What’s Happening Today That No One Sees?

Amy and I watched The Big Short on Tuesday with my partner Jason and his wife Jenn. We were electrified as we walked out of the theater – all four of us loved it. Jason commented that it was a particularly impressive movie given the subject matter. I couldn’t stop saying “that’s the best explanation of what created the financial crisis that I’ve ever seen.”

I remember reading The Big Short in 2010 when it came out. I’m a huge Michael Lewis fan and gobbled it down in a day or two. As we walked to the parking lot, I commented that the big four actors (Gosling, Carell, Bale, and Pitt) in the movie totally nailed their roles. I particularly identified with Pitt’s character Ben Rickert (based on Ben Hockett) who lives in Boulder in the movie.

As we got into our car, Amy said, “What do you think is happening today that no one sees?” This was the underlying theme of the movie – there were some completely obvious things in hindsight going on at the time that no one saw, or wanted to see. A few did notice and made huge financial bets, in non-obvious ways – about what they saw and believed was going to happen. Their foresight and conviction paid off massively, but it scarred each of them in different ways that the movie dramatized extremely well.

I like some time to pass before I look at history. While some people are good at reflecting on the past year and looking forward to predict the next year (one of the best in the VC world is Fred Wilson – read his posts What Didn’t HappenWhat Happened In 2015, and What Is Going To Happen In 2016), I’ve never been particularly good at a one year time frame. Instead, I generally like a ten year moving window to process things. So, the lens of 2005 (history) and 2025 (future) is the one I’m currently enjoying.

The Big Short is picking up major steam in 2005. The climax happens in 2008 and the denouement continues on until 2011. So, from a history window perspective, the time frame landed directly on my boundary. Subsequently, Amy and I went on a binge the past few days of other media around this, including the movie Too Big To Fail (which is really about what happened in the fall of 2008) and Inside Job (which covers a broader time range, but focused on 2005 – 2008).

As I sit here on January 2nd, 2016, I’m pondering “what is happening today that no one sees?” When I go back a decade, we were just making the decision not to raise another Mobius Venture Capital fund. My partners and I hadn’t yet created Foundry Group. Techstars didn’t exist. Venture Capital and entrepreneurship was dramatically out of favor. Early stage and seed capital was extremely difficult to find.

I remember having deep conviction that there was an enormous wave of technological innovation coming. I knew that many of the things that had been created in the Internet bubble were great ideas, but they were just – as Jerry Colonna and I like to say – a decade ahead of their time. Today, it’s pretty obvious that was correct. At the time, talking about this stuff was a conversation stopper of the sort that Michael Burry (played brilliantly by Christian Bale) seems to generate every time he talks to someone.

Unlike Mark Baum, who is based on Steve Eisman (and played even more brilliantly by Steve Carell), I’m not angry, cynical, and convinced the world is a giant, rigged, inside game. But I do believe that the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea what is really going on, especially those who are in the middle of whatever game they are playing.

While this comes out in The Big Short, it’s even more apparent when you watch (or read) Too Big To Fail. And, while watching Inside Job, you see people lying or trying to obscure the truth in almost every interview. You can’t fake reality – it always catches up with you.

In the mean time, I’m getting ready for the next season of Game of Thrones.

Books I Read On Sabbatical 2015

Amy and I take an annual one month sabbatical completely off the grid. This is something that each of my partners and their families also do – we rotate throughout the year and the other partners completely cover for whomever is on sabbatical. Based on the experience of the past two years, this has had a dramatic positive impact on our lives, our relationship with our families, our mental health, and our longevity in our business. It also is a powerful reinforcing dynamic in our partnership – we talk regularly about how we all work on everything together, but when one person is gone for a month and the other three have to cover everything he’s working on, there’s nowhere to hide and the trust dynamic that evolves is remarkably deep.

We went to Rancho Valencia and played tennis at least five days a week and I used this trip to completely reboot my tennis game. When I was a kid, I played junior tennis in Texas from age 10 – 14. I was good but not great – I could consistently get to the quarter finals in tournaments and every now and then make it to the semifinals. I stopped playing around age 14 when I discovered girls and computers. Today, after having zero consistency on the court for 35 years I’m a solid 4.0 but with some effort and consistency I expect I could play 4.5 tennis. That’s kind of a fun thought for the next 20 years.

One of the other things Amy and I do on sabbatical is read every day. We are both fast readers and I generally can read a book in a day or two, depending on the type and size of the book. Last year I was on a biography kick in Bora Bora and that’s what I posted about. This year I decided to do a LIFO approach on my Kindle so you’ll just get the whole list (in order read) along with my quick thoughts. This includes books I decided to buy while on sabbatical as they jumped to the front of the LIFO line.

