My Favorite Things Right Now

Thought I would share some cool stuff thats made its way into my life most recently.  This is a random walk of technology, books, apparel and music.  Take what you like, leave the rest.  Here goes!

Books

  • Born to Run by Chris McDougall.  For those of you that count running/jogging as a hobby, this is a fantastic read.  Very well written non-fiction about the ultra-distance running phenomenon focusing primarily on the Tarahumara Indians from Mexico’s Copper Canyon Region.  Humorous, educational read that inspired the barefoot running movement in the US.
  • The Big Short by Michael Lewis.  Incredible read inside the 2008 mortgage collapse, focusing on the big Wall Street firms, mortgage banks, Moody’s and others involved in the debacle.  Also includes some individual and small firm stories that made the right bets and raked in jaw-dropping profits, in one example 3 guys trading out of their Berkeley house made $80M on a $100,000 investment.  Crazy.
  • The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.  I am just now making my way through this 600-page reference manual that is a result of Tim’s personal 10-year quest to find “For all things physical, what are the tiniest changes that produce the biggest results?”  Pretty incredible claims in this book, many of them counterintuitive but personally experienced by Tim and almost always defended by scientific explanation.  Really interesting stuff especially if you’d like to lose some weight or massively increase endurance or strength by spending the least amount of effort and time to do so.

Technology, Music

  • Vitamix 5200 industrial strength blender.  Renee and I are breakfast smoothie freaks – protein, veggies and fruit blended at supersonic speeds to produce an incredibly healthy meal.  Traditional juicers filter the fiber from the ingredients taking out substantial nutrients.  With the Vitamix, you pile it all in and let the jet engine take it from there.  For $500, this blender should create the most heavenly and healthy smoothie ever.  And it does!  Not to mention the 7-year warranty.
  • Google Reader RSS Feed Aggregator.  After getting to the point of subscribing to way too many blogs and news feeds via email, I’ve now aggregated them all into an automated RSS aggregator and have all of my reading in one view.  Since I use Google for email, calendar and contacts (Gmail), its a natural choice for me.  There’s a ton of options out there for RSS aggregation and reading.
  • Polar RS800CX Multisport w/ GPS wrist computer for running and cycling.  This is a pretty awesome device that measures and tracks just about everything – Heart Rate, Speed, Distance, Route (Google Earth), Calories, and on and on.  It’s a wrist mounted device so you can use it for both running and cycling.  The only downside for cyclists is the inability to program routes and see them before and during your ride (like the Garmin Edge 705), but that’s the tradeoff to get a non-clunky, wrist mounted device.
  • RockMelt social browser.  This product is really cool, particularly if you are an avid user of social media, Facebook and Twitter specifically.  It’s actually an entirely new browser, a replacement for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc. and it rocks!  It functions just as your current browser does, except it integrates your social media applications around the border of the browser.  No need to have a separate tab for Twitter or Facebook, you can see with a glance all of your social media feed information and which of your contacts are online.  There are mobile apps as well so you have a seamless experience no matter where you are and which platform you are using.  A friend of mine just took a leadership role at this company, which recently closed a $30M round of funding from tier 1 VC’s.
  • Turntable.fm shared music experience.  This is a brand new service where you can create your own rooms by music theme, invite your friends to join, and jam out by DJing, searching for and playing your own music.  You can also join other rooms based on the type of music you are in the mood to listen to.  This is an incredibly social music experience, with real-time chat, avatars, points system and just great music.
  • Uber car service in SF and NY.  If you travel to SF, Palo Alto or NY and want a fantastic, hassle free car service (50% premium to taxi fares), download the Uber app and enjoy the experience.  Create your profile with credit card information, then simply request a car through the app.  It will tell you precisely how far away the driver is, provide her name and ratings and when your ride is finished, you jump out no payment or tip required.  Your credit card is charged automatically and receipt emailed to you.  SF is an awful city to hail a taxi, particularly when it rains.  Uber to the rescue!  Watch out for these guys they are about to expand into Seattle, Chicago, Boston and DC.
  • Quora answers everything, and does it intelligently through crowd sourcing.  I’ve been really impressed with the quality of topics, answers and discussion on Quora – a more opinionated but real-time wikipedia.  You can follow topics or people and because answers can be “voted up” by the community, it ensures the most valuable, useful answers are seen first.

