Thursday, October 7th, 2021
From the bubbling, dexterous mind of Venkatesh Rao we have two rich essays posted within two days: “Storytelling — Cringe and the Banality of Shadows” and “Remystifying Supply Chains: Supply chains are TV for matter”.
The supply chain crisis is in some ways more unprecedented than Covid itself, given that containerized supply chains, and the world of distributed, networked, computationally coordinated production they enabled, are only a few decades old.
This is the first crisis of this magnitude to hit them.
To find a comparable crisis in history you have to go back to World War 2, with U boats sinking transatlantic shipping. And that was in an era when global trade was less than a third of today’s levels if I’m not mistaken (as a fraction of GDP) and still in the ancient mode of breakbulk shipping.
Sunday, October 3rd, 2021
What a great piece on the dysfunctionality of online advertising at the now-defunct The Correspondent, “The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising”  by Jesse Frederik and Maurits Martijn.
Picture this. Luigi’s Pizzeria hires three teenagers to hand out coupons to passersby. After a few weeks of flyering, one of the three turns out to be a marketing genius. Customers keep showing up with coupons distributed by this particular kid. The other two can’t make any sense of it: how does he do it? When they ask him, he explains: “I stand in the waiting area of the pizzeria.”
Tuesday, September 21st, 2021
Matt Stoller explains how one company, Varsity Brands (owned by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital), sucks life out of the American heartland with its grotesque monopoly on cheerleading.
Tuesday, July 13th, 2021
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days
I transcribed more of this book than any other, quoting these great guys who’ve been there and done that; it’s one for dipping in to when seeking inspiration.
The author — wife and Y Combinator partner to Paul Graham — gets out the way as much as possible and lets these guys speak; think Studs Terkel but only with hugely successful tech people.
Wednesday, July 7th, 2021
The Guardian posts an excerpt from Gillian Tett’s Anthro-Vision. Regarding working from home, a senior trader at JP Morgan observed:
The really big problem was incidental information exchange. “The bit that’s very hard to replicate is the information you didn’t know you needed,” observed Charles Bristow, a senior trader at JP Morgan. “[It’s] where you hear some noise from a desk a corridor away, or you hear a word that triggers a thought. If you’re working from home, you don’t know that you need that information.” Working from home also made it hard to teach younger bankers how to think and behave; physical experiences were crucial for conveying the habits of finance or being an apprentice.
The most valuable sort of press is not articles about you, it’s when people mention you in passing as a matter of course.
Paul Graham, Founders at Work
Thursday, July 1st, 2021
What a sinking feeling, reading the announcement that Marginal Revolution is launching on Facebook’s Substack ripoff Bulletin”:https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2021/06/a-more-than-marginal-boost-for-marginal-revolution.html (I get a blank screen in Firefox, and naturally there’s no RSS feed). It’s interesting that trillion-dollar Facebook feels so threatened by Substack.
Tuesday, June 29th, 2021
Chaos Monkeys: Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine
Antonio Garcia Martinez
As author Antonio García Martínez battles away as an eager newcomer at Facebook, his account jolts one awake to the somewhat forgotten power of literature: we are reminded that what will survive these times will likely not be the mammoth trillion dollar company but instead this book.
And shame on Apple, caving to those who campaigned to have Martinez fired recently from his new job there because of some gross and silly yet heartfelt generalization in the book of San Francisco womenfolk; such philistine snowflakes do little more than buttress his point, as well as forcing our author to remain up on these more commanding if perhaps less remunerative cultural heights.
Sunday, June 27th, 2021
Lawyers didn’t get into law because they’re good at business.
Antonio García Martínez, Chaos Monkeys: Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine
Saturday, June 26th, 2021
If you do business in LatAm, you’ve got a Miami office. Prodigal son Antonio García Martínez returns to Miami, now on a Substack-fueled writing mission.
