. A next skill to improve or acquire. A next movie to look forward to at the cinema.
I think, ultimately, what's next for me right now, is to continue my work on CSICON. We've come a long way in the five years since we launched, but the network is still too dependent on me being there. I want to make myself more or less redundant, so I'm building tools for people to use to upload their shows, setting up routines for people that will make my being there less important. CSICON is my pride and joy, and I want to have the time to develop it more, rather than being caught up in the nitty gritty daily operations of the site.
Thank you so much for the questions! They've been extremely interesting, and I love the way you've been able to jump from surface to depth while maintaining a consistent leitmotif throughout. Thank you so much for this!
I find it very exciting that you are so consistently focused on the CSICON network. With your level of attention, I am sure it will continue to expand to meet your expectations. The CSICON network has some really interesting content and I wish you continued success.
This has been an absolute joy. I am very happy that Tom Gehrke suggested you as a 20 Questioneer. Thanks, Breki.
So, everyone check out all of Breki’s work. It can mainly be found at http://csicon.fm/author/Breki
So go get it and eat some of that tasty tasty content up.
So, the David Bowie thing is a bit sad
I did not know how much music he made that I never realized was him
Re-invented himself every time he came out of the gate
The Mother-in-Law broke her foot Sunday night tripping over her money in the dark
Not many people can say that
I have been sleeping terribly lately
I tried out melatonin, but it made me feel all drugged up the following day
We tried to put one of our ratties in a sweaterbecause she had some stitches that we did not want her removing
She did not like the sweater
And she chewed out the stitches
Snitches get stitches, ya’ll
But she didn’t snitch
All stitches are not the result of snitching
It doesn’t work that way
Have a great week everyone