Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Highlight Reel

In 2011 I started recording in Evernote those events that I thought would belong on my annual "Highlight Reel" (I know, a reel is an antiquated term but it still works for me).


-New Years Eve 2010/2011 @ midnight in Catania, Sicily watching the fireworks over the city - looked like Baghdad on CNN

-Attending the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Awards seeing George Beverly Shea receive his award

-Spring Training in Phoenix - getting to go into the Reds Locker room, meeting Bronson Arroyo and talking with Johnny Bench

-National Theater Live screening of Frankenstein in San Francisco

-Dinner at The French Laundry with Tom, Liz and Patti

-St. Patricks's Day celebration with Patti at the White House

-Visit to the Kennicott Mine in Salt Lake City with Mark Newman and Chris Hollenbeck

-Seeing War Horse (the play) at the National Theater in London with "The Frepps"

-Hanging with Garry Maddox in his suite at the Phillies vs Red Sox game during our visit to see the Murabitos

-Patti and I Riding out Hurricane Irene and the Reynold's Pre-Hurricane Party @ their house aptly named, "Landfall"

-Patti and I attending the White House Holiday Reception with President and Mrs. Obama

2011 Reading List

Well, 2011 turned out to not be my most productive year of reading, but here it is, with comments:

Book that I was glad I read even though I didn't expect I would say so: Decision Points by George W. Bush

Best written/best use of language:" Pacazo by Roy Kesey

Book I listened to, but wish I would have read instead:" Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Book that made me think the most about the future (tie); The Next 100 Years by George Friedman and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Most creative and I wanted more: How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by Christopher Boucher

Book that has changed my life (at least for now): Eat to Live by Dr. Furhmann

Book I would like to see made a movie: Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Had I seen the size of the hardcover first, would I have read the digital copy?: Hero: The Life of Lawrence Arabia by Michael Korda

2011 Reading List:

(d) Decision Points - Bush
(d) The Next 100 Years - Friedman
(d) Room: The Novel - Donoghugh
The Company's Man - Battista
You Think That's Bad - Shepard
Deus Ex Machina - Altschul
Tales of the City - Maupin
(d) The Immortal Life of Henrietts Lacks - Skloot
(d) Hero: The Life of Lawrence of Arabia - Korda
Breakfast with Buddha - Merullo
The Edge of the World - Hamburg
Once Upon A River - Campbell
How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive - Boucher
The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastard - Boswell
Eat to Live - Furhman
Pacazo - Kesey
The Convert - Baker
Show Up, Look Good - Wisniewski
(a) Ten Thousand Saints - Henderson
The Orientation - Orozco

(d) = digital
(a) = audio

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another Good Reason To Go To Church On Sundays

This past weekend Patti and I weren’t scheduled to teach Sunday School so we decided to go to church on Saturday night and spend Sunday morning reading the New York Times and watching the Sunday morning TV news programs.

I should have gone to church.

The Sunday morning talking heads were about the SuperCommittee and their lack of being able to find common ground to come up with a debt reduction deal.
What was most frustrating was that this was a group of people who were hand-selected to perform a task within a specified timeframe with a defined outcome. They knew what they had to do, and as of the writing of this have not done their job. But the representatives from the committee who were all but resigned to not having a deal come together, refused to call their inability to find a resolution as a failure. Where I come from, they have failed. I had a hard time believing that they were trying to pass their work off as anything else. With their failure they have once again told the American people, and the rest of the world, that our government no longer works.

I should have gone to church.

They also were saying that their failure would not affect the financial markets. Can they really be that out of touch? A few weeks ago I was invited to the White House for a Business Forward and White House Business Council session on job creation. One of the economists who spoke showed us the effect on our GDP when Congress was unable to reach agreement on the debt ceiling. The statistics shown were that the negative impact on GDP was greater than even 9/11. To think that such a visible indication that we cannot govern past our differences wouldn’t have an impact on the financial markets is beyond na├»ve, it shows how out of touch our representatives with the real world. As of this writing, the Dow is down 300+ points.

I really should have gone to church.

This morning the news headlines are now saying that Congress will try and repeal the law will automatically enact the $1.3 trillion in cuts that the SuperCommittee couldn’t handle. If that is the case then the Supercommittee should be known as the SuperDuperCommittee. I am appalled that we have let it come to this.

Next time I will definitely go to church!

