Category: Writing

Mar 16 2010

New Blog Design

As you may have noticed, I’ve got a new blog design, as do my partners Jason Mendelson, Ryan McIntyre, and Seth Levine.  Every year or so I get bored of my blog design and we go through a nice little upgrade.  Our good friends at Slice of Lime do all the design work and Ross (our IT guy) wrangles everything. 

We’re still changing some stuff, but if you have any suggestions or notice any bugs, please leave comments so I can tune things up.

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Feb 23 2010

When I Decided Not To Become A Doctor

My folks stayed at my condo in Boulder the last few nights with me so I was inspired this morning to write a quick post in the Letters to my Dad series that I’m writing with my father (he’s calling his posts “Father and Son.”) 

In my dad’s last post, Father and Son #3, he wrote about our overthrow of the administrative regime in my high school at the start of my senior year when they botched the AP course schedule because of a “computer glitch.”  He calls it a “lesson in leadership and self reliance” and tells a great story of how we (him and I) quickly mobilized about 60 parents and students in 24 hours to get together, proposed a solution to the problem, presented the case the superintendent and principal, and then fixed the problem.  We all got to take more than one AP class (even though school was over for me my senior year at lunch time since there were no other classes to take) and I even wore a tux to prom.

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But that’s not today’s story.  When I was young, my dad regularly took me on rounds with him at the local hospitals.  He was the most experienced endocrinologist in Dallas (and one of the first doctors to specialize in clinical endocrinology) so he was in high demand.  He was also extremely respected by his peers, loved by his patients, and adored by the nurses and hospital staff.  Looking back, I like to say that he was the doctor that we all dream of having – engaging, funny, 100% focused on you and in the moment, extremely responsive, and extraordinarily competent. 

I loved going on rounds with my dad.  I’d bring a book, sit at the nurses station, and read while he saw patients.  Occasionally the nurses would let me look through charts (this was well before HIPAA) or play around with the medical equipment (in the 1970’s there were a lot of beeping noises and flashing lights – perfect for an eight year old.)  Hospitals were big places which seemed huge to me at the time.

However, there were two things I didn’t like.  I hated the way hospitals smelled and was always afraid of touching things.  I didn’t realize what this was at the time, but looking back on it I realize it was an early instantiation of OCD which I’ve struggled with throughout my life.  I’m sure the linkage between the environment and the events in the hospital (sick people, dying people) reinforced something around this at a deep psychological level. 

More obviously, I disliked a lot of the doctors.  I thought my dad was amazing and loved listening to the nurses talk about “Dr. Feld” when they thought I couldn’t hear them.  I’d have my head buried in a book in the corner and they’d be chatting about how amazing (where amazing is a proxy for a wide variety of great attributes) he was.  In the mean time, they’d bitch about virtually every other doctor.  I learned the word “asshole” at a relatively early age as that was the most common descriptor I remembered.  Most of the other doctors were assholes – they were arrogant to the nurses, short with patients, and many of them seemed genuinely uninterested in what they were doing.  Now – a few of them were like my dad, but only about 10%.  The rest turned me off.

When I was about 10, I grabbed a thin green book on endocrinology off of my dad’s shelf in his study.  I discovered a lot of books in his study over the years (including Atlas Shrugged and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).  The endocrinology book wasn’t titled “Endocrinology for Dummies” but it could have been – it was an introduction to endocrinology presumably aimed at a first year medical student.  By 10 I was devouring ever book I could get my hands on so I’m sure I laid down on a couch in our house and started reading.  The only thing I remember is how unbelievably bored I was by the book.  I’m sure it was way over my head, but this wasn’t a unique experience for me – even when I didn’t really understand very much of what I was reading I usually sucked it down anyway and went back and tried again at a later time.  I remember finishing this book and thinking something like “I never want to read about endocrinology ever again.”

My dad tried to be home for dinner every night.  He’d often head back to the hospital after dinner to go do more rounds.  At dinner we’d go around the table and talk about our day.  We alternated who went first – there was no rhyme or reason to the order that I could tell although my parents might have had a secret sequence that I didn’t know about.  A few days after I put the book back on the shelf, I went first.  I was really nervous so I just blurted out what was on my mind “I don’t want to be a doctor!”  It probably came out more as a plea or a shout, but I remember it sounding like a scream in my head.

Once I had said it, I felt so much better.  I’d been carrying around the thought for a few days terrified of what my parents would say.  All of my relatives were already asking the typical jewish “is he going to be a doctor when he grows up” question every time they saw me with my parents.  I hadn’t realized how much this was weighing on me – now it was out in the open.

I remember a short moment of quiet followed by my father quickly saying “you can be anything you want to be.”  We then spent most of dinner talking about this and when dinner was over I had a bunch of different possible careers in front of me to explore.  None of them were being a doctor.  And – I felt great because I’d learned that a huge lesson that day – that I could be anything I wanted to be.