If you want my full reading list mildly categorized going back several years, take a look at my Goodreads account.

How to Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage and Style and Women and Also Cocktails Ever Written: Amy and I ended up addicted to Archer and I think it’s now my favorite TV cartoon. The book is fun, but the TV show (now through six seasons) is a riot. Archer Vice is an especially fun year (Season 5).

Rogue Lawyer: I stopped reading John Grisham books many years ago (I loved his first few and then got bored). For some reason I picked this one up and thought it was great fun.

Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies: This one was a little chewy, but fortunately not that long. I don’t remember why I bought it or who had recommended it to me. It didn’t stick with me thought – I’m not sure I remember anything insightful from it.

How We’ll Live on Mars (TED Books): Given the move The Martian and all the recent Elon Musk talk about Mars, I decided to learn a little more. This was another winner – easy to read and very accessible, yet with plenty of stuff that was new to me.

The Most Important Thing Illuminated: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor: Yeah, well, Howard Marks is an investment genius. I should have read this book when it first came out. If you are in any kind of investment business (including Venture Capital) you should read this book right now.

Startup Wealth: How the Best Angel Investors Make Money in Startups: Josh interviewed a bunch of angel investors, including me. This is a very timely and relevant book for any angel investor. It’s heavily interview style and could have benefited from a stronger edit pass, but it has tons of useful (and often contradictory) feedback from lots of different angel perspectives.

The Term Sheet: A Startup Thriller Novel: I’m a big fan of the Startup Fiction genre. This was a quick, fun read.

@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex: This was an important book that crushed my soul. We are at the very beginning of something that is so complex that it will make traditional / historical war look like child’s play. Sure – the ancient Romans and the Greeks created a lot of war strategies that are still in use today, but they never envisioned this.

Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy: I’m reading a lot about robotics and AI these days. I bet you aren’t surprised. This was a solid book – I learned a few things and it made me think a little deeper about others.

Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, and Billion-Dollar Deals: I needed something fun, light, and absurd to read as I been consuming too much serious stuff. This book, written by the guy who created the hilarious GSElevator twitter account, nailed it. As a bonus, if you are either voyeuristic or cynical (or both) about investment bankers, this book is for you.

The Investment Answer: I was given this book with a note that it’s a clear, basic book on personal finances and investing. It’s that, but very basic. If you don’t feel like you have a handle on your personal investing approach, even if you don’t have a lot of money, this is a good starting place.

America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve: With all the discussion about the Fed starting to raise interest rates, I felt I owed it to myself to understand the history of the creation of the Federal Reserve. I knew under 3% of what actually had happened, and I didn’t understand any of the competing forces. In addition to the mechanics and philosophy of what and why the Fed was created, the politics behind it were fascinating. Like a lot of history, it was a little too much blow by blow, but overall really good and context generating.

The Last of the President’s Men: This was the best book of the trip. Wow, wow, wow. I’m a huge Woodward fan so I’ve read a lot of his books. This is a capstone to a very long career of writing about Nixon. It’s totally crazytown what still is surfacing from the Nixon White House era.

Girl in the Woods: A Memoir: I’ve got a fantasy that in a parallel universe I thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. While I’m not going to do it in this particular lifetime, I love reading stories about people who do it. This one, like The Wild, is a coming of age story that is incredibly powerful and well written. While there are plenty of stressful, emotionally painful, and some cringeworthly parts, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book.

Wishful Drinking: Star Wars 7 is coming. Amy and I are in the midst of watching Episodes 1 through 6. So – it’s time for some Carrie Fisher. Well – ok – one is enough.

Wired: The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi: Reading some Carrie Fisher led me to reading Bob Woodward’s biography of John Belushi. It also prompted us to download the best of Belushi on SNL and watch it, although we managed to restrain ourselves from watching Neighbors. As a childhood Belushi fan, this book made me incredibly sad and I think I actually moped around for a few days after reading it.

A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought series Book 1): Time for some science fiction. I hadn’t read Vinge’s Zone of Thought series so I decided to start it. Like most Vinge, it’s a lot of book with tons of ideas that hold well today, in this case about what is going on 25,000 years in the future. I’ve got the next one on my Kindle and will read it when I need another break from current reality.

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns: Amy and I aren’t public market investors – neither of us are interested in it and I simply don’t have time or the emotional energy to add it into the mix of what I do. However, we own plenty of public equity through the various mutual funds (managed and index) that we own. I’d never read the book by Bogel (the founder of Vanguard) and it has been recommended to me by several people I trust. It’s extremely well done and very clear – worthwhile to read if you struggle with the best way to invest in the public markets over the very long term.

