Monthly Archives: February 2005

Posner-Becker Blog: A Critical Contribution to Blogland

I’ve mentioned the Becker-Posner blog in previous posts but I wanted to highlight it in its own post. Gary Becker, a Nobel-prize winning economist, and Richard Posner, a judge, post at least once a week on their blog. Both are distinguished, but Posner (pushing 70 years old) in particular is one of the most renowned intellectuals of our day.

Posner has written on everyone under the sun – literally, his mind churns out thousands of articles, books, op/eds, on topics as varied as Bush v. Gore, sex, the 9/11 commission, AIDS, literature, and pornography. It makes sense then that their blog has covered a wide range of topics which each of them publishing a page and a half commentary on a topic and then another post a few days later responding to reader comments on the blog. Each post usually generates upwards of 50 comments. Recently, their blog has become more blog-like (a more personal voice, more sporadic posts responding to current events).

That such prestigious intellectuals are making themselves accessible to the lay blog-reader is amazing. It also prompts an interesting analysis of their motives – to sell more books? Build their personal brands? Or simply to contribute to society’s IQ?

You may not be able to keep up intellectually with some of their analyses (I certainly can’t), and you may not always agree, but if you don’t already subscribe to their blog, then you are missing an opportunity for a front row seat at some of the most gifted minds today.

Personal Web Site – casnocha.com

UPDATE – I’ve gotten a few people tell me the site doesn’t load. Probably a domain issue. http://bigben.blogs.com/website/ is the orign site, this should load fine.

I realized that while my blog is a great way for someone to get to know me, the downside is that if someone visits my blog for 5 minutes and looks at the most recent posts it probably won’t provide a balanced portrait of who I am depending on what I wrote about recently. So, I have emotionally recovered from having bencasnocha.com cybersquatted a couple years ago and put up a static, personal web site at: www.casnocha.com. If you are new to my world check out my personal web site to get a 1 minute overview on who I am.

Our Revenues Are Very Conservative

I sat in with an investor group on four entrepreneur pitches yesterday. If I hear another person say “Our revenue projections are very conservative” I’m going to scream. If they’re so conservative, why not make them, um, realistic?! The other thing I heard which was annoying is “We have no essentially no competition.” Even if there is not one other company doing anything remotely similar (I doubt it), then I think it’s more credible to say “Companies or people who could try to derail us include…” and in this category may be internal saboteurs, government regulators, and so forth.

Hanna Boys Center

I’ve added a new TypePad category – Philanthropy – and I will be re-categorizing older posts on this topic into this category, so apologies for any re-publishing of old posts.

This week I had an opportunity to meet with two board members from the Hanna Boys Center an organization working with at-risk youth by helping them realize their potential that may be stymied by the environment they grow up in. If logistics work I will be speaking to the boys at some point. Below is a picture of me (far left) and a few of the boys and other board members and supporters.

Hbck422405005_web

If someone asked you what charitable causes you were passionate about, what would you say? Get involved and reach out.

A Week of Networking: Bringing Equal Value

It’s been awhile since I had a week off that I could devote to my business pursuits. Over Christmas break I had basketball and so that means the last time when I could really immerse myself was over the summer.

I’ve been spending most of my ski week meeting with really interesting people in the Bay Area. When it comes to networking, I enjoy it, I find value in it, but I don’t like people who network just to build a Roladex of 5,000 people. I.e. I’d rather have 10 deep relationships than 30 shallow ones.

What struck me this week as I met with probably 50 other entrepreneurs, investors, or business people in general is that for the first time I felt like I was bringing something equally to the table. That is, to date, I was in “take” mode – gracious people would reach out a hand and I would gobble down their feedback and advice as gospel. Now, in groups, I realize that I can bring as much or more value to a conversation than other people. My voracious reading paid off for the first time, as it seemed like all week I was recommending to someone a book, article, or study they should check out. Better yet, I was making introductions to other people in my network.

Throughout the week I’ve had people tell me, a) keep at it man, grow your business to the moon!, b) don’t let school pass you by, it’s incredibly important, c) X is the most important thing to success in life/business, d) slow down man, you have your whole life!, e) hey – I love what you’re doing, we have a short time on this planet and I wish I had started as early as you did.

Translation: I get feedback that ranges all over the map (and I love it). Before, it was Truth. Now, I consider it in the context of my broad exposure to people, ideas, and advice. This allows me make better decisions and to be truer to who I am.

I also read an unedited galley version of Never Eat Alone to complement my week of networking. Interesting, some good tips, but I just don’t get how these “professional networkers” truly believe they have Roladex of 5,000 people who they can call and talk to anytime.

Email Exchange With Reader on God and Man at Harvard

My post God and Man at Harvard generated a number of comments from people. One led to an email exchange which I have included below.

Reader Writes:

The days when college was a place to passively soak in the liberal arts, get Cs, then go off to work at your dad’s friend’s law firm went out with the advent of need-blind admissions and the general shift to merit — not social station — as the primary factor in college admission decisions.

