Brad Feld

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?”

I’m not a horse racing fan, but my wife is so I’ve gotten to “enjoy” the Triple Crown this year. In case you’ve been asleep, Smarty Jones is going for a triple crown and – if he wins – would be the first horse since 1977 to take it. I just saw the final of the Belmont Stakes (don’t click the link if you don’t want the surprise to be ruined). However, the race had a great finish that’s worth catching tonight on ESPN or your local news.

My partner Gary Rieschel was recently part of a Time Magazine roundtable that has shown up in an article titled Start-Up Your Engines! One of the topics that came up was social networking. Judith Meskill wrote about the exchange in her post on The Social Software Weblog titled Social Networking Glut = Greater Than Four.

To date, my personal experience with social networking services (yes – I’m a member of many of them – just to see how they work) is that it’s content enhanced spam. For example, so far I’ve received about 300 linkedin request and have accepted 108 requests (hence – having 108 connections). From these connections (directly or indirectly), I’ve received about 10 actual requests for something with only two of them either (a) appearing remotely interesting or (b) from people I felt comfortable hooking up. So – there have probably been 1000 emails involved in this experience, at least 300 visits to the linkedin web site, and absolutely no value to me.

My conclusion is that the current construct of social networking is a feature of a product. So – the concept of a “social networking company” doesn’t make sense to me. When combined with something like a blog search engine, you start to get somewhere. David Sifry from Technorati and I were talking about this today – you can start to see where my network, combined with what I’m interested, who I’m interested in, and who I’m connected to starts to become more interesting.

Now, I know that Tickle was just acquired by Monster Worldwide for about $90m and that ZeroDegrees was acqured by InterActiveCorp (although I don’t know the price). While Tickle had a very nice ad revenue business (the press release says TTM was $25m), you can see that Monster bought Tickle not for the ad revenue (although that helps), but for the “Online Assessment Testing” feature for Monster’s onlne recruiting product.

So – look for the feature of “social networking” evolving into something broader as the cross product of two other constructs (thing-of-real-value = social-networking x something-else).

After a few weeks on Typepad, I decided to switch to Movable Type 3.0 so I’d have more control over my blog format. I’ve reached the point where I’ve changed my home page to be my blog. No – you don’t have to change your feed or your links since (a) I use Feedburner for my feed so I can change it transparently to you and (b) since I’m using Movable Type on my server, I can redirect pages easily.

As I’ve been getting up to speed on the Movable Type script language and configuration, I’ve been pretty bummed at how poor their documentation is. It undermines the richness of the system they’ve created. I’ve stumbled on a number of blogs talking about configuring Movable Type and have found Elise Bauer’s Learning Movable Type site to be fantastic.

I had a great experience with Buzz Bruggeman and his company ActiveWords this morning. Here’s the story.

I was reading through my new feeds this morning and ran across Marc Orchant’s The Office Weblog post on Buzz Bruggeman / ActiveWords. I’ve been looking for a macro recorder that I like (they all suck) and ActiveWords sounded interesting. So – I went to the site and downloaded a trial (30 days). I played around with the trial for 30 minutes and couldn’t figure out how to do what I wanted to do (although it had some neat functionality). I finished up reading my feeds and started grinding through email.

Ten minutes later I get an email from Buzz Bruggeman that says:

From: Buzz Bruggeman []
Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2004 9:20 AM
To: Brad Feld
Subject: ActiveWords

Hi Brad:

Just saw your download. Would love to show you our stuff.

I am also happy to unlock a copy for you. Below is the canned E-Mail that will do it. I would suggest that you beat on ActiveWords for a few days, and then let me walk you through some ideas. I use , which works well, and will cut your learning curve way back. I would like to believe that ActiveWords would not only benefit everyone on your team, but perhaps would benefit products from your portfolio companies.


So – Buzz has gotten my download info, looked me up, figured out I’m a venture capitalist, and decided to make sure I’m happy with his stuff. I respond:

From: Brad Feld
Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2004 9:31 AM
To: ‘Buzz Bruggeman’
Subject: RE: ActiveWords

Buzz – I played around with it for 30 minutes – it’s cool, but it wasn’t obvious how to do what I’m looking for. I’m mostly interested in a “super macro recorder” that can do things interactively with web sites (e.g. bring up page, click on specific field, click on another field, close window). It looks like ActiveWords can do most of this, but it wasn’t at all obvious how to do the “click on specific field” or how to do the equivalent of “record a macro”.

