tej dhawan's random musings

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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.

The different yet similar lives lived by America’s immigrants and their children

The American immigration council’s newsletter recently introduced me to a book, a product of research previously impossible due to the quantity and type of data involved. It unravels the myth of the model European immigrants of 1860-1920 compared to those who immigrated after the 1960s. It finds that the two sets are remarkably similar in upward mobility, children’s successes and a becoming ‘from many, one’.

Immigration carries a unique stature in America. On one side is the country’s badge of honor as a country that was built by immigrants despite the devastation and destruction of Native American culture and people. On another is the unfortunate history where previously (immigrated) citizens do much to shun the new wave. Jon Stewart, once opining on a historical context of immigration stated it well

America has always been a nation of immigrants who hate the newest immigrants

It was a sentiment I saw in the textile museum in Fall River, MA. The museum clearly showed how the British who’d set up the mills, hired and (mis)treated the Germans, the Irish and others who came after. Each new wave was relegated to their own enclaves, children as young as 7 and 8 deployed to unravel stuck threads even if it exposed them to losing precious little fingers.

The book first draws comparison between those Western Europeans (Britain, Germany, Norway) and the subsequent southeastern (Italians) who came in late 19th. Then it compares the past set to late 20th century immigrants from Asia and Latin America. The similarities in why and how they came, what they brought in pain and talent, how they adopted the new homeland, and the exclusions they suffered are uncanny.

Equally uncanny is how both sets toiled for decades in their roles but their children were the ones to propel beyond expectations. The myth of ‘pulling up by the bootstraps in no time’ isn’t borne out by the data collected, aligned, and presented. In fact, the book undoes a few representative stories through presentation of lineage and research. Of course, reading as an immigrant myself married to a genealogist who traces her history to the Mayflower and various (proven) soldiers in America’s earliest wars gave me a great set of reasons to devour the book quickly.

The authors utilized technological innovations and inventions to unearth the stories embedded in generations of immigrants. The early unofficial and subsequent authorized searches across Ancestry.com databases, 8 million speeches across the political spectrum since the 1800s, Ellis island voice recordings of immigrants, the many programs written to scrape, curate, analyze, learn via ML and AI, todays tech made this book possible and repeatable to stand scrutiny.

Our country’s structure under the constitution also created natural control groups that helped evaluate the affects of immigration laws between California and Pennsylvania, Florida vs Texas, Cleveland and Cincinnati, and much more. This provided a way to turn back history’s clock and view the effects through comparison and data.

Immigrants are synonymous with America. They arrived in various roles and exhibited an ability and willingness to adopt, adapt, honor, change, assimilate and impact a culture that was once called a melting pot and is now, thankfully, a mosaic. The mosaic makes it possible for a Japanese family in a multiethnic cafe to enjoy a Mexican meal served by a Caucasian. Where a mixed race couple name their children through lenses of pop culture, ancestry, and more.

A fun book worth reading as a traveler on international flight (me reading and writing this), in a genealogical expedition, or better yet, to prepare a speech to Congress or the country.

I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I found out three things: First, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all; and third, I was expected to pave them.

Unknown Italian immigrant, painted on the wall of the Ellis Island Museum

Liftoff – an engineering challenge against gravity and time

A collection of humans with a shared purposes is a powerful force. Liftoff tells the story of one such collection of people known as SpaceX. People who ran a space race after the original, a story of heartbreaking losses and a win worthy of celebration.

Elon Musk challenged status quo by creating SpaceX. His short-term goal of earth orbit and the long-term dream to transport humans to and from Mars is remarkable. The book tells the story of that early vision, drive, money, and passion that created the Falcon one hardware. It also describes the Falcon 1’s four major iterations, Falcon 9’s and Falcon Heavy’s parallel developments, and their various component computers and parts.

What make the book real, however, isn’t the hardware but the humans. We meet these humans at various chronological junctures throughout the book. We learn of their passion through the creation of the launch site in the Marshall Islands. Their tenacity as they repeatedly transport themselves between Los Angeles and the middle of the South Pacific. And their love for the profession, marvel of space, and professional loyalty to the discipline.

