Month: December 2013

Dec 29 2013

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Thank you Geraldine. Amy and I love and adore you. And you recommended what I think was my favorite fiction book of 2013.

I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel yesterday on the couch during digital sabbath. It was just wonderful. I wasn’t really sure what to make of it for the first fifteen minutes other than knowing that Geraldine and Amy said that I would love it.

By minute 30 I couldn’t put it down. And two hours later I was done. And smiling. And thinking that I should go read all the Anne McCaffrey Dragonriders of Pern books again. They were childhood favorites and – while having no direct relationship to this book – things that were referenced kept making me think of them.

The characters of wonderful. I especially love Penumbra, Clay, and Kat. But the intricate flavors, mix, interactions, and crossover between the world of Google and the world of dusty old book stores was just delicious.

If you want something light, beautiful, clever, and full of awesomeness to read over New Years, try this one.

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Dec 27 2013

A Month of Android Instead of iOS

I’m going to spend January using an Android phone and tablet instead of my iPhone and iPad. My Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 are charged up and ready to go – all I need is a SIM card.

I’ve been an iPhone user since I ditched my HTC Dash running some version of Windows Mobile 6 oh so many years ago. I’ve struggled with battery life, broken screens, water damage, and this insatiable urge to upgrade to the latest iPhone the day it comes out. When I travel overseas, I’ve gone completely off the rails trying to figure out how to get a SIM that works even in an unlocked iPhone 4. But, overall the iPhone has been good to me and the companies I invest in.

But recently I’ve been sad. I didn’t like iOS 7 when it came out and I’m still not loving it. I felt bummed out by the latest iPhone release which seems to have – well – nothing really new except some fingerprint thing and different colors. And as more and more of my world is Google-related, I find the iOS apps fine, but lacking.

I asked Fred Wilson which Android phone I should get. Fred’s been an unapologetic Android fan from the beginning because he hates the closedness of Apple. He told me “Nexus 7” so I bought it without looking. When it arrived, I realized I now had a really big phone since the Nexus 7 is actually a tablet. I just assumed it was better than the Nexus 5 (how’s that for not paying attention.) So I went online and got a Nexus 5 also.

That inspired me to run the January Android experiment. I use an iPad Mini for some stuff at home, although my favorite device to read on lately has been the Kindle Fire HD. But I’m going to see if I can consolidate all my activity to the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 for January.

The one big miss was a SIM card. I ordered one with the Nexus 7 and then didn’t get one for the Nexus 5, as I assumed I’d just use the one that came with the Nexus 7 for the Nexus 5 (since the Nexus 7 would always be on WiFi). When the Nexus 7 arrived, the SIM and the wireless charging pad weren’t in the box. I’ve tried to figure out how to tell Google they blew the shipping on this (since I ordered it directly from Google Play) but there doesn’t seem to be any way to do that. So I ordered another wireless charging pad and I’ll swing by one of those old fashioned phone stores tomorrow and pick up a SIM.

In the mean time, if you are an Android fan, I’m all ears for any suggestions, tips, and tricks that you have for my month of Android.

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Dec 26 2013

The Circle

The CircleA bunch of my tech friends have asked me to suggest a book  to read over the holidays. My unambiguous recommendation is The Circle by Dave Eggers.

I think it’s one of the best books I read this year. I’m an unabashed Eggers fan. My favorites of his are A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius: A Memoir Based on a True Story and Zeitoun. I also have a giant literary crush on everything McSweeney’s.

The early literary reviews of The Circle were awesome while the reviews by people in the tech community were mixed to negative. The tech criticism was weak and felt like it lacked depth. Most of it was “hey – Eggers doesn’t really understand how this stuff works” or “Eggers doesn’t use this stuff therefore his book sucks” kind of stuff.

The Circle was brilliant. I went back and read a little of the tech criticism and all I could think was things like “wow – hubris” or “that person could benefit from a little reflection on the word irony.”

We’ve taken Peter Drucker’s famous quote “‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” to an absurd extreme in the tech business. We believe we’ve mastered operant conditioning through the use of visible metrics associated with actions individual users take. We’ve somehow elevated social media metrics to the same level as money in the context of self-worth.

Eggers completely disassembles this through a deeply engaging story with vibrant characters. Some of the characters are recognizable composites of well known people from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn, and a few other large bay area tech companies. Some are unknowns, but broad representations of archetypes of the people that work throughout these companies. And some are random players.

