Just the good stuff

The next right thing.

This is a review of Axios’ Jim VandeHei’s latest book of the above name. The prologue suggests reading the book a chapter or two at a time. I chose to read it cover-cover for my first round. Jim has structured this memoir quite like a daily reminder of the important or impactful stuff. Such a daily read can allow the topic to percolate through one’s day, changing and shaping a personal mental model of life.

The book doesn’t just instruct/teach/preach but goes beyond and weaves his own life and work stories. And that’s what sets this book apart.

Jim’s other book, Smart Brevity, documents a method of telling a story for quick yet greatest impact. This well-rehearsed approach formats each chapter in Just the Good Stuff and enables quick read. The stories snap back and forth through his early years growing up, Politico, Axios and other instances.

The chapters are independently complete, yet thread quite eastly when viewed at their macro level. Bulleted ideas to consider complete chapters that begin with an aphorism or a story from his life. Unlike aphorism-heavy books, however, the accompanying stories make a greater impact.

Though I will take another run through the book, this time a chapter or two at a time, I came away with some of his impactful stories. I’ve repeated the ‘…the next best right thing’ mantra more than once since reading the book. And the story he tells of his niece’s note is incredible.

Axios readers will be familiar with many characters from the book (Mike!) and it was good to hear some of their backstories without the book being a memoir for Axios or Politico. This is apparently a telling of Jim’s memories, so I chose to see the stories as supporting cast for the message in the chapter.

Good book, quick read, and thanks to the publisher for the ARC. I kept one of the stars because the book comes at a time when bro-code newsletters are all the rage and the messages within echo those in many newsletters curated by the male influencers producing similar YouTube and newsletter content.

I may need to update my review after a few months of daily reading.

City of Intellect

City of Intellect: The Uses and Abuses of the University by Nicholas B. Dirks

I picked up this book upon a recommendation and review by Reid Hoffman in his Long Reids blog. Part memoir, part history, and part instruction, this recent book is a good read for those engaged in a university’s administration, governance, or strategic shifts.

Version 1.0.0

The book and its discussion of the university’s legacy, centuries rather than decades old, and its struggle to evolve is as detailed as it is sometimes disappointing to read. The book begins as a memoir reflected in the way the pages progress, highlighting the author’s employment and administration at institutions such as Columbia and Berkley. It shifts, midway, to the history of the university, telling the story of the university’s formation, its jump across the Atlantic to the US, and continued evolution. Understanding the social, political and financial pressures the book shifts and ends with instructive contemplation.

I found the memoir portion segmented well across the author’s CV, but a bit long. Had Reid Hoffman’s blog not led me to a commitment to read the entire book, I very well might have abandoned it.

When the author shifted, however, to a Genealogy of the University about half-way through the book, I was mesmerized. This part is beautifully told, with the full value of the author’s experience in anthropology and administration.

The final third of the book provided contemplative (not directive) instruction for university and college administrators, faculty, and trustees to withstand the onslaught of politics and social pressures on the university.

The warnings are omnipresent in the book – the university will and must change, with or without the countering forces from seemingly the greatest opposers- faculty. And for all of their bluster, if American politicians truly care about the century of advances brought through higher education across America, then they must redefine their relationship with the university of tomorrow.

My Goodreads books

Hangry – The Eat, Pray Love of Tech Entrepreneurship

I added Hangry to my Goodreads and Des Moines Public library’s holds lists upon a 5-star rating by Brad Feld. Having never ordered food via Grubhub, I wasn’t really sure why but his rating was the motivating factor. I was surprised to get the book quickly from the library but it was the experience of reading the book that surprised me. I have finished fiction in a day but non-fiction, memoir, by a tech entrepreneur in a day became a first.