Apparel

  • (Near) Barefoot running with Vibram FiveFinger shoes.  After reading Born to Run, I gave barefoot running a go more as an experiment that a convert.  So far its been good and pointing out how under-developed certain muscles, especially calves, have become using cushioned running shoes and (arguably) improper form.  I’m still using a mix of barefoot and traditional running shoes in order to keep my mileage up as I ease into the new process and attempt to avoid injury.  Another “how to” book for barefoot running is The Barefoot Running Book by Jason Robillard.
What are your favorite things right now?

The Founder Conference

I attended The Founder Conference this week in Mountain View, CA.  I don’t really attend many conferences, but every once in a while I’ll go to an event if there are a few speakers I’d like to see.  This one had two and it was a decent event, with about 500 entrepreneurs in attendance to hear some startup luminaries like Guy Kawasaki and Naval Ravikant speak about startup funding and delighting your initial customers.  Additionally, Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, gave a killer talk about the success and growth of his company and how he did it.

I intended on summarizing some of the key points, but there’s someone else who did a stellar job, even shooting video of the event.  See Dan Odio’s Founder Conference Blog Page for a re-cap and great video.

For the highlights, I suggest the following:

  • If you are interested in raising money for your startup or understanding what is happening in the VC/Angel marketplace right now, definitely watch Guy & Naval’s talks.  Guy Kawasaki is a serial entrepreneur, former Chief Evangelist for Apple and author of Enchantment.  And he’s a great, engaging speaker.  Naval Ravikant is also a serial entrepreneur and recent founder of AngelList that brings together founders with Angel investors – about 1900 of them!  He knows a thing or two about what’s happening in the marketplace for startup funding.
  • If you want to hear a great startup success story and be awed by how to really track performance and understand your customer’s needs and behavior, then watch Phil’s talk on Evernote.

These 3 presentations I thought were the best, most useful of the day.  Enjoy!

On My “To Read” Shelf

Unfortunately, my “to read” shelf is growing faster than I can clear my “currently reading” shelf.  Busy with work and lot’s of travel have encroached on my reading time.  But here are the books on my list, as usual a mix of business, personal interest and self-improvement.

The Presence Process:  A Healing Journey into Present Moment Awareness by Michael Brown.  Recommended by family, always healthy I believe to have a self-awareness read in the queue.

The Big Short:  Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, the author of Liar’s Poker and The Blind Side.  A close friend recommended this read which delves into the macrocosmic tale of greed and fear during the 2007/8 Wall Street crisis.

Born to Run:  A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall.  A personal journey into understanding ultra-distance running as a way of life, health and contentment among the Mexican Tarahumara tribe.  My running life has become un-fun and too functional, so am looking for a little inspiration.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.  This book was written nearly 75 years ago now as a philosophical approach to living life and interacting with our fellowman, conceived through research and personal interviews of leaders of that time – Ford, Edison, Rockefeller, Graham Bell and 500 others.

Little Bets:  How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries by Peter Sims (@petersims).  Sims is an entrepreneur, VC and author of True North.  His research contends that many of the most successful companies and individuals did not result from some genius idea, but rather through a masterful approach to experimentation and learning.  Excited to read this one, it has just recently been released.

Do More Faster:  TechStars Lessons to Accelerate your Startup by Brad Feld (@bfeld) and David Cohen (@davidcohen).  TechStars is a successful startup accelerator operating in several U.S. cities co-founded by Feld and Cohen.  I follow both actively through Twitter and their individual blogs and have met Brad recently.

I need to find a way to carve out more reading time before this list gets out of hand!

What’s on your list?

Goal Setting and My Happiness Project, Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the age old question, “Where do I want to be in 5 years, personally & professionally?”  Like I said before, impending fatherhood has a tendency to make you think about all sorts of stuff that is typically “easy” to avoid.  That, in combination with some changes likely in my professional world, is leading me to dig a bit deeper in this area.  Some of my thinking on this subject has also been influenced by a book I recently completed titled The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  It’s a tedious read, but its a story of her 1-year project to identify and document those things that bring her happiness, joy, satisfaction and engagement in life and also to identify those things that bring anger, guilt, boredom and remorse.  Out of this exercise comes a set, again documented, of resolutions to pursue and principles that guide her actions broken into monthly objectives over a 1-year period.  Gretchen is quick to point out that you don’t have to be unhappy to embark on a Happiness Project, rather its an explicit and written attempt to identify and focus on those things that already bring happiness in your life and to minimize those things that don’t.  I’m at a great place in life right now with a new and wonderful wife, a baby boy on the way, but this seems like an interesting experiment and a way to get committed to some life planning.  In fact, by sharing my plans to do it here, I’m already committed!