I was raised in the Miami of the wild 80s and 90s, and more or less abandoned the city for 20 years before going back due to a family illness circa 2014. Much to my everlasting shock, all the twee fineries of overpaid SF tech life were there: pretentious craft beer poured by bearded lumbersexuals inside stylized industrial loft spaces; whimsically-named, garishly-painted food-trucks clustered in parking lots-turned-parks serving Korean/Mexican fusion tacos; pompous ‘Third Wave’ coffee places (in a city where espresso was already ubiquitous) featuring pierced baristas conjuring a pourover with all the seriousness of a priest performing the eucharistic miracle; glass-clad, high-rise condo buildings, indistinguishable from the same douche-cubes in SF’s SoMa (“GRANITE COUNTERTOPS, STAINLESS STEEL APPLIANCES”) growing like mushrooms in a dewy field throughout the formerly sleepy downtown.
Sunday, June 20th, 2021
In big companies, the product spec is market-driven; in startups, the marketing is product-driven.
Steven Blank, The Startup Owner’s Manual
Friday, June 11th, 2021
Via Hacker News, and in the grand spirit of Charlie Munger’s edict to “Invert, always invert,” this is Julio Merino on “Always be Quitting”.
So what does it mean to always be quitting? It means “making yourself replaceable”; “deprecating yourself”; “automating yourself out of your job” … The key lies in NOT being indispensable … Paradoxically, by being disposable, you free yourself. You make it easier for yourself to grow into a higher-level role and you make it easier for yourself to change the projects you work on.
Sunday, June 6th, 2021
Thursday, May 27th, 2021
At Lockheed-Martin, White Men As Full Diversity Partners — a workshop for senior executives. Well I guess that’s why they get paid the big bucks. Excruciating.
Friday, April 23rd, 2021
There is no correlation — in fact, probably an inverse correlation — between how badly you behave and how much money you make.
Paul Graham, Billionaires Build
Thursday, April 15th, 2021
The Four Steps to the Epiphany
Steven Gary Blank
Unlike any other book on startups I’ve read to date, this one really gets down into the weeds, ready and willing to be unentertaining in order to get the reader to do what needs doing. This is the real deal from the man perhaps most responsible for codifying what a startup actually is as opposed to an established business.
Friday, April 2nd, 2021
Monday, December 21st, 2020
High Output Management
Andrew S. Grove
In his careful, cogent and memorable take on effective management, Silicon Valley founding father Andy Grove places a surprising emphasis on meetings; he has the temerity to take issue with — or at least, refine — Peter Drucker’s admonition that they’re a waste of time. Grove’s issue: meetings are the very medium of management; his refinement: that there are actually two major types of meeting, routine and ad hoc, and it’s where there’s a profusion of the latter that something’s amiss.
This erstwhile CEO of Intel notes that while most management books are targeted either at the very top or the very bottom — at the CEO or at those who directly manage frontline workers — the majority of managers manage other managers, and it’s for them he mostly writes, the middle managers.
The book has the authority of someone eager to share lessons from his own extensive experience — indeed he seems to have always worked with one eye towards gaining such knowledge, in no small part because being able to convey what one knows ensures that one actually understands it; that is, managers should also write and teach.
Grove defines the aim of management as increasing the productivity of subordinates, which can be achieved in only two ways: by improving their skills and by improving their motivation. Skills are improved by training, which the manager should undertake himself, considering it not busywork but an opportunity to solidify his own understanding and role-model corporate behavior. Motivation meanwhile is improved best via one-on-one performance reviews. These measures for corporate success are bracingly clear and specific — both the reasoning behind them and how to undertake them.
A refugee from Nazi Europe, Grove may be a legend yet the book is suffused with a democratic humility, a great American sense that success can be approached by all as an engineering problem. A book among books.
PS — A high testament: I actually remembered all these points without reopening High Output Management. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
The Lean Startup
So much of Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup seems such conventional wisdom now that evaluating its merits is hard.