One of my favorite sections of this book is the Epilogue where the author talks about the humans once again. This discussion isn’t about the chronological work at hand rather the trajectories of their lives at publication. I recommend this crucial section and implore the book’s readers to look up the Falcon 1 and Falcon Heavy videos to feel the emotional roller coasters.

We know SpaceX and Tesla’s successes today. What we don’t know as well is how close the two companies came to death. Tesla EVs, solar panels, batteries, the relatively inexpensive satellite deployment, Starlink, and the ability to reach and replenish the International Space Station continue to impact our world positively today. I am glad to have read this book and am grateful to the tenacity and resolve of the team so clearly and respectfully presented.

Welcome back, 37Signals!

The Sunday newsletter from Farnum Street included a thoughtful (as usual!) post from Jason Fried. Jason is one of those sages who continues to shift the software development industry through philosophy, writing, and creating enduring products. Seeing his name referenced by Shane, though no surprise, led me down the path of reading Jason’s current and many recent posts!

Jason’s company has returned to its roots. The company’s articulation of their manifesto of 37 (of course!) statements of purpose is a delight to read. I have many favorites with #14 as my favorite:

Meetings are the last resort, not the first option. Five people in a room for an hour isn’t a one hour meeting, it’s a five hour meeting. How often was it worth that? Could you have just written it up instead? Be mindful of the costs and tradeoffs.

37signals — 14. Meetings aren’t free

And if you make it all the way to #37, I hope you follow the embedded link. There is meaning behind the name 37Signals.

Eliot Peper’s latest – Reap3r

“…unlike fiction, reality needn’t be plausible”

Reap3r, chapter 37

I received an advance review copy of Eliot‘s tenth novel in February and, as prior books, began to read it nearly instantly. As I read through the first few chapters, however, I found myself needing to know the characters more. So, I began again, and again, and again. Each read exposed a strength or flaw in the human characters and I chose to slow down my reading pace to get to know them better.

There is no doubt this work is a work of fiction. The quote above reminded me what I was reading may be fiction yet is very likely to be real. In the near future likely to occur within our lifetimes. And that simultaneously makes this story frighteningly believable.

Eliot’s characters often carry a social conscience, and this book is no different. It isn’t hard to distinguish right from wrong, or to empathize with their struggle. The classic struggle of power over community, money over integrity, and self over sentient collectiveness are threaded throughout.

The tale spun deftly through this extremely fast-moving book is composed of numerous complex characters, who revealed themselves to the author in a different intimacy that the reader discovers in layers. I found the memory remembered by one of the characters in the quote below quite apt for the relationship between the characters, Eliot and the reader:

You face one way – towards the source-when you are learning what you want to say, he’d advised, and the other way-towards the reader-when you are saying it

Reap3r, chapter 35

I’d looked forward to the story Eliot would tell during and after his trek he and his wife began in 2019. He credits the experiences, the journey, and the stories that unraveled through this journey in the epilogue, and reading them at the end of the book jumped me back to Twitter where he chronicled parts of the journey

Reading his #CaminoThoughts thread at the end of the book gave me a new insight into the book I’d just finished. Incredible. I have read and bought all of Eliot’s ten books, and this one is, by far, the deepest exploration of characters.

His travels influence the book. Food, clothing, jewelry, locations, and names all allude to a character’s face behind the mask. You can choose to look at the mask and discover what happens as Eliot reveals what’s within. Or you can learn more about the attributes and find the pleasant surprises as you self-discover the character early. (I knew you, O’ petite woman at the end of chapter 58).

Grab the book if you haven’t already. I couldn’t wait to buy my signed copy despite the author’s review copy.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite opening sentiments from the book

Movies used music to build tension before major twists, but real life didn’t have a soundtrack to clue you in to the fact that everything was about to change

reap3r, prologue

Beyond Obsolete

I was reminded recently of technology obsolescence when jumping behind the wheel of a maximalist (is that the opposite of minimalist?) dash on a rental car. I spent a good part of 15 minutes clearing previous settings and saved items, re-learning the basic navigation (and built-in GPS) settings, audio, seat controls and more before putting the car in gear and driving away.