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Jan 20 2010

Letters to My Dad

I recently turned 44.  As I was driving in to the office the other day, I was talking to my dad and we were reminiscing about something.  He’s one of my closest friends and I’ve learned such an amazing amount from him over my 44 years on this planet.  He’s been blogging for a while about Repairing the Healthcare System and periodically tosses in a personal blog post about one of his life experiences.

Suddenly, during the call, I suggested that we write letters to each other on our blogs.  We talk by phone a few times a week, email regularly, and video Skype at least once a week.  But I learn the most from him when we have our long annual father / son weekend, or when we end up on a 45 minute call (like we did today) talking about the Senate and healthcare.  And I thought about a picture that was recently sent to me of him when he was a little older than me (about 47 I think).  I’m the skinny kid on the left; my first business partner Dave Jilk is on the right.

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I’ve got a long list of “Stanley-isms” that I’ve incorporated into my life.  They pop out randomly in various contexts, but always influence the things I do on a daily basis, how I act, and how I treat other people.  I still learn a lot whenever I ponder them and thought they’d be great fodder for this blog.

While I don’t have kids, I’m watching some of my close friends raise their children.  Most of the kids are between the age of 5 and 10; the parent / child relationships in my circle of friends are uniformly excellent.  At a pre-board meeting dinner tonight, we spent some time talking about kids, especially in the context of how the parents (every one of them very smart and accomplished) are thinking about the transition of their kids from pre-teen through teenage years.

I’m not going to experience this as a parent, but I certainly experienced this as a kid.  And when reflect on the influence my father had on me, how he interacted with me at that age, and the way it has shaped my character, I smile.  A very big smile.  So I thought I’d share some of that with you.

I don’t know how often I’ll write Letters to My Dad but I hope to be able to keep up with one of my favorite tweeters, ShitMyDadSays.  Oh – and my dad is still wearing that NY Yankees shirt and baseball cap to this day.

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Oct 27 2009

Wonder Where I Am?

One of the challenges of living your life out in the open is signaling where you are going to be.  I’ve struggled with this on and off, tried a bunch of different web services, and have never been happy with any of them.  I’m going to keep trying, but in the mean time I’ve decided to put a calendar up on my blog using Google Calendar.

It shows two things:

  1. Which city I’ll be in by day
  2. Any public events that I’m attending or speaking at

As with anything “calendar” be wary of time zones.  All the time zones listed here are in mountain time.

Feedback and suggestions about other approaches welcome.

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Feb 13 2009

Alphabet Soup

Among other things, my wife Amy is a writer and a poet.  I love it when she writes, especially when she chooses some sort of structural framework for what she writes.

This year she decided to write a series of posts using the alphabet as a guide.  She started off with the first post titled The Year of Living Alphabetically where she describes what she is doing.

“I had a new idea this past week about structure that I’m hereby officially announcing I’m going to implement this year. I’ve done lots of reading about goals (rather than work toward actually achieving mine?) and one of the consistent tips is to make public announcements and create accountability to others and enlist their support in your efforts.  So, my new idea is this: I’m going to use the 26 letters of the alphabet to create a weekly theme based on each letter, cycling through the alphabet twice in a 52 week year.

She’s now up to F.

I can foreshadow a little – Amy has told me that “G is for Geography”, something I’m particularly lousy at.

For all of you out there that know Amy and want to get a taste for her writing, now is a good time to start following her blog.

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Dec 31 2008

More on Disclosure

In response to my post The Dynamics of Full Disclosure, Jeffrey Kalmikoff – one of the co-founders of Skinnycorp (the dudes who do Threadless) wrote an add-on titled On trust, transparency and disclosureJeffrey came up to Keystone and spent Jewish Christmas with me and Micah Baldwin – we talked about a bunch of fun stuff, ate chinese food, and played a lot of Rock Band.  Good stuff Jeffrey.

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Dec 30 2008

The Dynamics of Full Disclosure

A meme that regularly goes around the blogosphere is “full disclosure.”  When someone blogs about something they have a financial interest in (e.g. an equity interest in a company) or something they benefit from financially (e.g. affiliate fees), should they include a “formal disclosure.”

I received the following email today:

“I appreciate all your book recommendations over the last several posts.  It’s a great service.  However, with full disclosure being the norm these days, you might want to mention that you benefit from book sales via your Amazon affiliate status.  Pardon me if you have previously done this.”

So – for full disclosure, I benefit from book sales via my Amazon affiliate status.  I don’t pay close attention to how much I get from this as I’m much more interested in the data underlying which books you dear reader actually buy and read as one of the features of the affiliate program is all the data I get from it.

My purpose of having an Amazon affiliate code is three fold:

  1. I want to understand how the Amazon affiliate program works (and evolves).  This helps me with all of my investing activity.
  2. I am obsessed with the underlying data.  All of the various affiliate / advertising programs I have on this blog provide me with a variety of data.  I learn from this and can then help the companies I’m an investor in understand what appeals and doesn’t appeal to a publisher, using me as an example.
  3. I make enough money to get a discount from all of the books I buy at Amazon each year.

