Monday, December 31, 2012

By Request: Top Albums/Tracks/Collabs of 2012

A L B U M S*

1. Tame Impala: Lonerism
2. Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music
3. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, M.A.A.D. City
4. Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream
5. Frank Ocean: Channel ORANGE
6. Andy Stott: Luxury Problems
7. Passion Pit: Gossamer
8. Grizzly Bear: Shields
9. Japandroids: Celebration Rock
10. Beach House: Bloom
HM. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: The Heist

T R A C K S**
1. Frank Ocean: "Pyramids"

2. Grizzly Bear: "Sleeping Ute"

3. Tame Impala: "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards"

4. Miguel: "Adorn"

5. Passion Pit: "Take A Walk"

6. Kendrick Lamar: "Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst"

7. Usher: "Climax"

8. Grimes: "Oblivion"

9. Andy Stott: "Sleepless"

10. Crystal Castles: "Affection"

C O L L A B O R A T I O N S***
1. A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Drake: "F*cking Problem"
2. Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz: "Mercy"
3. Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock: "Money Trees"
4. Frank Ocean, Ryan Hemsworth: "Thinkin Bout You" (Remix)
5. Burial, Four Tet: "Nova"
6. Schoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky: "Hands On The Wheel"
7. Jessie Ware, Disclosure: "Running" (Remix)
8. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: "Same Love"
9. Killer Mike, Bun B, T.I., Trouble, El-P: "Big Beast"
10. The xx, Four Tet: "Angels" (Remix)

* HM = Honorable Mention and does not necessarily rank at #11
** Excludes repeated artists (#s 1-4, 6) and collaborations for breadth
*** Remixes included, also prioritizes breadth over repeats (#s 2, 8)
    NB: It's unfortunate that "rock bands" don't collaborate as often
        or attract more remixes like rap, r&b and electronica

Friday, December 28, 2012

Founders At Work: Book Review

Author: Jessica Livingston

Length: 453 pages

What is It: An inside look at the creation of some of technology's most popular and most innovative startups, as told by the founders themselves through interviews. 

What's Said: Founders go through the evolution of their startups from conception to execution and often through exit. Difficulties, mistakes and setbacks are disclosed. Turning points and surprises of the businesses and their skills are discussed. Founders share times when they or their product were misjudged/misunderstood. The triumphs and tribulations of bootstrapping and funding are laid bare. Includes direct advice for potential entrepreneurs. Interviews are grouped by company and loosely ordered by relevance to previous interviews or technologies.

What's True: Founders tend to be product and user driven. Absolute persistence is a necessity. Adaptability and flexibility are key because nothing goes according to plan. Constraints on resources like time and money often spur creativity. Trust and culture are incredibly important between (1) startup founders, (1) + (2) first hires, and (1) + (3) active investors. Startups are very often built to solve personal problems or as vehicles for significant impact. Founders deliberately nurture incredible ideas, but they also simply stumble into them. Entrepreneurs create value from depth of experience as well as from naivety. Timing and luck are notable x-factors in the success or failure of a business. Good advice is not necessarily correlated with spectacular success, i.e. do not discount the startups/entrepreneurs you have not heard of.

So What: Each venture has its own solution that must be optimized for, but Founders at Work outlines very timely variables in the startup equation. Beyond the practical, FW can serve as a good motivational guide for frustrated, impatient or weary entrepreneurs. It humanizes these heroes who have often attained mythical qualities from afar (with some exceptions). By the end, Founders seems to ask the question, "Now that you know these things, what are you going to do about it?"

Final Word: Definite Read

Monday, December 17, 2012

Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream. Album Sketch

year: 2012

tones of:  r kelly, prince, cody chesnutt, marvin gaye, the weeknd (opposite twins), the isley brothers

genre samples: r&b, soul, house, quiet storm, the zombies (the end of: don't look back), labi siffre/eminem (parts of: kaleidoscope dreams), funk

music: futuristic, smooth, uptempo, danceable, pulsating, playful, silky, enveloping, head rocking

singing: soulful, pining, versatile, commanding, intense, high range, confident, crooning, independent

lyrics: sexy, intimate, raw, simple, r-rated, straight forward, blunt, amateurish 

favs: adorn, don't look back, do you..., kaleidoscope dream, the thrill, where's the fun in forever, p***y is mine, candles in the sun

score: 8.5/10 (pushes and bends r&b. miguel is future and past.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Startup Standouts: CB Insights


CB Insights is a financial services firm that collects private company information (including startups) to power data driven analytics, insights, tools, and statistics for those same companies and the general/investing public.

Location: New York, NY
Size: < 10 people
Funding: $650k in NSF grants
FoundersAnand Sanwal (CEO) / Jonathan Sherry

Why it stands out:
- Value proposition: aggregates often hard to find/get data on private and early stage companies 
- Provides simple, frequent, digestible data insights at the industry level
- The most consistent and comprehensive private company funding data flow that I've seen anywhere
- Hard won, slow built reputation topped by partnerships with Forbes and Silicon Valley Bank

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Shooting Technology Across the Bow

This is a warning shot.

