I'm Surya

I ran for Congress, was on reality TV, was once a brand manager, and have worked at various startups. I just finished my book. I'm active on Twitter. Full bio here.

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Jul
26

michelle obama

I want my son to grow up to be like Michelle Obama.

OK, I have no childrens. But, still. The Obamas met while at a law firm in Chicago. Michelle was actually senior to Barack there. She’s Princeton and Harvard, and obviously so eloquent and brilliant. She’s taken a “backseat” to enable and partner with her husband on their journey to his being a two-term president. Similar to my affection for Robert Kennedy over his brother because of his loyalty and toil in the shadows, I can’t really articulate how much I appreciate Michelle Obama. Class.

I’m still looking for my Michelle Obama. Because I’ll make a helluva First Husband :)

May
31

what apple music should be

Om Malik on Apple Music in The New Yorker.

April 28, 2003, Apple launched the iTunes Music Store, saving the music industry from the scourge of piracy while creating a large and steady source of revenue for Apple. Thirteen years later, however, what started as a simple and intuitive way to find music has become a cluttered festoonery of features. As Apple begins competing with focussed streaming services like Spotify, the company’s strategy of tacking new services, like Apple Music, which became available last year, onto already bloated software has made the experience of using the application more and more unpleasant.

It totally sucks. I did the free trial of Apple Music. During it, and after, I’ve been so confused how to do basic things between my iPhone and iTunes on my MacBook. Holy Hell.

Does this need to be so hard? How about this:

Apple Music is the new sole Apple Music service (Creative, huh?).

iTunes is the designation for Music that you own (designated by an infinity symbol?)

Beats is the designation for Streaming (the beats logo, obvi?)

Stations is designation for both their Radio and personal playlists with a toggle.

That’s it.

(For those who say kill/sunset iTunes, I don’t think it’s practical. It’s a multi-billion dollar business and market leader in song sales. Why kill that? Keep it for those who want music “forever.” It also makes the whole Apple Music thing more holistic. You can subscribe/unsubscribe and your Apple Music is still useful. It just works.

May
30

the first driverless city

The World’s First Driverless City May Be In China

Longer-term, says Jing, the hope is that a successful all-autonomous city will provide an example not just to the Chinese government, but to any city. If the experiment works, then other cities may be more likely to try it for themselves.

Other cities are already experimenting with ways to reduce car use. Germany is building a car-free neighborhood designed entirely around pedestrian use, and Oslo will ban cars entirely by 2019. It seems that, finally, we’re collectively starting to realize that the car has no place in the modern city. Driverless cars are a great stepping stone, as are electric vehicles, but ultimately the best result for city-dwellers (currently half of the world’s population) is a city where we can go unmolested by cars, and the ridiculous amount of space that they waste, whether parked or on the move.

I still don’t see why this isn’t an American “university town.” At my alma mater, Rutgers (New Brunswick), this would transform everything.

Rutgers-NB is a series of several completely separate campuses (Livingston, Busch, College Ave, & Cook/Douglass) spread across different cities, bisected by a major highway, multiple huge parking lots, with huge traffic issues.

Why aren’t Rutgers and Google working together to make a hub and spoke system? Each campus has a major parking lot where staff/students/visitors would park their car and get into a driverless car/van. A huge increase in usable land, decreased congestion, decreased pollution, resulting in faster trips and a much better experience (and probably a lower net cost for all). What am I missing?

Sidewalk Labs, should be all over this.

May
21

Byron Wien

The Life Report: Byron R. Wien

What a fantastic read! He’s an incredible market commentator and is featured in Barron’s this week. Loved the writing and his insights. Selections/reactions:

“Eventually I developed the necessary skills and became a partner of the firm. The lesson here is that you shouldn’t try to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life when you are a teenager.  Pursue your passion in college and the rest of your life will take care of itself.”

This is both common advice and also somewhat controversial. I’ve heard it argued that this only works if your passion is in something w/obvious commercial value. I don’t agree. In today’s world — with so much rapidly being automated and everything rote eventually to be absorbed by the borg — original thought, creative expression, and innovative thinking will be what earns value. I find it hard to see how one stumbles into these things without deeply caring, and dedicating oneself to an area. Working in an area well, without passion, without deep interest, seems like a fool’s errand. His advice is more valuable today than ever.