I posted recently about training for a difficult cycling event in May that is requiring a disciplined, daily approach to executing against a documented plan in order to successfully achieve the goal.  For this type of fitness or event training, I’m typically very diligent, disciplined and ultimately successful.  Interestingly, I don’t always apply this same goal-oriented approach to other things in life, both personally and professionally.  But is it any different?  Having a goal or objective, no matter what its nature or time frame would likely benefit from this type of planning, right?  When I tell people that I’ve completed an Ironman Triathlon, they often say “I could never do that” and I always respond that ANYONE can do it, not tomorrow or the next day, but six months or a year from now with a detailed roadmap that starts easy, yes you can.

So this post is a setup to several more  in this series –

1. My process for identifying 5-year personal goals

2. My development of a professional plan to achieve 5-year career objectives

3. My Happiness Project

As Yin to my Yang, Renee reminded me after reading a previous post that life shouldn’t only be about planning for the future,  but also living in the moment and enjoying life as it comes.  Yes, brilliant, I agree!  So I’ll commit to “Living in the Moment” being one of my Happiness Project resolutions.

Bear with me, there’s work to do here!

What Are You Reading?

While I wouldn’t consider myself a voracious reader, I do have a habit of reading 2-3 books concurrently and they are typically of varied content.  I also have a hard time getting through an entire book unless it is very well written and engaging.  For whatever reason, I’m finding the interesting and important components in a lot of the books I’ve read lately could be communicated in 20 pages or less.  I guess I need to find better books… or get a longer attention span.

Anyway, here are the books I’m currently reading –

1. The New Dad’s Survival Guide: Man-to-Man Advice for First-Time Fathers by Scott Mactavish.  As an expecting father, I’m absorbing quite a few books in this category.  This book is laugh-out-loud funny, seriously I blurt out laughing, and easy to read, written in a quasi-military drill sergeant tone with acronyms like NFU (New Family Unit or baby), FPP (Female Parenting Partner) and BCF (Be Cool, Fool).  It’s more humor than useful, but it’s a welcome relief from some of the other father-focused books that are not only serious, but packed with more information that anyone could possibly absorb.

2. The Reason For God:  Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.  It’s interesting how being a first time expecting parent can affect areas of your life that you haven’t given much thought to lately.  Spirituality and religion, for me, is a case in point.  I grew up in an active Catholic household, which I think provided a good foundation of values, but I’ve never really explored other faiths, faith in general, and challenged that belief system that I grew up in.  It has been easy to put off.  But now I feel some responsibility as a father to do some research, explore my own beliefs and develop a point of view on religion so I can at least provide a foundation for my son until he is old enough to do his own exploration of his beliefs.  This book by Timothy Keller is very good.  He makes an analytical case for God and takes it one step further, for a Christian God.  However, he does it with a balanced approach by acknowledging many common objections to God, then presenting arguments for both viewpoints.  I’m enjoying this read and intend on my next book in this category to be the opposing argument.

3. Good to Great:  Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t by Jim Collins.  This is an annual re-read for me.  I’ve read this book a handful of times, it’s that good.  The leadership principles in this book are so spot on as I’ve had sufficiently varied experiences to see different leadership styles perform just as Jim predicts in his book.  This book keeps me in check.

4. Inside of a Dog:  What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Alexandra Horowitz.  I’m a huge animal lover, particularly of dogs.  I know everyone thinks their dog is the greatest, smartest, most affectionate animal on the plant and I feel the same way about my dog Foster (who passed in 2008).  I really wanted to find some analytical research into the mind of man’s best friend.  Whereas most books on the subject seem to be based on opinion and experience, Alexandra, a behavioral psychologist, actually performs behavioral studies and analysis to get inside the dog.  There are nuggets of interesting facts in this book, but I’m finding it difficult to read.  At the end of the day, how can we really know what our dog is thinking?  For the most important things we long to know about what our pets are thinking, I don’t think she definitively answers them.  Probably one of those books I won’t finish.

So, what are you reading?

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