They combine in a magical way as the story unfolds. Large parts of the book are uncomfortably close to home, shining an absurd light just a little to0 brightly on stuff we talk about – in private, and in public – all the time.

And then – boom – Eggers does what he does best. As the pressure builds, he makes his point, over and over again. With a relentless drumbeat of character destruction. In a way that is cringeworthy to an extreme. Where you vacillate between “she deserved that” and “shit, that’s just not right.” And, as you take a deep breath and process what just happens, he does it again.

All the little circles with numbers on them on my phone are bothering me right now. All the dots, numbers, flashing, and bouncing things on my laptop reminds me how absurd this has all become. While Eggers shoves it in our faces with The Circle, the end-state implications of this is prescient, especially in a Snowden-like (or should we say Orwellian) world.

Powerful stuff. And really fun to read.

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Dec 25 2013

Don’t Fight Depression

As 2013 comes to an end, I feel some relief that what has been a difficult and confusing year is almost behind me. I mark the year boundary with my birthday (12/1) so December is an “unwind” month for me. Amy and I are at our house in Keystone with a variety of friends swinging through, working some, reading some, exercising, and just hanging out.

The first half of this year was marked with the deepest depression I’ve had since 2001. It came out of the blue and was a total surprise to me. The depression lifted at the end of May and I’ve now had about six months to reflect on it. For a while, I put together a narrative about what happened, dug into the root causes of it, and tried to make sense of how I ended up feeling the way I did. Eventually, I stumbled upon this brilliant explanation of depression from Allie Brosh and as a result stopped trying to analyze it.

During this period I heard from hundreds of successful people who also have struggled with depression. As I synthesized these discussions, I consistently heard that people were generally deeply ashamed of their depression. They hid it. They struggled with what it meant. And they were afraid to talk about it, especially with co-workers and investors. These conversations were liberating to me, and hopefully helpful to a lot of the people I talked to, as it created a context where serious, hard working, and accomplished people could explore depression – and what it meant – in a safe (e.g. with me) environment.

Another thing that came up a number of times in these discussions is the metaphor of depression as the black dog. I heard this for the first time many years ago from my dear friend Jerry Colonna. Yesterday a blog reader sent me a link to a phenomenal short video about The Black Dog. It reminded me of an important thing that I learned this year – “don’t fight depression.”

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Dec 24 2013

Apple TV and Google DNS Issues

A few days ago I suggested anyone using Google Apps should use Google Public DNS. The performance difference at my house in Keystone (which uses Comcast) has been dramatic for almost everything.

The one disaster has been Apple TV. Suddenly, Apple TV which previously worked no longer buffered well and HD shows took an interminably long time to load.

I confirmed there was an issue by searching (in Google) for “Apple TV Google DNS.” I quickly found confirmation of the problem, but as I laboriously trolled through threads on Apple’s support site and things Google search turned up, I found no answers. Only complaints. And flame wars. And nonsense.

The only logical thing was that Google Public DNS and the Apple CDN weren’t playing nice. Trying to dig deeper into that surfaced more complaints, but no real solutions. The FAQ for Google Public DNS has a short explanation of the potential problem, but then a bunch of nonsense and self-justification for the balance of the FAQ. Again – no solution.

So I started fucking around with my Apple TV settings. Searching the Apple support site didn’t help me much except for the hint somewhere to edit the WiFi settings manually. It took me a while to figure out how to do this (Settings-General-Network-WiFi (assuming you’ve already got something set up) and then while highlighting the network hit the Center button on the Apple TV remote.

The punch line is that you leave the “Configure IP” setting alone (let it do this automatically) but change the “Configure DNS” setting to “Manual.” Then enter the DNS for your ISP. In my case, I’m using Comcast, so it’s 75.75.76.76. If you don’t know the DNS setting for your ISP, you can usually find it via Google or go back to a default config on your router setup (before you changed it to the Google Public DNS of 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4.)

Voila – amazing. Lightening fast Apple TV on Comcast’s DNS, lightening fast Gmail on Google Apps, and everything else is rock solid.

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Dec 24 2013

Apply to Techstars New York Before New Years Eve

The deadline for applying to Techstars New York for the next program is 11:59:59pm PST on 12/31/13.