Although I gave up on and decided not to use many of the car’s controls within a dozen or so miles, I remain amazed how the built-in GPS has become utterly useless. My mobile phone’s apps and maps were eminently usable and current. The recent model year car’s built-in GPS couldn’t locate my hotel built-in 2019 in a major urban city!

The space the screen consumed on the dashboard, the car’s numerous buttons on the touchscreen, dashboard AND by the gearshift were an exercise in ridiculously poor customer experience and wasted opportunity. The center console, stuffed with buttons, some duplicated on the steering with others labeled in confusing and non-standard ways confounded me further.

The sad part is that this late model year crossover from a ‘luxury’ carmaker was as much (or more) confusing than our 2015 Acura MDX, itself a victim of poor dash design, TWO 6-inch monitors, and a GPS UI that’s reminiscent of the early 2000s.


The following have outlived their useful life on car dashboards and are beyond need of retirement. They just need euthanized:

1. Built-in GPS (and the $149 fee for the dealership to ‘load’ the map updates!
2. Dare I say, car dealership cartels!
3. Custom voice interfaces – Siri, Alexa, and Google won.
4. Radio station presets. The rental’s largest and most prominent buttons were the six radio presets.
5. Steering control for anything but voice command, volume, and possibly cruise control.
6. OBD port. Why not show the output directly to the screen(s)?
7. Single device Bluetooth. We know cars frequently have two or more passengers. Do we really need to be connected to only a single device?
8. Low wattage USB ports. Drivers and passengers routinely carry multiple devices with larger, hungrier batteries that demand charge. Why, then are built-in chargers still delivering barely 0.5-1 amps?

Legacy carmakers – Are you innovating or sleeping at the wheel?

Failure: an unfulfilled expectation?

We celebrate failure in modern life and use it as a means of self-improvement. My introduction to this conversation comes from the field of startups and entrepreneurship where this badge of honor is well-known as a path toward and predictor of eventual success.

My memory of recognizing failure is rooted in elementary school where incorrect answers to math problems led to a low score. Being the son of a math-loving mother, the failure at school invariably led to additional punishments at home, thereby cementing the memory. The high school punishment of 12 canes on the behind for scoring 36/100 on a math exam further created an expectation to score at least high enough to not be caned again. An expectation that stayed with me long past high school, the teacher, and even into environments that no longer permitted corporal punishment.

A recent discourse between a middle school student and a film artist recently shook that memory loose. During a Q&A hosted by Ballet Des Moines at the Des Moines Art Center, a young man asked a Beau Kenyon, a composer, DaYoung Jung, a ballerina, and Oyoram, a movie maker how they manage failure. Oyoram responded that to him failure isn’t criticism by a client, a critic, an audience or a viewer. Failure instead is when his work fails to live up to his own vision.

Oyoram had earlier shared his process of scripting, modeling, creating, and installing his immersive experiences. He explained how the experiences came alive at scale.

Mental Banquet: Painting with Lights, 2018 Des Moines, Iowa

But if he couldn’t feel what he had imagined and documented during the visioning process, he had experienced failure!

I’ll have to try this technique. Rather than await validation or criticism, I’ll try to be the golfer who knows almost immediately upon hitting the ball or the composer who can hear discordance even when the listener cannot.

So , why not evaluate failure as an unfulfilled expectation. After all, isn’t the expectation tied to the original vision? And if we decouple the two, aren’t we lying in a way that renders success elusive forever?

Bias encumbers learning opportunities

150000 lbs each.

I’d gotten bumped and rebooked twice for flights yet was going to miraculously end up flying cross country AND make it to my destination 5 hours earlier than scheduled. The gate agents had still put me in advanced boarding so I boarded with wheelchair bound fellow passengers. Two ladies above 70s settled in next to me for the short puddle jump. And I began to wonder how I’d get out of my window seat at the destination ahead of them.

