Brad Feld

Category: Books

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.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris is fucking hilarious.

Sedaris has written several other books about his dysfunctional family. I guess I’ve been living under a rock so I didn’t hear about him until Thursday morning while listening to NPR’s interview of him while driving 100 miles an hour on E470 home from the airport (can I get a ticket for admitting that in a blog?). The interview had me laughing hard enough that I had to slow down to 80. I was at the grocery store later that day picking up some stuff so I grabbed his book.

Here are a few snippets. Multiple by 257 pages (and some context for each snippet) and you get the picture. For more on the David Sedaris phenomenon, read the NY Times article Turning Sour Grapes Into a Silk Purse.

About his sister Lisa… “My sister’s the type who religiously watches the fear segments of her local Eyewitness News broadcasts, retaining nothing by the headline. She remembers that applesauce can kill you but forgets that in order to die, you have to inject it directly into your bloodstream. Pronouncements that cellphone conversations may be picked up by strangers mix with the reported rise of both home burglaries and brain tumors, meaning that as far as she’s concerned, all telecommunication is potentially life threatening.

About his brother Paul (the overachiever in the family)… When my sisters and I eventually left home, it seemed like a natural progression – young adults shifting from one environment to the next. While our departures had been relatively painless, Paul’s was like releasing a domestic animal into the wild. He knew how to plan a meal but displayed a remarkable lack of patience when it came time for the actual cooking. Frozen dinners were often eaten exactly as sold, the Salisbury steak amounting to a stickless meat Popsicle. I phoned one night just as he was leaning a family pack of frozen chicken wings against the back door. He’d forgotten to defrost them and was now attempting to stomp the solid mass into three 6-inch portions, which he’d stack in a pile and force into his toaster oven. I heard the singular sound of boot against crystallized meat and listened as my brother panted for breath. “Goddamn…fucking…chicken…wings.” I called again the following evening and was told that after all that work, the chicken had been spoiled. It tasted like fish, so he threw it away and called it a night. A few hours later, having decided that spoiled chicken was better than no chicken at all, he got out of bed, stepped outside in his underpants, and proceeded to eat the leftovers directly from the garbage can. I was mortified. “In your underpants?” “Damned straight,” he said. “I ain’t getting dressed up to eat no fish-assed-tasting chicken.”

Another one about Paul the overachiever on the night of his wedding when David and Paul are walking Paul’s dogs Venus and the Great Dane – David is about to give Paul a mushy love you brother congrats on getting married kind of speech… A light rain began to fall, and just as I cleared my throat, Venus squatted in the grass, producing a mound of peanut-size turds. “Aren’t you going to clean that up?” I asked. Paul pointed to the ground and whistled for the Great Dane, which thundered across the lawn and ate the feces in one bite. “Tell me that was an accident,” I said. “Accident, hell. I got this motherfucker trained,” he said. “Sometimes he’ll stick his nose to her ass and just eat that shit on tap.” I thought of my borther standing in his backyard training a dog to eat shit and realized I’d probably continue thinking about it until the day I die. Forget the tears and brotherly speeches, this was the stuff that memories are made of. The Great Dane licked his lips and searched the grass for more. “What was it you were going to say?” Paul asked. “Oh, nothing.”

And finally, David’s Dad and his sister Lisa… I flew to Raleigh two weeks after the baby was born, and my father, unshaven and looking all of his eighty years, arrived half an hour late to pick me up at the airport. “You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little out of it,” he said. “I’m not feeling too hot, and it took me a while to find my medicine.” It seemed he had a little infection and was fighting it by taking antibiotics orginally prescribed for his Great Dane. “Pills are pills,” he said. “Whether they’re for a dog or a human, they’re the same damned thing.” I thought it was funny and later told my sister Lisa, who did not get quite the kick out of it that I did. “I think that’s horrible,” she said. “I mean, how is Sophie supposed to get any better when Dad’s taking all her medicine?”