Amy and I didn’t feel like taking a Christmas or New Year’s vacation this year so we just hung around Boulder, worked, and did our thing. We then decamped to Mexico last week for warmth, sun, beach, and books. News flash: there are a lot fewer people at a fancy resort in Mexico in the third week of January.
It was a good reading week.
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success: We don’t have kids, but a friend recommended this. I decided to read it to see if any of it applied to being an investor or board member in a company. Yup – a bunch of it was spot on. After reading it, I’m still glad I don’t have kids.
The Heap: A Novel: This one ended up on my Kindle because of my weekly perusal of the NY Times Book Review. The premise intrigued me. A 500 story tall building collapses in the desert and a community develops around it to excavate it. Once it got rolling, it moved quickly, but the interwoven historical backstory became a little tedious. But, for a first novel, it’s a great effort.
Veil: I got to read a draft of Eliot Peper‘s new book. Wowza. Elliot has turned into an incredible writer who totally dominates a near-term science fiction novel.
Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima: Yum yum. Todd Vernon pointed me at this one. It was long, chewing, and spectacular. After watching Chernobyl on HBO, I’ve become fascinated with nuclear energy. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get a short course on it and I’ve thought about going back to MIT to get a degree in Course 22. While that’s a pretty steep hill to climb, I’m just enjoying a bunch of books for now. And yes, count me on the side of more nuclear.
Uncanny Valley: A Memoir: Loved it. Fantastic. Go get it right now. I particularly enjoyed how the author called people and companies out without naming them. This book nourished my inner Silicon Valley cynic.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. This one was recommended by Katie Elliott. I was hoping it was about nuclear energy, but it wasn’t. Amy looked over my shoulder while I was reading it and said, “James Clear’s book. You don’t need to read it because you do all that stuff already.” I read it anyway, one page at a time.
I sense an annual mid-January off-the-grid vacation in a warm place for the rest of my time on this planet.
I stayed up late last night finishing Lost and Wanted. If you are a reader, get this book in physical form. It’s worth savoring.
Amy bought this book for me last week. When I asked her why, she belted out a stream of words: “MIT, female professor, the afterlife, sexual harassment, physics, racism, women.”
She then said, “Fiction is a good way to access complicated topics.” This is a recurring dynamic in our relationship, as we often use shared fiction to discuss complex topics. Amy hasn’t read the book yet, so it’s now on the top of her infinite pile of books to read.
Whenever we overlap reading books, even if they are separated by time, I have to be careful about what I say. The other day, as Amy was grinding through the first 100 pages of The Three-Body Problem, she said, “I’m not sure I’m going to finish this.” I asked a simple question, “Have you reached the Trisolarans and their eleven dimensions.” She responded, “AEEEEEEEKKKK are you ruining it for me?” I said, “Hang in there – the first 100 pages are hard.” She finished it that day and the next day I heard her utter, “Holy Shit – the Droplet!”
Amy’s going to love Nell Freudenberger‘s writing. It’s remarkable to me that Freudenberger didn’t know any of the physics in this book before she wrote it. It’s beautifully done, extremely accessible, and very meta to the underlying story.
My reading in 2019 took me far and wide. I’m happy with my shift to the infinite pile of physical stuff when I’m home, and my Kindle when I’m on the road, as I feel like I’m getting a better variety this way.
Happy almost New Year.
29 years of nightmares. Over 10,000 nights in a row. That’s hard to fathom.
David R. Mellor, the Senior Director of Grounds for the Boston Red Sox Baseball team, experienced this. His eloquent memoir, One Base at a Time: How I Survived PTSD and Found My Field of Dreams, takes the reader on a very complicated journey, with extremely obvious physical pain intermingled with less apparent emotional pain.
David describes it amazingly well in the summary on his website.
For 29 years, every night I had one to five night terrors/nightmares and was scared to go to sleep. During that time in my life I was also having flashbacks often triggered if I heard a revving car engine, squealing tires, the smell of car exhaust, or the aroma McDonald’s french fries. At the time, I didn’t understand what my symptoms were or how best to treat them. I was too ashamed and scared to ask for help.
