Monthly Archives: June 2007

Jared Polis for Congress

Jared Polis, an extremely successful technology entrepreneur, is running for Congress in Colorado’s second congressional district.

When I lived in Boulder during Q1, I met with Jared twice, each time for more than two hours. I came away inspired and impressed. Besides being a really nice guy, he’s also very thoughtful and driven, and sports a range of public and private sector experiences.

If you live in Jared’s district in Colorado, I hope you can support him in the next election. If you don’t live in CO, consider supporting his campaign in other ways.

It’s easy to be cynical about D.C. politics. Knowing that people like Jared might have the opportunity to change things makes me hopeful…

Word Inflation: Good. Greater. Greatest. Totally great.

Word inflation. That’s a phrase David Foster Wallace uses in Infinite Jest. I’m now 100 pages into the beast and came across two excellent passages. I’ve learned that even if I can’t grasp the novel at a macro level, I can still revel in the micro.

Here’s a passage about Jim Struck after an exhausting day of tennis:

"My bones are ringing the way sometimes people say their ears are ringing, I’m so tired."

"I’m waiting til the last possible second to even breathe. I’m not expanding the cage till driven by necessity of air."

"So tired it’s out of tired‘s word-range," Pemulis says. "Tired just doesn’t do it."

"Exhausted, shot, depleted," says Jim Struck, grinding at his closed eye with the heel of his hand. "Cashed. Totalled."

"Look." Pemulis pointing at Struck. "It’s trying to think."

"A moving thing to see."

"Beat. Worn the heck out."

"Worn the fuck-all out is more like."

"Wrung dry. Whacked. Tuckered out. More dead than alive."

"None even come close, the words."

"Word-inflation," Stice says, rubbing at his crewcut so his forehead wrinkles and clears. "Bigger and better. Good greater greatest totally great. Hyperbolic and hyperbolicker. Like grade inflation."


And here’s Wallace describing, in passing, the sensation of seeing somebody’s feet under public bathroom stall doors:

Something humble, placid even, about inert feet under stall doors. The defecatory posture is an accepting posture, it occurs to him. Head down, elbows on knees, the fingers laced together between the knees. Some hunched timeless millennial type of waiting, almost religious. Luther’s shoes on the floor beneath the chamber pot, placid, possibly made of wood, Luther’s 16th century shoes, awaiting epiphany. The mute quiescent suffering of generations of salesmen in the stalls of train-station johns, heads down, fingers laced, shined shoes inert, awaiting the acid gush. Women’s slippers, centurions’ dusty sandals, dock-workers’ hobnailed boots, Popes’ slippers. All waiting, pointing straight ahead, slightly tapping.


Here are other wisdom nuggets or cool phrases I’ve come across in my 100 pages:

  • "There is something vaguely digestive about the room’s odor."
  • "Like a stick of butter being hit with a mallet."
  • "He didn’t reject the idea so much as not react to it and watch as it floated away."
  • "Mario, you and I are mysterious to each other. We countenance each other from either side of some unbridgeable difference on this issue. Let’s lie very quietly and ponder this."
  • "Hal likes to get high in secret, but a bigger secret is that he’s as attached to the secrecy as he is to getting high."
  • "Mario’s thinking-hard expression resembles what for another person would be the sort of comically distorted face made to amuse an infant."
  • "Schitt then falls into the sort of silence of someone who’s enjoying mentally rewinding and replaying what he just came up with."

There is No Standard for Hand-Drying in Public Bathrooms

Why isn’t there a standard hand-drying method in public bathrooms? Granted, proprietors need to balance efficiency with environment (I’m guessing paper towels are the most efficient but least environmentally friendly), but still. The variety of dispensers among those bathrooms which strive only for efficiency is surprising. Have we not figured out the most optimal solution?!

Fortunately, one entrepreneur is on the case. BusinessWeek has a story about James Dyson’s quest to bring the world a high-tech air squeegee that can dry your hands in all of 12 seconds.

Marvelous.

The Most Powerful Man in Sports

GQ has an interesting article about "the most powerful man in sports," William Wesley. He’s the guy nobody has heard of, yet he wields enormous influence. He’s not an agent, not a player, not a rapper, not a shoe company exec. He’s just Wes. And all roads in the NBA lead to him.

The story of the no-name mover and shaker is intriguing in any industry. The problem, of course, is getting access to the influencer since a good deal of his power stems from his mystique. In this case, Wes refused to talk to the journalist. Excerpt:

Chicago Sun-Times writer Lacy Banks recalls his confusion upon meeting Wes twenty years ago: "I thought he worked for the Secret Service or the FBI or the CIA. Then I thought he was a pimp, providing players with chicks, or a loan shark or a bodyguard or a vice commissioner to the league."

American Class Divisions Through MySpace and Facebook

Danah Boyd has an interesting essay up about viewing American class divisions through the utilization of MySpace and Facebook. Her point is that teens are flocking to MySpace and Facebook, but they’re not the same teens. The more well-off are using Facebook, the less well-off are using MySpace. She posits a few reasons, among them the fact that Facebook started off as ".edu’ college students only, which meant it served that exclusive demographic (and then later, high school students who knew college students). Personal experience and observation backs this point 100%.

Boyd also says that in the military the officers are on Facebook, soldiers on MySpace. Is this true?

Fascinating how class divisions seem to make their way onto the internet….