There appear to be many cultural behaviors creeping into Technology that surprisingly look like common practices from Finance during its days as master of the main deck. Here are a few.

Free Agency
You can clearly see this when major players from the hottest firms jump ship to the latest hottest firms, particularly with the more visible companies like Google and Facebook. The discerning question is: what is the motivation? Are these sharp shooters compelled to move because they want to face the next challenge and reap the equity returns or are they being lured because of a good deal on trading up responsibility and a bigger paycheck? If it is more of the latter, beware.

Opaque Screening
Here are the symptoms: Requiring x years experience for a position whose category only came into existence less than x ago. The catch-22 demand of industry specific expertise, when effectively the whole team is learning on the job. Downgrading front door applicants because they did not come through the side door (connections). The lack of clarity or communication on final decisions after interviews. These are all the little details of elitism - a good way to build yourself at odds with the general public.

Mishandled Talent
This is in partial a root cause of the first observation, but deserves to be separated. There is massive demand for engineering talent in the Bay Area, and fierce competition for it. As a result, the perqs and pay have gotten misaligned with contribution - but the ability to code is only worthwhile in the context of other talent. This atmosphere creates a culture where every other skill is devalued or grossly undervalued in the startup context. See: treatment of engineers in east coast finance. As a result you end up with the free agency problem and a talent-inflation problem.

Hollywood Interest
Granted this is a bit more on the frivolous side, but every time finance seemed to get a little heady, Hollywood got a little ahead of itself with a TV show based on the industry. Remember: The $treet, Wall Street Warriors or Traders? Of course not. They got canceled. Bravo now has a reality television show based on the startup life called Silicon Valley. That will get canceled too, but not before reputations and public impressions get formed. You get the point.

How will Silicon Valley hold up against these early encroachments on its collaborative and innovation culture? Let us hope it does much better than Wall Street did over the last three decades.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tame Impala: Lonerism. Album Sketch

year: 2012

tones of: the beatles, the flaming lips, the beach boys, the zombies, radiohead, caribbean rocksteady (on: feels like we only go backwards), the white stripes (on: elephant. yes.), pink floyd

genre samples: psychedelic rock, lo-fi, indie rock

music: trippy, peaceful, surreal, glowing, layered, smooth, wavy, happy, expansive, comforting, loose, gorgeous, mystical

lyrics: whispery, graspinglonely (obviously, right?), simple, struggling, fragile, depressing, exasperating, fatalist, mind games

album: creative, dreamy, time transporting, satisfying, artistic, breathes, grows, matures the 60s, enveloping

favs: mind mischief (A+), music to walk home by, why won't they talk to me, feels like we only go backwards, nothing that has happened has been anything we could control (lyrics)

note: the album cover really nails just what this record is. someone from the outside looking in on something beautiful

score: 9/10 (8.5, except on re-listens an underlying presence carries this LP to outstanding)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Startup Standouts: CircleUp


CircleUp is an equity based crowdfunding platform which connects individual and small institutional investors to private consumer product/retail companies with existing products that have national scope or potential. 

Location: San Francisco, CA
Size: < 10 people
Funding: $1.5M seed
FoundersRyan Caldbeck (CEO) / Rory Eakin (COO)

Why it stands out:
- The highly industry-relevant backgrounds and complementary skills of the co-founders, plus team
- Smart, strategic direction focused on consumer products, accredited investors and revenue generating entities
- Quality of platform: screening by professional investors, revenue minimums, 2% acceptance rate
- Significant partnerships that extend its reach (e.g. SoMoLend [debt], General Mills [exits])
Clayton Christensen, the voice of disruptive innovation himself, is notable as an early investor

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Startup Standouts: Wallaby Financial


The Wallaby Card lets you carry just one piece of plastic, through which it can maximize the cash back rebates, merchant discounts, frequent traveler rewards, etc on all your credit cards (based on your preferences) every time you swipe. It is as the company says - one card to rule them all.

Location: Pasadena, CA
Size: < 10 people
Funding: $1.1M seed
Founders: Matthew Goldman (CEO) / Todd Zino (CTO)

Why it stands out:
- Steps towards consumers with a practical use case without significantly changing their current behavior
- Adds next level value by minimizing consumer data overload and simplifying financial decision making
- Great positioning to collect real time, transaction based spending data
- Founders Fund is notable as a seed stage investor

Friday, November 16, 2012

Floating Points: Shadows EP. Album Sketch

year: 2011

genre samples: jazz, house, funk, synth piano

music: gorgeous, hypnotic, up tempo, chill, danceable, elegant, in step, building, muted, minimalist

favs: myrtle avenue, ARP3, sais

interesting: dj FP's (sam shepard) main gig is getting a PHD in molecular neuroscience. cool stuff.

score: 8/10

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Startup Standouts: SmallKnot


"Smallknot lets you invest in the small businesses in your community in exchange for goods, services, special perks and benefits."

