8.25.2016

Diverse City

I recently returned from a day trip to a university-proximate neighborhood in another big US city nearby (whose identity will be withheld because it doesn't really matter for this story).  It had been a while since I'd been, and it was delightful to return, because I love that neighborhood and that city and I was glad for the chance to get reacquainted.  But I couldn't help but scratch my head a little that the street scene seemed somewhat sparser than I would've guessed.  I chalked it up to it being a lazy weekday afternoon on a blazing hot August day.

And yet when I returned to my neighborhood later that day, the weather conditions were the same but the street scene was not.  At one particular intersection, I rue not being quick enough on the draw to fish out my camera and snap some quick pics, because it perfectly captured what is so great about Philly and particularly my little slice of it.  It was an intersection where campus meets community, where stately university buildings share space with vibrant retail corridors as well as with storefronts with 2nd floor residential units.  There were cars, bikers, and pedestrians galore, and they represented all skin colors, ages, and walks of life.  It all added up to a great street scene - energetic, colorful, and eclectic - and for as incredibly rich as the visual was, what also impressed me about the moment is that it was so...normal.  There was nothing showy or staged here, it was just how this place works. 

We are experiencing a growing hunger for great places, which are authentic and diverse and vibrant.  There are some great examples throughout the country.  What I love about my life is how my own neighborhood captures this magic in a bottle too.

8.23.2016

Value City

A recent study by apartment search company Adobo perfectly encapsulates what I've been saying about Philly all these years.  Here's a link to a nice summation from Curbed Philly, and I'll boil it down to two points:

(1) Millennials, when surveyed about the perfect city, overwhelmingly chose New York City or San Francisco, with Philadelphia ranking 17th out of 20 cities.

(2) And yet, when asked what matters in a residential location, out of the top 20 characteristics they listed, guess which city has the most of those characteristics?  That's right, it's Philly.


I could go on and on about my particular slice of Philly but I won't.  All's I can say is, I'm lucky to have stumbled into a great neighborhood in a great city at the perfect time.  

PS Btw, and this is a bit of a quirk due to my great fortune in getting in on University City just as it started booming, but true story: a buddy of mine sends me listings from our old neighborhood in San Jose all the time, because he's thinking about moving back someday.  He sent me one of a newish 2,400 SF 4 BR 3 Bath house on his old block.  $2.5 mil.  That is not a typo.  I immediately pulled out my calculator and then wrote him back: "That's $1,036 a foot.  Did you know that when Amy and I bought our 2,700 SF 6 BR 2.5 Bath house in 2000, we paid...$36 a foot?"  Yup, houses are selling for $1,000 more per foot in my old neighborhood than in my current neighborhood.  Mind blown.  Can't even begin to fathom paying 10 G's or so a month just for your mortgage (to say nothing of property taxes), since 10 G's represents a year and a half of mortgage payments for us.  I mean, we have money worries, but forking over five figures every month for the next 30 years isn't one of them, thankfully. 

8.20.2016

Too Short for a Blog, Too Long for a Tweet XLII

Here's an excerpt from a book I just finished, "SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome," by Mary Beard:

At the same time, the success of Christianity was rooted in the Roman Empire, in its territorial extent, in the mobility that it promoted, in its towns and its cultural mix. From Pliny’s Bithynia to Perpetua’s Carthage, Christianity spread from its small-scale origins in Judaea largely because of the channels of communication across the Mediterranean world that the Roman Empire had opened up and because of the movement through those channels of people, goods, books and ideas. The irony is that the only religion that the Romans ever attempted to eradicate was the one whose success their empire made possible and which grew up entirely within the Roman world.

8.18.2016

Too Short for a Blog, Too Long for a Tweet XLI

Here's 5 excerpts from a book I'm reading, "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution," by Walter Isaacson:

I also explore the social and cultural forces that provide the atmosphere for innovation. For the birth of the digital age, this included a research ecosystem that was nurtured by government spending and managed by a military-industrial-academic collaboration. Intersecting with that was a loose alliance of community organizers, communal-minded hippies, do-it-yourself hobbyists, and homebrew hackers, most of whom were suspicious of centralized authority.