Hangry is Mike Evans’ story of living through the frustrations of cubicle dwelling mixed with a desire for tasty food showing up at the door. He tells the rare story of a tech founder who knew enough to code his MVP, tests and pivots over the years, mergers, failures, acquisitions, and the most rarified of experiences – an IPO. His remarkable clarity of his purpose for having (and leaving) the business and the ability to achieve it makes a worthy read.

discontent is a feature, not a bug. Entrepreneurs aren’t happy people

This is the tech entrepreneur version of Eat, Pray, Love, much of which occurs in Chicago. The author’s reflection, however, is interspersed throughout the book via the coast to coast, Trans America journey he undertakes on a bicycle. Lessons learned on the journey are poignant and told with humble brevity.

It is, simultaneously, an entrepreneur’s guidebook. Mike channels his remarkable (and unwanted) mentors from his Grubhub journey by avoiding professorial lecturing. The aphorisms of entrepreneurship aren’t delivered as chapter headings or even articulated directly. The wisdom, instead, is imparted through his own experiential learning over the course of two decades. I found myself taking so many notes throughout the book to capture the true essence of these stories.

The point is to intrigue, not inform. You want to tease them with a small glimpse into a billion-dollar opportunity. You want to tell a believable story about why the business model really works. But most of all you want to induce FOMO, fear of missing out. Say less. Tease more.”

Professor Waverly Deutsch at Chicago Booth School of Business

Christine, Mike’s unwavering wife and partner throughout the book, is the soul that seems to have grounded him but, sadly, we don’t get to know her very much. I would’ve loved to meet and understand some of her feelings throughout the book.

The book is emotional in places, especially as he journeys across America on his recumbent bike. It is when he sees himself as a part of the big picture, journeying across a magnificent landscape and being reminded by some wonderful people to truly:

“Enjoy your trip,” …. “Don’t take it for granted. You’re lucky.”

I can obviously not distill the entire book here but will leave with the final note from the author to all (not just self-appointed entrepreneurs

If you see something that is broken, and it bothers you… If you can’t shake the feeling that it could be done better… If you look around and realize that nobody else is as annoyed by this thing, and that maybe nobody else is going to fix it, and that maybe, just maybe, you might be the person to do it.

You can.

That’s my piece of advice to every would-be entrepreneur. Don’t overthink it. Don’t write a business plan. Don’t hire a lawyer, or a market research firm. Just start.

Make the thing.

Sell a customer.


Covid-19 did not mess this up!

Nearly two years since the Polk County Treasurer’s office opened from pandemic era closures, its post Covid efficiency is admirable. Unlike a sentiment I overheard today, the old way of doing this is, THANKFULLY, dead!

image of the motor vehicle division of the polk county treasurer's office

I recently transferred ownership of a car, had the new owner register it in another state, and returned the original Iowa plates to Polk county. Three transactions whose complexity had sent shivers down my spine at having to work through two separate government bureaucracies. In pre-pandemic days, I would’ve had to walk-in to the treasurer’s office’s motor vehicle division, obtain a number from those old school ‘take your number’ machines, sit patiently until called, and then do the business. Three times over. Here is how it went recently:

Title Transfer

The county website laid out the requirements clearly, complete with simple, one-page forms. The instructions were in simple English, easy to follow, and the big blue button guided me to an appointment. Yes, a 15-minute window picked from a calendar. One I could schedule. When I showed up and checked-in, I was given my sequence within the 15-min window and promptly called to the counter. The agent was knowledgeable and verified all info and guided me to the next step.

Registration in another State

The other state did not have such a “modern” facility for its residents and the new owners sat in a waiting room, contracted by the DMV, for over 2 hours as the various paperwork required to register the car were validated.

Returning plates

Back in Iowa, I was instructed to simply walk in and turn in the old plates and registration for a refund of the unused registration period. I approached the reception desk and the representative, learning that all I was doing was returning plates for credit, formally received the plates and registration herself, recorded the date of transfer, and informed me of the time to receive a refund. In and out of the office in < 5 minutes.

I overheard a person behind me comment how Covid had messed things up and how you needed an appointment now to transfer titles. He was commenting because some one had walked in for a transfer and was guided by the same receptionist to the appointment process for the future AS SHE GRACIOUSLY MADE AN APPOINTMENT FOR HIM!