A chance reading of a magazine article set the course for treatment of my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was at my doctor’s office to receive acupuncture for pain management and looking for something to read during the treatment. A Smithsonian magazine caught my eye because it contained an article about a new facility treating veterans with PTSD (see article here). My oldest daughter was studying psychology and interning at the newly formed Home Base Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and I thought the article might give me some insight into what she was learning. As I read the article I realized I suffered from most of the symptoms it described as relating to PTSD. No doctor had ever asked me or my wife about PTSD. I always thought only active duty military members or veterans could have PTSD from the horrors of war. Now I know that anyone can get PTSD from a life threatening trauma. As a result, I don’t want other people who are dealing with PTSD to suffer in silence like I did. I tried my best to protect my family: I tried to keep my symptoms a deeply guarded secret because I didn’t want to burden them. Now I know that I wasn’t able to protect and shield them from my PTSD symptoms, as through treatment I have learned that PTSD affects the entire family.
A tragedy of his story is that it took him many years before realizing he had PTSD. Soon after he started getting treatment for PTSD, his nightmares stopped.
After finishing the book, I went down the David R. Mellor rabbit hole on the web. This ESPN video segment with his dog Drago is powerful.
As is this one.
David’s story is incredibly inspiring for anyone, but especially powerful if you suffer from PTSD or any related mental health issues.
I love how David ends his bio:
Many people have told me they think I’m one of the most unlucky people in the world since I’ve been hit by a car 3 times and had 43 surgeries and PTSD to name a few things. But I strongly disagree; I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. It’s up to us how we turn our challenges into opportunities to not only help ourselves but help others too.
In my book, there is no stigma here. Only life.
As Amy and I settle into our time in Homer, we spent a lot of last weekend (and the evenings) reading. We don’t have a TV up here, so our lying around entertainment is reading with some bonus knitting time for Amy.
I’ve been working my way through the books at the upcoming Authors and Innovators Business Ideas Festival and got through three of them so far. I also read a near-final draft of John Minnihan’s upcoming book and The Impossible Long Run: My Journey to Becoming Ultra by Janet Patkowa.
But, the best book of last weekend was Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac. It’s the first major book about the story of Uber, by a New York Times writer who has covered tech (and Uber) for a long time.
It’s incredibly fast-paced. It’s in the same category of a number of other “first major book about an emergent important company by a journalist” including Bad Blood (Theranos) by John Carreyrou and The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick.
While I knew over 80% of the content in the book, having it strung together in a time sequence, with emphasis on key activities that happened at the same time, or influenced other future actions, was critical to the narrative and extremely well done by Isaac. While some of it had a reporter flavor, most were non-judgmental and let the activities stand on their own. Periodically Isaac would nudge you toward a conclusion, but most of the time he let you take your view where you wanted from the context provided.
It’ll be interesting to see where Uber is in a decade. In the meantime, reflecting on how it got to where it is today is fascinating.
Amy and I arrived in Homer this evening for some time in a different place. We are TV-free up here, so that means, well, books.
She fell asleep early so I finished off The Bookish Life of Nina Hill which I had started several weeks ago but got distracted and read a few other things. The distraction was more a function of being in Boulder, surrounded by physical books which I read, in contrast to being in Homer with my Kindle, where I simply picked up on the last thing I had been reading.
This was a fun book. The protagonist, Nina, loves books, schedules “nothing” for Thursday nights so she can go home and read, and works in a bookstore. While she gets along with people, her favorite thing in the world is to be home alone reading a book. Sound like someone you know?
It covers Los Angeles, books, romance, endless book and movie references, trivia quiz competitions, books, a cat named Phil, a recently discovered family, and David Hasselhoff. Like good contemporary fiction, it moves quickly, the protagonist (Nina) is super-awesome-hilarious-complicated, and time disappears for a while and then suddenly the book ends.
But the backstory of the book is even more entertaining. The author, Abbi Waxman, shares the last name with David Waxman, who is a partner at TenOneTen Ventures. Oh, and they are married. While I’ve never met Abbi, I’ve known David since the late 1990s when I was on the board of PeoplePC and he was a co-founder. Foundry is an LP in TenOneTen and it’s been fun to work with David again after a long hiatus.
I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that David’s wife, like my wife Amy, was a writer. It popped up a few times over the years, but it never stuck in my brain. Over the summer, when Amy and I were having dinner with Nick Grouf (David’s co-founder at PeoplePC) and Shana Eddy, it came up again when one of Nick or Shana (I can’t remember which) recommended The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Dots were again connected, and the circle now included Amy.
On the plane today, as Amy was reading my Kindle over my shoulder, she said “didn’t someone recommend that book to us?” which then prompted a fun conversation about Nick, Shawn, David, and the mysterious Abbi who I hope to someday meet.
While that backstory was merely a lame approximation of the fun tangling of characters in Abbi’s book, it seemed fitting to unroll it that way.
If you like fiction, books, Los Angeles, stories about interesting characters, and a few plot twists, go grab The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.