***
Atanasoff’s enduring romantic appeal is that he was a lone tinkerer in a basement, with only his young sidekick Clifford Berry for a companion. But his tale is evidence that we shouldn’t in fact romanticize such loners. Like Babbage, who also toiled in his own little workshop with just an assistant, Atanasoff never got his machine to be fully functional. Had he been at Bell Labs, amid swarms of technicians and engineers and repairmen, or at a big research university, a solution would likely have been found for fixing the card reader as well as the other balky parts of his contraption. Plus, when Atanasoff was called away to the Navy in 1942, there would have been team members left behind to put on the finishing touches, or at least to remember what was being built.
 
***
Over the ensuing years, at patent trials and conferences, in books and dueling historical papers, there would be debates over who deserved the most credit for the ideas developed in 1944 and early 1945 that became part of the stored-program computer. The account above, for example, gives primary credit to Eckert and Mauchly for the stored-program concept and to von Neumann for realizing the importance of the computer’s ability to modify its stored program as it ran and for creating a variable-address programming functionality to facilitate this. But more important than parsing provenance of ideas is to appreciate how the innovation at Penn was another example of collaborative creativity. Von Neumann, Eckert, Mauchly, Goldstine, Jennings, and many others batted around ideas collectively and elicited input from engineers, electronics experts, material scientists, and programmers.

***

These patent disputes were the forerunner of a major issue of the digital era: Should intellectual property be shared freely and placed whenever possible into the public domain and open-source commons? That course, largely followed by the developers of the Internet and the Web, can spur innovation through the rapid dissemination and crowdsourced improvement of ideas. Or should intellectual property rights be protected and inventors allowed to profit from their proprietary ideas and innovations? That path, largely followed in the computer hardware, electronics, and semiconductor industries, can provide the financial incentives and capital investment that encourages innovation and rewards risks. In the seventy years since von Neumann effectively placed his “Draft Report” on the EDVAC into the public domain, the trend for computers has been, with a few notable exceptions, toward a more proprietary approach. In 2011 a milestone was reached: Apple and Google spent more on lawsuits and payments involving patents than they did on research and development of new products.

***

At his product launches, Steve Jobs would conclude with a slide, projected on the screen behind him, of street signs showing the intersection of the Liberal Arts and Technology. At his last such appearance, for the iPad 2 in 2011, he stood in front of that image and declared, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” That’s what made him the most creative technology innovator of our era.  The converse to this paean to the humanities, however, is also true. People who love the arts and humanities should endeavor to appreciate the beauties of math and physics, just as Ada did. Otherwise, they will be left as bystanders at the intersection of arts and science, where most digital-age creativity will occur. They will surrender control of that territory to the engineers. Many people who celebrate the arts and the humanities, who applaud vigorously the tributes to their importance in our schools, will proclaim without shame (and sometimes even joke) that they don’t understand math or physics. They extoll the virtues of learning Latin, but they are clueless about how to write an algorithm or tell BASIC from C++, Python from Pascal. They consider people who don’t know Hamlet from Macbeth to be Philistines, yet they might merrily admit that they don’t know the difference between a gene and a chromosome, or a transistor and a capacitor, or an integral and a differential equation. These concepts may seem difficult. Yes, but so, too, is Hamlet. And like Hamlet, each of these concepts is beautiful. Like an elegant mathematical equation, they are expressions of the glories of the universe.


8.16.2016

The 1,001 Thankless and Audience-Less Moments

I have not read “Millionaire Next Door” myself, but it is my understanding that its central premise is that the path to the coveted status of millionaire is through decidedly pedestrian methods like saving a portion of your earnings and avoiding status purchases.   In a sea of “get rich quick” messages and fast-talking entrepreneurship reality shows, slow and steady is apparently the best way to your financial success.

