Sunday, January 31, 2010

a few telling quotes

found these in my old blog:

"love is so short, and forgetting so long"
- Pablo Neruda: 'I Could Write the Saddest Verses Tonight'

"time moves slowly, but passes quickly"
- Alice Walker: 'The Color Purple'

"I believe in the irrepressible human spirit"
- J.M. Coetzee: 'Elizabeth Costello'

“I discovered that I must, must, must love, insanely”
– Forough Fardenzad, In a poem on a wall in Amsterdam

The difference between try and triumph is a little bit of 'umph!'
- Anonymous

hugo williams - tides

Tides

The evening advances, then withdraws again,
Leaving our cups and books like islands on the floor.
We are drifting you and I,
As far from one another as the young heroes
Of these two novels we have just laid down.
For that is happiness: to wander alone
Surrounded by the same moon, whose tides remind us of ourselves
Our distances, and what we leave behind.
The lamp left on, the curtains letting in the light.
These things were promises. No doubt we will come back to them.

- Hugo Williams

Saturday, January 30, 2010

format at the END

I notice that I always make the mistake of formatting things as I go along.
I'm thinking in word, excel (less so with powerpoint, where each slide can act as it's own finished product).

My point is that I waste a ton of time formatting because I haven't yet gotten the CONTENT right, and then I realize I'm missing something, and I go back and totally ruin the beautiful formatting in order to add the extra piece of information...and then spend another 10 minutes foolishly formatting AGAIN.

Instead, I should just allot time for this at the end, and accept the unsightly mess of information in the meantime.

I think it's a metaphor for allowing things to be messy while you're getting the core concept right, or the big piece of work done - and this isn't always easy. A , for instance, is the assembly of your apartment furniture as you carry it in from the old apartment. If you try to put each piece in its place as you go, you inevitably put something somewhere that obstructs the passage of something else. And then at the end, you realize...you want the whole room totally different because you forgot your mom is bringing the big lamp on Saturday.

Be okay with the mess, until the final possible moment.
It saves you time.

Friday, January 29, 2010

social media flaw finder

HERE's an interesting idea.

This company allows you to create a profile where your friends/coworkers/people who know you can anonymously give you feedback about yourself.

Now normally, I'm much more in favor of an open, honest discussion but hey - it's an interesting idea. Realistically, it won't catch on until it becomes part of Facebook - people just won't visit this one website for this one thing.

i love the rain

Those of you who know me know that I'm a tremendous fan of the rain.

I wasn't always - but I woke up one rainy New York morning and realized how unhappy it makes people here. The worst part is that it is a physical INEVITABILITY - it WILL rain - are we doomed to suffer it?

At that moment, I decided, "No."
And began working on my mind to find things about the rain that I liked, reasons to LOVE it.
And, it worked. I can honestly say that I love the rain. LOVE IT.

And thus, it's turned into a symbol for me, of all the things that are out of our control and that we COULD allow to cause us suffering, but that we can embrace instead, and allow to bring joy into our lives.

I bring this up because I just discovered a site that plays ambient sounds of rain.

Awesome.

buy the restaurant maven's dish

Consider this.

Yesterday, I was at a restaurant, and I asked for a recommendation, and my waiter said three things:

1) This one is MY favorite dish
2) This one the one that's most commonly ordered
3) THIS one is the one that the people who love this place most often get

What a perfect way to frame a recommendation.

Effectively, what he was saying was:

1) Here's what I personally love - but no guarantee that you and I have the same taste
2) Here's the one that our menu tends to sell the best - people who don't know our menu get it the most often
3) People who KNOW what's here, who have been back here again and again, get THIS dish - this is the one that we would be put on the map for, the one that makes us who we are.

And there it was: be wary of the 'most purchased' - it just happens to be the one with the catchy title, the one that people who don't know better end up buying.

Trust the people who have tried it and selected something else.