I have tweeted or written to each of the SuperCommittee members to express my displeasure in their failure. If you are so inclined to do so, here they are for you to reach out to as well:

Democrats Republicans Senate members:

• Patty Murray, Washington, Co-Chair @PattyMurray
• Max Baucus, Montana
• John Kerry, Massachusetts
• Jon Kyl, Arizona @SenJonKyl
• Rob Portman, Ohio @robportman
• Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania @SenToomey

House members:

• Xavier Becerra, California @ RepBecerra
• Jim Clyburn, South Carolina
• Chris Van Hollen, Maryland @ChrisVanHollen
• Jeb Hensarling, Texas, Co-Chair @RepHensarling
• Fred Upton, Michigan @RepFredUpton
• Dave Camp, Michigan @RepDaveCamp

I'll definitely see you next Sunday in church!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Consumption vs. Reading

This is a copy of an email that I sent to music and entertainment pundit, Bob Lefsetz:

A few months ago you wrote of the book, “Ten Thousand Saints” by Eleanor Henderson. After reading your positive review I put the book on my Evernote “Books to Read” list. (Yes, I am one of these guys who make lists of what I want to do, when I did it, and what I thought of it).

A few weeks ago I found myself having to drive from LA to San Francisco and decided that I would download Ten Thousand Saints from Audible/itunes onto my ipad and listen to the book on the drive home up I-5. When I went to itunes to download it, it looked perfect at 5 hours and 40 minutes (I later learned that was only part 1 and there was another 5 hours plus in Part 2).

After all these years of audio books being available, having friends who were investors and on the Board of Audible at their beginning, and having bought and disposed of plenty of devices to listen to them on, and having many instances where they would be great diversions and entertainment like marathon long training runs, I had never listened to an audio book and Ten Thousand Saints was to be my first.

After paying the same as what I would have paid for a first-run hardback version of the book, it took a while for the book to download. Not as long as movie or TV episode, but not the nearly instantaneous download that I have become to expect from an e-book on my Kindle or ipad. I was glad that I had downloaded the book from my hotel room the night before with high bandwidth and hadn’t waited until I was in the car on 3G.

After receiving the book, the first thing that told me I wasn’t reading a book was hearing that the book was going to be “performed” by Steven Kaplan, not “read”. That one small word changed the tone for what I expected. He said, “perform” so I expected a performance and of course, now a good one. Not having taken in an audio book before ( as you can read, I am struggling with what to call what I have done. I haven’t read the book but I have done more than listened. So, let’s say I have “consumed” the book) I can’t tell you whether or not is was a good performance or not. Let’s just say, he did what he was supposed to do and I got the story.

What I also don’t know is if my consumption was as good as your read. There were certainly many times that I had to “rewind” (scroll back) to listen over to what had been said. A traffic jam warning outside of Bakersfield messed up a chapter for example. Distractions had me re-listening at least a dozen, if not more times throughout the book.

I never felt like I got to know the characters like I would have if I had read the book. I never got my own picture and voice in my head of any of the characters like I think I would have if it had been my mind’s voice talking to me.

The other perplexing thing to me about the audio book is when do you consume them if not in your car? I ended up finishing part two while on multiple plane rides, but even then I found myself doing email on my laptop at the same time. I never multi-task when I read a book and if I do have music on at the same time, the book comes to the foreground and the rest fades away. With the audio book I found just the opposite. It was easier to not concentrate on the book and it too easily became the background.

I also don’t recommend trying to listen to an audio book before you go to sleep. When you wake up you have no idea where you fell asleep and the book is still talking to you. At least with a paper book or an e-reader it can’t turn the page on its’ own.

Bob, like you, I like to stretch myself with technology and was there at the Napster and BitTorrent moments, and still here (feeling better about respecting copyrights and creators) at the Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu times.

But call me now old fashioned, but to get the most from a book I think it’s about using my eyes and not my ears. But maybe, I am selling it short and before I give up on the multi-sense consumption I need to try adding the new scored soundtracks to my e-reader.

At the end of each year I publish on my blog the books that I read for the year (somewhere in the upper 20’s to low 30’s on average). The last few years I have put next to the titles, a “d” for those that I read digitally. This year, I will add the “c” for the consumption of an audio book. But, I predict that unless someone who I really respect tells me I have it all wrong, or I end up having to drive across America anytime soon, that this will be the only “c” on my list.

Thanks for the recommendation. I just hope I didn’t miss out on a good book that was actually great.


