Saturday, January 21, 2006

Failure Is An Option

Failure Is An Option

Dave McClure has a touching tribute to his friend Jad Duwaik, an entrepreneur who died recently.

As Dave points out, the irony is that one of the reasons Jad was well-known was for writing a gritty, honest piece called "Diary of a Failure" for the Chronicle.

In it, Jad talks about losing the money he made on the sale of his first company and the painful process of trying to look for a job.

The world of startups is inherently a world of failure.

The estimates are that only 1/10th of venture-backed companies succeed, and those lucky firms (who are the most likely to succeed) make up a small percentage of all startups.

Chances are that you'll fail a lot before you succeed. I know this from personal experience. I would argue that I'm still not successful, based on the extrinsic criteria of being rich and famous (though I would argue that I'm good-looking, so one out of three ain't bad).

Failure is inevitable. What counts is how you react when you've failed.

Back in the bust days, when people asked me what I did, I told them, "I'm an unemployed bum." But them, I'd add, "And I'm working on a couple of startups."

The Housing Bubble: The ATM Is Closed

The Housing Bubble: The ATM Is Closed
Want another sign of the bursting bubble? Check out this chart of home equity borrowing.



Here's the post I took it from.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Start of the Housing Correction

The Start of the Housing Correction
I hate to say I told you so...oh wait, I love to say I told you so! The MSM (mainstream media) is finally admitting that the housing bubble has started to deflate.

According to Dataquick, housing prices in Santa Clara County dropped in December (for the first time in years), and sales volume also fell off.

Median sales price was down 2.1% from November, and volume was down 6% from November and 17% from last year.

Of course, since the real estate industry is a bug advertiser for the papers, the Merc article goes through some crazy contortions to paint a brighter picture. They quote three brokers (which is akin to quoting Crazy Eddie marketers on the status of their limited time offers), who say that despite the data, "There's so much activity now you cannot believe it. It's like a beehive."

Then there's this sentence:

"While there is still demand, prices are dropping somewhat, buyers are more in charge than they have been in years, and a return to single-digit appreciation in home prices could hit the valley within months."

Let me get this straight...prices have dropped, and you're saying there's a chance that the house price appreciation *might* slow down to single digits?

Don't forget, the very next sentence is: "Single family home prices dropped from November to December in every one of the Bay Area's nine counties and Santa Cruz."

I'll be interested to see what the press says when the market starts really declining...when the papers say that real estate is dead, it will be time to buy, buy, buy!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Everything is a prototype

Everything is a prototype

"Try to view everything you're doing, instead of being done and finished, as a prototype that is constantly in flux and changing, especially in the case of management." --Bob Sutton

Professor Sutton of Stanford has a great post about the need to look at life as a prototype that can be constantly changed and improved.

I agree 100%, and recommend you read the article, which also shows just how cool David Kelley (the design guru, not Michelle Pfeiffer's husband) is. When his company, superstudio IDEO went through a reorganization recently, folks were a little nervous about being shaken out of their routines. To illustrate the embrace of change, the day of the company-wide meeting, he shaved off his trademark Groucho Marx mustache and said, "Just like my mustache, it can grow back."

Incidentally, David Kelley was my college advisor...let me tell you, if I came out of the shower naked and saw him without his mustache, I would run and wrap myself in a towel as well.

Outsourcing ate my homework

Outsourcing ate my homework

Apparently, enterprising but lazy CS students are turning to Rentacoder to complete their homework!

The E-learning Revolution

The E-learning Revolution
Giving people the ability to author their own e-learning courses is a big first step in education. This post by TechCrunch profiles Nuvvo, a new company in this space that provide on-demand e-learning tools.

Perhaps even more interesting are the comments, which outline several (free) alternatives.

Of course, as long-time readers know, e-learning isn't a panacea. If e-learning courses are simply the same old stuff, just online, we're not tapping into its true power.

Once anyone can create a course, expect creativity and variation to flourish...by moving learning from a near monopoly with high barriers to entry to something anyone can design, I think we'll start seeing innovative new models for education.

And that's exciting.

Tom Perkins writes a Romance Novel?!!!

Tom Perkins writes a Romance Novel?!!!
Astounding. Kleiner Perkins founder Tom Perkins (who was married to Danielle Steele at one point), has penned his own romance novel, "Sex and the Single Zillionaire."

Words fail me. But I applaud Tom for doing what he wants, regardless of what others think.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Love and Work

Love and Work
Paul Graham has a new essay up about how to do what you love. I like Paul's work a lot, but I do feel that a lot of his recent essays haven't been up to his usual quality. The overall content or message is good, but they could use a significant tightening.

For example, this latest essay runs to 5,352 words, not including footnotes. I think it could be condensed almost 90% without too much loss. For example, the following set of excerpts is under 700 words long:

"Tragically, adults teach kids that work = not fun, and that school is tedious preparation for work.