I’m extremely excited about the upcoming Techstars New York program. Alex Iskold is the new managing director. I was an angel investor in Alex’s previous company (AdaptiveBlue – also known as GetGlue) and have known and worked with Alex since 2006. Alex has been a Techstars mentor for a while and was extremely active with the most recent New York program. He got totally hooked on Techstars and everyone at Techstars got totally hooked on Alex.

We’ve talked a bunch about the new things that he’ll be doing this year. He’s bringing energy and vision to Techstars New York that is rapidly flowing over all the other Techstars programs. And he’s an incredible learning machine, picking up all the best practices from our ever expanding number of programs – in different cities and with major corporations like Kaplan, Sprint, and Barclays.

It’s time to apply to Techstars New York. But don’t wait until the very last second – Alex and Techstars is going to extend an offer to one team on New Years Eve for the program.

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Dec 23 2013

Startup Boards – Operation Pre-Order

My newest book, Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors, will ship at the end of the month. As a result, I’m activating Operation Pre-order today.

Between now and Sunday, if you pre-order a copy of Startup Boards on Amazon, you will be entered into a random drawing. If you need immediate gratification, the Kindle version of Startup Boards is already shipping. If you want the hardcopy, you should have it right around the beginning of the year.

I’m going to pick one winner. All you have to do to be entered is email me the electronic receipt by 11:59pm EDT on Sunday night. I will announce the winner on Monday morning.

The winner will get a board meeting at our office in Boulder. I’ll host you and your board and participate as an observer at your board meeting for up to three hours. I’ll then join you and your board for dinner afterward.

If you play, make sure you also tweet out about the book, Facebook the purchase, or do whatever other social media thing lights your fire.

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Dec 20 2013

Rookie Drone Crash

I’m fascinated with drones. I’ve never been a model airplane guy and my model rocket phase lasted about a month when I was 10. But drones feel like something different, since I can program them to do what I want them to go do, rather than have to control them with a controller. My current goal is to program a Taco Drone to go from the 2nd floor balcony outside of my office to T/ACO, hover for a few minutes while they attach lunch to it, and return to my balcony.

We recently invested in 3D Robotics so I went online and bought a 3DR Iris quadcopter. We got an early version a month or so ago and some of the gang in my office – especially Dane, Nick, and Eugene – have been flying it around. Dane appears to have mastered it since his instructions to me included stuff like “don’t press that button” and “don’t move that lever.”

Yesterday he brought the Iris up to my place in Keystone for me to play around with. It was at the end of a longer meeting on another project we are working on. I wanted to just program the drone to do stuff, but Dane insisted that I learn how to fly it manually first. So I did.

The results were predictable – a tree jumped out and got in the way.

In comparison, here’s how it’s supposed to work. Now if someone would finish up that jetpack I’ve been waiting for.

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Dec 19 2013

Please Stop Sending Me Holiday Email Cards

I woke up this morning to another wave of holiday email cards. I had over 50 of them this morning. Yesterday I probably had at least 50 – by the end of the day it was likely over 100.

STOP! UNSUBSCRIBE.

I’ve never really understood the physical holiday card thing. I think it’s a secret ploy by the US Government to keep the USPS in business. I used to get a lot of Merry Christmas cards, which just annoyed me since I’m jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas. The world has become more politically (or religiously) correct so these are now Happy Holiday cards.

Amy likes these so you can keep sending the physical ones to us, especially if they have a nice photo of you or a story about what you did this year. But please stop sending the email ones to me.

Do a holiday video instead. Like one of these.

or

Love,

Brad “I’m only a little grinchy this year” Feld

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Dec 19 2013

Google Apps Users Should Use Google Public DNS

Maybe everyone knows this, but it took me a while to realize that almost all of my performance issues with Google Apps were related to my DNS configuration. Once I switched all my machines and routers to Google Public DNS all of my performance problems went away.

It’s remarkable. Simply hard code DNS to 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4. Problem solved.

My office, condo, and house in Keystone are all on Comcast. For the last month I’ve been struggling in each of them. There are days that Gmail feels almost unusable – five to ten second waits between messages. Web performance was “good enough” so I assumed it was a Gmail problem.

Nope – it was a Comcast DNS problem.

In hindsight, this is kind of obvious. But wow, what a difference it made.

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