Maximizing collisionability

April 23rd, 2014

Last night, Tony Hsieh of zappos.com spoke at the Long Now on the topic of Helping Revitalize a City. He described Downtown Project, which is the company he designed to create a thriving community (tech, art, fashion, family) in downtown Las Vegas.

As he discussed the project, he brought up a great concept that I want to apply to my own life, which is the idea of “collisionable hours”. The idea is that a community is built by maximizing the number of times that community members might run into each other: at the bar, at a cafe, on the street, etc. Suburbs have low collisionable hours since residents go into their garage, hop in their car, drive to the store, drive straight back home, and therefore spend little time in public spaces where they might have unplanned collisions. City neighborhoods can have high collisionable hours, when everybody is out walking around to get their errands done (shades of Jane Jacobs). So for the Downtown Project, they now evaluate projects based on maximizing collisionable hours.

This made me think about maximizing my own personal collisionability. How do I put myself into more situations where I have unplanned interactions that can spur new thoughts? I made some effort at that in my Year of Yes last year by going to new conferences and trying new things, but how can I build on that? One thing I’ve started is a monthly SF Salon, which is a great excuse for me to see SF friends and talk about ideas. I also need to start posting more here, as I think that increases the chance of random people on the Internet finding me and interacting with my ideas.

That points out a difference I have with Tony Hsieh – he’s focused on unplanned physical interactions, which I think are valuable and interesting (I depend on them for parts of my job at Google). But I’m interested in building a community of ideas as well, which I think can be done online. We’ll see if I make progress on that.

Two other vignettes that I think are relevant to the collisionability discussion:

  • When LBJ first got to Washington as a congressional aide, all the aides stayed in a communal dorm. He would get up in the morning, go to the communal bathroom, shower, brush his teeth, shave, and chat with others. Then he’d go back to his room, wait 5 minutes, and go back to the bathroom and do it again. He would do this 4-5 times a morning, which is how he met everybody and started his path to becoming the most influential person in Washington. That’s maximizing collisionability!

  • At the YxYY conference last year, we had a great session on “Finding the Others” inspired by this Timothy Leary quote:
    Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “Have a nice day” and “Weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?”. Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…

    What we concluded was that finding the others required putting oneself out there into the world and increasing your “surface area” to make it easier for the others to find you. In other words, increasing your collisionability.

Anyway, I liked the concept, and plan to use it more in my own life. And if anybody reading this has ideas or people that I should be colliding with, please put me in touch!

Hosting update

March 30th, 2014

I should have known better than to keep pushing my luck with textdrive.com after last year’s catastrophic meltdown, but I didn’t want to deal. Unfortunately, textdrive went down without even an email to its users a couple weeks ago, and their provider deleted all their data on Friday. Oops. At least I had a backup of my blog this time.

I was able to migrate everything over to webfaction.com relatively seamlessly, but couldn’t get my many-years-old WordPress theme to work right for some reason, so I’m trying a more current one. Still need to tweak fonts and colors, but it’s mostly there now.

Anyway, if you got a bounce message from nehrlich.com over the weekend, that’s why. My apologies – I think webfaction.com is likely to be a more stable host – fingers crossed!

Don’t act like a special snowflake

March 12th, 2014

Disclaimer: This post is not about you. Please do not take offense. It is an exaggerated amalgam of people for the sake of making a point.

Over the past several months, I have talked to a number of people looking for jobs or practicing company pitches. And what I see is people getting frustrated that their audience doesn’t see why they are special, and not being given the opportunity to show that they are special. They do not understand that it is their responsibility to put in the work of framing themselves to make their special-ness easily visible to their audience. I am repeating points from my advice on writing a resume, but the general principle is that your audience does not have much time. You have to make it instantly clear to them why they should care about you and not move on to the next candidate.

