Brad Feld

Category: Books

The Republican Noise Machine : Right Wing Media and How it Corrupts Democracy was a depressing book. I first noticed it from a post by Jerry Colonna. I had it shipped up to my house in Alaska where I settled in for a long read yesterday after my run.

In some ways, it seemed appropriate to read this over the fourth of July weekend. I read a bunch of mental floss on Friday and decided I needed to chew on something serious. I’m back to mental floss…

Until recently I was very apolitical. For whatever reason, I just didn’t engage – I felt that things worked themselves out over time and – rather than get wrapped up in the endless political debate – I figured I’d focus on issues that I cared about and support them, independent of their political affiliation. As a result, I told whoever asked that my political affiliation was “my own little party of one.”

A couple of years ago, I stuck my toe publicly into the political scene in Colorado. A close friend of mine – Jared Polis – decided to run for the Colorado State Board of Education (he won and is now the chairman). Jared is an unabashed democrat and has become a strong force in the otherwise very conservative state of Colorado. Several friends were running for office in the 2002 election cycle as democrats and I decided to get more actively involved. Everyone (except Jared) lost and – in addition to being bummed out by the candidates that were elected – I was disgusted by the way both parties acted near the end of the election cycle. I remember telling my wife “that’s it – I give up – I’m done with organized politics” (of course, that lasted about a week).

The Republican Noise Machine had me sitting in my chair with my mouth hanging open. Brock – a former right-wing insider – has written an incredibly substantive book that tells the story of how the GOP has systematically co-opted the media over the last few decades – starting wtih Nixon and rolling forward to today. This is not a “balanced book” (“balanced view” being one of the fallacies that Brock does a superb job of demolishing) – Brock is unapologetic as he tells his story.

It’s quite amazing how organized, effective, and ultimately successful the Republican Right has been. I’ve experienced this directly in Colorado. A year ago, JB Holston called me and told me about the Independence Institute, a conservative Colorado “think tank” that I was vaguely familiar with. While the Independence Institute isn’t mentioned in Brock’s book, it’s equivalent to many of the conservative “think tanks” that Brock discusses. JB suggested that Colorado needed a “progressive alternative”. I agreed and helped rally a crew of folks, including Jared and Rollie Heath (who lost his run for governer against the incumbent Bill Ownes in 2002), to help start the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network. It’s a year later and RMPN has done a great job of counterbalancing the Republican Right in Colorado. My experience watching from the background (and learning about the antics – expecially those in the media – by organizations like the Independence Institute) made the story Brock tells even more poignant.

This is a powerful book for anyone that is open minded about the political dynamics in our country. If you are conservative, read it to get an ex-conservative insider’s view on what is going on. If you are progressive or liberal, read it to get a much deeper historical understand of how things played out so that you can be more effective contending with them in the future. If you aren’t open minded, don’t bother – it won’t matter to you anyway.

The fourth of July weekend seems like a good time to clean out the brain with some fun summer reading. I recently read my first Stephen Frey book (Shadow Account) and enjoyed it enough to pick up the rest of his books.

I just finished two of them – The Vulture Fund and The Takeover. Very satisfying.

If you like Ludlum / Grisham style books with a finance / Wall Street backdrop, check ’em out. They’re good mental floss for a lazy summer afternoon.

A true story. From the flyleaf, “In early 2000, the bottom dropped out of the life of New Yorker writer David Denby when his wife announced she was leaving him. To make matters worse, it looked as if he might lose the beloved New York apartment they shared with their children. Determined to hold on to his home and seized by the “irrational exuberance” of the stock market, then approaching its peak, Denby joined the investment frenzy with a particular goal: to make one million dollars so he could buy out his wife’s share of their place.”

Denby’s subtitles on his chapters tell the tale:

Chapter 1: Quarterly Report (QR), January 1, 2000: Cumulative Net Gain: $0
Chapter 10: Tremors: QR, April 1, 2000: CNG: $237,000
Chapter 15: Wavering: QR, July 1, 2000: CNG: $110,000
Chapter 21: Crash: QR, October 1, 2000: CNG: $85,000
Chapter 23: Pants on Fire: QR, January 1, 2001: Cumulative Net Loss: $155,000
Chapter 24: The Cancer Show: QR, April 1, 2001: CNL: $395,000
Chapter 25: September 11, 2001: QR: July 1, 2001: CNL: $251,000
Chapter 26: The End of Investing?: QR: January 1, 2002: CNL: $800,000
Chapter 27: The End of Capitalism?: QR: July 1, 2002: CNL: $720,000
Chapter 28: Slowing Down: QR: October 1, 2002: CNL: $900,000

So – from $0 to up $237,000 to down $900,000 in 21 months. The book is extremely well written and brings back lots of memories of the financial insanity (good and bad) of the turn of the century. This is a remarkably personal tale – Denby lays it all out as the self proclaimed American Sucker.

I’m up in Alaska and have been sucking down books. Following are five flyby reviews for those of you with different tastes.

Chirunning – Good book on combining T’ai Chi and Running. If you are a long distance runner, it’s worth a look to explore some of the concepts the author talks about. I used some of it on my run today and it felt logical.

Triumph over Turbulence – Awesome entrepreneurial autobiography of Jim Magoffin – the founder of Markair – one of Alaska’s original airlines.

Teach Yourself Movable Type – Ah – there’s a book for everything. Pass on this one – not enough content to justify its existence.