When giving career advice to young people, I tell them there is a perfect job out there for everyone, but most people never find it.  Keep looking.

Yes. I so agree with this. Now that I can afford to be selective with what I do, I spend the most time thinking about fit. Of late, it has certainly served me well. I only wish I grokked this earlier. I don’t see how this isn’t universally applicable.

In my job I’m expected to understand what is happening in the world and to identify secular change.  It seems clear that the United States and Europe are mature, overleveraged economies with dysfunctional governments.  Since growth will be slow, unemployment will be high and the standard of living for many people will decline.  Opportunities for young people will be fewer than the ones I could take advantage of.  There will be more social unrest.  I was born in the Depression and lived through the glorious years for America after World War II.  The future for these born now is not so bright.

I agree w/his general thrust on the nature of Western economies. But I disagree w/his final conclusion. I would amend as: The future for those being born, in a future projected forward as it looks today, is not bright. If one were to just project forward, I agree with him. But major advances in health, travel, energy, etc — could, of course, radically restructure our mode of living and economic system. In such a world, who’s to say creative freedom and the ability to find meaningful work won’t be greater?

Not having children is one regret, as I said.  Another is that I am estranged from my older brother to whom I loaned a large amount of money when my financial circumstances were marginal.  He never paid it back and lied to me throughout the process.  We talk only on our birthdays.

This struck a nerve. A question I’ve asked myself a lot of late: Can you see a regret coming and still do nothing to change it?

Fantastic read. Super interesting man.

May
20

back from hiatus

I’m back and hope to post regularly!

I’m switching it up. I’ll be posting my reaction to things on here. So my online presence will now look like:

Twitter: short-form reactions
This blog: longer-form reactions
Medium: my essays and formal blog posts
My email list (invite only, ping me if interested): personal long-form essays

 

:)

Aug
24

expectations

What’re your expectations?

Steve Jobs was in this zone when he talked about dogma in his wondrous Stanford speech:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

I thought of expectation as I read about stereotype threat in this (fascinating) article about a school exploring whether racism can be “un-taught.” Our expectations for ourselves and other’s assumptions- their expectations of us- are such interesting, invisible, and powerful forces. I believe they quietly determine much of our lives. Almost the invisible puppet strings of a long life; the dots we only connect looking backward.

“Expectations” are complicated. Whose expectations? Ours? Others? If you don’t internalize, don’t notice, or just don’t give a shit about others expectations of you, do they even matter?

I remember many expectations: From family, kids I grew up with, and others in my orbit. Most importantly, I can, years after, see how they all resolved so insidiously and powerfully into the expectations I would form for myself.

I believe if we’re not careful our expectations wander off into the wilderness of our brain and return as the dogma that dictates our lives. The unspoken trappings of a life we never truly wanted. Accepting the more prestigious position instead of the more intriguing opportunity. Striving for a trophy spouse that validates our sense of worth instead of a kindred connection. Moving up into the house, cars, and vacations of your peers. Accepting a value system instead of consciously choosing one. It’s keeping up with the Jonses, writ large and internal.

What is choice, anyway? If I’m just this amalgamation of memories and experiences that form my unique perspective on the world, isn’t that just the dataset that trained my decision-making algorithm? Is that the me “choosing”?

I started this letter weeks ago and now have no idea why I started on this topic. Maybe it’s born of an existential longing to understand my current situation.

After the recent sale of my company, I’ve been asked “What’s next?” a lot. I guess it’s a nice logical point of transition to some next big thing. I’m asked by strangers and loved ones, alike.  My answer came quick and some variation of: No plan. I’m going to see how it goes. The one day, too many, I wake up unhappy, I’ll make a move. Until then I’m sated and committed to growing in the soil. I often say the right things to superficial questions because I both hate small talk (effective answers don’t prolong it) and because I’m a practiced bullshitter. But I was a bit startled when I realized I totally meant it this time. Then I wondered if some folks asked because of their expectations of me.

