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I needed some mental floss one night in New York last week when I was having trouble sleeping so I read Playing for Pizza: A Novel. My mom had recommended this one – I can’t remember why – but I usually read whatever she recommends. Put it in the “good son” category (although she helped me develop my love of reading and she’s almost always on target with recommendations for me.)
I grew tired of John Grisham and his legal thrillers over a decade ago. But I always enjoyed his writing so it was fun to dig into something completely different. I love Italy, pizza, and food, so that made sense. Football, however, is low on my list of things I care about. I decided to blow off caring about the football stuff and just get lost in the book.
Grisham has always written a book I can read in one sitting. I turned off my iPad at about 1:30am NY time and smiled. The Italy stuff was good. The pizza stuff was good. The food stuff was good. And the football stuff was even good.
If you are looking for something light, clever, engaging, and written in typical fast moving Grisham style, grab it. Solid mental floss.
I’ve been reading a lot more lately – mostly on the weekends – but I’m getting back into a good book rhythm. I can feel it helping my brain and my soul – I’ve always been a huge reader and when I go through phases where I’m not reading something is clearly off.
The second of the three books I read this weekend was Worm: The First Digital World War. It was crap in your pants scary in that real life, cyberwarfare way. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a DDOS attack, you have to read this book.
The author, Mark Bowden, does a great job of telling the story of the Conficker worm in English. Even if you aren’t technical, you’ll enjoy this book as it borders on cyberthriller while telling a real live story that unfolded over several months in late 2008 / early 2009. I was vaguely familiar with Conficker (as in I remember the hoopla about it) but I didn’t know the backstory.
Now I do. And it’s terrifying. And amazing. At many different levels.
We continue to visibly see the impact of physical war and terrorism all the time. But we are just beginning to see cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism. On one of the participants, Paul Vixie, is quoted near the end brilliantly in his “one command away from catastrophe” rant.
These problems have been here so long that the only way I’ve been able to function at all is by learning to ignore them. Else I would be in a constant state of panic, unable to think or act constructively. We have been one command away from catastrophe for a long time now. . . . In a thousand small ways that I’m aware of, and an expected million other ways I’m not aware of, the world has gotten dangerous and fragile and interdependent. And that’s without us even talking about power grids or the food stocks available in high population areas if rail and truck stops working for a week. AND, in a hundred large ways that I’m aware of and an expected thousand I don’t know of, ethically incompatible people out in the world have acquired and will acquire assets that are lethal to the industrial world’s way of life—criminals and terrorists using the Internet for asymmetric warfare is the great fear of our age, or at least it’s my great fear. But I’ve lived with it so long that I have lost the ability to panic about it. One day at a time, I do what I can.
We are just at the beginning of this.
On Digital Sabbath #5, I read Tech and the City: The Making of New York’s Startup Community. I got through half of it on my flight home from New York on Saturday morning; the balance laying on the couch next to Amy on Saturday evening.
I gave a talk with Alessandro Piol on Tuesday night at the Apple Store on Prince Street that was sponsored by the Women Innovate Mobile accelerator. We had a fun hour long talk with Q&A, a lot of it about Startup Communities. I hadn’t read Alessandro’s book in advance (but I did have it on my Kindle) so I was inspired to gobble it down this weekend.
It was excellent. If you are involved in the New York startup community, this is a must read book. If you are interested in startup communities in general, it’s a substantive history and current explanation of what is going on in New York.
One thing that jumped out at me that Alessandro segmented the New York startup community into six neighborhoods.
- Flatiron / Union Square: The Heart of Silicon Alley
- The Meatpacking District and Chelsea: Tech and the City
- East Village, Soho, and Lower Manhattan: The Boheme of the Third Millennium
- Brooklyn: The Do-It-Yourself Revolution
- The Bronx: Sunshine Fortress
- Long Island City in Queens: The 3D Generation
If you’ve heard me talk about startup communities, you’ll recognize this as the same approach I take when talking about larger communities like New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Boston/Cambridge. In these cases, the startup neighborhoods look similar to a startup community like Boulder – there is an incredible density of startup activity in a small geographic area. In a city like New York, rather than having everything in one place, you have a series of neighborhoods that have this entrepreneurial density, but are connected together to form the overall startup community.
I experience this all the time in New York. But I got a new taste of it on Thursday. I went to Brooklyn after an early meeting near Greeley Square Park. I started off at 20 Jay, saw NYU Poly Incubator, went for a long walk around DUMBO with Charlie O’Donnell, had an awesome lunch with Chad Dickerson (Etsy CEO), and then walked to MakerBot and hung out with the team there for a while. I did all of it on foot – including the back and forth from Manhattan.
The last third of the book is forward looking, talking about where things can, and are, going in the New York startup community. Finally, while there are plenty of VCs and government folks involved, it’s very clear that this is an entrepreneur led phenomenon, and Alessandro does a good job of balancing all the players.
