March, 2005

Mar 05


This is going to sound trite, but I really, really love springtime. There’s something incredibly hopeful about the first string of days that’s sunny instead of cloudy, mostly warm instead of cold. Every year I always convince myself that I like the rains of winter — that they’re interesting and help cause reflection — but then spring comes and I just remember how great it is. In California we’re pretty lucky — this particular year, I’m happy to be sitting here at home with 75 degree weather even while back east they’re shoveling their sidewalks.

Mar 05

Spider outside my window

There’s a spider that lives right outside my office window — right in the lower left corner, so I see him/her from time to time wobbling around on its web. Made me wonder what the life of a spider is like. Nothing very deep here, just wondering. Does it know it’s made up of pure evil? (If you can’t tell, I really don’t like spiders very much. They freak me out. But since he’s on the outside and I’m on the inside, we’ve reached a certain accomodation.

Mar 05

Who We Are Now, by Sam Roberts

This is an unusual book. Who We Are Now: The Changing Face of America in the Twenty-first Century is not the sort of book you read cover-to-cover. It’s an attempt by Sam Roberts, a writer for The New York Times to comprehensively make sense of the 2000 census. (He wrote a precursor book about the 1990 census called Who We Are.)

It’s an overwhelming amount of data, ranging from what “family” is, to how educated we are, to incomes, to migration patterns, to race — really interesting. I found it pretty neat to just read a chapter at a time (say, the education chapter), then think about it some then come back to read a different chapter a few weeks later.

One main thing comes through to me: in spite of all the doomsday sentiment of the last few years, the world is getting better. A LOT better. Compared to a century ago, and even just a decade ago, people in the world generally and in the US specifically, are living longer, better, freer lives than at any point in history. Just as clearly though, there’s a sense of enormous dissatisfaction in the country. One quote from the book:

“They were called ‘the good years,’ the historian Walter Lord recalled of the dawn of the twentieth century, not because everything going on in America at the time was in fact so good or that everyone benefited from its fruits, but because of the unshakable fait that what was wrong could be corrected and what was good would get even better. ‘These years were good,’ Lord wrote, ‘because, whatever the trouble, people were sure they could fix it.'”

I have to ask: what’s happened to that optimism? It sure doesn’t exist now. Perhaps it was a naivete — 1900 was before two brutal hot World Wars and another painful Cold War — and possibly before the real knee in the curve in terms of massive technology adoption (fun to imagine the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford tinkering away). And so now we’re smarter, or more sophisticated, or maybe just more jaded. And instead of the world looking like it can always get better, the prevailing mood seems to me to be that everything is broken.

Interesting book to pick up, lots to think about. Not that fun to read, but interesting for sure.

As for myself, I think things are better than they used to be, and get a little better almost every day.

Mar 05

Regional Advantage, by Annalee Saxenian

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a few years now, but didn’t read it until just yesterday, when a VC that I was talking with suggested it — I read it in about 24 hours and am super-glad that I did, because it’s a really tremendous book.

Written in 1994, it’s an analysis of Silicon Valley versus Route 128 in Mass — and the environmental, historical, and cultural factors that have contributed to the high tech industry in each region. At core, the author points out that Route 128 built an environment with a relatively small number of huge, all-in-one companies — DEC is a good example — whereas Silicon Valley built an environment of companies that tended to be less vertically integrated, more prone to communication and sharing, and generally more flexible.

Lots of reasons for this — some rooted in the history of the region — MIT’s ties & access to Defense spending in DC, the generally looser nature of culture in the West, etc — but the result is that you get much more fluidity and information sharing in Silicon Valley than in Boston, which results in a stronger ecosystem that can reinvent itself as business circumstances change.

This book is great for other reasons — gives really good historical background on the rise of both regions, plus great histories of the 70s and 80s — stuff that I always really enjoy reading & thinking about.

The thing that I was most struck by is how many of the things that I take for granted in my working world are unusual & were pioneered here in SV — including an egalitarian working style, openness across companies, and a high degree of chatter among companies that are ostensibly competitive. Since I’ve grown up in this environment, sometimes it’s tough for me to see some of the unusual bits.

Anyway, anyone who’s in this industry or interested in it at all should read this book. You can read it in literally 1 day, and it’s really worth it.

Mar 05

Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness, by Richard M. Cohen

Not all of you know this, I don’t think, but my mom is a librarian. Actually, she currently works for the library division of a book distributor called Ingram Books — the same folks that supply Amazon, among others.

Anyway, it’s a great job for her to have, and she really likes it — and it results in great windfalls for Kathy & me, and others in the family — every few weeks, boxes of books & audiobooks just show up on my doorstep. It’s always a mix of stuff — all things that the publishers are sending to Ingram (and other distributors) to get noticed. I have to say it’s just an amazing perk for me — lots of times I get galley proofs of books that I’m waiting for (like Blink or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), but as often as not, there are books in there that I never would have picked up in the bookstore but seem interesting. Blindsided is one of those.

It’s a book written by a prominent television news producer, Richard M. Cohen — he’s worked with Cronkite, Rather, others — and happens to be married to Meridith from The View. He was diagnosed when he was 25 years old with MS — like his father and grandmother before him. He goes through what his life has been like for the past quarter century or so — in a high level of candor — ups & downs.

Like I mentioned, this book isn’t something that I normally would have picked up — I was a little bit interested in the title — I have pretty horrific eyesight and always am nervous about the idea of that eroding over time and preventing me from doing things that I love to do (like reading). But lately I’ve known other folks in my life that I’m close to who are grappling with life-altering health issues, and it’s becoming more interesting to me now. I’m quite sure that I didn’t understand — couldn’t understand — a bunch of what Cohen was trying to communicate in this book — but I did enjoy it and learned a lot from it. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s at all interested in this type of stuff.

Also, I have to say that Mom is a pretty great librarian — she always seems to find me books that I like but would never have found.