Monthly Archives: June 2005

A Slight Modification to My Information Diet

I pay close attention to my information diet which consists of a lot of daily, weekly, and monthly intake. Some electronic, some print. I still need a lot of print since I can’t read long articles on my computer screen without hurting my eyes.

For the past few weeks I’ve been debating whether to add The Economist to my weekly subscription list. So far I’ve read the Economist from time to time when I see it around. Recently they have covered some of the biggest stories far better than other outlets. Plus, as I try to get up to speed on international happenings and stay on top of the jaw-dropping effects of globalization, The Economist does international news as good as anyone.

The $129 annual subscription cost is nominal, for me it’s a question of time. I take each new “information committment” seriously. Let’s say I spend 30 minutes each week reading the Economist. This means I will spend 28 hours a year, not insignificant. As part of my tried and true philosophy – “for every new committment you take on, drop one of equal committment” – I need to think about what I will drop to make those 28 hours become available. First, I have unsubscribed from 20 RSS feeds that simply weren’t getting the job done. Even if I only spend seconds skimming through those posts, that adds up over time. Second, I have stopped reading Fortune. Third, I have more or less stopped reading the San Francisco Chronicle (except local sports scores). Finally, I expect that while I will be a returning captain for the basketball team this winter I will have less administrative work than I did last year thus freeing up add’l time.

So with that, I welcome the Economist to my information diet, whose inspirational mission is “to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstrucing our progress.”

Monterey County Herald Article

After participating in a 1.45 hour interview today that’s going to be a front page story tomorrow in a Zurich newspaper about the cultural differences between San Francisco and Zurich (enough already!), I was pinged by Google News informing me that the Monterey County Herald (in California) published an article highlighting the City of Pacific Grove’s new e-government system delivered by Comcate. We’re excited about our work in Pacific Grove and I wish that would have gotten more ink. Instead the author of the article seems to have spent some good time on this blog (and mis-writes the URL):

The software behind Access Pacific Grove was created by 12-year-old whiz Ben Casnocha when he was assigned to create a community service Web site for a sixth-grade technology class. He came up with a program to handle citizen complaints about local government.

Now a 17-year-old high school junior in San Francisco, Casnocha owns Comcate Inc., a company that once operated out of Ben’s bedroom and now sells the software to the cities of Fairfield, Atascadero, Cupertino, Menlo Park, Orinda, Vallejo, Pleasant Hill and others.

Comcate also markets a “code enforcement” program that Rojanasathira said the city would like to acquire, “but there are always budget problems.”

Casnocha, also a writer, publishes a blog about school, entrepreneurship, books and current affairs: bigben.blogspot.com. On Wednesday, the site featured essays on narcissism and solitude.

His Web site says he’s working on a book titled “And a Teen Shall Lead Them: A Young CEO’s Journey Through High School, Silicon Valley and Life.” He has established a charity called the Comcate Foundation for Teen Entrepreneurship.

Rojanasathira said he was unaware the city’s new citizen feedback system had been invented by a 12-year-old.

“That’s pretty cool, though,” he said.

Narcissisism – Successful People, Intimacy

In Under the Banner of Heaven the main subject, Ron Lafferty, was diagnosed by one doctor with narcissistic personality disorder. NPD is distinguished by “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy…indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  • has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • requires excessive admiration
  • has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

“It has been estimated that 1 percent of the American population is afflicted with it…To a noteworthy degree narcissists fuel the cultural, spiritual, and economic engines of Western society. Many successful people are narcissistic, it’s especially prevalent among accomplished businessmen, attorneys, physicians, and academics. Such people have a sense of vast self-importance and believe they’re smarter and better than anybody else. They’re willing to work incredible hours to provide confirmation to support their grandiose ideas…On the other hand, it really impairs their ability for intimacy and closeness because they lack empathy, and can’t understand the importance of other people’s life experiences.”

A few things really stood out for me after reading this. First, it made think of Siebel co-founder Pat House’s remarks at the Stanford conference I went to in February. She came across as pretty egotistical and narcissistic and initially I was turned off. But thinking about it more, I think the excerpt above is right: most really successful people I know are narcissistic. As for myself, I think I exhibit some of the “symptoms” listed above. And one of my big character weaknesses is my reluctance for intimacy and closeness. Some kids my age say I have a shell.