Entrepreneurship is about management. A startup is an institution designed primarily for learning; learning is accomplished by experimentation with the product and observing customers interact with these experiments; what is learned may then temper the vision for the product. Repeatedly iterated, this is the way through the eye of the startup needle, Reis argues, replete with numerous vivid examples, such as the Village Laundry Service in India learning what its customers mistrust and what they’re willing to pay more for.
The book refers back to and sits well alongside Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm and Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany, both of which I picked up next.
Wednesday, November 18th, 2020
“Indie developers need protection from monopolistic and anti-competitive practices from larger players in the market through strong government regulation, not a discount on their first $1m in sales.” “Apple’s 15% Deflection Tactic” by John Luxford.
Sunday, November 15th, 2020
“How to Get Your First Customers So Your Company Doesn’t Die” by Matt Munson, a startup founder coach and investor. Some nice nuggets here, such as hiring salespeople in pairs so that you can compare them and be sure any issues are with individuals rather than the system.
Saturday, November 14th, 2020
Tuesday, November 10th, 2020
There’s a big difference between nothing and almost nothing, when it’s multiplied by the area under the sun.
Paul Graham, General & Surprising
Sunday, November 8th, 2020
On NPM becoming part of Microsoft, by Bryant Jimin Son. I feel stalked in my work life by Microsoft, which I strive to avoid ever since their horrible behavior re IE6. First Skype, then Atom, now NPM. Fortunately, there are alternatives.
Wednesday, October 28th, 2020
“Dubai is gulping the dividends of the peace with Israel with great thirst … there is mutual inspiration without the typical, regrettable condescension on our part.” Israeli journalist Ben Caspit spends four days in Dubai. Wawaweewa, the stuff of fondest fantasy!
Wednesday, September 30th, 2020
Some nice detail here about the business players poised to first benefit from the Abraham Accords.
The first big winner is Israel’s foremost venture capitalist and investment banker, Edouard Cukierman. Cukierman, who has the largest portfolio of Israeli biotech and technology startups through his Tel Aviv-based Catalyst Investment Fund, is also Israel’s leading mid-market M&A banker through his family’s Cukierman & Co Investment House.
Sunday, September 20th, 2020
Obvious yes but still worth a quick read: the people likely to benefit most from Israeli-Gulf relations are Arab Israelis.
In due time, they stand to serve as excellent mediators for any further economic and tourism ties between the UAE and Israel.
Tuesday, September 1st, 2020
Israel and UAE sign their first agreement in the normalization talks: on banking and finance.
Thursday, August 20th, 2020
The iPhone matters more than anything … it is the foundation of modern life.
Ben Johnson, “Apple, Epic, and the App Store”
Thursday, July 30th, 2020
It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work
Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work may be a business book but, like Peter Drucker’s best, I found it profound. We can forget that business itself is profound, the intended happy medium of most modern collective endeavor. For authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of the Basecamp organizational management software-as-a-service, business is the expression of philosophy. They counsel practicing it humanely, moderately and deliberately.
They establish authority with a first shock, an obvious idea you’ve almost certainly not thought of yourself: that a company should be considered a product, its employees the users. In fact this is a framing analogy for the entire book; like Nietzsche’s preface to Beyond Good and Evil positing that we suppose Truth be a woman, it throws wide open our thinking on our subject.
Another shock: they advise eschewing goals: “You don’t need something fake to do something real.” How shatteringly refreshing is that! Especially since my previous book was John Doerr’s Measure What Matters, which is all about goals. I had been excited for the Doerr book, but couldn’t finish it due to the sterile-speak of the case studies, which — unwarrantedly perhaps — undercut my faith in the concept. In contrast, Fried and DHH have the clear bracing style of successful coding entrepreneurs. This helps overcome the natural worry that going goal-less means a descent into hedonic anarchy, instead what they seek is appropriateness and authenticity. That said, I wonder whether this is the idea they’re most likely to step back from in future.