When I hear people complaining about how much work it is to hand craft each resume or interview or pitch, I feel like they are acting like they are a special snowflake and the world should marvel in their presence. They are putting the onus on their audience to dig deeply and spend their time to figure out why this person is a special snowflake. And sadly, the world does not work that way – the people you are trying to impress are busy, and so you have to make it easy for them to understand why they should work with you.

What I think they should do instead is to spend the time to really understand their audience and what problems they have. After that, they can craft a resume or pitch to explain quickly and concisely how they (or their product) solves that problem. And to be clear, I am not advocating lying or exaggerating – I am talking about being selective in what is presented to the audience so that their focus is only on the attributes relevant to this interaction.

Engineers hate this advice. They feel that the truth is the truth, and framing is lying, and this is all annoying MBA nonsense. And I get that – it took me a long time (and the work of George Lakoff) to convince myself that framing mattered and was a meaningful activity. But as I get older and crankier, I don’t have a lot of patience for people who waste my time. If I’m interviewing you, and you insist on giving me a laundry list of your accomplishments with no consideration of showing how you can help me, it’s not a good sign. I value those that demonstrate they have thought about what I’m looking for and how they can help.

I also think this is a completely transferable skill. No matter what your job is, you will have to go to other people and ask them for help or resources. And when you do that, if you can demonstrate that you understand their criteria for making decisions and frame your request in those terms, I guarantee that you will be more successful in your pitches.

One last piece of advice – people’s attention is given iteratively. With a good pitch, you have 30 seconds to get their attention that there is a problem worth solving. A good problem in the first 30 seconds earns you another 2 minutes to convince them that your product can solve the problem. Once you’re past that, then you can get into the details of the investment and the company. But start with the hook and get their attention immediately, or you will never keep their attention long enough to talk about the rest of your material. Get to the point quickly – if they ask for more clarifying details, you’ve caught their attention, which is the first step.

A similar process applies to a job search – a resume is not to get you a job. A resume is to catch the eye of the hiring manager and get you a phone interview. Your goal in a phone interview is to get an in-person interview. Once you’re at the in-person interview stage, then your goal is to get a job. But if you try to get the job with the resume, you’re skipping too many steps.

So the next time you’re doing a pitch, whether it is for a job or for investment, take the time to think about your audience and how your pitch is quickly demonstrating to them that you can help them out. Good luck!

P.S. I really enjoy critiquing pitches so if you want to brainstorm on your pitch with me, please contact me.

P.P.S. There is one exception to the “special snowflake” rule – if you have enough of a personal brand, the goal of your audience is to spend time with you, so you don’t have to figure out what they’re looking for. I once went to a Seth Godin seminar where he asked everybody to describe their superpower that made them special (I said mine was interdisciplinary storytelling). When we finished, somebody asked him what his superpower was, and he said “At this point, my superpower is that I’m Seth Godin.” In other words, he had a big enough audience that just being himself was enough (and it sure was, since dozens of us had paid for a three-day seminar with him). But he spent a long time building up his audience to get to that point, and he did that by filling a need – I think Seth’s superpower was writing clearly and thoughtfully about the consequences of the Internet on marketing.

Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

March 4th, 2014

Amazon link

Taleb is known for his book The Black Swan, which I own and have read but apparently never wrote a review for. While his writing style is a little annoying, the central concepts of nonlinearity and power-law distributions are worth remembering (described in a Long Now talk here if you want the short version).

His latest book, Antifragile, is about how to live in a world with black swans and nonlinear outcomes. His writing style was even more annoying in this one, as he insults everybody that dares to disagree with him, and wanders off on irrelevant tangents as he apparently fired his editor. So I’m writing this post to summarize the few interesting ideas I got out of the book so you don’t have to actually read it.