Or, trust your waiter.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

go hard or stay home

I'm told by a friend that Paul Farmer, a man who is the hero of most medical students, gave a talk at UPENN a few weeks ago.

Unfortunately, he didn't choose to prepare for the talk, and it was quite obvious, based on his speech.

My friend pointed out - for a guy who's doing AS MUCH as he is, it must be hard to be on the ball all the time. I'm sure that what happened is that he overbooked his schedule, and something had to give.

I think all of us are guilty of this at some time or another - we take on too much and then do a shoddy job on some of it.

The challenge here is knowing what you're capable of kicking ass at.
I think we've got to learn when to say "No, I can't be there, because I won't be able to do as good a job as I can, and as good a job as you all deserve."

It's a slight adjustment to the old phrase 'go hard, or go home':

"Intend to go hard, or stay home."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

how to get in a bad mood

Want to get yourself into a bad mood?
Think of all the things that are going WRONG in your life.
The people who have wronged you, why it hurt, and why they should be sorry.

Don't think about what you can do about it - just think about why it shouldn't have happened to YOU.

Trust me, it works.

Now let's imagine the opposite - what if you want to put yourself in a GOOD mood?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

gary snyder - siwashing it out once in siuslaw forest

Siwashing it out Once in Siuslaw Forest

I slept under rhododendron
All night blossoms fell
Shivering on a sheet of cardboard
Feet suck in my pack
Hands deep in my pockets
Barely able to sleep.
I remembered when we were in school
Sleeping together in a big warm bed
We were the youngest lovers
When we broke up we were still nineteen.
Now our friends are married
You teach school back east
I don’t mind living this way
Green hills the long blue beach
But sometimes sleeping in the open
I think back when I had you.

- Gary Snyder

Thursday, January 21, 2010

rewarding fine print

Here's an interesting advertising idea.

You know how ad agencies LOVE to ad the asterisk (*) next to bold statements, and then explain ALL the many exceptions in the referenced fine print at the bottom?

Well customers have gotten to expect it - you see the asterisk, you know that it's not as good as it sounds.

Doesn't this present an opportunity to differentiate?
Create an advertisement that makes a bold claim.
Add an asterisk.
In the fine print, tell your customers how you're giving them even MORE!!!

Imagine the positive surprise and how many more people will buy because of it.

Critics will say "Well then you're hiding part of the benefit - less people will buy it."
Bull. I say that the people who read the fine print are more qualified leads anyway, and the uptick in conversion based on the positive surprise is worth the loss of the disinterested prospects who might have been convinced if the additional positive detail were more prominently displayed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

the things that go unsaid

When it comes to people, you know what I'm most afraid of?
The things that go unsaid.

Why?

Because it leaves me totally powerless.
Given a chance to either defend myself or commit to change, I'm certain that I can do either (or both).

But without that chance:
I'm powerless to right any wrongs that I didn't know about and that you won't tell me about.
I'm powerless to change a part of me that I didn't realize needs changing.
I'm powerless to help you in any way unless you tell me there's something you need help with.
I'm even powerless to clean the smudge on my chin unless you tell me it's there.

So often, when someone's telling me about an issue they're having with someone, I ask, "Well have you told them how you feel?" and they answer, "No...I mean, it should be obvious."

Last week, I realized I'm totally guilty of the same thing - of condemning people without ever giving them a chance to defend themselves. Of being upset with them without ever telling them why.

People are often so afraid of confrontation that they forget that confronting your problems is the only way to change them. The irony is that when we leave things unsaid vocally, we internally are screaming the issues, going over them again and again, allowing them to fester and grow - this makes you suffer, and offers no solution, no end in sight.

Bottom Line:
The only problem that's excusable to not talk to me about is the problem of being unable to talk to me about your problems. And even then - write me an e-mail!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

another set of miracles

I noticed today that I have a pretty decent set of miracles to respond to my father's.