I’ll take today’s post-COVID formality over the past’s as the post Covid efficiency saved me time, money, and frustration. Well done, Polk County treasurer/MVD.

Flow Like Water

I subscribe to a newsletter from James Clear, the author of the wildly popular book Atomic Habits. Though I’ve incorporated some of his suggestions into my daily life, this one stood out as one additionally worthy of sharing.

Each of us faces obstacles in various forms and some catch us dead in our tracks. This suggestion offers a perspective from the ever patient and percussive water!

Water never complains, but always pushes back. Always.

Drop a boulder in front of a stream and the water will simply flow around it, taking whatever opening the landscape will give or—when nothing is offered—patiently building up its resources until it rises to a height where a new gap is found.

Flow like water. Never complain, but always push back.”

Culture at end of a jetbridge

the B19 jetbridge tunnel at SLC

Though it has been more than a decade since that landing at La Guardia airport, I distinctly remember the feeling of being on NYC streets or subway while still belted to my seat on the plane. The murmor and impatience that arose amongst us passengers was eerily similar to that experienced on the city’s streets in trips before.

I’ve sensed a similar feeling when landing at other airports and wondered if we somehow switch to a personality mimicking that of an arrival city, especially one we’ve visited before. And does that affect our behavior and mood when arriving at a new destination? I do believe this “feeling” is different than behavioral norms like the cowboy hats on flights enroute to Texas destinations, the alcohol-fueled party atmosphere enroute to Vegas, the Mickey Mouse ears on flights into Orlando. It is also different than the food experienced toward certain destinations such as Chicken tikka masala on British Airways into London or Salmon, rice and miso enroute to Japan.

This feeling became more pronounced for me over the past couple of years arriving at Salt Lake City. In a city heavily influenced by the prominent religion, the airport is often host to missionaries heading on their commitments or arriving back home. Beyond the missionaries though, there seems to be a respect and deferential component to visitors. I rarely see grumbling, anger, or shouting and observe general communal regard. A plane full of passengers remains seated just a bit longer awaiting their row’s turn to deplane.

A landing in Kuala Lumpur recently had its own unique feeling. Despite the late hour and a short shuttle flight, there was a hometown camaraderie. The return flight back to Singapore on the same discount airline was quite different and similar to other rushed urban destinations. I see similar hometown camaraderie arriving home in Des Moines where people magically find connection over weather, their employer, or the Hawkeyes. Arriving at Boston Logan one feels the presence of academics – from college logoed clothing to more passengers reading books and even professorial garb (leather arm patches on sport coats are dead ringers!)

I wonder what is it that prepares us so for what is about to meet us at the end of the jet bridge?

Is it fiction or real?

I have become a fan of near-real-time fiction through books addressing the startup communities. Eliot Peper got me started with his Uncommon Stock series and this book by Josh Riedel showed up in my Goodreads queue from Brad Feld, who incidentally had also turned me onto Eliot.

What happens if you report the bug which morphs reality into fantasy and science fiction

The book had an incredible start and picked up my interest considerably during the middle. A few pages in I actually had to double check to ensure this was fiction as it read so much like a memoir. The book feels non fiction in its beginning, as true life a story as possible. The life inside a startup, the type of work involved, the food, culture, working environment and more feel all too real. The real streets, restaurants, menu items and residences all reminiscent of a photograph that captures reality and not an abstract painting. This continued all the way past the M&A activity. The drama, intrigue, unresolved sexual tension, pain, sorrow, and desire throughout the middle feel like Ethan is simply telling what is happening to him – the writer and the protagonist.

The last third, however, enters the realm of fantasy and out of sci-fi and the dissonance lost me.  Though the transition is somewhat gradual, it still hit me as other-worldly. Once I shifted my own thinking and imagery to science fiction (or fantasy!), I was able to carry on toward the end.

