Book: Michael Jordan – A Life

In the early/mid-90’s I idolized Michael Jordan. I obsessively followed the Bulls and at a time when my life lacked victories, my ultimate escape was Jordan and his Bulls who did nothing but win. My obsession so thorough that with the help of my 10th grade electronics teacher (thx, mr d!), I was able to hack together a cheap long-range AM radio antenna and listen in on the Bulls games all the way from Chicago. Weather permitting the signals to reach, I’d try for every game. Barring that, I checked the box score in the sports section upon waking, flushing out the details of events with imaginings of the drama I missed.

Thanks to Jordan’s third stint in the NBA with the Washington Wizards, I did get to see him play in person, once. Senior year at Rutgers I went to watch the Wizards play in NJ (remember when the Nets played there?) By that point, my obsession had all but faded but it was a tribute to my first childhood hero. I don’t remember exactly what did it, but within a few years I all but MJ out of my mind. I considered him harshly as a jerk and selfish person who, as a child, I had clung to an image of.

Things largely remained there over the past fifteen years and I’ve barely thought of the man and his legacy. Which is somewhat jarring, because I don’t exaggerate in saying my fandom was near the center of my identity as a kid. The memory of all that triggered me to order MIchael Jordan: The Life. No doubt that nostalgia helped spur me, but I also think I wanted to view him with adult eyes.

It was twenty five years ago that I read my last MJ book: The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith. The book is a searingly critical look at his being an asshole but also his competitiveness. But so deep was my adoration that it didn’t bother me then. We excuse what we love, even when we shouldn’t. I loved my idea of MJ: an underdog who willed himself to greatness; craved pressure and always delivered; the genius in our midst. I was too young to realize that those things (partially) could be true, and he could still be an asshole and that was fine.

Reading this book brought me back to my obsession. I was lost in it and just devoured it. Definitely critical towards the legendmaking — it revealed some bad stuff about his family (his parents), his gambling, and his proclivity to be an asshole. But it also humanized him and really brought me back to liking him again. While I never actively hated him, I kind of rolled my eyes at the 12 year old kid who worshipped the ground MJ walked on. After finishing the book, my admiration for the man increased even as I also realized I wouldn’t want to be like him. For anyone who grew up watching the Bulls, this book brings back all the memories and is pretty great.

*unedited…removed once i proofread/clean up.

Book: My Own Country

Ever since Cutting for Stone, I’ve been meaning to read more Verghese. This summer I finally got to The Tennis Partner and My Own Country.  The latter is the biographical story of the beginning of Verghese’s medical career in America. It reads as a palpably honest tale of the early years of a young doctor dealing with the emotions of being as an outsider in a newish country (Verghese is Ethiopian by birth, Indian by genetics) and struggling with the responsibilities/fit of marriage against the backdrop of the AIDS outbreak of the 80’s. I especially admired the raw honesty of his doubts, hopes, fears, and failures.

Less the focus of the book, and more reflective of where my head is at, I was particularly struck by his dedication and focus. He loved ministering to his patients and throws himself into his work — often, as he dwells on, at the expense of his marriage/family. He seemed to find deep meaning and purpose in his work. A feeling I am once again looking for and searching for. It’s been a summer filled with great books, and Country was one of them. It’s biographical non-fiction, but it read as effortlessly as great  fiction. 

Google Maps: the giant sleeps.

Update: 11/10 — Not surprisingly Facebook seems to have out-executed Google to market on big parts of this.

Alphabet (née Alphabet) has some great $-churning businesses: Search/Adwords, Display/Adsense, and YouTube. Diane Green’s cloud effortsWaymo, and DeepMind most often get labeled as the “next initiative likely to turn major.” But what about Google Maps? I’m long Google’s stock and see a lot of potential, that in short order, Maps can be a cash and engagement machine with tremendous strategic value to the rest of Alphabet.