Oh – and Digital Sabbath #5 was excellent. Even though I was on a plane for four hours, I woke up Sunday once again feeling refreshed and as though I had a weekend stretching out in front of me.
I did Digital Sabbath #4 yesterday. I spent the day on Coronado with my dad at Lindzonpalooza, the annual retreat put on by Howard Lindzon. We had a nice time hanging out Friday night as people arrived and then spent Saturday morning hearing short pitches from many of the companies Howard has invested in. I went for a two hour run in the early afternoon and then read Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer while my dad took a nap and practiced his snoring.
I haven’t been reading much the past six months. Usually I’m a voracious reader – 50 to 100 books a year is not unusual for me. But for some reason I haven’t felt like reading lately. I know some of it is my general mood and some has been the mental exhaustion from writing two books, but I’ve decided to start reading again as part of Digital Sabbath.
My good friend Jerry Colonna recommended Parker Palmer’s book to me. Jerry and Parker are doing a seminar in Boulder on 4/19 called Surviving the Startup Life: The Toll of Merging Identity and Work and, while I’ve heard of Parker numerous times, I’d never read anything by him.
Let Your Life Speak was really good. I read it at a good time for me as I continue to struggle with a depressive episode. Parker covers a lot of stuff but goes deep in one chapter about his own struggles with depression. It’s powerful – and very helpful to me – to read the first person stories about other people who sort through a real clinical depressive episode. Parker covered it bravely – and openly.
I had an excellent talk on Friday afternoon with my dad about what I’ve been struggling with since October. My dad is one of my heroes and closest friends. It’s hard to really connect deeply about this stuff over the phone so we sat for two hours in the sun outside a gelato store, ate our chocolate gelatos together, and talked. I’ve been processing a lot of the root cause of what’s going on and feel like I’m getting underneath some of it, and our conversation helped me get deeper into some of the issues. Parker’s book was a good reinforcement of several of the things I was struggling with.
We finished last night with a nice dinner with everyone overlooking the water and a very lit up San Diego. I just got back from a short run on the beach and am heading out for breakfast with my dad. Then, I’m off to the airport to spend a week in New York.
While FAKEGRIMLOCK and all of the humans he has let survive are hanging out at the TechStars SXSW party, I’m at home with Amy, buried in a snowstorm, reading. I haven’t read much this year – I’ve been overwhelmed with work and writing and haven’t had much energy for reading. Which is dumb, since I love to read, and it’s an important way I discover new things and think about things I’m interested in.
A copy of Clay Christensen’s new book How Will You Measure Your Life? ended up finding its way to me. It’s signed by Clay and his co-authors James Allworth and Karen Dillon so I assume someone sent it to me. I read it tonight. It was timely and excellent.
One of the chapters in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur that was especially challenging for me and Amy to write was the one about children. We don’t have any, so we enlisted a bunch of friends to write sections of it. I’m proud of what they wrote and think it hits the mark, but it is an area I struggle to understand since we made a deliberate decision not to have kids. So I dug into the middle section of the book where Clay spends a lot of time talking about children in the context of measuring one’s life. I learned a lot from it that I think I can apply to my interaction with children that are not my own.
Clay very deftly uses business concepts to set the stage for a deep discussion of how to think about your life, your values, and how you operate. The one I liked the most was his discussion of the theory of good and bad capital. It’s very nicely linked to the Lean Startup methodology (without realizing it). The theory is that early in their life, companies should be patient for growth but impatient for profit. Specifically, they should search for their business model, and long term strategy, before stepping on the gas. This is good capital. Bad capital early on will be impatient for growth ahead of profit.
When companies accelerate (search for growth) too early, they often drive right over a cliff. However, once the business model and strategy is figured out, then companies should switch modes to be impatient for growth but patient for profit. Invest like crazy when you’ve got it figured out.
The section that follows is awesome. You need to read it to get it, but imagine the notion of how you invest in friendships, in your children, and in yourself. At any particular time are you focused on growth or profit? Do you have them sequenced and allocated correctly? Clay’s punch line is:
“There are two forces that will be constantly working against [your investments in relationships with family and close friends.] First, you’ll be routinely tempted to invest your resources elsewhere – in things that will provide you with a more immediate payoff. And second, your family and friends rarely shout the loudest to demand your attention… If you don’t nurture and develop these relationships, they won’t be there to support you if you find yourself traversing some of the more challenging stretches of life.”
I’ve just had one of those stretches – I spent the past three months struggling with depression after having a bike accident, wearing myself out travelling for two months, and then ending up in the hospital to have surgery to remove a kidney stone. I’d made the right investments in my relationships so it was easy to cash in on a bunch of them, and I appreciate greatly everyone who invested energy and support in me. I came out of the depression around February 14th and I appreciate more than ever the value of investing in these relationships. I now have a powerful business analogy – that of good and bad capital.
There’s a lot more in How Will You Measure Your Life? It’s a great companion to Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur and very easy to recommend to anyone who is trying to live the best life they can.