I’d be interested in hearing from others who may exhibit certain narcissistic characteristics but do not hide behind it but rather embrace the fact that they’re part of the 1%.

Solitude

I’ve been thinking some about solitude. This past weekend I spent 5 AM Saturday till 9 PM Sunday without talking or communicating with anyone practically. Everyone around me was speaking a different language and I was not connected to email or phones. And I was pretty much at peace with myself – indeed, I enjoy my own company and can easily entertain myself with my own thoughts (or a good book, of course). But this 48 hour stint of solitude made me reflect on the common personality question: Are you an introvert or extrovert? I think to the outside world I am perceived as highly extroverted – I thrive on social interactions and communication skills are my strong suits. I would consider myself charismatic. (I will dutifully add that in 8th grade I was voted "Most Popular," which I think says something BAD about me at that point in my life…the popular kids from middle school usually turn out to be the jerks and bullies later on. I will also add that charisma is highly overrated.)

At the same time I see myself as concurrently introverted. Many of my school peers seem to only operate when interacting with friends. Friends, friends, friends. If you’re not hanging out with someone, then life sucks. There are many times when I would much rather be alone than with others. Perhaps when my school peers are alone they are trapped amidst their own thoughts and opinions, and they don’t like them. When I’m alone I am trapped in a metaphysical Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, with each door leading to another room filled with ideas, problems, solutions, arguments, analyses. In my opinion you cannot truly think deeply when you are surrounded by others.

So I guess I’m somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extrovert continuum – I get an intellectual and emotional high off of social interactions while also prospering when I’m alone.

Our Obsession Over Memories

What is it about our culture’s obsession with memories? The creation of, storage of, and sharing of memories seems to be a timeless need. But when does the process of creating and storing the perfect memory/moment become greater than the memory itself? In other words, when does the posing for the camera in front of a tourist attraction become more important than enjoying the attraction itself? Do we rely on material memories like pictures or videos more than we used to because our memory/mental bandwidth is overloaded with other things?

Other than a group of people laughing together, which is one of the highest forms of social bonding, I would posit that next on the list is the joint recollection of memories. Sentences that start off “Remember when…” usually result in everyone involved re-living a shared experience, and shared experiences are the key to enduring relationships. And enduring relationships are at the core of innate human desire.

So, for my entrepreneur friends out there, think about our culture’s obsession over memories, and in this age of stimuli overload, think about how we can help the rest of the world create, store, and share memories.

A confluence of observations/thoughts prompted this post:

  • Cameras in cell phones have made the taking pictures omnipresent.
  • I recently heard an entrepreneur pitch a group of angels on a wedding photography business and he concluded by saying: “A bride’s parents will pay top dollar for reliable wedding photos, because after all, in the end all you have are the photographs.”
  • The song “Graduation” by Vitamin C on my iPod during my workout today whose lyrics is all about remembering the high school days.

Americanisms Are Cool in a US-hostile World

In today’s Financial Times there’s a funny and telling article (subscribers only) about how Americanisms are overtaking British English and even infesting countries full of anti-US sentiment.

The prompt for the article stemmed from outrage from the British Potato Council which said the derogatory phrase “couch potato” should be dropped because, in reality, the vegetable was bursting with goodness and nutrition. Excerpt:

In Britain people now say “hi” and “take care” instead of “hello” and “goodbye.” They call you instead of giving you a ring, swing by instead of paying you a visit, stand in line instead of forming a queue and go to the movies instead of watching a film…People pepper their speech with phrases such as “Don’t go there,” “Gedoudahere,” “Go figure,” and “Gimme a break.”…..China is more popular than the US right now, so why are we not all saying ‘ni hao’ instead of ‘hello’? The answer is that other countries may hate US foreign policy but they love American pop culture.

Book Reviews: 4 Winners, 1 So-So, 2 Stinkers

Having spent endless hours on trains the past couple weeks, I’ve gotten a lot of reading in. Here are brief words on four winners, one so-so, and two stinkers.

