November, 2004

Nov 04

E-mail, readers & archives

[warning: esoteric nerdism follows. sorry about that.]

I’m a little confused about how to deal with e-mail these days. One complication is that I’m moving from my Reactivity account to a personal account. Another complication is that Eudora, my e-mail client, hasn’t changed for years, and is now getting to the point in its lifetime where it sucks a little bit. Now, how we each deal with e-mail is a bit of a personal thing, but some of you may know that I’m a little bit on the OCD side with respect to this. For my own e-mail, I’ve got virtually every e-mail that I’ve sent or received since I went back to Apple in 1997, and I’ve got most of my meaningful e-mail from my time at Trilogy and even Stanford archived off somewhere. And I’m a little particular about how I file things. In Eudora, for example, I have something like 1,000 different mail folders (not joking. serious.), and I pretty much know where everything is. If I want to go back and see something that I wrote to a customer, or a VC, or a friend, I can pretty much navigate directly to it. And I’m relentless about cleaning out my inbox — once I’m done with something, I file it in the appropriate folder and it’s gone. So my inbox at any given time is maybe 8 – 10 messages.

But here’s my problem: most people don’t use e-mail that way. If you walk through your office and look at people’s Microsoft Outlook inbox, I can almost guarantee that at least half of them never take anything out of their inbox — they just have everything there (or delete it) and do searches on their "big-ass in box (BAIB)" to find what they’re looking for. I believe that this BAIB effect is directly attributable to the fact that’s actually pretty cumbersome to file things in Outlook — lots of clicks.

Combine that with a 2nd major trend: Google-style searching. Search is getting pretty good lately — and the UI is pretty simple: a text box and a "Go!" button. The success of Google has pretty well convinced folks that their UI is right, too. Which is why you’re seeing Microsoft and Apple simplify search to a simple text field, too. Turns out this may not be bad — it’s getting to where search is very very fast. Fast enough, anyway.

So those two trends have meant that new, modern mail clients — I’ll count Mozilla’s Thunderbird, Apple’s, and Google’s GMail in that category — all basically assume a very small number of folders (1’s or 10’s at most) and a lot of searching.

I’ve decided to give in. I’ve switched to using Thunderbird with just 2 folders (InBox, Archive) for my main mail client, and GMail as my web client and backing POP store. I no longer have a "Kathy" folder, or "Reactivity -> Clients -> Fidelity" folder or anything like that. Now I search.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, though. Sometimes in Eudora I’ll go look back at things that I wrote years ago — conversations that I had with Kathy when she was in Jamaica, or with my dad when I was at Stanford and we were both learning to use e-mail come to mind. This makes it harder. But I have a sneaky feeling that it may be harder now in any case, just because of the sheer volume of e-mail we’re all dealing with now.

Who knows. Times change.

A couple of other random thoughts about applications I’ve been using:

1) Mozilla Firefox is terrific. Great job on the browser.

2) I was forced by USAA to upgrade to Quicken 2005, from Quicken 2004 (at least they gave me the upgrade for free). I used to like getting new versions of Quicken every year. Now I’m pretty sure they’re done. No more changes, no more releases needed. Enough.

3) I’d like iPhoto on Windows. Picasa (owned by Google) does some of it, but not as well. Not as nice.

Nov 04

Last Reactivity Board Meeting

I haven’t written here about leaving Reactivity before — but think it’s getting to be public enough that it’s safe to write a few things now. I think it’s going to take me a bunch of time to really understand my time there, and suspect that writing will help me some.

Anyway, Thursday was my last board meeting. Brian Roddy now represents Common Stock on our board now, and I think that’s a great transition (he’s been saying lately that he feels like one of the last people left on Survivor.) We started having monthly board meetings when we closed our Series A in April 2000, and have had a few more frequently than that, so I figure that makes maybe 60 board meetings that I’ve participated in. It’s funny to think back to our first board meeting when we just didn’t know anything. Lots of mistakes. (first question: “where is the $23M that you raised?”. me: “um, in checking”. rest of board: “maybe you could fix that between now & the next meeting?”.)

In fact, thinking back to when we started Reactivity, it just seems like so long ago. 7 years ago now — I was 26 years old. I feel like I’ve grown up with and through Reactivity. When we started, I had never been to a board meeting. Never talked with a VC. Never raised money. Never sold anything to anyone. Thinking about the difference in perspective now is just amazing to me. I’ll miss it a ton. Even with all the ups & downs, challenges & mistakes, victories & losses. Like I say, I feel like I’ve grown up during my time here. Excited to do whatever I’ll do next, but also cognizant of the fact that I’ll never again start my first startup. Time moves on, I suppose.