A third novelty seems downright crazy: they advocate not selling licenses by the seat, but by the organization. “It doesn’t matter if you have 5 employees, 50, 500, or 5,000 — it’s still just $99/month total. You can’t pay us more than that.” They leave this money on the table as part of deliberately designing the culture of their company (see the first idea); they don’t want to be dependent on a few large customers, nor create an internal cultural schism between serving small business and enterprise.
Similarly, they decided to stop accepting checks for payment just because it was a hassle, which did lose them some customers. This however is a less controversial notion, akin to Apple removing older technologies from new products despite their still being in widespread use and absorbing the hue and cry.
The authors also believe that the American-inspired work ethic of long hours is counterproductive and inhumane. Having worked at an Israeli software services giant I’m in agreement here too; at Amdocs if you went home after a mere 9 hours in the office you were perceived to be not pulling your weight (and, in my case, eventually laid off). And when I was temporarily attached to teams for international business trips, it seemed that all the team leaders were either divorced or in the process of becoming so.
Some of the authors’ values only apply to their particular industry. They make a claim for good enough rather than perfectionism — this is fine when your product is web-based software where one can churn out a fix at little cost, but not for many other high-value products such as cars.
In my small own small way I already practice much of what the authors preach. My only qualm is that while I love their philosophy, I’ve never much liked Basecamp itself.
Tuesday, July 21st, 2020
The essence of programming is to build new things.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
A normal job may be as bad for us intellectually as white flour or sugar is for us physically.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
Monday, July 13th, 2020
Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth
I stopped reading John Doerr’s Measure What Matters some halfway through because I couldn’t take any more of the stilted archaic business-speak in the case studies. And because the ideas presented — barring the occasional mild insight — seemed too obvious.
The two insights of value to me: that sub-goals, what Doerr terms the Key Objectives (I think — I still have to keep referring back — nope, it’s Key Results), should be an artful balance between quality and quantity. And that despite the importance of results tying in to objectives and thereby be set top-down, some lassitude should be allowed for results to be set bottom-up.
The book could have benefited from having its ideas framed in terms of the Tao, since everything here is in complementary pairs — even the duality of overarching goal and its constellation of objectives. Instead we have an acronym OKR that still didn’t help me remember the two simple constituent terms.
Sunday, May 17th, 2020
The Making of Prince of Persia
Video game maker Jordan Mechner wrote a rich diary of his life in the mid-1980s. This book covers the creation his second hit game, Prince of Persia, so we gain access of unique immediacy to the heroic tale of producing a universe-dent-making hit.
I wanted this book, which I discovered via Tyler Cowen’s most recent What I’ve been reading, as inspiration during a small lull in morale as I work on a digital product of my own.
Thirty years on there is some poignancy in that this early period of Mencher’s life was the peak: after graduating Yale, already dreamily successful, he shuttles between San Francisco and Hollywood creating video games and pushing screenplays, a digital Orson Welles (in his later game The Last Express, Mechner combines these passions, relying on cinema to produce an impressive commercial failure).
That said, perhaps it is no failure at all that one can point to the creative peak of a life — Mechner’s arguably was working within the memory constraints of the Apple II to create a foe, Shadow Man, based on the hero character. Here I’m reminded of Ken Kocienda’s not dissimilar Eureka moment when up against a constraint, that of using a dictionary to help create the iPhone keyboard.
Perhaps it would have been a better book if he had fleshed out the journal with an italicized retrospective written now, but count me a late-arrival Jordan Mechner fan. And don’t get the Kindle edition lacking the illustrations; I think I’m gonna need to buy the actual book.
Thursday, May 14th, 2020
The comfort of having an organization is largely illusory; it still comes down to one programmer in the end.
Jordan Mechner, The Making of Prince of Persia
Sunday, April 19th, 2020
Wednesday, March 25th, 2020
So some combination of a strong state, some kind of small-c conservative social renewal, and some sort of futurism offers some kind of alchemy…
Friday, March 6th, 2020
Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs
by Ken Kocienda
In one of those books where we see it’s perhaps more useful to be a doer who latterly writes than a professional writer, the author scaffolds a theory of success around his own respective failures and two giant successes: creating Apple’s Safari web browser for OS X and creating the iOS keyboard, no less.