I think about this a lot when I scroll through my Facebook Newsfeed.  What I see is, by definition, newsworthy.  Personal milestones like weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries.  Family posts are heavy on new babies, sporting successes, and exotic vacations.  And work-related announcements include landing a big contract, getting a new office, and launching a new product.  These are the sorts of the things that we should post on our Facebook pages and that we should celebrate on others’. 

But it’s when we think that those things constitute the totality of our friends’ lives and our own that we get into trouble.  I am approaching 1,500 Facebook friends, and I am lucky if I see 1/100th of them in any given day or 1/10th of them in any given month.  So, for the vast majority of people whose posts appear on my Facebook Newsfeed, those posts are the only information I am receiving about them.  And, I suspect, my posts are the only information they are receiving about me.  It is tempting, then, to think that life is just these big announcements, whether others’ or our own.

But it’s not.  Like “Millionaire Next Door,” true success, happiness, and fulfillment comes not from the big announcements but from the little things we do in between.  Professional athletes are an extreme example of this, for they are feted for mere moments of extraordinary athletic action that emerged from hours and years of practice and film and sweat and tears when the cameras were off.  We are seduced into focusing on their singular acts of power, finesse, and speed, without realizing that they come across as smooth and natural only because of thousands of repetitions when no one else was watching.

But this is true for us mere mortals, and not just Steph Curry and Simone Biles.  For ourselves as individuals, whether we are celebrating having a good body or coveting one, actually getting and keeping one is about little decisions on a daily and even hourly basis, to eat well and exercise and get enough sleep.  Regarding parenting, recording our child’s graduation, piano recital, or service project is appropriate, but our role in these successes was actually the 1,001 thankless and audience-less moments of encouragement and comfort and chauffeuring and cajoling.  If you are a Christian, surely you know the Biblical exhortations about habitually doing important character-building good deeds in private rather than for show.  And on the career front, promotions and launches are singular representations of countless hours of negotiation and preparation and hard work and good luck. 

Please continue to share your moments of success, and join me in enjoying mine.  But let’s remember that they do not appear in a vacuum, but are borne of a lot of effort that doesn’t ever appear on anyone’s Facebook Newsfeed. 

8.12.2016

Too Short for a Blog, Too Long for a Tweet XL

Here's an excerpt from an article I just read, "Joseph Kahn, the Infamous Director of Taylor Swift’s Music Videos, Tells the Ugly Truth":

And yet, when writers criticized the video for Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” for romanticizing the colonization of Africa and not including many performers of color, Kahn wrote in a statement that the “key creatives” who made the video were people of color. Further, since the video follows an American film crew shooting in Africa during the early 20th century, Kahn and his team “collectively decided it would have been historically inaccurate to load the crew with more black actors as the video would have been accused of rewriting history.”

8.11.2016

Too Short for a Blog, Too Long for a Tweet XXXIX

Here's an excerpt from an article I just read, a book review in The Economist of Margo Jefferson's new book, "Negroland: A Memoir":

As Ms Jefferson observes, there are boxes into which white Americans can place outrageously wealthy black athletes and entertainers, and other boxes for poor black people, but when confronted by successful, diligent black lawyers, dentists and entrepreneurs—that is, when confronted by black people who have navigated the ordinary world as well or better than themselves—their imagination fails. “We are not what They want to see in their books and movies,” she writes. “Our We is too much like Theirs. Which threatens them, bores them, or both.”

This book encapsulates the tension between wanting and fearing to be seen. Ms Jefferson was taught to excel, but never to show off; to compete with anyone, regardless of race, and be comfortable anywhere, but to be aware that prejudice could rear its ugly head at any moment. She was spared the brutality of southern segregation; she learned to navigate a much subtler set of tacit rules and assumptions.