August, 2010

Aug 10

Four Fish, by Paul Greenburg

I really liked this book a lot — it’s a look at our relationship with the 4 main “food fish” that we eat in huge quantities: salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna. It starts by talking about salmon farming, something that humans have been doing for something more than 500 years — I had no idea. Goes into pretty good detail about the relative merits of wild salmon fishing versus farmed salmon harvesting — although it doesn’t really make it clear at all what to buy at Whole Foods.

He makes it clear that sea bass — or, more generally, perciforms — despite their relative ubiquity, are a pretty strange choice in fish to domesticate — very tricky. (Also, there are a lot of different fish that we call sea bass, but they’re all pretty different.)

Cod, of course, was well chronicled by Mark Kurlansky in his outstanding book Cod, about 10 years ago — and Greenburg does a good job of taking that work as a baseline and extending it in the context of sustainable oceans now, and what’s happened in the Grand Banks over the past decade or so.

And it’s a bit of an ode to tuna, especially the dwindling bluefin tuna, which he asserts is one of the most incredible fish species and that we need to stop fishing now.

Anyway, great book, and with real suggestions for sustainability at the end. (In short, pick fish more suitable for farming: tra, tilapia, and the Kona kampachi.)

My mom reminded me the other day that I have sometimes, um, esoteric tastes in what I read — and I guess that’s true. But I really liked this book, and think it’s relatively rare for books to change the way you think about your relationship with the world. Very recommended.

And with sentences like this:

The hoki is a gadiform descended from a fish that ended up in the Southern Hemisphere after the great gadiform radiation tens of millions of years ago.”

How can you not want to

Aug 10

Percy Jackson books, by Rick Riordan

I’m an unapologetic lover of children’s literature — really liked the Harry Potter books, grew up with The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, and some (now) obviously horrible books by Piers Anthony.

So when I heard that my 11 year old nephew really loved these books, more than the Harry Potter books, I gave them a try. I read all 5 books, in order, but didn’t really like them very much. They’re sort of like a cross between Harry Potter and Greek mythology, but with all the action, including Mt. Olympus, centered around present day Manhattan.

What could go wrong, really?

Yeah, everything you just imagined as an answer to that last question is pretty much true. This really isn’t a very good series of books. I totally understand why my nephew liked them — they’re basically fun books with a teenager in control, with some tortured Greek mythology thrown in the mix.

Anyway, since I read all 5 books, they’re obviously not horrible, but they weren’t really what I was hoping for. The mythology is pretty dubious, but it did cause me to run down the rabbit hole on Wikipedia a few times to learn about various Titans and minor gods, so that’s not all bad.

Aug 10

Glass House Conversation: Transparency v Clarity

This week I’m moderating an online conversation at the Glasshouse Conversations site — an electronic outgrowth of a series of in-person conversations a couple of years ago.

I’ve written about my trip there before on this blog; they’ve also put up a page with a video about our conversation there on Transparency. It was a unique and amazing experience — and an interesting conversation and day took place. As the video makes pretty clear, a lot of people came in with the expectation of talking primarily about physical and architectural transparency, but I’ve been more interested in transparency as a metaphor — as a way to live your life, as a way to manage organizations. A lot of interesting ideas came out of the blending of physical and metaphorical ideas of what transparency is.

Of course, in my time at Mozilla this has been a theme we’ve come back go again and again, as we try to learn and discover how to lead effectively in an organization built on ideals of transparency. (That isn’t the only ideal, and there are many others that it interacts with regularly, but it is an important one for us.)

Leading transparently is often hard – it’s tough to know how to be most effective, how to get things done – and often, being transparent seems to be counterproductive. John Maeda, after spending his first year as President of RISD trying to be as transparent as possible, wrote this piece on transparency versus clarity, and a lot of things clicked for me as I read it – I’ve come back to it often over the past year or so.

And then the Wikileaks/Afghanistan papers situation occurred — and while leaking confidential information is nothing new, I think that the scope of the information leaked, and the way that it was leaked, is something that is quite modern. It raises a serious question: is it even possible to keep secrets in organizations and governments now? Should it be? Is this new transparency good, destructive, a little bit of both, or is it just too early to tell?  Jeff Jarvis posted a nice piece for thinking about this a couple of weeks back.

I’ve got lots of thoughts here, as you might imagine — living and breathing Mozilla over the past 5 years has made some things very clear and others not so much but not that many answers myself, so I’d love to hear (and engage with) a broad range of thoughts on this during the week.

I’m very happy to be moderating this Glass House Conversation online. Please contribute.

Aug 10

The Roles We Play

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the various roles I play in life — father, husband, son, grandson, CEO, friend, advisor, et cetera. There are a lot. And clearly they’re getting all mixed up as we live more of our lives online, as we live, work, and play on Facebook or Twiter or e-mail (I’m old!) or elsewhere. We’re all finding our way there, while we change the world around us.