Location: New York City
Size: < 10 people
Funding: $118k incubation
FoundersJay Lee (CEO) / Ben Rossen (COO) / Jason Punzalan (CTO)

Why it stands out:
- Fills a very specific and necessary crowdfunding niche by focusing on small businesses
- Really leverages the crowd by taking a geographically local approach to the crowdfunding model
- Beautifully designed product with a fluid user experience
- The quality (and coolness) of the small businesses actually using the platform
- Founding team dominated by lawyers, which should be very useful given crowdfunding's legally gray area
- Had the screening and future benefit of Tech Stars NYC incubation

A New Series on Startups

In a quest to find the next phase of my career that will merge passion with ambition, I have been doing research on a number of startups - mostly in the crowdfunding space but also more broadly in Fintech. Here and there on simmserely so far however, I have written of broader thoughts on the intersection of finance and technology. Today I thought I would add a series that takes a specific look at some of the more interesting startups that I have come across along the way - because why not? I am calling this new series: Startup Standouts. First one after the post, but stay tuned for more.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city. Album Sketch

year: 2012

tones of: easy e, school boy q, nas

genre samples: funk, electronica, west coast rap, underground hip hop

music: A++ production, moody, heavy, intense, rhythmic, swampy, smooth, stellar, plush

lyrics: serious, direct, genuine, straight up, thought-provoking, deep, authentic, moral, abstract

flow: fitted, mellow, fluid, versatile, technical, elevated, smart, unorthodox, story telling  (i dare say kendrick is the best rapper in the game right now in terms of technical talent)

favs: b*tch don't kill my vibe, money trees, swimming pools, sing about me i'm dying of thirst, art of peer pressure (last 2/3rds), sherane aka master splinter's daughter (esp the skits), backseat freestyle (vicious flow)

best guest: jay rock on money trees

score: 8.5/10 (not a 9+ b/c I can't play w/o wanting to skip a few)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Le Cousins Dangereux: Coding vs Modeling

I spent a fair amount of time modeling as a banker, sometimes in long enough stretches to see the next day's Wall Street Journal delivered. By comparison, I spent just a few months programming in graduate school. During that same period however, I also enrolled in a financial modeling class as a refresher. By my count I would guess there are relatively few people who have been on both sides of that fence. In doing so, I formed some thoughts on the similarities and differences of coding vs modeling - the two have more in common than at first glance.

- the sweet sweet triumph of tracking down an error
 (damn you #REF, //error, etc.)
- the negative correlation between time spent debugging and error quality
- the decomposition of a problem into manageable/blocks before compiling
- the importance of details such as:
(keys, color coding, naming cells, using macros vs documenting, definitions, descriptive variable names, building functions)
- late nights and irregular schedules
- a disproportionate amount of time spent alone compared to the genpop
- copious amounts of food/drink (or the $$ to buy it) if you're on the job
- the increased potential of poundage from being sedentary
- a significant amount of time spent bent over a laptop with screen-face
- the blissful satisfaction of getting a model or program built right
- highly competitive and well paid jobs on their respective coasts
- the true significance of planning and thought in how a model is built
- the high level of intensity and focus required to get things done
- the building of a very specialized skill set

- a focus on building in coding versus analyzing with modeling
- the high variability of quality in models depending on external inputs
- the exposure of a model once built to manipulation beyond your control
- more human interaction in modeling as it is usually built across teams
- the customary practice of linear logic in modeling vs modular in coding

Make no mistake, we are definitely talking cousins here. That should not be so much surprising as it is revealing. Just be careful, unlike me, that you do not cross them both at the same time. It is not a pretty sight.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Master of The Senate: Book Review

Author: Robert Caro

Length: 1,049 pages

What is It: A thorough look at the inner machinations and accomplishments of Lyndon Johnson's U.S. Senate career as orchestrated by the pragmatic politician himself.

What's Said: The rich history of the Senate, the intricacies of its internal dynamics and rules, and the relationship of the chamber to Congress and the President are illuminated here. That is the backdrop to an examination of Lyndon Johnson's political life - a tale of motivations, ambitions, fears, failures, dealings, compassion, ruthlessness, affairs, manipulations, genius, gruffness, practicality and familial influence. All of which are defined and give full context to or for his actions. MTS is largely organized around LBJ's development and relationship with political power with a secondary adherence to the linear timeline of his life in the Senate.

