Contrast NYC and SF

Dallas and Austin are the cities I’ve spent my life in. I’ve spent maybe three weeks of my life, total, in San Francisco and New York City. They’re similar in that SF and NYC are both a Whole Other Thing in comparison to my Texan expectations. Indeed, they’re global cities operating at an entirely different order of magnitude.

It’s long puzzled me why I find NYC less intimidating and strange than SF. I’m starting to think its the attitudes. Walking through either town, I frequently suspect that I’m Doing It Wrong, from where to eat to where to sleep to how to use the subway.

In NYC, I suspect the natives are looking on as I struggle to hail a cab or catch a train, but they are silent in their snickering about me doing it wrong.

SF feels much more in your face, eager to tell you “You have done it wrong and you should feel bad”, from the subway systems to the tech bubble.

San Francisco very much remains a frontier town. You move there to make your fortune, to burn bright and “compress your career into several years”. It’s at the same time fractured by law (the city has three different transit systems, all using different tokens last time I visited) and lawless (Uber and Airbnb in particular are about landgrabs before the law can catch up with technology). It’s at once a global city and embarrassingly self-centered.

In summary, I guess I just like Texas a lot better. Even after our awful lawmakers.

Execution and idea in Frontierland

It’s commonly held, and pretty much true, that ideas are shallow and execution is depth. That is, the former is nothing without lots and lots of the latter.

Let’s set aside how “execution over ideas” is used as a bludgeon for a moment. I think there’s possibly a case where “execution AND idea” is a viable recipe for success.

If you’re in a Wild West, converting the minimal version of the idea to an executed offering can be all you need to succeed. Temporarily.

If you’re always moving from emerging market to emerging market, you’re betting not on your ability to execute, but your ability to identify the next market. You’re OK with fast followers building on your idea, iterating on it, and establishing themselves as the market matures. That’s OK, because you’ve already moved on to the next market.

So the risk here isn’t execution, but idea/market selection. When you’re first, it’s slightly OK to ship with a product that will be viewed as laughable once the market is mature. 75% idea, 25% execution.

When you’re second, seventh, or seventeenth, you had better execute on the idea, the business, and the culture you build. It’s 95% execution, 5% idea.

Perhaps there’s a benign explanation for Paul Ryan appearing to have cut off his phones. Anecdotally, it does not seem GOP Congresscritters are putting much effort into their voicemails or phone lines. I called my representative, Lamar Smith, yesterday afternoon, incensed that he had suggested we listen to Trump and not the media. Both his DC and Austin voicemails were full. I was able to get through this morning and spoke with a staffer who was dismissive but polite.

This practice of neglecting voicemails and only dismissively answering phones during office hours is appalling. The job of our Congress is to represent us. They cannot do that job if they aren’t taking every voicemail, phone, and email into account. Very rarely do I get the feeling Congress wants to even appear they are doing their job.

If I didn’t answer my work email, I’d lose my job. But Congresspeople don’t lose their jobs except for during an election or certain kinds of partisan maneuverings.

Fire Congress anyway. I’ve started with the phones and a whole lot of pent-up frustration. Maybe the infernal hell of fax machines is next?

Our laws are here, they just aren’t equally practiced yet

That thing where institutions like the FBI are prohibited by law from meddling with presidential elections, and then the FBI meddled multiple times. We’re just going to let that slide? Seems like it!

The point is not there was one big injustice, which there was. The point is that justice has been distributed unevenly through your history. Outcomes favored by those in power but obtained illegally have long been effectively legal. Those out of power have always felt the full brunt of the law, and even worse.

The inequality and imperfection by which our law has always been practiced. That’s the lesson.

Journalism for people, not power

Journalism is trying very hard to do better, but still failing America. Media is covering politics and not “We, the people”.

Take the coverage of the Republican attempt to neuter congressional oversight and subsequent retreat amidst tremendous scrutiny. Coverage typically read “Donald Trump tweeted about this and by the way a ton of people called their congressperson.” The coverage is focused on what a person in power says. A fascination with celebrity and power.

It’s not focused on the readers, or the people who bear the actions of politicians. Certainly not the disadvantaged who can’t even keep up with politics because they have neither a) the money for a newspaper subscription or b) the time to follow it all between multiple jobs and possibly a family.

It’s focused on what politicians are saying the people want. It’s easy to get a politician to talk about this. That’s part of their job now, skating the public discourse towards the laws they want to pass.

It’s focused on what think tanks want to talk about. Those talking heads on TV and think pieces on the opinion pages? It’s easy to get those people to talk because they’re paid to do those things by giant lobbies and interest groups. They’re paid to get in front of people and tell them what laws they should want.

Journalism should counteract these extensions of the corporate state. When a politician, funded by a lobby, says “the people want affordable health care”, a print or television journalist should say “and here’s what three people not involved in politics actually said”. Maybe they’ll agree with their politicians, maybe they won’t!

When a politician says “we should lower taxes on the top tax bracket”, media should follow up with that that means. Who exactly gets that tax break? Will actually benefit other people? What do people who don’t benefit from that tax break gain or lose because of it.

The next news cycle will come up, the politicians will say one thing. The truth and tradeoffs will reflect another truth. The journalists will go out there and talk about the tradeoffs and what people think now. And then maybe we’ll get a more educated society.

Likely this means the sports and entertainment pages have to subsidize the political coverage. Or we need to start recognizing pieces stuffed with quotes from think tanks and politicians as “advertorial” and not news.