First, I want to create the Google Maps “value stack”:

NAVIGATION
LOCAL STUFF FINDER
TRANSPORTATION
SOCIAL
TRIPS

  1. Navigation: Think Waze. It’s the driving directions and all that fun stuff that comes out of the data (alternative routes based on volume, accident notifications, etc).
  2. Local Stuff Finder: Think Yelp, FourSquare. Search is the core-competency of the company, and local search is naturally at home on a map. Gathering and presenting the data to easily find and make decisions on where to go. Everything from which coffee shop, dinner spot, or retail outlet to choose.
  3. Transportation: Think CityMapper. It’s a combination of pulling in the local transit options (train, bus, bike sharing) and marketplace for e-hail (uber, lyft).
  4. Social: Think Find My Friends, Facebook. Location sharing and status, finding events to go to (Google is pretty good at indexing) + seeing who is interested/attending, and opinion prompts to friends on a location you’re considering — both of which tie to #2.
  5. Trips: Think Google Flights/Kayak. Current interface works as a search for flight selection and then lends itself to navigating destination via map to book accommodation, suggested dining options to try, locations of interest for trip, friends addresses on map, etc.

#1 is obvious and Google already does a great job. In fact they own two great products — Waze and Google Maps. Not much to say here. Great job, Google.

#2 Google has invested here and they’re iterating to get better fit here. An additional area of expansion would be: retail. As Google tries to compete with Amazon (to stem the loss of product search…), an interesting approach might be specific product search that produces the physical local outlets to buy. I’m not sure about the technical implementation here (through POS integrations, photos (using ML product categorization), or some kind of OCR of supplier invoices?) but there’s a class of items (retail goods, food items, events, classes) that would benefit from a more granular search on a local level. The monetization potential here is 10/10 (the standard search model of featured relevant placement and pay for performance).

#3 It’s becoming something of new gospel that e-hail will be commoditized. The front end for directing demand could then capture a non-trivial amount in that value equation. While Google already offers a version of this they can prime this pump by improving all the local transit options. CityMapper is the platonic ideal of this. By building the habit of turning to it to check on availability of Citibikes, real-time MTA schedules, etc — it’s a natural transition from there to booking your Waymo (hello, Alphabet cousin!), or getting Uber to pay you a commission. I’d bet there’s real money in owning origination of trips however the future of transport nets out.

#4 Similar to Google Photos offering a natural place to start to build social interactions, Google Map’s “Share my Location” is a great start. It’s not hard to see how it can go from here to declaring interest (getting a drink post 5 today within a mile of where I am, interested in this concert, etc) or seeing which friend has been to a local place and pinging them w/a question. Google is the advertising money machine, and social data can be uber-valuable in building richer targeting profiles.

#5 is integrating/collapsing Google Flights/Trips into Maps. Through gmail/calendar, the details of my conference agenda and such can be automatically placed on to the map. Quick glance at the map can show me where I need to be at different times and ML can suggest places to go for food/drinks/coffee/etc that are efficient given where I’ll be and where I’ll be going. Since so much of this is lead generation, it’s another 10/10 for monetization potential. Nifty auto-generated trip itineraries are part of a few apps already, the natural home for them would be within a data-rich source like Google Maps.

“Where should I go and how do I get there?” is a natural fit and a deeply valuable place to be. More importantly it’s an obvious area for Google to double-down on within Maps given the massive investments the company has already made in the mapping stack, self-driving tech, local search/reviews/data, airfare/planning, and machine-learning. Google Maps locking down my interest graph, travel patterns, and tastes will allow it to serve as the de facto personalized remote control for the world around their users. That’s a multi-billion dollar business inside of a few years.

It’s Maps, Google Cloud, and their lead(?) in machine-learning that make me incredibly bullish on the company and the stock. I recently trimmed my Apple position in half (still bullish there, too!) and tripled-down on Google. I believe Facebook/Google will continue to consolidate ad share. ML-advances will help them optimize ad yields in the short-term. YouTube will help them continue to win as video ad dollars shift online. In the medium term I expect Cloud, Maps, and some wild cards to spring to life with new revenue streams.

When Morgan Stanley predicted Waymo could be worth $70 billion (!), I was a bit flabbergasted that the much closer-in Maps isn’t recognized for what’s about to come online.

The Defiant Ones

It’s true: Snoop loved the birds-nest-fro thing I had going.

Yes, this post is just 100% an excuse for me to use this photo of Snoop and me. But, also…

I binged The Defiant Ones last night. So. damn. good. The four four hours flew by.

The engine of the story is entrepreneurship. Both Dre and Jimmy are hustlers who scrapped their way up from the bottom. Watching their parallel journeys eventually intersect was fun and inspiring as hell. Anyone who is a creator will love it.