What's True: The Senate was well designed by the forefathers to withstand the incredible power of the will/whims of the people. It is a body vulnerable mostly unto itself. The struggle of the Civil War lived on in the ideology of the "southern senators" who exacted their revenge upon the union (but really the nation) by their actions and inactions. Effectiveness in bipartisan politics requires an element of practicality - ideology alone is not enough. LBJ's genius lied in his adept attention not only to legislative detail but to the legislator himself, multiplied by an uncanny ability to read and act upon those details. MTS is a full measure the senator, not just as eventual champion of civil rights, but also as a prominent detractor. Like most historic figures who get distilled, LBJ's true being is far more complex in reality. This is a thorough and balanced account of that, and a painstaking deconstruction of how to acquire, maintain and exact power.

So What: History's influence in our affairs comes from the exercise of looking at what has transpired and transposing that experience onto our present and future. The open question is always: Would we want this to be repeated? The trade off between idealism and practicality is real in politics and should be answered carefully by those who practice and we who elect. Lastly - don't be quickly discouraged - this book is a page turner, rich in plot, character development and scenery. It builds and delivers like a literary masterpiece. And if you have any interest in history, power, politics, or the man, you will undoubtedly appreciate this.

Final Word: Definite Read

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes. Album Sketch

year: 2011

tones of: gwen stefani, amy whinehouse, m.i.a., mamas and the papas, smash mouth (on - youth knows no pain), 1950/60s girl groups

genre samples:  blues, sunshine pop, country, psychedelic rock, soul, r&b, world music, emo

music: dreamy, radiant, harmonious, rhythmic, melodious, soft, flowing, upbeat, somber, airy

lyrics: clear, insouciant, satirical, dark, brooding, obsessive, heartache, strong, intimate

album: broad, varied, complex, versatile, contrasting, familiar

favs: youth knows no pain, get some, i follow rivers, unrequited love, i know places, silent my song

score: 8.5/10

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An Ode to Passion

Does your passion sing or does it talk
Is it worldly or is it cosmical
Does it ebb or does it flow
Is it old soul or newly found
No matter.
It is whatever you choose unless it chooses you

Did you struggle to find this great thing
Forming and molding it in your mind
Listening for its heartbeat amidst the noise in head
Or did it mean you passed on some other thing
Wading through, against the current
Embracing ambiguity, stretching norms

Cause it's about something else
Is it not?
Ambition needs its comfort
Motivation needs companion
Layering, no substitutes
Hand over hand
Freedom on top of authenticity
Progress on top of change
Maximum impact

You can't go back
This future needs you
It's calling now, softly, gently, firmly
Come hither, can't you see
Don't neglect, stay focused
Push, push. Carry on.
Satisfaction lies that other side

So here is to yours
Here is to my own
Fully embrace it before too long

This is an ode to passion, in all its forms.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

James Blake: James Blake. Album Sketch

year: 2011

tones of: kanye west (power), bon iver, (other suggestions welcome.)

genre samples: gospel, dubstep, blues, garage, techno, classical piano

music: spacious, wavering, robotic but humanistic, artistic, sonic, fractured, atmospheric, simple, layered, shimmering, submergent

lyrics: heavy, sparse, innocent, isolated, poignant, restrained, vulnerable, regretful, human, weary, lonesome, haunting, naive

favs: the wilhem scream, lindisfarne I+II (i view these as one song), limit to your love, why don't you call me, measurements

album: avant garde, game changer, cathartic, cubist

score: 9.5/10 (sublime)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Venture to Crowdfunding: "You Can't Disrupt This."

With a quick Google search using the right keywords, there are numerous articles describing crowdfunding (CF) as disruptive to venture capital (VC) or at least potentially so. Many take for granted the reader's knowledge of the term and its logic, but it is a lot harder to put together than it may seem. Here is a look at the very specific definition of the word, along with a few supporting arguments that might lead one to draw that conclusion.

Let us start out by clarifying what disruption is not. Disruption of an industry does not cover change (even if it is radically different from the status quo) which improves upon the existing industry product. This is a sustaining development (examples*). Disruption, in the Clayton Christensen sense of the word, defines a change that brings with it (in the form of a product or a new market) a very different value proposition than had existed or mattered previously (examples**). It trades off performance for either convenience, accessibility, affordability, simplicity or some combination thereof and its key often lies in the use case as opposed to an advancement in technology.

Examining the case for crowdfunding using the characteristics of Christensen's definition as a guide:

The value proposition of disruptive innovation is materially different, yet its performance trajectory exceeds market needs.
The main value proposition of venture capital is "smart money", i.e. connections and advice through a filtered loop. Its performance is measured by return and rolodex. Crowdfunding instead is "cool money". Its main value proposition is broad access through social media. It is ranked foremost on other dimensions - the type of entrepreneurs on the platform and their success in raising funding. It would perform poorly on a traditional scorecard based on established market needs, but there is a window. At the lower end of the funding curve (seed stage) venture capital overshoots the market. It provides more at a higher cost than is needed to build a minimum viable product (MVP). Arguably, crowdfunding appears to be on the way to figuring out its shortcomings at that very end of the spectrum. With market needs stable and MVP cost still falling, all that is required are a couple of sustaining technologies to cover the gap. Add a few more over time and crowdfunding could start its ascent upmarket to traditional VC territory. That sounds pretty disruptive.