Beatlebone: The only physical newspaper I read these days is the Sunday New York Times. And, I don’t read all of it – only the front section, business, Book Review, and the Magazine (Amy reads – and savors – the whole paper.) This was highly recommended in the Book Review and John Lennon is my favorite Beatle. It took me almost a week to read it – it was hard to get into and then easy to bounce out of. Or, it’s possible I was just pretty “read out” by this point.

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance: It seemed appropriate to end seven weeks of tennis with one of the classics about tennis. Awesome book.

As 2015 comes to an end, it was a good year. Here’s looking forward to 2016. And – happy reading.

Progress Out Of Digital Photo Organizing Hell

From the comments, tweets, and emails I got on yesterday’s post My Travels In Digital Photo Organizing Hell it appears I have a common problem. Basically, the existing photo approaches – in general – have created a massive mess. Apple and Google have just made this worse by continuously changing their underlying tools and approaches.

Buried deep in the comments was one from Darla DeMorrow. And it’s a gem.

“Hey, Brad. You’ve got a better handle on this situation than the average bear, but it’s still tricky, no matter what platform you use. And guaranteed it will change tomorrow, which makes us all crazy. But I’ve found a solution that I can recommend to my clients, who depend on www.APPO.org professionals like me to keep them sane. Check out www.Mylio.com. It’s a cloud-enabled service (not cloud-based) that allows you to organize in your own space, sync across devices, and only store in their cloud if you want to. It’s platform independent, sort of like the Evernote of photo organizing. You can throw stuff in the photo pile (making you happy), and it will automatically organize, to a point, making Amy happy. I’m happy to talk with you if you want to know more. You can find me online.”

I’ve been playing with Mylio for about 90 minutes on my Mac and iPhone. So far it is amazing – basically what I was looking for when I started this journey.

All my photos are still in Dropbox. I can access them, move them around, edit them, do whatever I want from a beautiful UX. Amy will be able to run this app on her Mac independently but see the same photo store and do whatever she wants. There are numerous backup options that preserve the directory structure and do NOT force me to use the cloud. I can sync with all my devices seamlessly. It knows how to import stuff like my Facebook photos, Aperture, and iPhoto. It works with Lightroom. It’s extremely fast.

It’s not free but I’m happy to pay for something that actually works. Thanks Darla!

My Travels In Digital Photo Organizing Hell

I’m three days into trying to figure out the best way to deal with our large collection of digital photos that have accumulated since 2000.

When I started (on Christmas Day – I figured it was a one day project) Picasa said we had around 35,000 photos. After several different clean up approaches, we now have about 15,000. That’s the power of Duplicate Photos Fixer Pro which has been probably the cleanest and most straightforward part of this whole exercise.

But – let’s start from the beginning. Several years ago I created a shared Dropbox folder for me and Amy and moved all of our many folders of photos into one folder in Dropbox. I didn’t try to organize anything then – just get them all in one place. I then installed Picasa on each computer, spent a little while with Amy figuring it out, and let time pass from there.

Amy spent a lot of time over the past few years cleaning up photos, arranging them in folders, and copying things from place to place from within Picasa. We had various applications, like Dropbox and iTunes, set up iPhone sync directories. We avoided iPhoto, but every now and then it opened up somewhere and did something. Amy would sync her digital SLR photos with Picasa and then move them around. A bunch of other stuff probably happened in the background as we connected Picasa to the web, installed various Google apps on our machines, and I had a brief foray into using an Android phone.

However, I mostly ignored the problem. Every few months Amy would get frustrated looking for a photo and ask if I was ever going to clean everything up. We constantly talked about getting our iPhones set up to share stuff in a useful way. I bought Amy a new camera (the Sony A7) and decided as part of it I was going to clean up the mess that I’d help create over the years.

I vaguely remembered installing a Google Photo uploader thing on my desktop at work several months ago and letting it run for a few days while it uploaded the mess of photos we had. I looked at https://photos.google.com/ and scrolled through a huge photo collection. Yup – it uploaded them, although preserved none of the folder hierarchy Amy had painstakingly created. And then I started noticing lots and lots of duplicates. That’s weird – I wonder how that happened. After poking around for a way to have Google just automatically eliminate them, I discovered no such feature existed. Ok – I can delete a bunch of duplicates – let’s just share all with Amy. Oops – no way to do that.

Well, that would have been too easy. So, I spent most of Christmas Day afternoon using Picasa to clean up all the folder hierarchies, move photos from the hundreds of randomly named (usually with a date) folders, or the folders named “Move These Later 7.” I started as a Picasa novice and now have mastered it, with all of its quirks.

And then I realized there we had nested folders of duplicates spread out all over the place. Aha – now I knew why Google had duplicates everywhere. After a few searches, I found Duplicate Photos Fixer Pro and, after making a backup of the gigantic photo folder (via the web – so there was no web to desktop to web traffic), I quickly reduced our photo collection by over 50%.

