July, 2010

Jul 10

Books & eBooks

A few days ago, I tweeted an article from TechCrunch about how Amazon reports that last month, they sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books. It’s a little hard to do a complete analysis from the few numbers that they reported, especially because it’s not apples-to-apples on price, titles, etc — but even directionally, this is an amazing milestone. It’s incredible to me how quickly eBooks have emerged, after languishing for so long.

For me personally, it’s acute: I don’t really even like buying books that I can’t get electronically anymore. It shows in my library — I’ve been giving away about 100-200 books a year to our public library, but still have well over 1,000 in the house. But I have more than 150 on my Kindle, after 2 1/2 years. My physical library is shrinking, my electronic one growing.

I have zero sentimentality – none – about the form of the book. I’ve noted elsewhere that what I discovered on getting my Kindle is that it isn’t particularly books that I love so much, it’s reading that I love. Novels, non-fiction works, short stories, whatever. It’s the words that I’ve always cared about, the ideas, the narratives, the characters. Not the wood pulp, the binding glue, the flashy book jackets (that often don’t have anything at all to do with the author’s intent).

But lately I’m worried that as we rush headlong into the electronic future that we’re losing something.

I think it’s pretty clear that we’re not reading as well — every reader I talk with reports that they’re not comprehending the books quite as deeply as they used to. I believe we’ll get better at reading electronically, and the format will allow better paging through and spatial memory eventually, but that’s far from obvious to me. (Most avid readers I talk with say that they can usually remember where on the page they read something — top left, lower right, in the middle, whatever — and that’s always been true for me. The reflowable digital form obviously breaks that spatial memory, and is a bit of a problem.)

But the thing I’m worried about more lately is the disappearance of books in our physical spaces. I’ve always found that when I go visit peoples’ houses that what’s on their bookshelves is a bit of a lens into their lives and their values. Almost invariably when people come over to our house for dinner, I’ll hand them a book from my shelves that they’re interested in with no expectation (or desire, actually) to get the book back.

I find it even in my own home — when I’m in the office, I’ll often notice a cluster of books about something that reminds me of a time in my life, or stokes an old curiosity, or that just makes me happy.

But now the books we have in our house don’t really represent the current me. We tend to have 3 categories: (1) kids books, (2) coffee table books, and (3) books from our past that we haven’t given away yet. I believe that will happen in most homes — and maybe it already has been, since the introduction of the television — and it makes our personal spaces much more anonymous — more screens, less deep content.

I feel the same thing as I travel around — in the airport or on airplanes, nobody can see what I’m reading. Mostly, that’s okay with me — I didn’t really want to talk to my seat neighbor about Stieg Larsson that much anyway. But it bugs me more that my wife can’t see what I’m reading — the books used to serve as an instant conversation-starter. Now the reading experience is faceless, not conversation-inviting at all.

Anyway, I’m sure we’ll replace books as a lens into our brains and lives with something else — digital picture frames? Facebook pages glowing from our walls at home?

Nevertheless, I think we’re losing something in the process. That always happens as we move from one technology to the next, but we’ve overturned a 500 year old technology in less than a decade, and it’s going to be very disorienting.

I’ve never missed reading physical books nearly as much as I miss having the physical artifacts in our world, and how so many clues to who we are are disappearing along with them.

Jul 10

Good Boss, Bad Boss, by Robert I Sutton

It’s no secret that I think incredibly highly of Bob Sutton and his work. I’ve always found him to be smart, encouraging, engaging, and interesting to talk with about work and management, and find that, more than most people in the field, he’s extremely data-driven in his work. I also find that he’s got an incredible ethical framework, and is very wise about the art of management.

He’s got a new book coming in September, and I really, really like it — I think it’s his most profound and useful work to date. I’m generally not a fan of business books — I find that usually their main value is in the title (and if it’s really awesome, maybe the introduction is useful) — but this one, which I’ve read a pre-pub copy of, is great.

His last book, The No Asshole Rule, got a lot of attention, partly for the provocative title, but really more for the ideas on how much culture matters in productive workplaces. And it clearly struck a nerve with people suffering from bad or incompetent managers. His new book is a little less situated in the negative context associated with bad managers, and talks more about how to be an exceptional leader. That distinction is important — it’s obviously easy to be a bad manager, and hard to be a good one — but it’s another thing entirely to be a really exceptional leader, and Bob has gone to great lengths in this book to look at some of the world’s best leaders and really understand what sets them apart.