(hat tip: Stan James)

14 Ways to Cultivate a Lifetime Reading Habit

All excellent tips from Lifehack.org on how to cultivate a lifetime reading habit. I would add that if you  err on the side of too many books in your house you will be able to put a bad book down before finishing it. Being able to put a book down is wonderfully liberating, and made much easier if you have another to pick up. My favorites from Lifehack excerpted below:

  • Always carry a book. Wherever you go, take a book with you. When I leave the house, I always make sure to have my drivers license, my keys and my book, at a minimum. The book stays with me in the car, and I take it into the office and to appointments and pretty much everywhere I go, unless I know I definitely won’t be reading (like at a movie). If there is a time when you have to wait (like at a doctor’s office or at the DMV), whip out your book and read. Great way to pass the time.
  • Make a list. Keep a list of all the great books you want to read. You can keep this in your journal, in a pocket notebook, on your personal home page, on your personal wiki, wherever. Be sure to add to it whenever you hear about a good book, online or in person. Keep a running list, and cross out the ones you read. Tech trick: create a Gmail account for your book list, and email the address every time you hear about a good book. Now your inbox will be your reading list. When you’ve read a book, file it under “Done”. If you want, you can even reply to the message (to the same address) with notes about the book, and those will be in the same conversation thread, so now your Gmail account is your reading log too.
  • Find a quiet place. Find a place in your home where you can sit in a comfortable chair (don’t lay down unless you’re going to sleep) and curl up with a good book without interruptions. There should be no television or computer near the chair to minimize distractions, and no music or noisy family members/roommates. If you don’t have a place like this, create one.
  • Reduce television/Internet. If you really want to read more, try cutting back on TV or Internet consumption. This may be difficult for many people. Still, every minute you reduce of Internet/TV, you could use for reading. This could create hours of book reading time.
  • Keep a log. Similar to the reading list, this log should have not only the title and author of the books you read, but the dates you start and finish them if possible. Even better, put a note next to each with your thoughts about the book. It is extremely satisfying to go back over the log after a couple of months to see all the great books you’ve read.
  • Blog it. One of the best ways to form a habit is to put it on your blog. If you don’t have one, create one. It’s free. Have your family go there and give you book suggestions and comment on the ones you’re reading. It keeps you accountable for your goals.
  • Set a high goal. Tell yourself that you want to read 50 books this year (or some other number like that). Then set about trying to accomplish it. Just be sure you’re still enjoying the reading though — don’t make it a rushed chore.
  • Have a reading hour or reading day. If you turn off the TV or Internet in the evening, you could have a set hour (perhaps just after dinner) when you and maybe all the members of your family read each night. Or you could do a reading day, when you (and again, your other family members if you can get them to join you) read for practically the whole day. It’s super fun.

Going to Mexico, Ukraine, Russia

My (international) travels in the coming weeks will take me to:

  • Guadalajara, Mexico
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Odessa, Ukraine
  • Kiev, Ukraine
  • Moscow, Russia
  • St. Petersburg, Russia

I haven’t been to any of these countries before. If you have any tips, or if you live there and want to meet up, drop me a note!

In the meantime, I will try to rectify my total ignorance of Russia with some Russian lit, and maybe brush up on my Spanish verb conjugations (I’m marginally competent in the language).

Entering Infinite Jest

I’m re-entering David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest. It is massively complex, more than 1,000 pages, and full of words I’ll read probably only once in my life.

I made it through 200 pages last year. I’m committed to finishing it this time around. If I can penetrate even 10% of what this acclaimed novel is about, I will be quite satisfied with myself.

Wallace, one of America’s most prominent young writers, teaches down at Claremont, and I’m trying to gear up for maybe possibly hopefully taking one of his classes.

Let a serious reading experience begin….

Business Wisdom from Charles Koch

This is a very insightful interview with Charles Koch from Koch Industries. Money quotes below.

On what his business will be in 10 years:

The future is unknown and unknowable. This is the perspective of a book called The Black Swan. The future will be comprised of facts that are outside our present concept of reality, so we have no idea what the future will hold.

On the best advice he’s been given:

People are economizers and want to achieve things with the least amount of effort possible. They sometimes learn things superficially, which is where buzzwords are employed. People tend to emphasize form over substance, but we need to develop what Polanyi called "personal knowledge." This involves not merely knowing concepts, but knowing how to do something instinctively, without thinking about it. It involves the ability to think ahead and focus on success in the future. A chess game is an illustration. The master chess player has not merely mastered how each piece moves or developed a few opening and closing strategies; the master chess player can think at least 6 moves into the future, understanding how to trap his opponent and win the game.

On studying business in school:

Studying business in school is way overrated. There seems to be absolutely no evidence suggesting that people with a business degree excel more than those without one. As you go to college, you don’t want specifics on how to run a business; you will learn this as you go along in real life. You need to have fundamental tools, such as reading, writing, doing math and science, understanding reality, and having good values that enable you to work with people and create real value.

(hat tip: Arnold Kling)

Humor of the Day from Elaine

Elaine from Seinfeld on circumcision:

Elaine: Have you ever seen one?
Jerry: You mean that wasn’t –
Elaine: Yeah.
Jerry: No.. you?
Elaine: Ya.
Jerry: What’d you think?
Elaine: (SHAKES HER HEAD) No…
Jerry: Not good?
Elaine: No, had no face, no personality, very dull. It was like a Martian. But hey, that’s me.

(hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)