As the mother and daughter talked, I stared out the window, marveling at how close the Vegas strip was to the runway. It was then the daughter pointed out one of the tugs to the mother.

“Ma, it’s been 20 years since I made one of those “

Made?? I eavesdropped further; my eyes no longer focused on the strip.

Yes, the last one was for the 777s and boy those are heavy. The trailer bringing the weights for the first one twisted and broke apart when taking its first turn.

Now, I was really listening. I’m a sucker for all things airplane.

Yes, the tugs ordered for the 777s are 5 times heavier than those pushing our “little” 737. Each weigh about 150,000lbs to push the plane.

Without thinking first principles, why? I wondered aloud, betraying my silent eavesdropping.

She knew.

The nose of the aircraft carries nearly a sixth of the plane’s weight being pulled down by gravity. To counter those forces, the tug has to apply at least that much force. At a 90-degree angle to gravity, even more.

By now, I’d forgotten my reason to rush out of the aircraft upon landing. I’d even stopped wondering when our tug would arrive at the plane to push it back from the jetbridge. I was now simply mesmerized by the stories told by this retiree, my seatmate, who loved driving from Ogden UT to Las Vegas to see her sister regularly. On a plane this time because car rental and fuel were more expensive than the plane ticket.

Luckily for me, I was seated next to her due to my own set of circumstances and learned something new about airplanes, airports, and even the tugs.

What was the hurry to deplane again?

Downstairs steals the show

There are no spoilers below

The world has changed since the first scene of the first episode!

I finally made it to the Downton Abbey movie and found better closure through the movie than at the end of the final televised episode of 2016. Though the entire cast did an excellent job throughout the movie, the downstairs part of the household clearly stole the show for me. They were experts at balancing the positive and negative, the crazy and mundane, and the believable vs the unbelievable parts of the story.

My initial exposure to this awesome series was a few episodes into the first season when a bitter head cold had me watching TV late in the night and the opening episode caught my eye. Not one for period dramas, I am not quite sure why I picked it up but, moments in, knew I would finish the episode and like it. So began the six-ish year love affair with the expertly crafted story. Though I lost a few of my favorite characters through the years, the story remained compelling through the end.

The movie could be set a year after the TV series’ end or a decade yet the story seemed continuous. Hairstyles and costumes are different but not much else seems to have changed. The melodramatic responses to seemingly meaningless events remain omnipresent as do the wide panoramic shots to take in Downtown one last (?) time, now complete with a few beautiful drone images of the estate.

There are a few interesting moments, especially linked to Branson, Barrow, Edith, and Daisy. It took Daisy the entire journey through the series but she finally has grown up and can be seen proudly standing on her own two feet. Edith continues to push the envelope but seeing any of the ladies of Downton in the state of undress is strange. Yet, leave it to Edith to push. Branson continues to show the dual life he’s had to live since his introduction to the story to the very end. Barrow shines brightest for me. I’ll probably remember this line as he’s walking toward Downton late at night (not verbatim)

will they ever see our way?

(no Tom, still not in 2019)

Violet’s quips remained amazing:

sarcasm is the lowest form of wit

Thanks, Violet, for all the laughs. The theater seemed to giggle, laugh and endear to you throughout.

She who feeds controls the conversation!

Downton Abbey, I’ve missed you for the last 3ish years and will miss you more after this movie. But as in the parting dialogue, Downton will be present 100 years hence (today?!) and the extravagance is here for all to see. Maybe the next trip to England will include a stopover at Highclere Castle