Monday, September 19, 2011


Choice is a very powerful tool. I just had to rent a car for a one-way driving trip from LA to San Francisco and National Rental had the best one-way drop-off deal. It had been a long time since I had rented from them and I expected the same old routine as any other car rental place, but when I got the to the counter in LA, I was very surprised. Within 30 seconds of me giving them my driver's license and credit card, they handed me back my rental sleeve and directed me to an area called, "The Aisle" and said I could choose any car that was parked under that awning. Around the corner and out the door, there was that section with at least 50 cars/SUVs, etc. to choose from. After asking a very nice attendant who was standing near the cars, which car got the best gas mileage, I was choosing from three different colors of a Honda Sonata. As I drove out of the lot, I was a satisfied customer and it was all about choice. I am sure I am not alone in having been assigned a rental car and being disappointed because I would have preferred the car style next to the one I was going to rent. Choice is a powerful force and in our businesses we should remember that giving the consumer a choice, even if not a big choice, can be the difference between satisfaction and not.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tim Robbins Speaks Out for the NEA

You go Tim!

An Open Letter to the United States Congress from Tim Robbins

Tim Robbins

In 1976, when I was 17 years old, I received a check for 50 dollars from the National Endowment for the Arts.

I was a member of a touring theater company that performed free shows in low-income neighborhoods throughout New York City. We rehearsed for five weeks and performed for eight so my per hour income was paltry if not pathetic but I remember a great sense of pride when I cashed that check.

I was being paid by my government for entertaining people. I was proud to live in a country where that could happen. It also gave me great confidence in my talent. I continued to pursue this profession.

Within ten years the investment by my government of fifty dollars in 1976 was returning hundreds of thousands of dollars back to them in taxes.

Within the next decade the government received an even sweeter bounty on their fifty-dollar investment. And I was proud to pay these taxes. As I have been proud to invest back into the arts with The Actors’ Gang, a 30-year-old organization that provides free educational programs to public school children and at risk teens and offers affordable and accessible theatrical and musical events to the citizens of Los Angeles.

I am one story amongst many Americans who have benefited greatly from the arts programs the NEA has supported over the 46 years of its existence.

But recently a reactionary voice has been amplified in this country that argues that arts funding is superfluous, inconsequential, an indulgent drain on the economy. Not only is this reactionary voice wholeheartedly misguided and deceptive but this voice threatens the future cultural and economic life of this country. The simple truth is that people spend money when they attend arts events. Think of the amount of money you have spent in malls on your trips there to see a movie.

Economic impact studies have shown that for every dollar invested by our government in arts programs an average of nine dollars of spending is generated in communities where these arts programs exist. The arts are an engine for economic growth.

Shops spring up near cultural centers. Where plays are performed restaurants and bars are packed. Some businesses near cultural centers report a 200% increase in revenue when events occur at the center. Property values skyrocket. Entire communities are reborn economically by the presence of music halls, theaters and art galleries.

Why would anyone in his or her right mind eliminate funding to a proven income generating economic engine?

The arts programs supported by the NEA are also an engine for inspiration.

From symphony orchestras to roots blues groups, from local theater companies to the grand stage of the opera, the mission of NEA artists is to culturally enrich the communities they perform in, to tell stories relevant to our collective experience as Americans and to create moments of entertainment that can lift our spirits and inspire us for many years to come.

These two reasons should be enough to justify the necessity of the National Endowment for the Arts. But there is so much more to the NEA than its function as an economic stimulus or its support of museums and orchestral performances and live theater.

I wonder if the politicians calling for the elimination of the NEA know how integral the organization is to educational programs for children throughout this country.

In an environment where government cuts in arts education funding have already diminished our children’s access to the visual arts, theater, and music education, NEA supported programs are, in some communities, the child’s last possibility of exposure to the arts.

Arts education is not superfluous. It is essential.

Children with access to arts programs are better students, higher achievers than those who do not have the benefit of arts education. At risk youth who are able to participate in arts programs are more likely to stay in school and continue into higher education than those deprived of that education. Why would any politician want to eliminate funding for a government program that leads to more competitive students and lower drop out rates?

The fact is that millions of our nation’s children rely on the NEA as a lifeline, as a source of inspiration, as an engine to forging a better future.