Ten Big Ones – Mental floss par excellence. I’m a little burned out on Janet Evanovich and the Stephanie Plum novels (too formulaic at this point) – but since I read the other nine, I figured this one would help pass the flight from Denver to Anchorage.

The Da Vinci Deception – Disgustingly ironic. I picked this up randomly at the grocery store thinking it would be a thoughtful analysis of the factual errors in The Da Vinci Code (which I think most sentient beings recognize was a work of fiction). The author – an accomplished Christian writer – trashes The Da Vinci Code, but misses the point by taking it much too seriously. While I don’t know Dan Brown, I’m quite certain he was aware that he was writing a fictional account. Pass.

Amy finished The Kite Runner the other day and immediately called me on my cell phone and said “I just read the best first novel that I’ve read so far this year.” NPR’s Susan Stamberg had a great piece on summer reading and first novels this morning and – as Amy has been working on her first novel – she reads a lot of them. So – when Amy says “this one is the best”, I immediately put it on the top of my reading pile.

Wow! The Kite Runner is stunning. It’s the story of two boys growing up in Kabul. The special relationship between them unfolds throughout the book in unexpected ways. They grow from young boys to adults with the backdrop of the final days of the Afghanistan monarchy (mid 1970s) to the evilness of the Taliban in the late 1990s. As the narrator – Amir – grows up, the culture and beauty of Afghanistan is slowly destroyed. The combination of culture, beauty, tragedy, fear, self loathing, and evilness are intertwined in a way that grabs you and won’t let you go. All the threads of the book magically come together in a powerful 100 page climax that thankfully, leaves you with hope.

I know very little about Afghanistan beyond what I learned (or think I learned) post 9/11. This story gave me a new feel for what Afghanistan used to be like and the level of devastation humans can wreak on each other and a society. The story is magnificently told and the writing is almost flawless for a first novel. I agree with Amy – The Kite Runner is the best first novel I’ve read so far this year.

Walking to Vermont: From Times Square into the Green Mountains–A Homeward Adventure by Christopher Wren is a fun trip from Manhattan to Vermont along the Appalachian and Long Trails.

Wren – a 65 year old former reporter and editor for The New York Times (he’d been the bureau chief in Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, Ottawa, and Johannesburg) is – as you’d expect – a delightful writer. You feel like you are with him during his five week, 400 mile hike. In addition to the stories of his experiences and the characters he meets on the trail, Wren intersperses flashbacks from his many years as a reporter throughout the story, linking his current experience to the often wild and exotic things he’d seen as a journalist.

If you’ve ever gone for a long hike, fantasize about tossing it all and spending a summer on the Appalachian Trail, or simply enjoy a well written travelogue, you’ll like this book.

If you are a runner, you’ll love this book. If not, you won’t.

The Purple Runner was written in 1983 and is based in Hampstead Heath, London. The story tracks an overlapping set of runners that include an arrogant American lawyer who is bored of his life, a kiwi racer who is trying to get her act together and run at her potential, an American who is suffering from some strange illness as he searches for peace and accomplishment, and the Purple Runner who no one knows much about, but turns in incredible training runs while avoiding any substantive interactions with his fellow runners.

While the running scenes and races are well written, the story is delightful. Christman’s characters are colorful (including the Purple one), complex, and interesting. The characters’ relationships with each other reinforce the story and as the book unfolds there are some interesting twists and turns.

I ran this morning, so I don’t think I’ll go again today. But – I’ll have this in my mind tomorrow morning as I churn out a 90 minute run at the Boulder Reservoir.

Jenny Lawton – owner of Just Books in Greenwich, CT – recently had the authors of The Rule of Four (Dusty Thomason and Ian Caldwell) and Codex (Lev Grossman) in her town for an author coffeehouse.

Both are great books in the style of The Da Vinci Code. I thought Rule of Four was much more fun (and accessable / contemporary) as I could identify with it more. Codex was a little harder and not as well written, but had a great techno / computer undercurrent which the nerd in me liked. I’m looking forward to the next books from these guys.

This was a chewy one. I just finished

I’ve been involved in companies that develop software for 20 years and have seen numerous different approaches with a wide range of success (and failure). Last year, I invested in a company called Rally Software Development Corp.. Rally recently released their first product – Agile Solution for Software Development Management – which is the first on-demand software development management solution designed to speed delivery of customer value using iterative development processes. Rally’s products are aimed at organizations using Agile development methodologies. As a result, I decided to read a few books about Agile software development to get a deeper theoretical grounding in this area.

Cockburn’s book is a good first book for an experienced software developer or software executive who wants to learn more about Agile software development. It’s written for a more experienced audience and is a broad treatment of Agile as an approach to software development. It is not a cookbook with specific features to follow – rather it is aimed at having the reader gain an understanding of Agile concepts and the develop ideas about how to apply the concepts to real world situations.

If you aren’t familiar with the Agile software development approach, it emerged from a meeting of 17 advocates of lightweight development processes that got together in Utah in early 2001 and formed the Agile Alliance. The participants represented a number of different software development methodologies (all now classified as “Agile development approaches”) including Adaptive Software Development, XP, Scrum, Crystal, Feature-Driven development, Dynamic System Development Method, and Pragmatic Programming. This group of highly experienced, extremely opinioned, and outspoken folks agreed on and issued The Agile Software Development Manifesto, which follows:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

While this book isn’t an easy read, it’s a valuable one for anyone that is involved in the creation of software.