As the community evolves, challenges persist

I wrote this guest post for Clay & Milk after a wildly successful community conversation (Monetery) hosted by Dwolla. The original article is linked here and save in my blog for archival.
—————————————————————————
Thank you Ben Milne for rebooting the conversation about our startup community during Monetery on March 20, your Dwolla team shined as a cohesive cohort of individuals.
I fondly remember from your launch events during the nascent days of Iowa’s startup community.
These are my reflections as an ‘aging’ member of Iowa’s startup community:
Brad Feld spoke for the first time in Iowa as a guest of Thinc Iowa conference in 2012. On the heels of Big Omaha and produced by its parent company—Silicon Prairie News—Thinc brought speakers from near and far. The event engaged about 400 people as attendees and sponsors observed one of the first startup conferences in Des Moines.
As a partner in now-defunct Startup City Des Moines, I sat and listened intently to messages from startup founders and advocates. Brad spoke from the heart about the newly introduced topic of Startup Communities, his eponymous book, and a nifty video produced by Kauffman Foundation. He followed up the conference talk with a fireside chat at Startup City with a couple dozen individuals from the community.
Fast forward to Monetery when Brad returned as one of the panelists to a Des Moines stage. As I sat in the back of the room once again listening to the same engaging Brad—whose blog I follow regularly—I couldn’t help but say to myself:

Things change yet they remain the same.

Des Moines’ startup community has grown significantly over the past six years. We have received an undeserved (in my opinion) amount of accolades and recognition, attention reminiscent of a future we want rather than a future we’ve developed.
Yet have risen, from the rubble of defunct incubators (StartupCity) or startups of 2012 (Pikuzone, Sharewhere, Real Estate Fan Pages, Mens Style Lab) such amazing entities as Global Insurance Accelerator, Funnelwise, Gravitate, Gain Compliance, Clinicnote and more. Geoff Wood remains the tireless advocate for the city’s startups and lone rangers; Mike Colwell has even more startups seeking his sage advice.
We have made amazing strides in connecting members of our corporate communities through these accelerators and brought several hundred (yes, several hundred) mentors who regularly volunteer their time and talent to grow startups. These have funded, bought the startups’ products and adopted the agile and nimble mindsets that are consistent with the startup lifestyle. Our chambers of commerce are no stranger to startup conversations and its leadership remains present, engaged and connected to new and established companies.
Des Moines may be a rare community whose chamber’s CEO is also an advocate for startups, invested in his own family’s startup (Homeditty) and knows the difference between startup (correct) and start-up (incorrect).
What hasn’t changed is the newcomer’s hunger for information. No matter the number of books, blogs, videos, guides and tweets, the new entrants to the startup community are seeking that early meetup, the startup weekend and the reassurance that there is funding for those who are sweating and bleeding on their way to success. There remains the same ‘failure rate’ from which new startups MUST be born.
The government is neither an ally nor an enemy – simply a feeder and supporter amongst many.
What we need is a continued conversation about these topics. Topics that will return to the Des Moines stage on April 5 with AccelerateDSM and then again in September with the Midwest Angel Syndicate’s meeting of angel and early-stage investors. Conversations that happen at Gravitate’s Full-Time Founders meetup. Conversations that need to happen at more venues, without relying upon Ben’s generosity (despite knowing that if he’s in town, he’ll likely show up and contribute!)
I’ve taken away the following from this recent conversation:

  1. When Drive Capital talks about funding 10 companies out of 3,500 applicants – they are exposing a very meaningful statistic – they funded 0.29 percent of the applicants. Startups need to do a LOT more to make their case for someone’s investment.
  2. Diversity remains a catalyst toward success. We, like a majority of the country, have a long ways to go to add this catalyst in startups, venture firms, cities, communities and teams.
  3. Awesome ideas, like Pi515, can starve to a quiet death without friends and allies. Kudos to Ben Milne and Brad Dwyer—who created a fundraiser last year for Pi515—for stepping up to the plate and writing a check that injected life into Nancy’s dream.
  4. We clamored for and got corporate partnerships. Now, the startups must step up, identify, and help solve the problems our corporate partners want solved.
  5. Let’s quit asking for reduced government regulation. If California can birth and incubate startups in one of the country’s most regressive entrepreneurial regulatory environments, regulation is a red herring.

Thanks, Ben, and the Dwolla team for the reawakening.

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