Doing what you love means doing what will make you happy in the long run (not just pursuing momentary pleasure).

If you love your work, you won't see it as something to be endured to earn the reward of "free time."

To be happy, do something you admire.* Try to do things that would make your friends say wow.

Don't worry about prestige, which is the opinion of people you don't know, but focus instead on the opinions of people whose judgment you respect. If you do something well enough, you'll make it prestigious.

The test of whether people love what they do is whether they'd do it even if they weren't paid for it-- even if they had to work at another job to make a living.

Although doing great work takes less discipline than people think-- the way to do great work is to find something you like so much you don't have to force yourself to do it-- finding work you love does usually require discipline.

Try to do a good job at whatever you're doing, even if you don't like it.

Always produce. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you're supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. "Always produce" will discover your life's work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.

One has to make a living, and it's hard to get paid for doing work you love. There are two routes to that destination:
The organic route: as you become more eminent, gradually to increase the parts of your job that you like at the expense of those you don't. The disadvantage of this route is that it's slow and uncertain.
The two-job route: to work at things you don't like to get money to work on things you do. The two-job route is less common than the organic route, because it requires a deliberate choice. It's also more dangerous. Life tends to get more expensive as you get older, so it's easy to get sucked into working longer than you expected at the money job. Another perhaps even more dangerous problem is that anything you work on changes you. You tend to become what you do. If you work on tedious stuff for too long, it will rot your brain. And the best paying jobs are most dangerous, because they tend to require your complete attention.

Which route should you take? If you're sure of the general area you want to work in and it's something people are likely to pay you for, then you should probably take the organic route. But if you don't know what you want to work on, or don't like to take orders, you may want to take the two-job route, if you can stand the risk.

Kids who know early what they want to do seem impressive, as if they got the answer to some math question before the other kids. They have an answer, certainly, but odds are it's wrong. If you read autobiographies (which I highly recommend) you find that a lot of the most successful people didn't decide till quite late what they wanted to do. And not because they were indecisive, or didn't know themselves. It takes a long time to just to learn what different kinds of work are like.

Expect a struggle. In high school they act as if choosing a career were straightforward. Actually, finding work you love is very difficult, and most people fail. Even if you succeed, it's rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight you'll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you're in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you're practically there."

* As a side note, I think that this was my greatest mistake when I was younger. The first company I started, I did just for the money. Though it was a great experience, the process of starting a company is so arduous that life is simply too short to do so with a business for which you don't feel any real passion or love.

Big Ben in USA Today

Big Ben in USA Today

I doubt many of my readers subscribe to USA Today (though I often read it on business trips...there always seems to be a copy in the hotel and at the airport), but today's edition contains a story on "old" friend Ben Casnocha.

It takes most of us many years of adulthood to find ourselves; Ben has been able to do it at age 17. That, more than starting companies or hobnobbing with the rich and famous, is what makes him special in my eyes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What The Hell Is Wrong With The Democrats?

What The Hell Is Wrong With The Democrats?
I was watching the Daily Show while catching up on my emails, when I saw the following:

1. Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton say that the U.S. is "run like a plantation."

2. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin call for rebuilding "a chocolate New Orleans."

3. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi get booed off the stage for telling activists to direct their energy "electorally."

I'm ready to throw in the towel for both political parties, but I can't help but be amazed by the remarkable inability of the Democrats to take advantage of their enemies' weaknesses.

They're facing a President with record-low approval ratings. The Republicans' top leaders are embroiled in a series of sleazy scandals. And yet they continue to go out of their way to demonstrate a complete and utter inability to settle on a coherent strategy and execute.

We might be tempted to look for other alternatives, but as Simpsons alien Kang notes:

Kang: It's a two-party system. You have to vote for one of us!
Man: Well then, I believe I'll vote for a third party!
Kang: Go ahead! Throw your vote away! Ahahahaha!

P.S. I apologize for my previous post describing Mayor Nagin as a passionate, heroic leader. Alas, the charges that he was grandstanding and exaggerating conditions within the Superdome appear to be spot on. Sheesh.

Quick Thoughts

I have had a short list of links floating around for a couple of weeks (when I wanted to post them to del.icio.us, the server was down, so I had to email them to myself instead).


The Wikiversity. But will it actually change the model? Will people be open to new ways of learning?
http://chronicle.com/free/2005/12/2005121601t.htm

Market based on the job, not the demographic (see Swiffer or eBay, vs. the failure of Intuit's Financial Planner).
http://www.corante.com/customer/archives/2005/12/27/marketing_malpractice.php

Barbie rules Cyberspace. It's all true. My friends have detailed the obsessive fashion in which their daughters log on to Barbie.com every single day.
http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/dec2005/tc20051222_092369.htm

Tom Evslin's brilliant analogy explaining why employer-provided health insurance is simply insane.
http://blog.tomevslin.com/2005/12/foodstuff_benef.html

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Rock Crushes Paper

Rock Crushes Paper
Say what you will about Ashton Kutcher, but he is a reliable and innovative purveyor of trashy television.

