Adam Z. Lein has been a tech journalist at Pocketnow since 2002. See: Get to know Pocketnow’s Adam Lein
Adam has also been a photographer since 1995. See: Adam Lein Photography
The early days
It started on June 30, 1977 in Sacramento, California. My parents had traded in their awesome 2 seater Porsche convertible for two more-spacious Volkswagens since they were about to start a family and move back east. We spent some time in Indianapolis to finish up a master’s degree or something. That’s also were I met my younger brother in 1979. After a couple of years, we made our way back to the east coast to my parents’ home town of Sterling, Massachusetts where I got to grow up among a huge extended family of dozens and dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins.
As a very young child, unfortunately I had numerous health problems. Asthma almost killed me a couple times. Growing up I really had to concentrate on things that others took for granted, like breathing. My time spent in the hospital was painful, but I always asked to have the IV plugged into my left arm so that I could use my right hand draw pictures of the lake and trees and my parents’ Volkswagens and other fun outdoor activities. The more realistic, the better.
From first grade through middle school I learned a lot about art and exercise. I was a favorite among art teachers and took summer classes at the Worcester Art Museum. I was placed in the advanced classes with older children as opposed to the classes for kids my age which mainly dealt with immature finger painting. Instead I learned about real technique and artistic styles from around the world and won a few awards over the years.
To help improve my health, I took swimming lessons and learned breathing exercises. As I grew, I also took up martial arts and bicycling. In middle school I loved learning freestyle BMX tricks and was famous for my specialty trick called “Frame-standing Down Maple”. Maple was the steepest hill in town, so while other kids were afraid just to go down it without using brakes, I stood on the top of my bicycle and held my hands in the air. If that wasn’t impressive enough, when friends were behind me being driven somewhere by a mom, I would aim for a car parked on the side of the street and then swerve around it while frame-standing (no handed).
Over the years I also studied numerous martial arts… about 8 different styles all together. In high school after becoming an internationally ranked tournament fighter, I also got a part time job as a karate instructor teaching martial arts to a wide range of age groups. Yes, I’ve punched through a concrete brick in case you were wondering. Unfortunately I had to quit that job, hop on the motorcycle and go away to college in New Haven, Connecticut in 1995.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to study in college at first, so I dabbled in numerous disciplines including philosophy, creative writing, science, and music. I had already learned a lot about photography in high school and during the late 90’s graphic design software had started to become mainstream. Adobe Photoshop 3.0 was a really big deal. My father bought it for our new computer along with a number of other graphics programs after I had pushed the limits of Aldus Photostyler. Photoshop didn’t arrive right away, so I read a book about it before I even got to touch the program. I also learned Fractal Design Painter and even created a few award winning images using the POV-RAY 3d image ray tracer and its imagery programming language. I learned the new programs so quickly, I ended up being a teaching assistant for a few graphic design classes and web design classes offered by the college where I gave demos occasionally and helped students individually when they had questions. At one point I was taking 5 classes and teaching 2 per week. I met some of the most popular graphic design artist and instructors at Macworld Boston which led to being published in numerous books, magazines, as well as being included as a private beta consultant for Adobe, Macromedia, Extensis, and other software developers where I got to suggest new tools and enhancements that would later make it into the software as well as learn a lot about usability. To make a long story short, in 1998, I graduated with a graphic design award and bachelor’s degree which I completed in 3 years instead of 4.
My first job was actually in 8th grade in sales marketing & management for an insurance company. I did that on Saturday mornings until I went away to college, and it played a big part in allowing me to save up enough money to buy my first motorcycle when I was 16.
As previously mentioned, I also worked as a karate instructor for one year, and while I was in college, I spent one summer working at Digital Equipment Corporation doing web design, posters, and packaging graphics and also did some work for a media publishing start-up called Hyperactive Media Systems.
After graduating from college, I spent a few months at home with my parents in Massachusetts working on my portfolio and sending out resumes. I had my computer faxing anything that looked interesting in New York and California. I took the first job that I was offered and packed my bags for New York. It’s been about 13 years now that I’ve been working at that small design firm during the day, creating websites, packaging designs, logos, exhibit designs, trade show graphics, video animations, DVDs, books, posters, signage, etc.