Regardless, political journalism as zero-sum entertainment has to go.

Jobs, not adventures

Earlier this year, after working at LivingSocial for four years, I switched things up and started at ShippingEasy. I didn’t make much of it at the time. I feel like too much is made of it these days.

These are jobs, not adventures.

It has, thankfully, become cliché to get excited about the next adventure. Instead, I’m going to flip the script and tell you about my LivingSocial “adventure”.

  • Once upon a time I joined a team with all the promise in the world
  • And as a sharp person I’d meet there told me, the grass is always greenish-brown, no matter how astroturf-green it seems from the outset
  • I wrestled a monolith (two, depending on how you count)
  • I joined a team, attempted to reimplement Heroku, and fell quite a bit short
  • I wandered a bit, fighting little skirmishes with the monolith and pulling services out of it
  • I ended up in light management, helping the people taking the monolith head on
  • I gradually wandered up to an architectural tower, but tried my best not to line it in ivory
  • I had good days where stuff got done in the tower
  • And I had days where I feng shui’d the tower without really moving the ball forward
  • In April, it was time for me to hand the keys to the tower over to other sharp folks and spread what I’ve learned elsewhere
  • In the end, I worked with a lot of smart and wonderful people at LivingSocial.

Sadly, there was no fairy tale ending. About a third of the people I worked with ended up leaving before I did. Another third were laid off in the nth round of layoffs just after I left. The other third made it all the way through to Groupon’s acquisition of LivingSocial.

It was not a happy ending or a classic adventure. It was an interesting, quirky tale.

Mutual Benefit

Leaders of business and thought have been putting out statements showing unity or acceptance of Donald Trump’s election. I feel this is normalizing what has just happened to this country and therefore these statements are awful.

If I were a captain of industry or leader of thought, I’d use this statement and encourage everyone else to do the same:

As a private citizen, Mr. Trump has said and done numerous things which are indefensible and which we as a country cannot endorse or accept. While we regret that he’s been elected, as he transitions to life as a public servant, we are willing to consider his actions and act together when they are mutually beneficial to all of our customers, employees, partners, and the greater public. In any case where there is a conflict of benefit, we shall stand opposed to Mr. Trump as is our duty based on the founding principles of this nation.

Mutual benefit. It’s so easy to draft laws and make changes that benefit everyone. It takes nothing away from me if Black Lives Matter. Pricing the cost of pollution into the gas for my car means there’s an incentive for me to use less and what I do use pays for the negative effects of using it. Letting a gay couple marry or someone change their gender takes nothing away from my marriage or identity.

We will not let Trump do as he’s said to our neighbors and our country. If he wishes to change course for the better now, fine. Otherwise, we will refuse to allow Trump-style business and rhetoric to become business-as-normal in our country.

Automotive enthusiasm and pragmatism

A few years ago, I was re-infected with enthusiasm for cars. I came upon One Car to Do It All and found a new reason to obsess over cars.

I read Car and Driver and Road and Track as a teenager. I was excited by the agency that cars bring (who isn’t?). It was a fun thing for me to nerd out about: technical specifications , comparing feature lists, and of course benchmarks! There was also a slight bit of romance to automotive journalism, ostensibly all writers traveling the country (or world) driving neat cars in beautiful places, often quite quickly.

Now, I’m taken by the history of specific manufacturers and how older models of cars became the current models. The technology and coordination needed to produce the modern car appeals to my technological side. The shape of cars new and old is a fun subjective conversation (e.g. are exterior about form or function?).


Most people do not view cars this way. They are automotive pragmatists. They want a car like they want a refrigerator or washing machine. The car is an appliance. It takes you from where you are to where you want to go without drama, in a modicum of comfort. The quality of the steering feedback, the particulars of the engine, or the predecessor of the car from two decades ago are nothing. The optimization is all around cost of ownership and utility.

(For the sake of symmetry I feel compelled to write another couple paragraphs on automotive pragmatism. But, there’s really nothing else to say. It’s pragmatic through and through.)


A curious thing happens when my car enthusiasm interacts with pragmatic car owners. Some of them will encourage me to talk about my enthusiasm. Mostly, it seems a little awkward, as though they’re afraid I somehow experience cars in a better way than they do. This is totally not the case, I can’t even really drive a stick!

In a way its not actually that curious. Car enthusiasm and the cars enthusiasts own correlate highly with elitism, which is by definition intimidating. But it does make me wish I had a shorthand for “I drive this car because its interesting to me, but I won’t judge your car, now tell me what you’re enthusiastic about that I don’t understand”.

Weaponized jerks

For a long time, the Central Intelligence Agency has had a guide to wrecking an organization by doing a few weird tricks at meetings. It recently came to light, and took hold as a meme, that this is the reality many people (non-spies) experience in their actual work life. Basically, some people work with weaponized jerks.

Which leads me to wonder, did the CIA invent these tactics, or did they discover them? Were they sitting around, talking about how big of a jerk John is at meetings and how he’s causing the Communists to win? And then they said to themselves, “hey, what if we had low-level agents just be like John?!”

And thus, the CIA made the world just a little bit less great.

Losing the scent, acquiring the taste

When I didn’t drink coffee, the thing I enjoyed about coffee was the smell. It has a really great aroma. Unlike popcorn!

Now that I do drink coffee, I don’t notice the smell as much. I have to stop myself to take notice of it. That’s sort of a bummer.

I’m acclimated to coffee. I love drinking it, and tasting it. But, I wish I could drink coffee, regularly, and still smell it.