Having done so much random stuff, were they wondering if something exciting… something big, maybe even important was next? I’m not really sure. It’s a subtle, self-inflicted pressure I’ve felt before. The creeping notion in the back of my brain wondering if I’ve hemmed myself in by a limited view of the future and of possibility. It yearns to not suffer from a failure of imagination (or courage) and pushes me to be bolder, more ambitious, to realize some untapped potential within. For now, that voice is quiet and maybe held at bay. It’s been replaced by an internalized expectation both simple, yet powerful: I should be happy each day, however that looks to me.

For now I accept this as a reasonable, acceptable, and (maybe even) wise expectation.

Aug
17

little aliens

Growing up, I was always aware of how different my parents were from everyone else’s. It’s not just that we ate different food at home, that they dressed differently, or even just that they had accents. It was all of it; this feeling that they could never understand me. I now recognize this as the universal and quintessential trait of adolescence, and not unique to having immigrant parents. Every kid feels this way.

There’s more to it, though. I first saw it expressed by Jhumpa Lahiri. She captured this sense of what makes growing up the children of immigrants so different: Parents’ fear that they’ve made a terrible mistake leaving their homeland and that their children will pay the price. There’s a sense of being lost in time — as much as they come from a different country— they more importantly, came from a different time. It wasn’t just living in India that my parents were thinking of when they evaluated my behavior, it was of living in an India of 30 years ago. It’s a yardstick frozen in time and vulnerable to the same malleability that afflicts all memories.

All of this adds up. It’s why, at a certain point, I realized that my brother and I probably seemed like little aliens to my parents. They grew up in small villages in India spanning the 1940’s-60’s. As relatively spoiled kids growing up in the 1980’s-90’s in America, we were pretty far afield. I won’t list out what differed in our relative experiences, because it’s probably everything. We were their little alien offspring.

I recognize that this cycle will repeat. While I’ll have the shared experience of an American childhood with my kids, there will be a huge difference. My youth was so marked by scarcity and my parents’ fear of not attaining upward mobility for their kids. There weren’t really vacations, we didn’t go out for meals, no new cars, clothes were out-of-fashion and ill-fitting, braces that came too late, and all the other dressings of the working class. As important, I always felt the ominous cloud of worry — that our position was precarious, that something worse was lurking — and it still lingers with me. While the expenses of my lifestyle are basically unfathomable to my parents, it’s also well below what I could spend. It’s the mark of upbringing.

My (imaginary) kids will grow up without this cloud of worry. They won’t suffer from without and they won’t be working class. It was such a defining part of my growing up, that I imagine in someways it’ll be hard for me to relate to them. Going further, back then I resented those other kids. My (still imaginary) kids will be those kids. As a kid I felt marked as an outsider due to my ethnicity, my parents being different than everyone else’s, and by our working class lifestyle. While my (still totally imaginary) kids will probably look different than other kids, that’s much less of a big deal in today’s post-racial America (ha!), and their parents will be culturally and economically similar to their peers. They won’t want. They won’t be outsiders. They’ll be little aliens to me.

In fact, I’ve seen this already. I have three cousins who I consider far more siblings than cousins. In my role as baby of the family, everyone’s much older. All married, there are 7 kids in this next generation. The eldest offspring off to college next year. As I’ve watched their whole gaggle of kids over the past decade+, I’ve always been struck at how stunningly different their adolescence is from mine. Aliens, indeed.

Originally sent via my weekly-ish newsletter

Apr
22

journals

Have you ever kept a journal?

I’ve got 15ish years with various incarnations. My first was a LiveJournal created in the dying light of the 90’s. It birthed a few friendships/pen-pals and lasted a few years before I nuked it. I don’t remember what I posted, but I’m confident it was properly self-absorbed, poorly written, and vapid.

I concluded that the public nature of LiveJournal was a problem and decided to kick it Doogie Howser style. Using the “.LOG” function in Microsoft Notepad, for four+ years I memorialized my histrionic thoughts. Buried at the bottom of a box at my parents, in the rubble of all my x-country moves, is a CD-R w/the files. It’s been 7ish years since I’ve seen them and I’m incredibly curious of what I’ve written. One thing I know is in there: weeks and weeks of entries about the first girl to break my heart (umm…kind of mortified to read those). Next week when I head back for Christmas, I’ll poke around and see if I can find those files. Because, after all, there’s nothing like reading something, only to find the author utterly foolish, petulant, and unsympathetic.