Summary: #1 and #2 help me as an investor.  #3 generates a modest amount of money to me.

Let’s focus on #3 for a minute since this I think this is the core of the “full disclosure” email I received.  In my case, I buy over 250 books / year at Amazon (I don’t know the exact number, but I’m estimating five a week which, based on what is on my Kindle along with the infinite pile of unread books, is low.)  Since I’m buying a lot more on my Kindle these days, let’s use the average Kindle price of $10 which is also going to be low given the number of hardcover books in the infinite pile.  That’s $2,500 per year of books.  I expect that number is off by at least 100% – so I’m spending somewhere between $2,500 and $5,000 per year on books at Amazon.

I just ran my earnings report from Amazon for the past 12 months.  Via my affiliate code, I’ve sold a net of 666 items (eek – subtle message in that – it’s actually 675 with returns of 7 and refunds of 2.)  I’ve generated $16,247.89 for Amazon and received $1,072.89 in referral fees.

So – even if you take my $2,500 number, by buying books via my blog you’ve effectively helped me get a 40% discount from Amazon (20% if you take the $5,000 number, which I think is more realistic given my book buying habit.)

In either case, the financial beneficiary here is Amazon, not me, although I guess you could argue that I’m ahead by whatever my effective discount is.  If my “book recommendations is a great service”, presumably this won’t really bother anyone (it might not have regardless). However, if every post I put up had an italicized “summary” of this post (or a link to it), that would probably get annoying over time! 

I’m going to think more about what full disclosure actually means in the context of the evolving shift of purchasing, advertising, and content online.  In the offline world, the construct of a reseller is well established (e.g. no one ever requires full disclosure from a bookstore when they sell – or promote – a book as it is well understand that they make a margin on every sale.)  I get that there are different issues in the online world, especially around content, but as the creative destruction of the Internet starts to really take a toll on retail (and resellers), there may be new issues around the construct of full disclosure.

Finally, thanks to the blog reader who pointed this out to me.  I hope this doesn’t come across as a gigantic rationalization on my part, or a defensive argument.  Instead, my goal was to think through this out loud, in public, and in the spirit of full disclosure.  If anyone out there has anything to add, or core principles that can help me define a forward looking view on this (e.g. what this should look like from 2010 forward), please weigh in with a comment.

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Dec 21 2008

Sorry for the Feed Flood

For those of you that just got a flood of posts in your Feld Thoughts feed, that’s because of me.  Yeah – I wrote a bunch of posts over the past few days, but I forgot to update where FeedBurner was pointing to grab the feed when we moved over to WordPress.  I’m loving WordPress.org, but still futzing around with a few things.  The feed should be better, but if you notice something messed up, tell me.

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Dec 17 2008

I’m A WordPress Fanboy

When Automattic acquired Intense Debate a few months ago, I committed to Toni Schneider and Matt Mullenweg that I’d convert my blogs from Movable Type to WordPress and become a WordPress fanboy.  After the acquisition they sent me a bunch of stickers (along with my Automattic stock certificate).  I’ve been dutifully putting my stickers up on lamp posts, doors, and computers all around the country.  As of right now, I can also say that I’ve converted this blog over to WordPress.

If you notice any problems or wonky issues, please holler – either by email or by leaving a comment.  If you have suggestions for WordPress plugins that I must put on this blog, please leave them in the comments.

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Dec 10 2008

The Heroes At ViaWest and StillSecure

As you probably noticed, for the past three weeks my blog has been up and down.  The week of November 20th, Feld Thoughts came under a large distributed denial of service attack.  While we’re not sure who began this attack (or why) we have finally been able to mitigate it enough to get the site back online thanks to ViaWest. Now for a little history as to what happened and how we combated it.

When we first started noticing problems with the blog, Ross did all the normal stuff and didn’t really notice anything. The server was online, CPU usage was nominal as was memory usage.  It was available, it simply wouldn’t serve pages. Netstat eventually revealed the problem was a big DDoS attack.

For the first week, our friends at StillSecure jumped in and helped us tune our existing server to try to get us back up and stable.  Each time we would get ahead of the attacker he/they would step the attack up to another level taking us back down.  We’d been talking about moving from our small hosting provider to a Tier 1 provider given the existing traffic levels before the attack – we finally decided to bite the bullet and move everything to a new server at ViaWest (where many of our portfolio companies host.)

I’m happy to report that we have moved the site over to the new server with ViaWest and we’ve been able to put a real firewall in front of the server.  This firewall, coupled with a much more powerful server and ViaWest’s substantial infrastructure, has gotten us back online and running great.  While the attack continues we have so far been able to handle it.

So a big thanks goes to ViaWest and their team for the assistance they’ve given us getting our new server up and running.  Also, big hugs to my friends at StillSecure for jumping in on a moments notice help us get to a place where at least we we able to weather the attack. 

Thanks guys, you’re the best!

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