The purpose of college has changed. It serves many different needs, and it can no longer be expected to explictly address only the concerns of a certain segment pining away for the “good ‘ole days.” It
seems the response to Baker’s article should be: if you want a strong liberal arts education, then take hard liberal arts courses. If you want more than anything to be a doctor, then take hard pre-med
courses. If you want to be a humor writer, go to Harvard and work your ass off to get on the Lampoon. If you want to do all three, then do all three. Just because no one is forcing a specific path, no one is
preventing on either.

College has been opened up to the masses, and in return, it demands that the masses take the initiative. It can longer force fit everyone into one model of education. The onus is now on the student. The student can no longer be passive. He must be proactive; use college as chance to shape a future — not a holding period before descending a pre-determined path.

My response:

I think you make some interesting points. A lot of people are telling college students (and high school students) just what you said – be proactive, take steps to shape your future, if you want to be X then you must do Y, etc. By junior year in high school, people are asking “what do you think you want to major in?” By senior year, it’s “what do you want to be when you grow up?” By college, if you’re not on the fast track for a successful, rich career, then something is wrong with you.

This troubles me and I think there are a number of consequences. First and foremost it means our education system will be churning out people who are very specialized and focused on their one area. Just as public intellectuals and academics now specialize in the most narrow areas imaginable, students are getting put on this track too. This may mean you can be successful at that one career, but what if it’s not a passion? What if it gets boring? Being successful doesn’t make you an interesting person who has knowledge in a wide range of areas and thus will only take you so far up the totem pole. I believe going to college should be about intellectual stimulation, not which hoop to jump through next.

A lot of high school/college students are asking themselves, What if I don’t know what I want to be? What if I don’t know what I’m interested in? Indeed, they should opt-in to a liberal arts curriculum that will offer broad exposure.

You would argue, and I agree, that our education system now offers schools that have different educational philosophies. Some that mandate a core curriculum forcing everyone to take Chemistry 101. Others have no academic requirements. You seem to be saying that it’s up to the student to go to a school that is a good match for them based on where they are in answering the question “What do I want to be/do in this world?” I agree.

My takeaway from the God and Man at Harvard piece was basically that since Harvard is the most visible educational institution in the country, it should set the standard and lead by example by mandating broad academic requirements before graduating.

Video Games and Fiction Reading – It's A Whole Other World

At the printculture blog there’s an interesting article about folks dropping out of real life to spend time playing an online game EverQuest. One person says, “When EverQuest was more fun than your life, you played EverQuest; when your life became more fun than EverQuest, you quit the game.” In the post that turned me on to this, Chris Yeh says:

He makes the very good point that there are three reasons why people prefer the virtual world to the real world:

1. Increased effort inevitably produces increased rewards. Contrast this to real life, where success can seem unattainable and arbitrary.

2. True equality of opportunity and possibilities for accomplishment and advancement.

3. The people you meet all have something in common–they’ve chosen to play the game–and it’s far easier to avoid jerks.

I think people who are really into fiction books may fall in the same neighborhood. Last August I posted about “reading as life’s grand second chance”. The article I quote says, “Yet for many people, the process of socialization doesn’t quite work. The values they acquire from all the well-meaning authorities don’t fit them. And it is these people who often become obsessed readers. They don’t read for information, and they don’t read for beautiful escape. No, they read to remake themselves. They read to be socialized again, not into the ways of their city or village this time but into another world with different values.”

So – maybe this is why I don’t like video/computer games and don’t like fiction books. Real life has been good to me and so long as my good fortune continues I’m perfectly content playing in it!

Busy Season Over

Tonight my busiest four months of the year came to a close as our basketball team ended with a victory. Unfortunately, I’m sick – cough, throat, stuffed up – which no doubt is related to academic and basketball related stress. But, with a week off next week and the season over, I’m looking forward to getting well and having more time to devote to my various activities. Besides the normal, my spring will be centered around some exciting things happening with my company, upping my grades and nailing the SAT, starting to look at colleges, working on a book proposal, planning my trip to Zurich in June, and of course, doing a lot of reading and laughing. I will be blogging along the way!

Contra Costa Times Article on Comcate

The Contra Costa Times published an article today in their East Bay chain of papers on Comcate‘s recent deal we inked with the City of Pleasant Hill. I’m quoted a few times:

“When we worked with cities at staff level, people were using Post-It notes or they didn’t know that a colleague in Public Works was doing duplicate work,” recalled Casnocha, a junior at University High School in San Francisco. “We learned first-hand about the range of sophistication when it comes to dealing with citizen complaints.”

Aside from being used as an organization and processing tool, by taking cues from the private retail sector, local governments like Pleasant Hill are now using such tools to enhance the quality of services they provide to residents — the people they have now come to view as customers.

“I do see a trend in cites that are trying to modernize and streamline, and still keep that personal touch,” Casnocha said. “How can we use technology to deliver service in a more efficient manner?”

“We’re trying to transform government from what a cynic would call a bureaucratic dinosaur to an entity that is dynamic, responsive,” he continued. “The local level is where services are delivered every day, that’s where customers can see real changes taking place.”

How to Read a Business Book

I came across a great post for anyone who reads a lot of business books (or any nonfiction). It’s all about finding good books, why to read good books, how to read good books, and other nuggets. Only takes 15 seconds.