What is the end game here? What is the vision of those that would deprive children of the chance to see great paintings, or to hear the music of Mozart or experience the theater of Shakespeare? What kind of society are they imagining? And what are we saying about ourselves if we allow this to happen?

A small amount of narrow-minded people with a loud megaphone are calling for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. They do not represent the majority of this country. They use incendiary language and are blindly ignorant of how essential the arts are to our country and its citizens.

I would like to believe that we can reach out to the reasonable, adult leaders of this country in both political parties that see the legitimacy and importance of the NEA.

I cannot believe that all Republicans support cuts to cultural programs. Certainly their hearts have been moved by great art as much as ours have. I would think that in this reactionary environment that politicians from both parties need our support to allow them the political will and the moral capital to vote their consciences. Perhaps if we can do that we can separate the real leaders of this country from the opportunistic headline grabbers trying to gain political points with the ignorant.

We are a great nation that has inspired groundbreaking changes in the arts throughout the world. Our freedom of expression, our unique creative voice, supported for 46 years by the NEA, has provided inspiration and hope to millions throughout the world and here at home.

We have the potential of encouraging future generations to even greater heights of creativity. But we cannot achieve these heights if we allow reactionary politicians to define who we are as a people. We mustn’t allow Philistine bullies to threaten our artistic institutions and the quality of our children’s future education.

We should be proud of the cultural achievements of our artists in the past forty-six years. Almost every town or municipality in this country has access to creative expression.

It would be terrible to imagine a United States of America without a vital, thriving and innovative cultural life. It would be tragic to give up on the idea that a nation’s support of innovative artistic expression is a necessary component to its future relevance and its ultimate brilliance.

We have defined ourselves in the world that way for years and have inspired millions around the globe towards free expression and artistic innovation. To give up on that is to redefine America, to imagine a lesser nation. Do we really want to be known from this point forward as the only advanced society in the world that completely disregards the importance of art?

Is this to be the legacy of the 112th Congress?

With hope,

Tim Robbins

Monday, March 21, 2011

Engineering vs. Liberal Arts

Posted on TechCrunch this AM:

Engineering vs. Liberal Arts: Who’s Right—Bill or Steve?
Posted: 21 Mar 2011 05:40 AM PDT

When students asked what subjects they should major in to become a tech entrepreneur, I used to say engineering, mathematics, and science—because an education in these fields is the prerequisite for innovation, and because engineers make the best entrepreneurs.
That was several years ago.

I realized how much my views have changed when the The New York Times asked me to write a piece for its “Room for Debate” forum this week. The paper wanted me to comment on the divergence of opinion between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. In a speech before the National Governors Association on Feb 28, Gates had argued that we need to spend our limited education budget on disciplines that produce the most jobs. He implied that we should reduce our investment in the liberal arts because liberal-arts degrees don’t correlate well with job creation. Three days later, at the unveiling of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs said: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing, and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices”.

Because I am a professor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, and given all the positive things I say about U.S. engineering education, The Times assumed that I would side with Bill Gates; that I would write a piece that endorsed his views. But, even though I believe that engineering is one of the most important professions, I have learned that the liberal arts are equally important. It takes artists, musicians, and psychologists working side by side with engineers to build products as elegant as the iPad. And anyone—with education in any field—can achieve success in Silicon Valley.
Here is what I wrote for The Times.

It’s commonly believed that engineers dominate Silicon Valley and that there is a correlation between the capacity for innovation and an education in mathematics and the sciences. Both assumptions are false.

My research team at Duke and Harvard surveyed 652 U.S.-born chief executive officers and heads of product engineering at 502 technology companies. We found that they tended to be highly educated: 92 percent held bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent held higher degrees. But only 37 percent held degrees in engineering or computer technology, and just two percent held them in mathematics. The rest have degrees in fields as diverse as business, accounting, finance, health care, and arts and the humanities.

Gaining a degree made a big difference in the sales and employment of the company that a founder started. But the field that the degree was in and the school that it was obtained from were not a significant factor.

Over the past year, I have interviewed the founders of more than 200 Silicon Valley start-ups. The most common traits I have observed are a passion to change the world and the confidence to defy the odds and succeed.

It is the same in business. In the two companies I founded, I was involved in hiring more than 1000 workers over the years. I never observed a correlation between the school of graduation or field of study, on one hand, and success in the workplace, on the other. What make people successful are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes, and how hard they work.