Other random thoughts:

Language: I watched w/mom and there’s just a ton of profanity. Ironically, there’s a cute scene where Dre’s mom talks of her initial discomfort with his lyrical vulgarity considering she didn’t think he normally speaks that way. She accepted that he had to “conform” in order to “make it.” Given he ended up cussing a f-ton in the interviews for the documentary, I wonder if he’s changed over time, or if he was putting on “that persona” for the filmmaker. My only point is don’t watch this with your mom.

What if? There’s a funny story that Jimmy tells of having a long breakfast with Suge Knight to keep him from a Warner exec who was going to use their leverage to push Suge to tone down the violence, etc. Jimmy is successful. Left unexamined was what might have happened. The counterfactual in Warner Music successfully getting Suge to tone down Death Row’s content might have ended in a de-escalation of the rap-wars and MAYBE MAYBE MAYBE Tupac and Biggie not getting killed. So maybe it was bad that he succeeded? Who knows.

Eco-systemsReid talks a lot about ecosystems and The Defiant Ones is basically a documentary about them. Without a healthy ecosystem in NYC, Jimmy would have never gotten his start with Lennon, Springsteen, etc. The constellation of talent, friends, mentors, et al played a huge role as he stretched to producer and then started up Interscope. The same thing was true for Dre. The people around you matter so so much.

Springsteen, Bono, Eminem, Snoop, Nas, Reznor, Stefani, Kendrick, Cube — a never-ending who’s who of talent speaking intimately to the camera. Here’s the literal image of my face the second I walked into the studio in 2006 and saw Snoop:

Also my face as I watched this documentary.

So, yeah. Watch it.

I Trust Donald Trump (more) Because He Fired Me

It went on for hours. I went to the meeting knowing that my prospects weren’t great. Still, I fought. I appealed to his ego. I reframed my decisions against what I knew about his own past. I attacked my enemy relentlessly. That I had a legit beef helped, too. Trump seemed to come around.

And, yet. He fired me.

I was sent out of the room twice. I knew this meant he was torn and therefore consulting advisors. He had gone into the meeting briefed that I was the most obvious firee. Yet, as we parried back-and-forth, I was getting through and changing his mind. It seemed that, instinctively, he liked was siding with me.

And, yet. He fired me.

This, of course, wasn’t real real life. It was The Apprentice. I was a contestant. The meeting was the “boardroom” segment. The advisors were the show’s producers.

In firing me, Trump heeded the advice of his experts — the producers much more involved in the show than himself. I only knew for sure that this is what happened later. After it was all over, and the show had aired, two different folks recounted the events of Trump’s acquiescence.

Today, I woke up (I’m in another time zone in South Asia) to a Washington Post news alert that Trump was considering military action in Syria. With my wicked jet lag, I’m basically unable to sleep more (at night, anyway). So I listen to podcasts hoping they’d help me drift off. They don’t. Instead I listen to things like Fresh Air and Terry Gross discuss a recent Huffington Post Highline article about how Trump’s impulsiveness could trigger a war with Russia.

As I laid awake and thought about all this, my mind drifted back to my time with him. Much of it ended up being in various boardrooms. I watched as he grilled contestants for information, impulsively fired contestants for trivial reasons (but probably good TV), and weighed conflicting counsel. While the first Apprentice winner, Bill, argued passionately on my behalf, ultimately he sided with the producers.

In hindsight, that was the right call. He wasn’t really hiring someone to work for him. The job was a sham. He was producing a TV show. I know now that 24-year-old-surya made pretty shitty TV. I was too anxious about how I’d be perceived, too caught up in trying to control everything. I didn’t have the wisdom to realize that with endless hours of footage, I’d never be able to control how I was portrayed. I was on a fool’s errand, and I didn’t realize it. My penance, that he ultimately executed against his own instincts, was firing me. It made sense in the context of the episode and it got a problematic reality TV pawn out of the way. Ultimately, the right call (though the show was doomed, anyway).

So: here we are. It’s been more than ten years since that day. Yet, its recollection gives me hope that our president is capable of listening to wise counsel when it counts.

OK, real talk: I don’t trust him. I’m just saying I trust him *more* than I would have if I hadn’t spent time with the man and had this look.

Let’s hope.

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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 (represented by an infinity symbol since it’s “owned”)

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.)

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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.

Can’t this be 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, be all over this.

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Byron Wien

The Life Report: Byron R. Wien

Wien’s an incredible market commentator, 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.