My early days at the design firm had me working on a Mac running OS 7. Since there really wasn’t anything like Microsoft Outlook for the Mac in those days, I struggled with managing contacts, appointments, and projects. So I bought a Uniden PC-100 personal digital assistant for $99 running Windows CE 2.1 for Palm-Sized PCs. That allowed me to take my contacts, schedule, tasks list, maps, and emails from my home computer and still be able to access them when working in front of my Mac. The PDA had a built-in 28.8 modem and tone dialing capabilities so if I wanted to make a phone call, I could select the contact, press dial and hold the PDA’s speaker up to a land-line telephone receiver in order to make a call. I found this to be much more convenient than actually pressing numbers on a phone’s dial pad. I also didn’t have to learn that silly graffiti language that the Palm Pilots of the time required since Windows CE was smart enough to recognize normal handwriting.
Then in 2000, the new wave of Pocket PCs began appearing. The iPaq H3600 was the device to have and initially it was very hard to find. One night a techie friend of mine called me and said, “Hey you should go to CompUSA on 119 tonight. They just got three iPaqs.” I hopped on the motorcycle and bought one right away. Later that year I attended a Pocket PC Fan event in New York City. Attendees were invited on stage to show off different aspects of their pocket PCs. I showed off how I had coded my personal website to automatically generate a mobile-friendly version when accessed from the PDA (which at the time was one of the only mobile devices capable of rendering real HTML.) That night I also met Jared Miniman of Pocketnow.com (Brandon’s older brother) who asked me if I might want to write for the site.
At first I was surprised since he didn’t know anything about me at the time and I had never heard of Pocketnow.com either (it had only just launched with the turn of the century after all). After a couple years of reading the site, upgrading my Pocket PC to include CDPD wireless internet access, and salivating over the GSM/GPRS Expansion Pack that would turn my iPaq Pocket PC into the first real smartphone, I imported the expansion pack as soon as I could and offered a review to Jared Miniman and Derek Snyder of Pocketnow. That review is still available today.
The Pocketnow Days
Since the success of my GSM/GPRS Expansion pack review in early 2002, I started sending in some other news tips to Derek and he eventually asked me to join part-time to post all sorts of Pocket PC related news as well as contribute some more reviews. The XDA II was a favorite of 2003; the first smartphone with Bluetooth headset capabilities. The i-mate JAM was the best smartphone of 2004, which I also reviewed. Take note of the photo of how this smartphone compared to Apple’s most popular product of the time. The HTC P3300 was my favorite phone of 2006, and that was also the first time we started adding YouTube videos to reviews. Pocketnow changed hands a couple times before Jared’s younger brother Brandon bought the site and started putting a lot more effort into its growth. I started doing more extensive reviews including videos with ever-growing production values. We branched out to cover more than just Windows Mobile smartphones and I did extensive comparisons with Symbian, Palm and Blackberry devices. I was one of the first people to have used Android and reviewed the G1 back in 2008. I travelled to many press events, covered them with video, photos, and text (often in cooperation with Brandon,) wrote many reviews, plenty of editorials and news posts.
I’m still on board at Pocketnow as a senior editor, but I’ve kept my work here part-time as there is still a lot of other things in life that I like to do and that kind of variety is important to me.
All the Other Stuff
In 2008 I was hugely honored to have received my first MVP award after being nominated by Brandon. It was something I had been hoping for since the turn of the century. Being a Windows Mobile MVP had always seemed like so much fun. I got to fly to Seattle for the MVP Summit and meet the people in charge of Windows Mobile as well as a good number of other MVPs. I was re-awarded in 2009 and 2010 and was also a Windows Phone Ambassador in 2010. It was a fantastic experience!
Photography is still something that I enjoy doing, and over the years I’ve shot quite a lot of weddings, fashion shows, special events, and commercial shoots. I still bicycle and ride motorcycles, but my vehicles have become more adult-like, although speeding through the high-traffic streets of Manhattan on a bicycle might be a bit more dangerous than frame-standing down Maple.
While throughout my life there are consistent themes surrounding art, photography, technology, the future and friendships, I’ve always wanted to keep a balance between all of the things that I’m interested in and naturally keep a little bit of extra room for any new things that I might become interested in. It’s very important in life to have some degree of diversity and flexibility.