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Inspiration & Errata

Recently I’ve come across some guideposts that have inspired me to refresh. These are things worth sharing, though some have been around for a while.

– Charlie Kaufman’s screenwriting lecture for BAFTA. Soapboxing to be sure, but I was surprised at how much this moved me and how well thought out some of his arguments are. A reminder to have conviction in art that is honest and different and not too self-aware.

– Michael Lewis’s profile on President Obama. The respectful yet insider-y tone of this piece had me wishing it would last forever. Favorite detail: Obama’s lifehack of removing wardrobe and food choices to avoid decision fatigue.

Startup is the New Hipster. It’s exactly like that. Actually, all of Liz Fosslien’s infographics are great and inspire me to want to make more of my own. Edward Tufte would be proud. Plus: a Murakami madlib!

– Jenny Holzer’s Truisms. I don’t agree with all of them but that’s really the point: everyone arrives at their own list, their own model of the world. Mine’s just getting started.

2011 in Review

You didn’t think I’d skip tradition, did you?

I’ll say this, 2011: you taught me a lot. And while the natural inclination is to shower you with nostalgic encomiums, the more truthful answer is that you were a fairly uneven year filled with highs and lows both visceral and numbing. There is, not for the first time, possibly too much to think about, but here are a few of my favorite things from the year that was 2011:

Anything written by David Foster Wallace, “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, “Bossypants” by Tina Fey, “Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” by Haruki Murakami, “100 Bullets”, “Batman: Year One”, the idea and spiritual philosophy behind Grantland, the first hour of Super 8, the cinematic styling and evocative soundtrack of Drive, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class, Rose Byrne and Emma Stone in anything, the “Life’s a Happy Song” number from The Muppets, “Upular” by Pogo, “So Insane” by Discovery, “Brand New Shoes” by She & Him, the entire Foster the People album, my iPhone 4S, my work iPad 2, my 3rd generation Kindle, Apple TV, any coconut water I found anywhere, Philz coffee, the Blue Bottle bar at work, Mister Lew’s Win Win Bar, the bookshare at the gym of the Opera Plaza, the magazine rack at Books Inc., the super rolls at Them Ky, brunch at Brenda’s, any macaroon served by anyone anywhere, any Off the Grid or Underground Market I made it to, Derrick Rose’s Adidas commercial, the relentless Tom Thibodeau, the new and improved Jay Cutler, the ingenious storytelling mechanics of “How I Met Your Mother”, the midseason 2 finale of “The Walking Dead”, “Lie to Me”, “Archer”, the killer supporting cast of “Parks & Recreation”, season 4 of “The Wire”, Zooey Deschanel in “New Girl”, Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live”, “Game of Thrones” nights at the former house of Brad and Ben and Motts, all Netflix streaming apps, Time magazine for iPad, the redesigned UI of Path, Comic Zeal, Kindle for iPad and iPhone, Plants vs. Zombies, Jetpack Joyride, the gorgeous production values of Castleville, Final Fantasy VII on PSP, Dragonvale, the vastly improved controls for Mass Effect 2, Mark pushing the button to open the NASDAQ on the day of the IPO, the Frank Lloyd Wright tour in Chicago w/Mom and Dad, biking along the Embarcadero with Caryn, New Year’s dinner courtesy of Seeyew and Ashley, the Super Bowl party at the Potrero house with a stunning number of rabid Packers fans, Cubs vs. Giants at the company suite, Red Door Cafe w/Ben and Steven, the single trivia night I attended, the Gun Store in Las Vegas, the Asian party house at Sundance, conversations in the car with Emilio, conversations with Kishan in San Francisco, random startup parties with Anthony, watching plays written by or starring friends or friends of friends, shooting zombies and Smuggler’s Cove runs with Ben, pizzas with Caryn, drinks with Liz, comics talk with Chris and Stephen, anticipating the baked good every morning in the cafeteria at work, any time I went snowboarding, Mars Bar with the team at work, Rebecca’s Christmas party, Cathy’s birthday dinner, Thanksgiving II at Sallie and Danielle’s, Henry and Melissa’s first dance at their wedding, launching my first iOS game, reuniting with Curtis and Vee on the dance floor of the holiday party, the incredibly long summer-in-the-fall-in-San-Francisco, the mild winter in Chicago, falling asleep at night listening to Steve Jobs interviews and speeches, the brief and wondrous life of Steve Jobs.

新年快乐!

Yeah, it’s kind of like that

“I haven’t been spending that much time in this restaurant because of all the shit that’s been going on,” he began, “but the past two days I’ve had aneurisms because I’ve been so upset at the kitchen. On the cooks’ end, I question your integrity. Are you willing to fucking sacrifice yourself for the food? Yesterday, we had an incident with fish cakes: they weren’t properly cut. Does it really matter in the bowl of ramen? No. But for personal integrity as a cook, this is what we do, and I don’t think you guys fucking care enough. It takes those little things, the properly cut scallions, to set us apart from Uno’s and McDonald’s. If we don’t step up our game, we’re headed toward the middle, and I don’t want to fucking work there.