I recently went on a horrific streak of losing things that are important to me:

1. Two weeks ago, I left my watch on the security conveyor belt at Logan Airport. I called, left a message with security, and followed up with several people afterward to no avail.

2. Then, I lost an engraved bookmark that was given to me as a gift from one of my best friends.
Had really no idea where I'd lost it.

3. Then, I woke up one morning to realize that my favorite brown scarf was gone!

4. AND THEN, I was getting ready to hit the gym when I realized I couldn't for the life of me figure out where my gym lock was.

Now, as I explained to my roommate (whose ability to lose things is just DOWNRIGHT uncanny)...I tend to be lucky about stuff I lose - it all likes to find a way back to me!

And so it began...in reverse, of course:
1. The day I lost my lock, I found it in lost and found at my gym.
2. Same day, I went back to my favorite Thai restaurant, and, recognizing me, they brought me my scarf.
3. Went looking for a packet of papers in my old laptop bag, and there, I discovered my bookmark (I had totally forgotten that I had used it as a satchel once when I went reading).

(At this point, I was 100% certain that I'd find my watch)

4. AND TODAY, to complete the cycle, Larry from TSA at Logan airport called me back to report that they'd found my watch and would keep it for me.

That, my friends, is a Quiet Triumph.
Too bad I'm not drinking in January.

Monday, January 18, 2010

this week's miracles

My father sent us an e-mail recently that I thought you might enjoy.
It reflects a view of the world that I believe in 100%: That things work out.

His E-mail was titled "This Week's Miracles":

1.
* Today, I was booked on a noon flight out of White Plains – needed to get to Minneapolis in time for a 6pm dinner meeting, connecting through Detroit. Could not use a direct flight out of La Guardia because it was far more expensive ($800 vs $200). Return flightt to White Plains also an inconvenient connection (tomorrow night at 11.30 pm, then pick up car and drive home).
* On drive to White Plains, I call Delta and find that my flight is 3 hours late – I’m going to miss connection in Detroit and miss my dinner meeting!
* I ask for rerouting. Long story short – they put me on the flight from LGA that I originally coveted. I happen to have just enough time to drive to LGA and comfortably make the flight. I’ll now fly non-stop, get in earlier and easily make dinner. Return is also direct earlier flight tomorrow – should be home about 2 hours earlier.

2.
* Recently I changed to Comcast phone service from AT&T, adding to Comcast cable and internet.
* The first bill arrives a month later with $100 and $30 “installation” charges.
* I’m pissed because I didn’t remember any “installation” charges being discussed. Dreading the call to argue with Comcast and that fact that I'll likely lose. Keep postponing call.
* Finally call yesterday to argue for at least one of the charges to be waived.
* The first words out of the guy’s mouth – “I notice two charges that shouldn’t be there. I’ll remove them!.”

3.
* Recently, friends came to visit us. When they leave I gift them a spare copy of Ekhart Tolle’s book, with some reluctance to part with it, but with conviction that it will help them (if they choose to read it).
* I go to library later and find a stack of free books being disposed off – mostly junk, but among them one near-new copy of the same book, just waiting for me to take (and perhaps give to someone else)!
* In the process I learned a lesson for myself - Don’t hesitate to give stuff away.

vintage ad database

Stumbled across this awesome vintage ad database.

Someone went and indexed all of these old advertisements and tagged them to make them useful.

Great to see how things have changed over the years - but always funny to think about how much inspiration can come from things that are long past.

As a side note, another Alka-Seltzer anecdote - Malcolm Gladwell, in his essay True Colors noted that an advertising executive, Herta Herzog, came up with the brilliant idea of dropping TWO Alka-Seltzer's into the glass in the commercial instead of just one.

Can you imagine a better, easier way to double the sales of your product?

Brilliant!

(okay, okay, a bit tricky, but brilliant nonetheless)

cesar pavese's thoughtbook

A friend of mine sent me these notes from Cesar Pavese's (Italian poet and novelist) personal journal (the full thing was recently published).