Most people know about his cruel but funny celebrity hidden camera show, Punk'd, where he puts the rich and famous in difficult situations to see how they react. (Incidentally, Seth Green and Matthew Perry are both utterly unflappable. Seth Green I would have expected. But Matthew Perry?)

Mr. Demi Moore also has another show, Beauty and the Geek, which pairs nerds and cheerleaders in a competition where the outcome depends on the cheerleaders' mental capabilities and the geeks' social skills.

The first episode of the second season featured a host of hilarious moments (including the first time one of the geeks has his profession listed as "Dungeon Master"), but the best was when two beauties played rock-paper-scissors for the right to select a geek as their partner. After one chose rock and the other paper, both stood up to make their choice before the rock-chooser was corrected by her brethren. "Oops," she said, "I thought rock crushes paper!"

The Right Wing Media...er, 20/20...on School Vouchers

The Right Wing Media...er, 20/20...on School Vouchers

My timing is perfect. I swear I didn't know that 20/20 just did an expose on the public school system that came down firmly in favor of school vouchers.

If you want to buy the episode on DVD, here's the link:
http://www.abcnewsstore.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=customer.product&product_code=T060113%2001&category_code=

Are there any good arguments against school vouchers?

Are there any good arguments against school vouchers?
I was reading another pro-voucher post from Coyote Blog, and the thought struck me: Are there any good arguments against school vouchers?

As a long-time Economist reader, I'm afraid that I'm already biased towards market solutions, so I checked out what the folks at balancedpolitics.org had to say, as well as the folks at soyouwanna.com.

In essence, the main arguments voiced against vouchers are:

1. It takes away money from public schools.

2. Allowing parents to use vouchers to pay for parochial (religious schools) violates the separation of church and state.

3. Voucher programs favor the wealthy and religious, who previously paid for private and parochial school out of their own pockets.

4. Private schools may not provide the same quality of education.

I think that I'm being fair, as opposed to presenting a straw man; if you disagree, please comment.

Let's look at these arguments one by one:

1. It takes away money from public schools.

This may certainly be true, but I don't see why this is a negative. If the school isn't serving the needs of its customer (the parents and children), it doesn't deserve their money. One might as well say that we shouldn't buy Japanese import cars because it takes money away from GM and Ford.

2. Allowing parents to use vouchers to pay for parochial (religious schools) violates the separation of church and state.

I'm no constitutional expert, but if that's the case, why can people deduct contributions to religious charities on their tax returns? A better way of looking at this is that vouchers return to parents the choice on how to spend their tax dollars. Sure, some of them will use those tax dollars to send their kids to fundamentalist schools. I'd rather that they didn't, being a good secular humanist myself, but parents have a right to make such choices for themselves. It's not like having the government make choices for them has been without drawbacks!

3. Voucher programs favor the wealthy and religious, who previously paid for private and parochial school out of their own pockets.

Just because a program benefits the wealthy doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do. Minority parents consistently support voucher programs--one 2000 study by an African-American think tank found that 90% of younger African-Americans are in favor of vouchers.

Moreover, the argument that vouchers favor the rich is like the argument that corporate dividends should be taxed: Let's do it because it mainly impacts the wealthy. Double taxation is wrong. It alters the economic incentives (for example, encouraging companies to pursue stock buybacks or acquisitions instead of distributing cash to shareholders).

Finally, if this is such a big issue, just limit voucher programs to the poor.

4. Private schools may not provide the same quality of education.

This is absurd hypocrisy. On the one hand, voucher opponents argue that private schools may not provide a good education, but on the other hand, they decry the way that wealthy parents abandon the public school system for private schools.

Are we to believe that wealthy parents are spending money to give their kids an inferior education? Are they being sent to private schools because they want them to be taught some sort of racist, fundamentalist curriculum?

Moreover, these same voucher opponents wax eloquent on the terrible state of our public schools. Only instead of allow parents whose children go to bad schools to pull them out and find better ones, these people argue for diverting yet more money into failing schools.

Again, one might as well argue that we should be granting government subsidies to purchase GM cars, or handing extra billions to GM to build better cars.

Actually, both GM and the public schools do have one thing in common. Both have strong unions that contribute millions to political candidates. Alas, poor parents and students don't have that option.

And what's the French government going to say about Google now?

And what's the French government going to say about Google now?
Fun with Google-hacking...take a look at what comes up when you search for "french military victories" in Google and click "I feel lucky."

Knowing the French government, they won't even realize that it's a parody, and will launch into yet another attack on Google. Way to go, Albino Blacksheep!