“We’re not the best cooks, we’re not the best restaurant—if you were a really good cook you wouldn’t be working here, because really good cooks are assholes. But we’re gonna try our best, and that’s as a team. Recently, over at Ssäm Bar, a sous-chef closed improperly, there were a lot of mistakes, and I was livid and I let this guy have it. About a week later, I found out that it wasn’t him, he wasn’t even at the restaurant that night. But what he said was ‘I’m sorry, it will never happen again.’ And you know what? I felt like an asshole for yelling at him, but, more important, I felt like, Wow, this is what we want to build our company around: guys that have this level of integrity. Just because we’re not Per Se, just because we’re not Daniel, just because we’re not a four-star restaurant, why can’t we have the same fucking standards? If we start being accountable not only for our own actions but for everyone else’s actions, we’re gonna do some awesome shit.”

David Chang

Podcast Review: This Week in Startups

This Week in Startups

The opening title card of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid reads, “Most of what follows is true.”  The same could be said for the content of entrepreneur Jason Calacanis’s weekly video/audio podcast, This Week in Startups (or TWiST, as aggressively abbreviated throughout the show).  Calacanis’s contract with his audience is that he will always speak his mind, and he will usually (but not always) be right.

Based on the episodes I’ve seen thus far, it’s hard to disagree.  In this post-postmodern age of self promotion, where every individual is a self-branded social marketing expert (expert in the marketing of ME), a camera can be placed in front of anyone. The results are hit or miss.  TWiST succeeds primarily through its honesty: it’s clear that every opinion and anecdote the host provides is passionate, unrehearsed, and (as promised) usually insightful.  The show’s unvarnished production values lend to this authenticity — for a podcast that actually has sponsors and claims to run in the black, there’s a remarkably consistent lack of visible producing involved: transitions to phone callers, video and sound cues are nearly always muffed, and expletives are rarely edited out despite references to a human tape logger that exists solely for this purpose.  Where this comes in most unwieldy is in each show’s running length: sessions can range from a little over an hour to just over two and a half hours.  There’s something to admire in the sheer audacity of this fact, but on the whole one senses the same content could be delivered in half the time; sometimes less really is the same.

Episode 13 features many of the show’s recurring segments: there’s “Ask Jason,”  reminiscent of the lightning round on Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” where entrepreneurs call in to get Calacanis’s thoughts on their ideas; an interview with a featured entrepreneur (in this case Matt Mickiewicz, founder of SitePoint and 99designs); a segment called “The News,” where again Calacanis provides his off-the-cuff reactions to tech news stories; “The Deadpool,” where recently destructed startups are announced; and “Homework,” which appears to be an audio bookclub/marketing segment for Audible.com.

Calacanis’s personality and his ability to tell an engaging story are clearly the driving force behind the show — tangents are prone to superfluous name-dropping or backdoor bragging, but they’re usually more entertaining than not, ranging from a hilarious gift for hyperbole (“An iPhone costs what now, seventy thousand dollars a month?”) to comically vicious vendettas (pity Jimmy Wales, who had the poor misfortune to launch a competing product to Calacanis’s own Mahalo).  Calacanis’s competitive East Coast personality is a surprisingly endearing love-hate proposition, though it’s hard to envision him occupying the same room as a Mark Cuban, one of his current investors.  (For a good proxy, check out Episode 14 for some fascinating repartee between Calacanis and none other than Michael Arrington.)

Overall, the show could use the general tightening up that comes with practice.  One hopes that Calacanis will eventually be able to quarterback the episodes to a more consistent length and content, both live and in the editing room.  Guest interviews can probably follow a more standard template — perhaps prototypical of this space, Matt Mickiewicz proves an amiable but somewhat reticent fellow, requiring Calacanis to shoulder most of the work.  The number of segments could also be cut or follow a rotating schedule.

Still, Calacanis’s heart is in the right place — his fierce desire to win, his belief in the middle class work ethic and his numerous marketing ploys to boost interest and traffic for himself and his sponsors — are all worthy of admiration.  There’s also a generosity of spirit that can’t be faked; even in his harsher criticisms of pitches (during a new “Shark Tank” segment, where callers literally pitch their startup ideas to get feedback) it’s clear that he’s willing to stay open-minded and encouraging.

There’s no telling how long this train ride will last, but This Week in Startups would do well to stay true to its core passion and truths — it offers a fascinating viewpoint on the current zeitgeist of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Burgeoning powers

There are two people I’m extremely jealous of these days. They’re actually kind of struggling where they are right now, but I think they’ve been thrust into fantastic opportunities that they will eventually be able to deliver on. I think what I’m even more jealous of is the fact that I know they are learning and growing and bettering themselves with every passing moment. There are certainly days when I’m able to feel this way at my job, but these guys inspire true envy.

1) Mark Zuckerberg — CEO of a property no less than Facebook in his early twenties. Yeah, he started out knowing nothing about business. And yeah, those first few press interviews and Facebook keynotes were cringe-worthy, particularly when the poor guy actually tried to channel Steve Jobs. But dude’s only in his 20’s, and sitting on a frakking goldmine just begging to be monetized. This thing’s got legs, and the potential to truly be a long-term business. Just give him time: if he plays it right, he will be Jobs in a few decades.

2) Jimmy Fallon — new host of Late Night. I’ve only seen an episode and a half so far, and it seems like it’s been a little rough going. But how awesome is it to be given your own late night talk show? Setting aside the fact that choosing him to replace Conan seemed pretty out of left field, it’s clear that anyone backed by Lorne Michaels is going to get more than a fair shot. Conan took a while to hit his stride, and I’m sure Fallon will do the same.

So if there’s one thing I’m really saying in this post, it’s that I want to be a startup CEO who hosts his own talk show. Totally doable, right? Though what I really want to do is direct.