Disruptive innovations are typically simpler, cheaper, more reliable, and convenient than established technologies.
Crowdfunding is nothing if not incredibly convenient. It allows entrepreneurs to leverage and manage their fundraising efforts through one channel point, turning the venture model on its head. It is cheaper as well. The flat fee or percentage of round being charged by most reward or donation based platforms are significantly cheaper than venture equity stakes and maintenance fees. Crowdfunding has not simplified the process of raising funding however - the basic preparations are still required (plan + pitch + perform + pass). Instead it has simplified access to capital for the average entrepreneur who may not know the intricacies and intimacies of silicon valley. Despite these, crowdfunding is not nearly as reliable. There are still major trust and fraud concerns, important themes regarding brand and quality. Moreover, venture has less capital volatility because of its funding structure. Placing more weight on cost (because of its implications) than the other characteristics, CF still looks pretty disruptive though.

Disruptive innovations are typically not rational or feasible investments for incumbents.
It has already been noted that current revenue streams associated with crowdfunding are not as lucrative as those of venture capital. There are no performance fees based on equity returns (which typically produce the bulk of VC profits) and neither are there any maintenance charges. The business models are fundamentally different. Crowdfunding is transaction based instead of equity based. Transaction based models are powered by volume, and with few exceptions are tied to lower profit margins, which favor low cost operations. These characteristics are uniformly unattractive to or typically unattainable by incumbents. Venture capital is no different. The implication is that the disruptive market will likely not look attractive enough until it is too late. Again, CF looks well placed to be disruptive.

Articles calling crowdfunding disruptive based on similar analysis seem right to draw such conclusions, so perhaps crowdfunding's response to venture's "You can't disrupt this" should be "You're wrong. It's hammer time."

*Sustaining examples: HD over digital, Blu-Ray's attempt on DVD, DVR over TiVo, Google's search algorithm over Yahoo's, carbon fiber bike frames over aluminium, ipad over the iphone, voicemail over answering machines, CD/DVD over tapes.
**Disruptive examples: digital over chemical photography, Google AdWords over direct advertising, the iphone over laptops, fast food disrupted restaurants, netflix disrupted blockbuster, skype is disrupting telephony, nintendo wii is disrupting xbox/playstation, online brokerages disrupted full service.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Short History of Nearly Everything: Book Review

Author: Bill Bryson

Length: 478 pages

What is It: A survey of science on earth including the cross-histories of the people who helped develop it.

What's Said: Starts from the universe at large, switches to the development and progression of the disciplines, drills down into an examination of the earth specifically and then discusses the advancement of life on the planet, culminating with the human race. Topics include - the solar system, paleontology, relativity, geology, chemistry, atoms, cells, quarks, the big bang, the troposphere, tectonics, oceans, bacteria, DNA, evolution.

What's True:  It is possible to be coherent on a wide range of scientific topics despite their individual depth and breadth. Scientific accuracy can be maintained without losing integrity. There is an incredible amount that we have discovered, but science is always building and changing. Obsession, madness, luck, and brilliance have shown us the way. Progress is championed by both specialists and laymen. Drama unfolds within science just as it does anywhere else people are involved.

So What: ASH's success is that it takes scientific history and facts and makes them accessible in an interesting and relevant way. It reminds the reader of what we often take for granted: the fickleness and complexity of life on earth, and how lucky we are to be alive and able to appreciate it. Bryson levels the scientific world to place where everyone can look at it with informed wonder.

Final Word: Must Read

Friday, September 28, 2012

Finance is Dead, Long Live Finance

There is a change happening in finance. Lines are being drawn. The regulatory and public acceptance ones have been clear, but here is another. There are a growing number of startups using technology to cross the line into traditional finance territory, populating an emerging area called FinTech.  Most of these firms are setting up in niches - the equivalent of a bowling pin strategy. Get the first pin right, and it increases the likelihood of clearing everything else out, including the incumbents. All the elements are here for disruption and arguably that disruption is happening right now.

Finance has for the last twenty years built up a war chest of talent. It has been incredibly selective, sometimes suffocatingly so, about screening applicants, perfecting the art of enticing bright young students with the promise of money and prestige. In recent years however, there has been a mass exile and exodus of that talent, who, unlike new graduates, are wiser for the knowing. No matter where you look in the wave of industry unemployment you will find a significant number of highly educated, battle tested survivors - with the capacity and motivation to challenge the status quo.