Winners – The first two are about religion. The first is Jon Krakauer’s new Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. This is literary nonfiction at its best – a powerful story that starts with a 1985 murder by some fundamentalist Mormons and then jumps back into history to offer a chronological and intimate look at the creation and evolution of Mormonism. Krakauer’s prose is lucid and the broader ideas about religion are thought provoking. Required reading for anyone interested in religion, Mormonism/Utah, or simply well-written “new-new journalism.” The second is Harvey Cox’s classic The Secular City. This one’s applicability to the average reader is not as broad as Krakauer’s. But, anyone with an academic interest in the intertwining of religion and urbanization must read this book.

The third is The Marketing Playbook: Five Battle-Tested Plays for Capturing and Keeping the Lead in Any Market, a clear and entertaining look at proven tactics that start ups can employ to make inroads in a new market. Finally, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life is a solid follow up to Csikszentmihalyi’s bestselling Flow. For anyone who subscribes to the Flow school of thought, you’ll find helpful reminders and the occasional new tidbit. Like any sequel, it’s not as good as the first, but still pretty powerful in shaping my outlook on life.

So-SoOldschool by Tobias Wolff was an occasionally engaging portrait of a fictional east coast prep boarding school but required too deep an understanding of classic literature (an area where I’m admittedly pretty weak) to make it a winner. Nonetheless, the story may resonate with those who attended east coast boarding schools.

StinkersThe New Normal : Great Opportunities in a Time of Great Risk was simply a regurgitation of what we’ve all read a million times in print media and on blogs. Maybe hearing everything a third time will help me remember this Web 2.0 world we live in, but I think I get it. New Lanchester Strategy: Sales and Marketing Strategy for the Weak was a cute attempt at using cartoons but after a few pages I tired of the cartoons. I like prose. Plus, the marketing concepts presented were pretty lame.

German Newspaper Does Story on My Attempted WEF Sneak-In

Is this vindication?

I was just informed that the major German daily paper Die Welt just did a story on the WEF forum event I posted about this morning with and led off with my being turned down – pretty funny. (HTML Version or PDF Version) Since it’s in German, I don’t understand all of it, but a quick translation tells me that the reporter garnered most his information from my blog. My quote is not from a phone conversation or email exchange – it’s from a blog post. The opening paragraph:

Ben Casnocha ist 17 Jahre alt, und das ist nicht alt genug. Der Schüler aus San Francisco ist Vorsitzender des Verwaltungsrates von Comcate. Comcate produziert Software für Stadtverwaltungen. Casnocha hat die Firma gegründet, als er 14 war, Firmensitz war sein Kinderzimmer. Heute hat das kleine Unternehmen als Kunden eine ganze Reihe von Kommunen und dazu einen neuen, erfahrenen Chef. Casnocha muß das Tagesgeschäft nicht mehr selbst erledigen, darum konnte er zum Schüleraustausch nach Zürich reisen.

I Thought This Shit Only Happened in High School

In the men’s bathroom in the UN European Headquarters in Geneva they had a flyer above the urinal that said something in French and then the English version: “Please use the black gum button on the floor to flush the water after using the urinals.” Someone took a pen and crossed out “use” and wrote “press” and crossed out “gum” and wrote “rubber.” Underneath that s/he then wrote “USA!” Here’s a picture.Img_0374

At my high school people post flyers above urinals advertising events and whatnot. Someone will post a flyer about a meeting on AIDS in Africa and someone will write some horrible thing like “Quarantine Africans!” or “Jane is hot!!!” (if Jane is organizer). Stupid shit like that.

I didn’t think I’d see the same thing at the UN. And people wonder why the US has a poor image abroad.

It's Not Time We Lack; It's Smart Use of Our Energy Supply

I’ve seen some chatter on the blogosphere about the “attention economy” and how we are more stressed for time than ever before. Wrong. We have MORE time than ever before. Things that used to take days or weeks now take hours. There have always been 24 hours in each day and there always will be. Trying to “find more time” is a stupid approach since you don’t control the clock. Here’s what you can control: your use of energy. Personal energy is a renewable resource. If you know yourself (a big IF), you should know which activities re-charge your energy supply. When we completely melt down under stress or lack of time, usually it’s just because our energy supply is low, not because we don’t have enough “time”. Remember, each thought and each action has an energy consequence. Use it and re-charge it wisely.