You can get a taste of the book in this Harvard Business Review post by Bob titled “12 Things Good Bosses Believe” — this is an extremely powerful list of things that the best managers believe.

I fall short of these ideals a lot — I imagine everyone does, really — but every single one of them is worth thinking about and striving for each and every day in the workplace. This book is a great one because it reminds me of how good great leaders can be, and I really recommend you pick it up when it comes out.

Jul 10


This the third in my series of posts about my recent left shoulder injury and subsequent surgery to repair/reconstruct my labrum and reattach/tighten the capsule. It’s a little rambly.

I know that I’m writing and tweeting a lot about all of this lately — to be honest, it occupies a huge part of my brain — it’s a big deal for me this year. I was talking with someone over the weekend who said he’d had a similar surgery last year, and that it completely changed the complexion of his year. I’m finding the same thing — it dominates my mood and thinking — whether it’s how the shoulder hurts, the psychology of maneuvering with the sling, whatever.

Other than just being on my mind a lot, I’m writing so much for a couple of other reasons. First, as a reminder to myself over the years of the specifics of the injury and recovery. Second, because as I progress through this, I’m finding relevant information about what everything feels like to be tough to find on the web, and I hope that it can help others who are going through it.

My last post was a couple of weeks after the surgery, and we’re now a couple of weeks past that — I saw the surgeon Tuesday and things looked good enough to stop wearing the sling and start physical therapy. I’m really happy not to wear the sling anymore. The physical aspects were annoying, but it was really the psychological aspects that I was getting tired of — being in a sling for weeks, I found that I started to think of myself as less vital, more gimpy. I knew it wasn’t really true, and it was just temporary, but it wore on me a lot in any case.

Overall, things are going well — it’s been pretty painful overall — and lately my shoulder hurts most of the time (although it goes up and down). Sleeping has consistently been the biggest problem. Was hard to sleep with the sling, is hard to sleep with the soreness and sharp pains when I move in the wrong way. But making it through.

Wednesday I started physical therapy — I’ve got 2 weeks of passive stretching & range of motion exercises (I move the arm with my other arm, or the physical therapist moves it) and then another couple of weeks of active range of motion (where I use the arm itself). After that, 4 weeks of resistance training rehab, and who knows after that. So now I’m about 5 days into it. The exercises aren’t complicated — it’s about 30 minutes of laying with my arms wide, stretching them on an exercise ball, doing pendulums, etc. They’re designed to stretch out the capsule that holds the shoulder. The point of the surgery is to tighten up the capsule — and they overtighten it in surgery and use PT to loosen it to a manageable level.

The most interesting/freaky aspect of this phase is psychological, too — the therapist on Wednesday moved my shoulder into positions that my brain knows will dislocate — or rather would have dislocated before the repair. So when I start to approach those positions, I’m finding myself tense up and fight against the motion, which makes everything hurt more. I find it’s also triggering a strong fear response — just a very strong aversion to letting my arm get moved around, some feeling of nausea, etc. The next day, the first one where I was doing the exercises by myself with nobody to ask questions of, was actually a little scarier to me, just because it was a completely unknown feeling.

The good news is that, as of today, Day 5, things are going really well. The difference between today and last week is astonishing, and I’m finding that every day my range of motion is a little bit bigger, and the fear & nausea responses are becoming less severe and happening less often. It hurts most of the time — there’s not really any time that goes by that I’m not aware of it and devoting some attention to it. But it feels pretty good in the mornings now, and hurts more through the day as it gets more tired.

I find, too, that I’m trying to be as aggressive as I can about it — doing the exercises a couple of times a day instead of just once (I asked whether that would be okay) — so hopefully that’s helping. I know I can’t accelerate it that much — I think a lot of it is just diligence and time to heal.

The most amazing thing so far is that I can’t remember, at all, what the surgery and rehab was like when I first repaired the shoulder, in a much more invasive open procedure, in 1990. I literally can’t remember going to a physical therapist, can’t figure out when I got better, since I didn’t take any time off from school, and can only vaguely remember being in the hospital (it was a 3 day thing instead of just the morning like this year). I can remember a lot about both years at Stanford before and after it, but really nothing about getting my shoulder better. Weird.