I went to bed and let Dropbox and Picasa do their thing as everything synchronized on my painfully slow home Internet connection (there’s nothing like seeing a “10 hours left” message to decide to call it quits for the night.)

When I woke up yesterday, Dropbox looked fine but Picasa wasn’t synchronized. After messing around with Picasa for a while, I decided to just unlink the scanned folder (which was just the high level photos folder) and let it reindex. That worked. I messed around with the Dropbox hierarchy some more to try to clean things up. I noticed that Picasa again got out of sync. After doing this a few times, I started reading about Picasa on the web and my soul was crushed. I had a fantasy that the long term solution for everything could be something that lived on top of Dropbox, but as I realized that Picasa was getting old and stale (it shows in the UI) and there was a pretty clear path for Google toward everything being entirely web, Android, and Google+ (or – well – Google Photos) based. In other words, Picasa isn’t likely a long term solution.

Deep breath. At this point I checked with my partner Ryan who has 10 zillion photos and he quickly responded Apple Photo plus iCloud Photo Library (iPL) with a backup on Google Photos.

So I spent the rest of yesterday getting my mind around Apple Photos including a multi-machine and user struggle to understand the implications of what Apple thinks a family is and what can be shared between family members. Of course, the relic of the Apple iPhoto library didn’t help, as it introduced a new wave of duplicates which Duplicate Photos Fixer Pro figured out. Eventually I realized I had about 20 remnant Picasa temp files, each which were getting indexed in Apple Photos, so I hunted down and expunged them all. I started a bunch of folders uploading (I was trying to create some semblance of an Album structure). I was getting the hang out it, but it was dinner time so I was done until the morning.

When I woke up this morning, iPL told me that it has 11,781 files left to upload. Amy and I went out to breakfast. When I got back 90 minutes later, iPL now only had 11,721 files left to upload. Well – that’s not going to work.

I gave up, deleted all the photos from my instance of Apple Photos that was uploading, and read a draft of Eliot Peper‘s newest book Cumulus, which was awesome. I did a few other things, had dinner, and am still waiting for Photos/iCloud to figure out what it’s doing several hours later.

For now, I’m taking a break as I ponder my next move. Suggestions welcome.

Book: The Inner Game of Tennis

When I played tennis as a teenager, I remember reading The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by Tim Gallwey. Near the end of my recent sabbatical + birthday vacation, after almost seven weeks of tennis where I played at least five days a week, I decided to read it again.

It held up. Written in 1974, Gallwey uses the concept of Self 1 (the thinking part) and Self 2 (the feeling / doing part). Self 1 is constantly critiquing, analyzing, and telling Self 2 what to do. Self 2 – when it ignores Self 1 – just does. This leads to the idea of the inner and outer game, which is beautifully summarized in the Wikipedia article about Tim Gallwey.

“In every human endeavor there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. The inner game is played to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential.” (Morgan, Ted, Oz in the Astrodom, New York Times, December 9, 1973, p.96)

For the first two weeks, I decided to try to learn to play tennis left handed. I grew up playing right handed, even though I write and throw a ball left handed. I used beginner mind and was doing pretty good when I hurt my left wrist while running during the third week when I was almost hit by a car leaving a parking lot and used my left hand to hop over the hood of it.

So, for a week I played right handed as my left wrist healed. I enjoyed it so much I just stayed with it.

By the fifth week, I was hitting great. I was moving reasonably well on the court and my fitness level and comfort with playing points had gone up a level. During one of my morning lessons, I lucked out and got Arturo, a masterful teacher who Amy and I referred to during our time at Rancho Valencia as “the philosopher.” At some point during my lesson, Arturo said simply, “Stop thinking and hit the ball.”

I carried that thought around with me for the next two weeks. I literally stopped thinking about the mechanics of any of my strokes. I visualized my movements when I was getting ready for a drill, or after I’d hit a number of balls, but I stopped criticizing myself, actually bent my knees (instead of shouting to myself “bend your knees” when I didn’t and missed a shot), and just played.

I hadn’t read The Inner Game of Tennis yet, but I downloaded it on my Kindle. And then just hit the ball for the last few days of our trip. I felt as good on the court as I ever have, even at the top of my game at age 14.

As I read the book on our couch in Boulder yesterday, I smiled. It reinforced the simple message that Arturo tossed out in the middle of a lesson. It made me think of many conversations I’ve had with Jerry Colonna at Reboot. And then, I poked around the web and saw that this book, and Gallwey in general, is often referred to as the founder of the business coaching movement.

If you play tennis, do yourself a favor and read this book. Your Self 1 will thank you and your Self 2 will be left alone a little more in the future to do its thing.