WHO IS DAVID SEAH, AND WHY IS HE HERE?
A version of this post was published in April, 2015, before the gremlins devoured and destroyed portions of our blog. After you read this, go spend time exploring davidseah.com. Lots of time. Read other interviews he’s done — no two cover the same territory.
Then, come back here later for Parts 2 and 3 for more. Michele
Meet Dave, a talented, whimsical storyteller who uses computer technology to bring his stories and creations to life. His serious side is always looking for a better way to organize, systematize, code, and simplify tasks — these products are spare, beautifully balanced, color coordinated, and do their job well.
Then there’s his other side that loves to explore and tweak options, express how he (and we) feel about life. These creations led me to contact Dave. His very generous sharing of time and ideas fill this post, plus two more to follow.
We exchanged over 6,000 words! How to distill his wisdom, humor, eclectic personality, deeply held and expressed views, took a while. Plan time to go get lost in his website. Discover how he works, what he’s created and shared with the universe.
But first, enjoy Part 1 of the David Seah saga:
Just who is Dave Seah?
I don’t really have a succinct answer for that!
Factwise, I’m a 48-yo Taiwanese-American living in New Hampshire about 40 miles north of Boston. It’s a suburban area without good Chinese restaurants, which makes me sad.
Mostly I work as a freelance interactive developer, though I am trying to transition away from that into making products based on my own design work.
I gather that you were always interested in technical issues, trying to figure out how things work, and how to make them work better.
That’s a valid observation, though I think that I’m more interested in “human issues” that have technical aspects that I can solve.
I find technology for the sake of technology pretty boring. The application of technology, though, in the pursuit of “something better” or “something MORE AWESOME” is hugely interesting to me. It’s about empowering and enabling, and sometimes I’m able to muster the ability to work through the technical issues.
Figuring out how things work is an exercise in understanding how to make some aspect of life better. That said, I like digging into the technology and the principles behind it to find the uncommon and non-obvious effects they have, and thinking of ways that they might be useful or perhaps amusing.
What experiments are you most proud of creating/adapting in your growing up days?
I wasn’t a particularly experimental kid, but I did discover computers when I was in the 7th grade, around 1980-1981.
A lot of my formative beliefs about information sharing and team come from that time of learning in a group of three of us, and I spent a lot of time learning the innards of the Apple II computer.
I would say I learned the bulk of my computer knowledge, or perhaps gained the mindset for using computers, before I went to college for computer engineering.
In high school, I was probably most pleased with winning a school bridge building competition with an interesting load-bearing design that no one else had thought of by a 2:1 margin, or 10:1 if you didn’t include the student who cheated.
I also enjoyed writing, and was in-fact thinking of becoming an English major instead of a computer engineering major. I figured I could always write, but would learn more in computer engineering that I didn’t know, to the chagrin of my English teachers.
Did you write much as a kid? What were your first doodles and writings about?
Yep! I had a mysterious grasp of essay writing at an early age, which I didn’t realize for years. I would just write-out what I was thinking and present it in an order that made sense, each paragraph building on the previous one. I enjoyed using WordStar, the seminal early word processing program, because I could type as fast as I could think
My first memory of a story was for I think was the 7th grade, when I had stayed up late writing an assignment at the last minute (hand-written, as this predates word processor use in my house).
I had put the names of my friends in the class in the story, which was loosely a Star Wars-inspired story, and the teacher reading it aloud made for a lot of interesting reactions from my classmates. I also spent a lot of time drawing spaceships with my friends (this was the late 70s/early 80s after all), which I started in the 4th grade.
I still have all the drawings too! Generally I didn’t write except for class after the 8th grade, but I think what really drew me was making up worlds…that’s what video games were to me, in the early days of that art form.
I grew up as an Army Brat, and experience feeling a “stranger in a strange land”. You said on your blog that you spent your first years in MA, then moved to Taiwan for another chunk of your youth. How did that affect you?
I was born in New Jersey, where my dad was the minister for the First Presbyterian Church of Monmouth County. This was a rural area, mostly farms, and we were the only Asian family anyone had ever seen in the area.
I don’t speak Taiwanese or Chinese because when I was in pre-school, apparently I was speaking a mixture of Taiwanese and English and the teachers thought I had brain damage or a developmental disorder, so my mom started speaking to me only in English and I lost the language.
At the time, my parents didn’t think they would be returning to Taiwan because of the government (they were blacklisted as human rights activists by the KMT, the losers of the Chinese Civil War in 1949). In 1976 or 1977 our family moved to Taiwan when I was 9.
The result: massive culture shock. It was already easy to feel slightly out-of-place as the only Asian kid where I lived, but at least there was TV and I could read and understand what people were saying. In Taiwan I couldn’t do that. I went to the American school the entire time I was there, not speaking Chinese and being regarded as a weird foreigner.
Then on returning to the US for college, I unexpectedly went through yet another 5 years of reverse-culture shock (realizing this only 5 years after it was over), because I’d been away for so long and I lacked common experiences with my other classmates.
The effect, I think, was always feeling like an outsider or stranger, to this day. It took a long time to develop comfort in some social skills, but even now it is difficult to put away the feeling that I am an outsider/intruder that doesn’t belong.
Was art your first love, and tech more of an adult decision?
Neither of them are a first love, I would say, as a maker. I’m probably more of a reluctant creative.
I was more excited about stories than anything, particularly ones that I thought I could make. I wanted to (and still do want to) make really interesting experiences. I love animation, illustration, computer graphics, computer game design because of the stories and feelings they encourage, and for the knowledge and experience they deliver.
I’m a frustrated storyteller, and both art and technology are where my efforts seem to have gone because I have wanted good tools and good skills. Where I have fallen short, though, is having the guts to tell those stories and keep practicing.
It feels like I’m only now just getting over that block. Making things that are lovable is hard!
David, thank you so much!
This was my trigger to contact Dave – I LOVE
the Angry Scribble option!I call it my Grump’s To Do Form.