Anyway, this note is a little all over the place, which is a little how I feel, too. 🙂 But I’m happy to be more active now, and optimistic that the rehab is going well and starting to convince myself that my shoulder really is repaired.

Jul 10


My shoulder repair surgery was 11 days ago now, and things seem to be going pretty well. 17 more days with my sling, not that I’m counting, really. Pretty minimal pain at this point, except at night, when it’s pretty brutal — I think laying down on my back or side puts the shoulder into a position that puts pressure on the repair. So I’m not sleeping very well at all, which is discouraging, but overall I’m quite happy with how things are progressing, and am fired up about getting into PT in a couple of weeks.

I am blown away by the precision of the arthroscopic surgery. When I had my shoulder repaired 20 years ago, they made a 4 inch incision, detached the muscle from the bone, and generally had to open everything up to get in to repair things — that meant a 3 day stay in the hospital, and a long & painful rehab, although I don’t really remember much about it, honestly.

This time the experience is much different. I’ve got 3 band aids on my shoulder covering up 4mm incisions where the camera, vacuum and tools went in. My stay in the surgery center was 3 hours instead of 3 days. And as I’m recovering, it’s clear that only a few of the surrounding muscles and tendons and ligaments were really very disrupted. (Wearing my arm in the sling, by contrast, is creating more complaints — sort of a contact rash, a very sore elbow, and my wrist is pretty tweaked.)

On the whole, though, so far so good. 2 weeks left in the sling, then 4 weeks of PT (1st week is passive, where they will move my arm around; next 3 are active), then 4 weeks of strengthening. Feeling pretty doable at this point. Lots to see as I start to use the joint again, but optimistic so far.

I’ve included the pictures from the surgery above (click through to see the full size), although I don’t really understand too much about how to read them. If you number the pictures 1-9, going from left to right, top to bottom, here are a few choice shots:

  • #1 is showing the healthy tendon, no problem
  • #3 and #4 show the labrum before repair — pretty much shredded is what they said
  • #5 is the posterior top of the shoulder ball — shows a notch in it that’s come from repeated dislocations, as it gets bumped by the labrum on the way out — didn’t repair that since it doesn’t seem to be giving me too much trouble
  • #6 & #7 show the surgeon cleaning out the old stuff; #7 shows him roughing up my bone to cause “bony bleeding,” which encourages scarring like we want in there, I guess (sounds sorta awful to me, honestly, and I have lots of imagined pains due to my bones bleeding)
  • #8 and #9 show the repair, with some striped thread and metallic-looking anchors, which the surgeon (of course) said “looks great.”

Anyhow, that’s the update from shoulder central — in a bit of pain at nights, but super-optimistic.

Next up, traveling to Vancouver with my sling.

Jul 10

Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future

Kinzer’s written two of the most influential histories that I’ve ever read: All the Shah’s Men, an account of the CIA-led coup of Reza Shah over Mohammed Mossadeh, and Overthrow, a history of the last 100 years or so of America’s regime-change-happy foreign policy, and its disastrous consequences.

Reading All the Shah’s Men was incredibly illuminating for me — there’s a very direct line from our adventurous and damaging foreign policy under the Dulles brothers to the unstable and antagonistic situation we find ourselves in with the Middle East. I couldn’t recommend more reading that history.

In this book, he recaps a bit of that — goes through the last hundred years or so of Iranian history — but in a parallel way, also chronicles the last hundred years of Turkish history. His basic argument is that, even though Saudi Arabia and Israel are our main partners in the region, and should remain partners, the overemphasis on those two countries is strange (for reasons I’ll state in a moment) and unproductive & dangerous, and that it’s in our best interests to develop significant partnerships with both Turkey and Iran.

He spends the time on history to show that the people of both countries have a longer history of wanting democracy and trying to bring democracy to their countries than any other countries in the region — the difference being that Turkey’s march towards democracy has been mostly unbroken, while Iran’s was massively disrupted by foreign involvement in the 1950s, which created the conditions to allow the 1979 Islamic Revolution to occur.

It’s really important to note 2 things. First, he’s not arguing that the governments are more democratic than elsewhere in the region, he’s arguing that the rank and file populace have a longer history with and very strong desire for democracy. Secondly, he’s not naive about the challenges of partnering, or that many compromises would have to be made — but in his view the set of choices which could result in an enduring, positive situation are very limited, and these are the ones most in our self-interest.

I liked this book a lot, both for the histories and the policies — much to think on.