Finance has also long been protected by formidable regulation, but in the past few years, this barrier to entry has been weakened on the back of public dissent and pioneers. Waves of negative publicity over wall street compensation turned from perennial ground powder into the primer for a powerful first strike. Organized public outrage followed, culminating in the swift movement and strength of Occupy Wall Street. Then, helped by the focused interests of forward business thinkers, change went straight for the law books and with bi-partisan congressional action enacted the passage of the JOBS act. This progress has not come without casualties  of course, but it has resulted in an unprecedented encroachment into traditional finance territory.

Both of these elements trace their roots in part to the financial crisis, which is just the point. It has demanded an enormous amount of time and resources from incumbents. The volatility of that breaking point has fallen off its peak, but psychologically the industry is still very preoccupied, and aftershocks like the LIBOR scandal make solid footing a struggle. Meanwhile, waves of financial innovation ripple outward and lap at its heels. FinTech startups are using the power of technology to compress business models, embrace mobile, leverage the crowd, simplify investing, refocus on consumers, integrate social, streamline payments, and tackle a stream of long static issues in the industry. It is still very early, but these startups are slowly prying the door open to a new era in finance.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation. Album Sketch

year: 2011

tones of: flaming lips, the xx, bright eyes

genre samples:  dream pop, ambient techno, emo, downtempo

music: atmospheric, blissful, isolated, comforting, encircling, minimalist, plush

lyrics: painful, young, idealist, fragile, cynical, dark, angst ridden, metaphorical

favs: posters, cannon, 17, daydream, montana, the hunt

score: 8.5/10 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music. Album Sketch

year: 2012

tones of: beasty boys, UGK, Run DMC, dungeon famly - cee lo + outkast, KRS one, public enemy

genre samples: gospel, electronica, real hip hop, funk, soul

music: atmospheric, rhythmic, soulful, moody, bass & drum heavy, sonic

lyrics: serious, honest, political, street, educated, truth, real, story telling

flow: fluid, on point, adaptable, southern, underground, greater or equal to the music, solid

favs: big beast, southern fried, reagan, anywhere but here, willie burke sherwood, R.A.P. music

fav bar: "put a pause on your life, just like a comma b*tch" on go!

best guest: T.I. on big beast

score: 9/10 (not an instant, but a time release rap classic)

Frank Ocean: Channel ORANGE. Album Sketch

year: 2012

tones of: usher, stevie wonder, michael jackson, maxwell, teddy riley-black street (pyramids), elton john

genre samples: gospel, funk, r&b, jazz, electronica-funk (pyramids)

lyrics: complex, hidden, simple, honest, forward, earnest, historical, personal

music: glitzy, smooth, somber, soulful, modern, amazing, real, playful, creative

early favs: thinking about you, pyramids

best guest: andre 3000 on pink matter

late favs: lost, pink matter, forest gump

score: 8/10

This Is Not A Music Review

I have been meaning to write a couple of music reviews for weeks now and the thought just dawned on me - why write when I can sketch?  As I was listening to the records, I found myself mentally noting words, feelings, phrases, artists, genres - whatever, evoked by the music. This was clearly what I thought in its rawest form. So before I am (self)pressured to make my presentation of these things sound good and before I can really influence how you feel about the music by stringing words into sentences, let me just offer them up. Arguably, this is the purest and most digestible form anyway.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Motorbike Meet Roadbike

Mobile Photo Of The Day: I took this with my grainy, crack ridden, iphone 3G, but the point is not that I need a new phone (I do). The point is that I think this is awesome. This photo is at once a contradiction and an inspiration. I imagine this guy weaving efficiently through traffic from point A to point B on the moto, and then going all eco-friendly under his own power for the short distances. The kicker is, I think he is carrying an orange vitamin water in the water bottle slot and wearing gray Toms shoes. Amazing. If I could change anything it would be only to put me behind the handle bars.

Meat-eaters, I Refer You to This

I am often asked why I am a vegetarian. Well here it is:

It felt more authentic for me to move forward and not look back.

That is a bit cryptic, so let me now give you more than you asked for.

The story of me being a vegetarian is an odd one. From 1998 to 2002, I was not quite all the way there yet. I was a semi-vegetarian or technically, a pesce-pollotarian. I did not eat beef or pork, but I ate poultry and seafood. This run up traces its roots to my father. He had a health problem that required an immediate change in our diet. Considering the fact that what I ate was largely controlled by my mother, when the pork chops and steak stopped showing up, I simply ate what was put in front of me. The real change was that after my father got better, and my whole family went back to its adjusted but regularly scheduled dinner menu, I did not.

I have not particularly settled on a good reason why. It could have been the influence of Rastafarianism - some of my friends had recently converted (the religion comprises vegans and vegetarians). It could have been my burgeoning consciousness of health as a result of what happened and the change it had on the family, albeit temporary. Or maybe simply and superficially it could have been that I just wanted to be different. I cannot rule that out.