One other board story: for our first board meeting, we didn’t much know what to do, so Brian, Bryan and I must have spent a week preparing for it. Maybe 30 or 40 Powerpoint slides highlighting the status of the business, what we were working on, etc. And so we started the meeting, with these people in the room that we were still pretty overwhelmed by. Mitch Kapor was our first investor, chairman of the company, and just a titan to us. Tom Byers was on the board, a well-known Stanford professor and accomplished entrepreneur in his own right. Peter Fenton was there, too, whose family has been influential in Silicon Valley for decades — and who is himself becoming a great VC. On maybe the first 3 slides, we were just going through the update, and Mitch says: “STOP READING THE SLIDES.” In a sophisticated way, we responded, “hunh?”. And Mitch said: “We can all read what you’ve written. Just talk to us.” Seems funny now that we were so intimidated by that back then, but we were. But I’ll tell you, those few words had just a huge impact on me. I never, ever read slides that I’m showing anymore — and, more significantly, I mostly now try to just have conversations with people instead of presenting. That was Mitch’s real message: nobody really likes being presented to, or spun to — they were there to help, and wanted us to treat them like that. Small point of view change that has had huge implications for me over the years since.

Anyway, Thursday was my last Reactivity board meeting. I’ll miss them. I learned a lot and grew up a lot and had a good time in that position.

More on Reactivity over the next few weeks & months.

(Oh, one other thing. I talk about Reactivity here like it was an individual thing. Starting it with Brian and Bryan, and then with Mike — that’s what made it all worth it. One thing that I don’t say enough, though, is that Kathy has been here and supportive and involved every minute, even when it was a little painful. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve that kind of support, but I’m awfully grateful that Kathy has shared this experience with me.)

Nov 04

The Preservationist, by David Maine

Yet another book that Mom sent me a pre-publication copy of months ago that has since become a big seller. That’s happened a whole bunch of times since Mom went to Ingram — I was thinking what a nice thing that’s been, especially since I’ve been reading so much more this year.

Anyway, this is a quick 200-page novelized account of Noah and his family before, during & after the Great Flood. If you’ve read my other most recent posts, you’ll notice a theme here of fictionalized accounts of bible stories. Not sure why that’s happening. Maybe all the red state influence. I think I’m going to take a break on them for a while, although I’m carrying around A History of God by Karen Armstong like I’m actually going to read it this time. I think maybe I’m trying to figure some things out. Who knows.

So. The Preservationist is an okay book — great story to start from, obviously — but pretty boring, I thought. Didn’t get a lot of insight or enjoyment from it, which doesn’t leave a ton. I thought that it did do a great job of humanizing a series of events and set of people that we generally think about pretty uncritically.

It does highlight a theme that a friend of mine (BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford) talks about all the time: stories are maybe the natural unit of human existence. Talk with someone for a while — and what you’ll invariably remember best are their stories. Challenges, funny times, mundane things too. You’ll tend to forget facts & dates & such, but you’ll almost always remember their stories.

Nov 04

Philadelphia: Fat City

Spent 11 hours in Philadelphia yesterday. Not exactly enough time to get a real feel for a place. It’s the second time I’ve been there — both times for Reactivity.

This time was a real whirlwind — because of a weather issue, we ended up taking the red-eye from San Francisco, getting to PHL at 7a, getting into our downtown hotel around 8a, then taking a shower and heading out for lunch a little bit later.

A few impressions: driving into Philly, it really feels a lot like what I think of as the prototypical East Coast industrial port city — made even more prototypical by the 40 degree rain. Brrr. But you know what I’m talking about: lots of green steel bridges, lots of gray skies, lots of processing factories steaming into the sky.

But driving through the city, all I could think of was Ben Franklin. All the red bricks, the Revolution Era buildings — impossible not to feel that history. It turns out that we had lunch at the King of Prussia Mall, on our way out to see a customer in Valley Forge, PA — with some history in of its own.

One of the parts of travel that I’ve really enjoyed is getting to see all these places (like Valley Forge) that have always just been names in books. Living over here in California, I sometimes forget that places have history. The history that I feel most acutely here is Silicon Valley history — which is really not very old. 50ish years. Sometimes I think in terms of California history — but, again, not so old.

Anyway, I like going to places with a bit of a sense of time. I’ve been out of the states a few times now — including to Thailand for a bit, and Ireland & the UK for a few weeks — and those places have a “history around us” feeling, too. But something about places in American history still moves me.

Anyway, Philadelphia isn’t a place that I’d really like to live, I don’t think, but 11 hours at a time isn’t really enough, either.

Watch for lots of posts coming up this week as my travels take me to Toronto, Rochester NY, Montreal (for the first time), and Manhattan — and, if I’m lucky, to a bonus destination on Friday: Memphis.

Nov 04

Lamb, or the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore

Got on sort of a roll with Christopher Moore after The Stupidest Angel — this is a very funny novel about the time in Christ’s life between birth & when he turns 30, told through the eyes of Biff, known as Levi, his buddy. Just a bunch of funny little bits — like the first few tries of Joshua (what Biff calls Jesus) to bring someone back to life (think: Dawn of the Dead), when he meets Mary Magdalene, other vignettes.

Definitely a spoof of a book — and one that "red staters" definitely definitely wouldn’t much like — but with some reasonable insight as well — definitely humanizes and satirizes Christ’s early life.

A little drier than Angel, but funny. I’ll ready his book Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings next, but think I’ll take a break first.