Reminded me strongly of my own personal 'thoughtbook', though I note that his is predictably far more intelligent, eloquent and insightful than my own...

Definitely worth a read.

A few highlights:

"An experience that seemed to you commonplace - let time pass, and you will see it with fresh eyes. It will be amazing."

"It is a certain sign of love to want to know, to relive, the childhood of the other."

"A man succeeds in completing a work only when his qualities transcend that work."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

mary oliver - wild geese

One of my favorite poems ever.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

- Mary Oliver

Saturday, January 16, 2010

venn diagram blog

Jessica Hagy writes this pretty awesome blog.

She pencils little venn diagrams to make pithy, clever points about life - definitely worth a peruse.

Friday, January 15, 2010

false happiness boosters

Shortly after writing this, regarding indulging in a bad habit, I read this, about 5 happiness boosters that actually do more harm than good, which includes and adds to my argument.

Definitely worth a read - cheers!

what makes two people similar?

I notice that my eyebrows always raise a bit when people compare me to themselves and say "You're just like me." I often notice that what they mean is..."We have similar TASTE in stuff".

It's quite a difference.
When it comes to 'taste', we're talking about things as basic as movies, books, foods, to things a bit more subtle or complex, like scenes, workplaces, even people. It's almost like saying that we share aesthetic opinions of the world.

But to extend aesthetic opinions beyond this strikes me as extraneous.
Is to say that we like the same books and scenes to also suggest that who are are, essentially, is the same?

I'm not so sure.

What people (and I) inevitably forget is that humans exist across an infinite number of dimensions. When you compare yourself to others, you are typically only examining a few of them. Which ones are most critical to you, that you feel drive true similarity between you and others?

When I examine others to finds those truly similar to myself, I suspect I look at the following:
- How they deal with conflict
- Their relationship with themselves
- How they examine their own lives and history
- Their dynamism when it comes to new situations, people, places
- Their personal moral construct

If a person strikes me as similar to me along a few of these facets, then I find myself amused by how similar we really are, able to predict their response at a given moment, based on my own.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

how to get a huge project done

A friend of mine voiced a theory that I think is absolutely true.
Every entrepreneur gets to a point where they look at the absurd amount of work that they have to get done...and hits a wall of indecision regarding where to start, how to start, etc.
How the heck do you go about draining an ocean?

Bucket by bucket.

Consultants are known for creating what's called a project plan.
It takes a massive project like "Create a Website" and breaks it down into minor activities, setting a hard deadline to each one. This does many things at once:

1) It forces you to determine what you need to do first, second and last, based on the inherent dependencies between tasks
2) It makes you put some thought into how LONG you want to commit to each activity, based on how many people you've got and when you want to complete the BIG task
3) It paints the big picture for you in a way that helps you fill in gaps you hadn't considered
4) It makes the whole thing believable: Instead of 'Create a Website', it's "Interview these 10 people within the next two weeks", then "Create a list of all the features/functions recommended", tasks that I can imagine sitting down to do
5) The best thing about it? It tells you WHAT YOU NEED TO DO RIGHT NOW.

And that lets you get started. Cheers - go to it!

Monday, January 11, 2010

look if you like but you will have to leap

This post reminds me of an idea that I think is tremendously important.

There are a few ways to say this (most of them are cliches):
1. There's always time to be cautious later.
2. Gold buried in the ground might as well be dirt.
3. When you're 50, you'll only be looking back at things you DIDN'T do.
4. The Net Present Value of suffering - suffering NOW isn't worth not suffering later.
5. There's no freakin' time like the present.
6. The only thing we have to fear is 1) fear itself, and 2) the sky falling on our heads.
7. If I must end up on the ground, let it be because I fell from the beanstalk I was climbing.
8. EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT.

...is a turning point.

I was asked the other day: if you could do any job, regardless of pay (assuming you had all the money ever), what would it be? I realized that I have a few answers...and immediately began wondering why I'm not out there working towards that point right...now.