We get to share the Eureka moments when these two significant dents in the universe came together. And the story of their creations serve as perfect illustrations of his theory, derived from Darwin’s.
Must-reading for many, surely.
Sunday, March 1st, 2020
Venkatesh Rao’s Into the Yakverse is just too disgustingly awesomely good. Think the tone of David Goldman’s visits to Cardinal Richelieu, along with the cynical wit of top Armando Iannucci satire, and the light momentum of an Eliyahu Goldratt business novel.
A call to arms for gigworld: Towards Gigwork as a Folkway by Venkatesh Rao.
Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of an Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader
Brent Schlener and Rick Tetzell
Although the simple thesis gets repeated interminably, nonetheless it’s a nice one: that Steve Jobs’s greatness stems muchly from his constant becoming, constant learning, constant trying to overcome himself (hence the title, which can be read as descriptive).
It’s great to be in his company, which you feel you are, as one of the authors was himself repeatedly so for decades.
One thing new to me was Pixar’s role in maturing Jobs; we don’t often read about who and what shaped the shaper.
Friday, February 28th, 2020
Data without generalization is just gossip.
Robert Pirsig, Lila
Monday, January 27th, 2020
Wednesday, December 18th, 2019
Matt Layman’s handy Failed SaaS Postmortem — too much tech tinkering; I need to take heed. Plus it’s great he’s getting right back in the saddle.
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
“Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict” — the inaugural James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Lecture in Economic Inequality at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics by Thomas Piketty (March 30th, 2018).
Wednesday, November 27th, 2019
Quite the overview: “The Real Class War” by Julius Krein, editor of American Affairs.
The real class war is between the 0.1 percent and (at most) the 10 percent—or, more precisely, between elites primarily dependent on capital gains and those primarily dependent on profes sional labor.
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
Succession as comedy. Obvious, given its producers, but still, nicely written.
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
Thursday, October 10th, 2019
ExpressionEngine (EE) is the content management system that until recently I used for building every web property. In November 2018, EllisLab, the producer of EE, was sold to Digital Locations, Inc. (DLOC) and EllisLab owner Rick Ellis joined the parent company’s payroll. The acquisition is detailed in Digital Locations’ Quarterly Report (Form 10-Q) dated August 13th, 2019.
But the Digital Locations acquisition seems downright skeezy. Despite the company’s tagline about Artificial Intelligence, it appears to be nothing more than a holding company for Mr Bill Beifuss. Moreover it looks like he’s scrimping on incorporation fees: the company was founded in 2006 as Zingerang, then became Carbon Sciences for a decade, before morphing again into Digital Locations. It self-reports never having had any revenues.
According to the linked-to Bloomberg profile, Mr Beifuss is also CEO of some other companies: Warp 9 Inc, Coeur D’alene French Baking Co, and Cumorah Capital Inc., none of which appear to provide any actual products or services either.
Rick must have been aware of and a party to this bullshit. With ExpressionEngine he had a great thing going; I wonder what happened. All I can speculate is that he very much wanted to segue EE’s success into enabling him to try other things professionally but that it remained his biggest achievement and he couldn’t bring himself to let go of the golden goose even though it was fading without his hands-on vision. And then at some point last year he suddenly really needed a buyer.
Recently, on October 3rd, 2019, he bought EllisLab back from Beifuss then sold it a week later to development house Packet Tide, that is, Tom Jaeger. So it Rick Ellis has finally let go of ExpressionEngine, even if he held on too long; despite being free EE can barely be be given away now; the technology has moved on.
I’m relieved to have moved away from it onto the Node ecosystem. I really enjoyed meeting the EllisLab team at an EE conference in 2017 — such cool nice folks in person — but for me EllisLab is a cautionary tale.