I have terrible handwriting. Still, I was carried away by the romantic idea of journaling in a moleskin. Over the course of a decade I’ve nearly finished filling two editions. Some weeks feature multiple entries, while other periods have gaps of multiple seasons or even just a single entry for a year. Some of my most painful memories are in those books. The writing so visceral, it feels like blood on a page. When I’m nostalgic and foolish enough to look back, I might only get to read a sentence or two before I have to put it away.

Since June I’ve been using a journal for the Mac & iPhone called DayOne. I adore it and have been writing almost daily. This has been my most regular period of journaling since summer of ’02.

My journaling has totally been worth it. It’s how I make sense of the jumbles of feelings in my mess of a head. It’s how I call bullshit on my self. I like to think that I’ve evolved so much. That, over the years, I’m so much more sophisticated, smarter, and world-ready. Yet wading back into the journals always dispels this idea. So much repeats: tone, sentiment, struggles, joys. I don’t like to think of myself as predictable, but the truth is on the page. Often in really shitty handwriting.

Note: This was the first note I sent out to my email list in 2014. Subscribe here.

Jul
19

creativity, inc

Great passage from our latest company book club selection, Creativity, Inc:

Hindsight is not 20-20. Not even close. Our view of the past, in fact, is hardly clearer than our view of the future. While we know more about a past event than a future one, our understanding of the factors that shaped it is severely limited. Not only that, because we think we see what happened clearly— hindsight being 20-20 and all— we often aren’t open to knowing more. “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it— and stop there,” as Mark Twain once said, “lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again— and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.” The cat’s hindsight, in other words, distorts her view. The past should be our teacher, not our master.

Jan
11

stimulus withdrawal.

A few days ago I decided that I’d start 2014 with a pretty simple change: To seek less stimulus. I wrote a blog post and a status update sharing my impending Facebook absence. I sent an email at work to no longer expect immediate email responses. The changes ended up being:

  • No more Facebook.
  • Conditions allowing, moving to limited windows of checking & responding to emails.
  • Limiting  Twitter + daily consumption of news, RSS, etc  to a couple of slugs a day.

Why? Listed in order from most tangible to the most abstracted:

1) Productivity – I’ve chosen to give up these things so that I can be more productive. I feel like I can use time better, specifically towards more directed tasks and projects. I’ve ended every year not accomplishing as much as I had hoped and with a vague notion that I’d left “opportunity on the table.”

2) Stillness – Reducing noise. Constantly checking email, twitter, facebook, espn, techcrunch, et al, did satisfy my curiosity and staved off boredom. But I was never allowing my mind to sit still. Instead I was constantly feeding it stimuli, which caused to to feel constantly “on the go.” At one point I might have considered that a feature. Today that’s very much a bug.

3) Substance – Finally, as explained in my previous post, I did this because I have a number of doubts as to the “realness” of my virtual relationships. Going further, I wonder if rather than being accretive to my life, if they actually hinder the progress I’m trying to make in being a better, happier human.

Since the new year, I’ve read a few blog posts from others trying something similar. Clearly these feelings go beyond me. I don’t think I’m doing anything complicated. I’m just trying to increase the signal-to-noise ratio of my everyday using the most basic of concepts: focus. I’m trying to stay focused on being present in the moment. It’s an ancient and probably overused phrase. My only resolution was to focus more on whatever I chose to experience that day. That partially manifests itself in that above list.

Making this change obviously comes with a cost. After all, nothing’s free. I’ll see many less news stories, pieces of market data, internet memes, and all the rest, making me less well-informed. I’ve always thought my consumption of all this information was a key strength. That my creativity was fueled by connecting the frameworks of all these disparate topics. Yet I think this is tradeoff is worth it. What I’ll gain from thinking more deeply on fewer projects, by being more present in each of my daily experiences, and having more whitespace, will result in its own kind of knowledge, creativity, and happiness. I guess we’ll see.