And then there is the matter of design. Steve Jobs taught the world that good engineering is important but that what matters the most is good design. You can teach artists how to use software and graphics tools, but it’s much harder to turn engineers into artists.

Our society needs liberal-arts majors as much as it does engineers and scientists.
But I need to acknowledge the difficult reality: that employment prospects are dim for liberal-arts majors. Graduates from top engineering schools such as Duke are always in high demand. But PhDs in English from even the most prestigious universities, such as UC-Berkeley, can’t get jobs. The data I presented above were on the background of tech-company founders—those who made the transition into entrepreneurship. Most don’t. And, as you can note from Bill Gates’ speech, there is a bias against liberal arts and humanities.

Angelika Blendstrup is an author and a lecturer who holds a PhD in Bilingual Bicultural Education from Stanford. She says that her liberal-arts background is “great for writing papers or PhDs, but it would be better to have studied engineering and have a choice of jobs”.

Charles River Venture Partner emeritus, Ted Dintersmith, on the other hand, received a PhD in Engineering from Stanford. But he also studied liberal arts. Ted says “It doesn’t have to be either/or—I double-majored in Physics and English, and never regretted combining two such different disciplines”.

So there is no black and white here. We need musicians, artists, and psychologists, as much as we need bio-medical engineers, computer programmers, and scientists.
My advice to my students—and to my own children—is to study what interests them the most; to excel in fields in which they have the most passion and ability; to change the world in their own way and on their own terms. Once they master their domain, they can find the path to entrepreneurship. They can then come up with creative ways of solving the problems that they have encountered, and apply their ideas to other fields where their knowledge adds value. Maybe they can team up with the hard-core engineers who develop the clunky, inelegant, over-engineered products that Bill is famous for; maybe work with Steve to create the next iPhone or iPad.

You can read more views and witness the lively debate on the New York Times web site.

Editor’s note: Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School, Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University, and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at The Halle Institute for Global Learning at Emory University. You can follow him on Twitter at @vwadhwa and find his research at

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 Reading List and Commentary

In 2009 I read 38 books. In 2010, I read 22 books (less volume in 2010 partly because of one of the 22 being the Holy Bible from start to finish and also that I spent the first 5 months of the year trying to finish Wolf Hall before I finally just gave up).

Interesting fact for me was that in 2009, 42% of my books read were digital. In 2010, it was still only 45% that were digital. This may have been due to a number of the books in 2010 were loaned to me. The only books I bought in 2010 in hardback and why were:

The Road (on sale at Costco for cheaper than a digital copy)
The Glass Castle (same reason)
Racing Weight (not available digitally)
Blood Type A Diet (same)
What Technology Wants (I wanted Kevin Kelly, the author to sign it for me, which he did)

Here were my best reads of the year:

In It's Own Segment:

The Bible


1) Freedom
2) One Day
3) Tinkers
4) The Road
5) The Girl Who Played with Fire (favorite of the trilogy)


1) What Technology Wants
2) The Glass Castle
3) Game Change

Books I Wish I Hadn't Read:

1) Wolf Hall (never finished)
2) Mastering the Marathon (nothing in the book I didn't already know)

Weirdest Juxtaposition of Reading:

Completed Freedom and went to start Decision Points by George Bush. Just couldn't do it so I had to put two books in between and carry Decision Points to 2011 (already done and I liked it a lot - surprisingly).

Best Page-turner:

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Most Challenging Read (outside of Wolf Hall):

Let the Great World Spin and What Technology Wants

Book Most Recommended to Others to Read:

What Technology Wants

Most Read Authors of 2010:

Laarson and McCarthy

2010 Reading List:

Game Change - Heilemann & Halperin

Let The Great World Spin - McCann

The Road - McCarthy

The Glass Castle - Walls

The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo - Laarson

(d) One Day - Nicholls

The End of Major Combat Operations - McDonell

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Laarson

(d) Mudbound - Jordan

(d) Await Your Reply - Chaon

(d) The Whiskey Rebels - Liss

(d) Tinkers - Harding (2009 Pulitzer Winner)

(d) Little Bee - Cleave

(d) Pearl Buck In China - Spurling

Racing Weight - Fitzgerald

The Sunset Limited - McCarthy

What Technology Wants - Kelly

Blood Type Diet A - Christiano

The Holy Bible -

(d) Freedom - Franzen

(d) Mastering the Marathon - Nix

(d) Blood Meridian - McCarthy

(d) digital version