But I’ve been struggling with moving between roles the past few days — and it’s got nothing to do with online life — but I would wager is a decidedly non-modern one.

Kathy & I took SPL to Disneyland for his first trip there. We’d been on some smaller outings, like to Legoland, but I’ve really wanted to take him to Anaheim for quite a while. There are lots of reasons to be cynical about Disney and Disneyland/Disney World, but I’m not — I really love it there. I love how it feels, even with crowds. I love all the colliding mythologies. Most of all, I love how it makes kids feel when they ride Space Mountain or interact with characters during the parades or watch the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty Castle.

I’ve been to the parks in Anaheim and Orlando both many times, but obviously it was our first trip as the parents of a 5 year old — so lots of new things to consider in that role.

But we knew earlier in the week that Gigi was in the hospital and might not make it out — and Friday morning before we left the hotel I got a call from Mom about Gi’s prognosis; a few hours later Mom called again to let me know that Gigi had passed away. We were in line for a ride at the California Adventure side of the park (bumper cars for the Bug’s Life section), but the specifics aren’t that important, really.

What is important was that at that moment, a bunch of roles I have all crashed into each other at once. I was trying to be a good son for my mother, who had just said good-bye to her own mother. And I was trying to communicate at least a little bit with Kathy, my partner in all things, so she would know what was happening. The line was moving, though, and SPL was anxious to get into the seat of the bumper car so we could crash into his mother’s car — and so I wanted to be a good attentive dad for him. Over the top of all that, though, and of course, I was mostly Gigi’s grandson, and mostly Gigi’s grandson just felt sad.

I felt those roles all collide with each other a lot over the next couple of days — sort of like waves crashing at the beach one would come in, and then later be overwhelmed by a different one. It was a hard set of feelings to really understand and process and deal with appropriately — I don’t honestly know whether I’ve processed this much yet at all. (Which is one of the reasons that I’m  blogging it — to be able to understand it a little bit better.)

I do know that I was much more aware of the roles that I play in life this week — and in particular, the roles that really, really matter a lot to me. I think it helped me clarify some of the things I love about being a father, a husband, a son — but I know this is all a bit of a moving target. Things change, relationships change.

Mostly, I was very happy to be able to spend so much time with Kathy & SPL at a difficult juncture for me. That, I know for sure.

Aug 10

May Pearce Korb

My grandmother, May Pearce Korb, died Friday, August 6, 2010 at the age of 87. She died in a hospital near where she lived on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia, following an accident she had last weekend.

She was my mother’s mother, and I never knew her as May, really, but rather “Gigi,” a name she gave herself when I was born. It came from the old Pogo comic – there’s a character called Grundoon in it – a wrinkly baby woodchuck that always spoke in gibberish – and she thought I looked a little like that. Thus G.G. for “Grundoon’s Grandmother.” I’ve never really known what to make of that story (although, in retrospect, not really all that flattering) but she’s always just been Gigi to me.

A couple of little glimpses into my memories of her:

When I was growing up, she always used to send cards for about every holiday — birthday, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, whatever – and they always had a dollar bill in them. She moved to two dollars in the eighties, when I was in my teens and able to spend with more velocity. Those cards continued into college for me, and even after. In 1997, after I’d been working at Trilogy and then Apple, we saw each other at my Mom’s graduation ceremony (for her Masters in Library Science) and I remember proudly giving Gigi one of my Apple business cards. Without missing a beat, she said, “I’ve been sending $2 to a Senior Scientist at Apple??” Pretty funny. She was always super quick and super sharp with her humor — so that, at least, I come by honestly. She’s been sending SPL cards with a couple of dollars in them since he was born. A nice tradition and connection to her that always made me smile.

But the thing that I really remember about her is all the books. She owned a bookstore on St. Simons called The Shorebird, and one of my favorite things to do was to go to work with her. I would sit in the back and read everything back there, for what seemed like hours (but probably wasn’t) and remember feeling like I was a very lucky kid – and, of course, that’s exactly right.

I’ve been thinking about her a bunch the last few days, naturally, but especially because we’ve been at Disneyland, for SPL’s first visit there. One of my earliest memories is going to Walt Disney World with Gigi and the rest of the family (since they lived pretty close to Orlando), and it brings a lot of things full circle for me to be here now. More on that in a bit.

She leaves behind such a good family — my mom and her two brothers, who have been wonderful uncles (and now great uncles), and the seven grandkids (my cousins, my brother, and me), who are such a smart, funny, diverse, and talented group. No small feat.

Anyway, Gigi lived a good life, and I’ll miss her a lot.

R.I.P., May Pearce Korb, 1923 – 2010