I notice that I spend a lot of my time kidding myself.
I tell myself that I haven't saved enough money, that the timing isn't quite right yet, that I'm still needed elsewhere, that it's irrational, that people will think I'm an idiot, that I'm not ready.

Fear is but an excuse to be afraid. It accomplishes nothing, and is therefore an end in itself.


If I wait until I'm ready, I'll have several boring lifetimes before I get started.

I'll leave you with a verse from one of my favorite poems.
(click here for the full poem)

"The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

ezra pound - the garden

The Garden

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anaemia

And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like someone to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.

- Ezra Pound

Saturday, January 9, 2010

in other words

I find myself saying and writing "in other words" a lot.

When speaking, I think this is ok. It implies that I heard my own words (or saw my listener's confused expression) and sought to further clarify myself. The challenge is not to overuse the expression - then I'm just repeating myself unnecessarily.

In writing, it strikes me as unacceptable.
I should just delete my original words and rephrase both sentences with a single, better one.

Right?

Friday, January 8, 2010

reward yourself by indulging in a bad habit

I've noticed that people who are striving to eat healthy often find themselves 'rewarding themselves' for having a particularly difficult day by eating something unhealthy - chocolate, McDonalds, etc.

There's a few little ironies here, I think.

1. There's no better time to toss a crutch out the window then when you need it the most. In other words, if you can survive the hardest moments of temptation, then it makes the rest look easy. If, however, you choose to pick these moments to decide to justify the action you're trying to hard to eliminate, then you're on your way to losing the battle.

2. It's funny that we find ourselves deserving a piece of chocolate. Why is it that we never choose to DESERVE to...win our battles? In this case, we're rewarding ourselves with indulgence, which as we've clearly decided already (since we're fighting this battle in the first place) is no reward at all. It's short term pleasure, ultimately leading to long term dissatisfaction.

I'd like to learn how to reward my FUTURE self rather than my current self.
I feel as though switching to this mindset would ultimately lead to a better situation for both of us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

what I'm looking for in a business partner

I've read a lot of posts lately about what makes the perfect entrepreneur, and over time, I've realized that I have sort of drawn up my own list of what I'd be looking for, if I got to pick a partner to work with.

1) Someone who would work (or try to work) even harder then I would. I'm still discovering how to self motivate - how to be tremendously productive when NO ONE is watching me, but when there's someone that I'm in it with, I go all out. I suspect it's my competitive side - I will always be the one ready to play the longest, stay the longest, go the hardest, fastest, farthest - as long as I believe in it, or love it, and have someone to go there WITH. I haven't met many people who wow me with their all-day-all-night mentality - and I know that's WHAT IT TAKES. The moment I feel like I'm doing significantly MORE than the other(s), I know it's not going to work, because I can't go it alone (yet).

2) Someone who get's it. This is obviously less tangible, but (and forgive me for this) one of my biggest fears is jumping into something big with someone that I have to EXPLAIN everything to. Clearly we're going to bring different skills to the table, and I expect to have a lot explained to me, and to teach a lot of what I know. But I've SEEN the difference when I'm working with people who are right there with me in my thinking, or one step ahead. They're the people that PUSH me mentally and creatively. It's like playing a sport - if you always play with people who aren't quite as good as you, you never get better.

3) A listener. I can't quite emphasize how important this is. My BIGGEST fear is getting to a place where my partner and I need to make an important decision, and we disagree about it...but my partner won't even listen to my argument. This scares the hell out of me - that I might get stuck with someone intransigent, who is trying harder to be RIGHT than they are trying to figure out what IS right. It's not that I don't expect us to disagree, to argue passionately. But I DO expect us to make it an HONEST argument - and to have a deep respect for each other's opinions almost to the point where if we disagree, then we BOTH quickly realize that we're each not understanding something.

Those are my big three. Someone to match me and PUSH me mentally and with their level of commitment, and someone ready to engage in an open debate, capable of listening and capable of changing.