Give me a clue.

Buzz responds:

From: Buzz Bruggeman []
Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2004 9:47 AM
To: Brad Feld
Subject: RE: ActiveWords

I am about to be interviewed . Where are you going to be in say 20 minutes…


It’s a Saturday morning. Now – I get the irony that I’m sitting here with no life catching up on work (my excuse is that Amy is sitting near me at her desk catching up on stuff also). Buzz is all over me.

We hooked up 15 minutes later and spent 30 minutes with Gotomypc going through a demo of what I wanted to do. Buzz helped me configure a few other advanced features, and was geniunely effusive about how his product could help me with my life.

His committment to me and passion for his product convinced me to give it a serious try for a week or so (something that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t gotten all over me – I would have likely punted after fiddling around with it one more time).

Buzz is doing this the right way – he loves his product – believes in it – and is willing to be shamelessly aggressive about getting folks to try it. Our call was great – he wasn’t pushy in any inappropriate or off putting way – he really wanted to help. He recognized that I’m an influencer and wants me to be a user, get excited about ActiveWords, and help him spread the word.

Nice start Buzz. CEO’s – pay attention!

Fred Wilson and I have been ranting about the need for better feed stats (in the category of “user analytics”) for a few weeks. We’ve both been using Feedburner and really like it, but it’s still in kindergarden. Dick Costolo at Feedburner just posted a message about Improved Statistics on the Way.


I hate spam (who doesn’t). While I was running this morning, it dawned on me that spam was ruining the english language. “Huh – you ask?”

I noticed a handful of emails yesterday that had perversions of cuss words (I grew up in Texas – we called them “cusses”, not swears or curses.) All of a sudden, one of my partners is saying “shite” instead of “shit” and I’m seeing “f*ck”, “fcuk“, and “b*st*d” in casual emails to me. Oh – and there’s a preponderance of “frig”-related words (frig, friggin, frigging).

A simple spam blocking technique is to block messages with “dirty words”. Many people (me included) have no ability to eliminate profanity from their thoughts (and subsequently what comes out of their mouths or off their fingers). My mom tried to help solve this problem when I was young, but she failed, and now she’s proud of my shameless cussing (ok – I’ve convinced myself of that – maybe she just ignores me.) So – now critical email isn’t getting through because spam filters can’t figure out that when I type something like “That idea is a pile of shit.” that I mean “What a bad idea”. Or – when I type “fucking awesome man!” I’m simply trying to emphasize how excited I am.

Hence – the downfall of the english language. We have to either (a) go back to using non-profane adjectives, nouns, and verbs, (b) pervert the cusses, or (c) improve the spam filters.

Damn spam.

Two books in one day – that’s either a long day or a delightful absence of television from my life.

Stephen Frey’s Shadow Account is fun (4 of 5 stars). Frey is a managing director at Winston Partners – a Virgina-based private equity firm and hedge fund, so think of him as the up-and-coming John Grisham of Wall Street.

The protagonist – an up-and-coming investment banker – gets tangled up in a complex story line that is based around an accounting fraud ala Worldcom / Enron. Unlike a lot of other books of this genre, Frey actually takes time out from the endless drama and plot turns to cogently describe key issues that apply to the real world (such as Chapter 8 where he addresses the question “… explain how a public company can manipulate its earnings.” Fifteen pages later he’s done a nice job of it in a way that keeps you in the story. This happens a few times in the book – which makes it a little easier to justify as on the border of the junk book category (notwithstanding the murders – real and fake, prostitutes, infidelity, insider trading, government conspiracy, and a senior white house staff that reminds me of the one in charge right now (minus Tenet).

I haven’t read any of Frey’s other books, but they’ll go on my mental floss pile.

Run (or click) don’t walk to buy Death by Meeting : A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business. The author – Patrick Lencioni – is an ex-VP Organizational Development that now runs his own consulting firm – The Table Group. In the past, he’s written a wonderful series of “business fables” that are must reads for any CEO or executive – especially entrepreneurial ones. Death by Meeting is his latest (and by far the best).

This is an extremely fast read – I started it this morning at 5am at La Guardia and finished it by the time we arrived home in Denver – while getting a solid three hours of sleep on the airplane. In addition to setting up the problem of excruciatingly bad meetings (which I’m sure everyone has experienced), he cleverly walks through his framework for solving the problem of horrifying meetings. As with any good fable, you will be able to relate to the characters, will laugh and cry, and at the end think ‘wow – that’s useful.”