And, just like that, I’m off to bed …
I’m keynoting the Authors and Innovators Business Ideas Festival on 10/24/19 at the UMASS campus in Newton, MA.
As a writer, I’m excited to see events like this happening. When I got the invite from Larry Gennari, I was delighted that it overlapped with a Wellesley College board meeting that Amy was attending. So, while we won’t be together (she’ll be in Wellesley and I’ll be in Newton), we’ll be near each other.
The other authors presenting are:
I just bought all the books on Amazon so my Kindle is extra loaded up for my trip to Alaska at the end of the week.
David Cohen and I will be at the Fort Collins Barnes and Noble from 6pm – 8pm on Tuesday 9/10/19 to sign copies of the 2nd Edition of Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup.
Over the next few months, we’ll be doing a handful of public appearances around the book. It’s the first book I wrote and – with David – really learned how to write a book almost a decade ago.
We freshened up the 1st Edition with some new stories, lots of context and history around the evolution of Techstars, updates on where the entrepreneurs highlighted are today, and some other nuggets throughout the update.
When Do More Faster originally came out in 2010, there were three Techstars accelerators (Boulder, Boston, and Seattle) with a fourth about to launch (New York). Today, there are 50 active Techstars accelerators happening each year, located in 13 different countries. In addition to funding 500 companies per year (10 per accelerator), Techstars also runs a number of other activities, including Startup Weekend, Startup Week, a number of corporate innovation initiatives, and a set of Ecosystem Development programs based on work surrounding my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.
Whenever I ponder it, I get great joy from reflecting on how much progress Techstars has made from 2010 and, more importantly, the amount I’ve learned about entrepreneurship through my involvement with Techstars.
If you are near Fort Collins, Colorado on Tuesday night (9/10/19), come hang out with me and David at Barnes & Noble, 4045 S College Ave, Fort Collins, CO 80525.
Over the summer, I’ve been exploring Buddhism. I’m focused on it as a philosophy, not as a religion, but decided that reading a broad survey book that covered the history of Buddhism from multiple angles – historical, philosophical, and religious, might be interesting.
I stumbled up Buddhism 101: From Karma to the Four Noble Truths, Your Guide to Understanding the Principles of Buddhism at Explore Booksellers in Aspen. I grabbed it along with a few other books (something I do every time I enter a bookstore) and observed it sitting on my living room book table over the summer.
When we came back to Boulder, I carried a few books back with me including Buddhism 101. I’d started it and read bits of it but took a few hours on the couch this afternoon after my run and polished it off.
It’s a great survey guide to Buddhism. The chapters are short, very accessible, and remarkably clear. I’m sure some of the historical stuff will drift away from my memory, but the broad arc of the evolution of Buddhism and a reinforcement of the principles against this historical backdrop is now a solid base that I can build on.
If you have a meditation practice, a friend who is a Buddhist, or are just interested in having more than a millimeter deep understanding of Buddhism, this book will get you to two millimeters. And you’ll understand, after reading it, why there’s no value in getting attached to the number of millimeters.
I didn’t read much last month, but I got an email this morning from someone who mentioned that I’d like Greg Egan’s Permutation City. I read it in April when I was in Japan on my Q219 Vacation with Amy but never really blogged much about it.
All three of these books are outstanding. They are all near term science fiction, with extraordinary world-building dynamics, and complex time narratives.
While Neal Stephenson is possibly the best world builder in the entire fiction genre today, both Blake Crouch and Greg Egan are in the same category. Some people find Stephenson’s world-building overwhelming, but as a fast reader, I’ve learned how to skim through parts while absorbing the essence of what is going on. Interestingly, this technique isn’t required for Crouch but occasionally is needed with Egan.
All three books incorporate the concept of recursion in very foundation ways. Everyone studying computer science learns the magic of recursion very early on, often through the factorial example, listed below for fans of Scheme, just to bring back memories of 6.001.
(define (factorial x)
(if (= x 0)
(* x (factorial (- x 1)))))
While Crouch hits you over the head with it in the beginning, Egan spends about 100 pages getting you ready for it. Stephenson probably takes about 200 pages before you start getting a feel for it. But, by the last quarter of each book, you are deep, deep, deep, deep, …
I thought each book ended extremely well. For all three, I found myself staying up late reading, which is always a sign the book has grabbed me since my bedtime since I was ten has been 10 pm.
While summer reading time is almost over, you’ve still got a few weeks for one of these if you want to explore the literary equivalent of a Sierpiński triangle.