What do YOU look for in the people you'd want to work with?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

search engine marketing is becoming 'old media'

A while back, I wrote that as the internet created a place where the PRODUCT wins EVERY TIME in the long run, the big companies that used to get away with simply spending big on TV and print had to shift their spending to actually creating great products, rather than spending big to promote average products.

In a basic sense, 'old media' - TV, print, billboards - the media that used to dominate share of voice in the mass market - are totally on their way out.

In the new world however, there's another form of media that more and more companies are spending BIG on:
1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - the ability to create a website that naturally 'games' search algorithms, thus showing up as a top-ranked search result for specific keywords.
2. Pay-Per-Click advertising - the ability to 'sponsor' certain keyword searches so that your company appears as a super-relevant advertisement in the search results.

I realized today (far behind the social media gurus, I'm sure) that these "search engine marketing" methods are nearly identical to 'old media' in several ways:
1) Of all the 'new media', they are the most expensive.
2) They dominate the share of the 'ignorant' consumer (let's face it, if you're googling something like "Running Shoes", then you're among the ignorant masses).
3) Companies with mediocre products get GREAT results with this kind of marketing

What's exciting is that...search engine marketing is VERY QUICKLY going to become old media.
I think there's a general rule that our business world is ruled by: Any medium that allows a company to drive high sales without a best-in-class product will inevitably become obsolete.

Why?

Because sites and programs that allow you to get MORE information (in this case, to find products that people RECOMMEND) will take over. Today, the wave of the future is social media aggregation - pulling together lots of ratings/votings/comments to provide a product recommendation.

Finally, a prophecy: The moment large companies find a way to manipulate social media aggregation is the moment that it be replaced by an even 'newer' media.

Monday, January 4, 2010

calvin and hobbes archive

I'd like to pause and just deeply appreciate the greatest comic strip of all time.

Calvin and Hobbes. Forever.
Nothing will ever rival Bill Watterson in his creation of a strip that was everything we needed and wanted and nothing we didn't.

It is at once hilarious, touching, moving, witty, dry, fuzzy and so goddamn relevant to everything we struggle against and cheer for every day that it's remarkable to have come from one man and to be represented so boldly by just a few panels of art with a little bit of text. It can at once be appreciated by the young, the old and the young turning into the old. It leaves no rock unturned, no hedge un-thrashed-through and no expression un-charicatured.

It is so much more than just a comic strip, and I have appreciated it more than I can say here.

I'm bringing all this up (quite random, and odd I can only imagine) because I recently stumbled across an incredible Calvin and Hobbes gallery. You can actually SEARCH the strip (which is great because I think of C&H references on a daily basis).

I've been struggling to think of one to share here (because whichever one I pick will by itself have the extraordinary task of living up to the standards I've set here, when really it's the body of work that does it), but I included this one, to celebrate the new decade (click to see it up close):

Sunday, January 3, 2010

choman hardi - two pages

A Kurdish poet whose reading I attended at NYU:

Two Pages

1 Delivering a message

I was asleep in the middle of a pad
when he started writing on the first page.
The tip of his pen pressed down
forcing pale words into the pages below.
He wrote many versions that night
some very length, others brief.

When my turn came he paused,
palmed his temples, squeezed his eyes,
made himself a calming tea.

She received me early one morning
in a rush, leaving her flat.
She ripped the envelope. Then, gradually,
her steps slowed down,
her fingers tightened around me.

2 Not delivering a message

All my life I waited for words –
a poem, a letter, a mathematical puzzle.

On March 16th 1988
thousands of us were taken on board –
you can’t imagine our anticipation.

When they threw us out from high above
we were confused, lost in blankness.
All those clean white pages
parachuting into town…

Puzzled faces looked up
expecting a message, but we were blank.

Two hours later they dropped the real thing.
We had been testing the wind direction.
Thousands of people were gassed that day.

- Choman Hardi