Josh employs a technique to introduce human and (seemingly) inhuman characters and entities differently (I don’t know if this technique has a name – it surely must!). People and companies that are emotionless and irrelevant are simply called Corporation, Funder, Engineer. No soul, just a place in the author’s world. They interact with the humans, affect them and their emotions, control them and dispense with them. Yet, since we are never introduced to their ‘soul’, it is hard to love or hate them. Indifference is all that remains.

I read the final 50 or so pages in-flight, landing at Denver International in a cloak of darkness. An apt metaphor for the way the book itself happens, leaving me thinking as wheels touched ground — was it all just a dream? 

End of the world is just the beginning

My brief review of this large and fact filled book about our world

A nearly 500 page walk through the history of our world that gives one a view (and author’s perspective) on what is to come. It tackles transport, agriculture, manufacturing, energy, materials, finance in sufficient detail to understand nuances across various regions. 

My favorite part was the discussion of where certain items are sourced, purified, manufactured and finished covering iron through gold. 

I leave the book quite surprised at how remarkably little discussion occurred about the most populous country on earth – India. Peter is singularly focused on China and I wonder if his predictions would have been better informed with covering India and Canada a bit more. Or, perhaps in his eyes, the two countries are irrelevant to the past and future global order. 

All in all, a fun read that made me think hard about the world we inherited and inhabit.

Who (what) is the photographer?

Marques Brownlee (@MKBHD on Youtube) is one of my favorite techies. His insightful and honest reviews of diverse technologies keep me subscribed and buying items that he’s reviewed. As a photography fan myself, I was naturally attracted to his latest video on smartphone cameras. Though the title was ever so slightly click-baity, the content never lowered the bar.

The key message in the video is that the software in smartphone cameras is increasingly making decisions that produce images that are inconsistent with reality. From smoothing tones to filling-in shadows, the software produces images that defy visual reality. As the primary upgrades in newer smart phones tout batter or camera improvements, naturally it leads one to think about what, really, is improving with each version.

Though there is much technical analysis within the video with side-by-side comparisons with other cameras to prove the points, I am left with questions:




I admit the last question is a heavy one and Marques only brushes past the race/equity impact. But I’d encourage you to watch for yourself and make your own judgement on who really took that last photo on your smartphone.

Reading with the local library

A friend appeared perplexed at why I had chosen to read his book by waiting for it at the library instead of simply purchasing it. He knew I could afford the book, so he pushed me as we enjoyed a dram. He agreed with my response that I prefer to buy many books for the library by donating to the library instead of simply adding more to my bookshelves. Though that moment passed, I continued to think if I was being a poor friend by not supporting a friend author.

Until recently …

I’d just completed reading an ebook, “The Reading List” by Sara Nisha Adams and, highlighted sections for retrieval later. One of the highlighted sections stood out:

Mukesh turned to the front page of To Kill a Mockingbird and noticed the Brent Council Libraries sheet, full of black, splotchy dates. So many! It was strange, the idea that this book wasn’t just for him, it was for everyone. All these people who had taken it out before him, people who would take it out after him. They might have read it on a beach, on the train, on the bus, in the park, in their living room. On the toilet? He hoped not! Every reader, unknowingly connected in some small way. He was about to be a part of this too. “Yes, please.”

The reading list by sara nisha adams

This book, about a recent widower who finds his step out of loneliness and isolation via books is a debut novel by a London based writer. She explores how the sudden introduction to a book (The Time Traveler’s Wife in this story) can offer a step away from where you are. The widower, Mukesh, begins his path out of loneliness via a neighborhood library, finding connections beyond his wildest imagination.

I finally realized what I liked about the library checkouts – it isn’t the cost savings or the vast selection or the ease of checkouts via the drive up window. It is a connection to the wider community that forms a collective around the book’s message. Watching the size of the waiting list tells me about the hunger for a particular title within my community.

While you’re thinking of your local library, checkout “The Reading List”. And if they don’t have it, donate the money to the library so they can buy it for everyone! If you’re lucky enough (like me) to have multiple libraries near you, checkout www.worldcat.org to find your next book at your nearest library.