Thanksgiving 2002. That was the period. I do not remember the exact day, I just remember the result. I made thanksgiving dinner for friends. Yes, sir. I did. Calm down. It was a feast, but not necessarily a feat. I did bake and baste the turkey, steam the carrots and green beans, but I only opened the cranberry sauce, mixed the breadcrumbs with water, scooped the vanilla ice cream, warmed the apple pie from my grandmother's house in the frozen section and watched the crispy biscuits rise courtesy of America's favorite dough boy. I was told the turkey was good too, but I did not eat it that year. I was done.

Again, there is nothing moral about this story. It was not that I had read seminal works like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" or "The Way We Eat". I had not suddenly developed unconditional love for animals either. It was that I had worked out that I was in limbo - and I did not like it. It was a personal ethics question. I did not like the feel of semi. It felt just like that, very halfhearted. I either wanted to do it or not do it. I knew that it would be harder if I became a full vegetarian than a non vegetarian. In my system, doing the harder thing felt more consistent. I debated it for months, but it sneaked up on me that November and started with a turkey being served not having been tasted by the chef. It ended with me not eating any other bird, or seafood from then on. I suppose it only helped that I had somehow acquired an allergic reaction to shellfish a year earlier (read: no lobster, no crab, no conch - devastating).

Fast forward almost ten years later and I will now tell you I am still a vegetarian mainly for environmental reasons. It took me a while, but I got outside of myself. I did the research. That was how I got from feeling my way to thinking my way there. I will just distill that discussion into one thing: Being a vegetarian is incredibly more resource efficient and has the side effect of being generally healthier. As a flag waving supporter of the union between practicality and reason, that was all I needed to hear.

I miss meat on occasion. I admit it. Bacon still smells good to me in the morning (or any time of day really). I do not mind the smoke from an afternoon barbecue. I will not eat it though, at least not willingly. Sometimes surprisingly, I will have a nightmare about that scenario - someone slipping some bacon bits in my soup and telling me afterwards or feeding me a veggie burger that turns out to really be too good to be true. I would wake up either really angry or in a cold sweat. Then I would laugh at myself. I do not mind having to eat a salad or order a vegetable plate at a non friendly restaurant. I do mind the jokes from meat eaters who also happen to be jackasses, but I surprise them with a few snide remarks of my own. Until recently these were the biggest "challenges" I had being a vegetarian, but I found them breezy in comparison to the discipline of the years. That was until I ran into a futurist and China.

The futurist made me think about a world in which meat could be manufactured to be environmentally efficient - a theoretical exercise in what would I do then. I wrote a thirty page paper on it. Being in Asia made me confront a world in which there was no word for the word vegetarian - a real life exercise in what was I going to do right now. The intersection of these exercises was familiar, but they were in an altogether different dimension. I changed in the face of it. If one day science allows us to consume meat without consuming the planet then I am open to the possibility of changing my behavior. And last December, in Beijing, I did change my behavior. While there I eventually had to ask myself how much of the culture was I missing by not eating the food. I figured it to be a lot. And so I ate, not full meals but I sampled. It was delicious, but afterwards I went back to my steady state.

So things are a little more complicated for me than pure vegetarian ideals, but there it is. That is the whole story. Forgive me if I referred you to this post. I was not trying to be dismissive. I, like most people, just think better when I write than when I talk in real life.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Take Off With Me

I used to fly planes.

That is the saddest thing I ever wrote.

At any given moment there are something like 5,000 airplanes in the sky across the fifty states, but I grew to know one of those very intimately. Every Sunday, for several months, I sat behind the wheel of a single engine 1972 Cessna and defied gravity for one or two hours. The morning would start something like this. I would wake up, walk to the garage, drive my car, and get on a plane. Walk. Drive. Fly. If I speed up that sequence in the context of humanity, I can't help but think about a slick production short.

I took lessons because ever since I was little I wish I could fly. I used to run around the house in red gear and a blue bathroom towel twice my size. I would only be airborne for less than the second it took to jump from one sofa to the other, but it felt good - really good. I actually preferred Peter Parker as a super hero, but I often pretended to be Superman. Not because he was superhuman or from another planet, but simply because pretending to fly was so much more elegant and appealing than trying to climb walls. Or so I thought.

Staring out the window on a flight looking down gave me perspective. It really helped that we did most of our cruising over a lake. It only takes to close my eyes and I can see everything painted on the inside of my eyelids. Imagine the water glistening.  Imagine trees enclosing. See the miniature houses off in the distance. Imagine white boats. See the long, white conical wakes. Imagine random patterns of people in color. And imagine circling above all that. Picture that. These are my flashbacks of flying. Then think of it as much an emotional feeling as it is this visual sketch.

Flying feels like freedom. Freedom from the physical limits of our limbs tied to the ground by gravity. It makes you feel weightless - in your mind. Flying feels like it shouldn't be possible, but it is real. It's like looking up at the stars and fully realizing what it means to be alive and not just to exist - embracing the improbability of it. You feel small and yet you feel important. It feels like breathing, deep, long breaths. The kind that give you the energy to keep going after you think you've reached your aerobic limit. "No, you can go further". What's next?

Most of us take it for granted - the physics of  fluid dynamics, thrust and drag, lift and weight, Bernoulli's  principle - but every time I get off a plane from one coast to the next or one continent to another I can't believe what just happened. It still amazes me how we can switch cultures and time frames and temperatures in a few naps, a few movies on a small screen, a good book, and some bad food. I don't think I'll ever get over it.

Someday I'll get back to flying planes. And then I can redeem myself from having written that first sentence.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Tier One Book List

It seemed only fitting that my next post be this. Here are a few of my favorite works** that have transported or transformed my thoughts at one time or another. If you haven't, read just a page or two and you'll start to understand why I feel the way I do and why you'll have to finish whichever ones you choose:

Book: Author
Love in the Time of Cholera: Garcia Marquez
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Murakami
The Bridge of San Luis Rey: Wilder
100 Years of Solitude: Garcia Marquez
The Grapes of Wrath: Steinbeck
The Autobiography of Malcom X (as told to Alex Haley): X & Haley
Slaughterhouse Five: Vonnegut
Catch-22: Heller
Herzog: Bellow
Crime and Punishment: Dostoyevsky
The Master and Margarita: Bulgakov
Lolita: Nabokov
A Brief History of Time: Hawking
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Twain
Their Eyes Were Watching God: Hurston
In Cold Blood: Capote
How to Read a Book: Adler & Van Doren
A Short History of Nearly Everything: Bryson
Master of The Senate: Caro

**Updated periodically.

P.S. If you read a bunch, let me know what I'm missing!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On My Reading

I used to hate reading. A huge part of that I had nothing to do with. I blame my father. His mother called him Deek. Let's also do so. As a child my father would make us write book reports. When other kids were playing in the streets riding bikes and pushing off skateboards, I had a task to complete. I had to read from targeted selections, transcribe, and present. I'm not talking about Huckleberry or Hardy. I'm talking about books on attitude and skills. Deek built an extra curricular activity steeped in learning networking and salesmanship and motivation. Imagine this not now, but as a 10 year old. Reading as a result was never a joy for me, it was a chore. And I liked to do chores in my own time, not his, but I didn't have that luxury. I did what I was told. I only discovered decades later that everyone one of those books were business and self help classics, and for that, plus the advanced reading and comprehension skills I am forever in debt. 

These days I go into withdrawal if I don't read something found wherever my free will takes me. Reading is such a rare opportunity to trick myself into escaping reality, and often I need that break. The past two years getting a master's has thus been tough. It's one of the ironies of academics that every time I go into a hallowed place of learning my reading gets thrown into crisis. I find it so difficult to deal with the high wire tension of picking up a book and feeling like it should fall on the side of studying. If I dive off the other and read like I want to, I find reading turns into this reckless activity - I can't do anything else until I finish, and then I start again. Because the payoff is so immediate, that connection from author to story to reader so fulfilling, all other books pale in comparison.

I hear words when I read. Often one of the first things I'll ask someone before we traverse into a land of characters and themes is what type of reader they are - then I pass judgment. I am insanely jealous of visual readers - the ones who look at words on a page and consume them without being trapped at the speed of sound. My sister is one those people. I am disappointed that I have not been able to adapt. I can do it for certain pieces, but it has to be something very casual and relatively short. This is of course excluding those times when I get my hands on a gorgeous stretch of prose where I absorb every letter and let my mind wonder. At those moments, time stops and I can feel the words floating in my mind. It's not unlike the sensation of being adrift in a sparkling pool on a sweltering day. 

As I read, in the background I focus on composition, style, language and message: What is the writer trying to convey. What are the overlapping themes. What is the motivation. What am I feeling that I can walk away with and relate to myself and others. How is the book proportioned. What words does the writer frequent. How are the sentences structured - are they simple or complex, filled with metaphors, or plain and declarative. How long is the novel, could it have been shorter or longer and still have had the same impact. Do the sentences and paragraphs flow. Did the author create people instead of characters. Could these people exist. Do I know people like this. Do I see myself reflected in any of these situations. These are some of the things I look for. They make the difference between a great story and a magnificent piece of literature for me. Classic writing has all of these elements, and if I can have it all then I'll always say, "Yes, please."

I am amazed every time I finish something like that. No one will ever again write those exact words in that exact sequence, yet the possibility of a brilliant piece still exists every time a pen touches a page. It’s that magic of an endless number of combinations from a finite set of words. It’s that concrete example of creativity. Writing is the embodiment of self-expression and individualism. And I just love reading it.