The core concept is that in a world of volatility, where black swans can explode out of nowhere unexpectedly, there are three ways to deal with change – Taleb uses examples from financial investing to illustrate:

  • Fragile – unstable equilibriums where volatility is bad because it is likely to tip you into a worse state – in other words, you have limited upside and unlimited downside. A fragile investment strategy would be one where you borrow money to invest in something with a slightly higher return – if you are overleveraged and something goes wrong (and something always goes wrong), you will be bankrupt many times over, and even if you are successful, you didn’t make that much money.

  • Robust – stable states which don’t change under volatility. A robust investment strategy would be one where you don’t invest in the market at all – just stick it in your bank account and do nothing – you can’t get hurt by change but you can’t benefit from it either.
  • “Antifragile” – states that are at the bottom of the state space, so they benefit from volatility (or as the subtitle says “Things that gain from disorder”). He uses a lot of fancy concepts like convexity and concavity and references to abstruse options theory, but the basic idea is that you have limited downside and unlimited upside. An antifragile investment strategy would be what Taleb describes as a “barbell” strategy, with 90% of your wealth in robust investments that are rock-solid, and the last 10% spread around a number of highly speculative investments that have big upsides (e.g. angel investing, big options bets, etc) so that if a black swan does take off, you have a piece of it. The reason the strategy is antifragile is that your downside is limited (only 10% of your wealth), but the upside is large – even a small piece of a positive black swan like a Google or Facebook is hugely valuable.

One important aspect to Taleb’s mindset is that he believes that prediction is impossible in a non-linear world. If things can blow up unexpectedly (as he described in The Black Swan), and if very small differences in initial conditions can lead to wildly disparate results (as he described in Fooled by Randomness), then any strategy that depends on accurately predicting the future is doomed to failure. Hence the focus on creating antifragile states which have limited downside and let you keep the upside – in such states, you don’t have to predict the future, as most volatility will benefit you. Forecasting the future only matters if you are in a fragile state, and leads to your downfall when you get the forecast wrong, as Wall Street did in 2006-2007 – Taleb points out that Wall Street was taking the fragile bet of limited upside (ongoing subprime mortgage payments at a higher interest rate) and unlimited downside (holding the option if the mortgage defaulted).

That’s basically the entire message of the book: don’t think you can predict the future, and put yourself in an antifragile state where you limit your downside and keep the upside (in case you get lucky with a black swan).

Taleb also goes off on all sorts of other rants that are sometimes amusing but only marginally relevant to his central argument:

  • When investing in anything, don’t assume you can forecast the future and predict what will pay off – better to spread your investments around than make big bets. As he says, “Small amounts per trial, lots of trials, broader than you want. Why? Because in Extremistan, it is more important to be in something in a small amount than to miss it.”

  • Taleb has a long rant against iatrogenics, which is preventable harm due to medical intervention. His point is that medical intervention in cases where the patient is not imminently dying is a fragile intervention, with limited upside (in most cases the patient will get better if the doctor does nothing), and unlimited downside (unexpected side effects leading to death). Obviously, the opposite is true in cases where the patient is dying which makes that an antifragile intervention – there is limited downside (they are dying anyway), and unlimited upside (intervention might save them). That all makes sense (and I already had a policy of never going to the doctor for anything routine), but I think he goes too far with his contention that the best way to kill somebody is to get them a personal physician who will feel compelled to intervene.
  • I agree with his larger point that when we are uncertain of the consequences (and we should generally be uncertain), we should bias towards inaction. Many people bias towards action to make them look like they are contributing and doing their job, but it often contributes to a worse result e.g. active fund managers are generally outperformed by index funds.
  • I don’t agree with his bias that natural selection is always correct. He believes that nature has done a perfect job of crafting our bodies to fix themselves, but I think he is missing the point that natural selection only works on situations where reproduction is affected. Cancer is a problem because it happens after reproduction, and generally beyond the life expectancy of anybody before the 20th century – there is no way for natural selection to have dealt with cancer, so expecting our bodies to deal with it naturally doesn’t make sense.
  • He has a nice discussion of comparative advantage – the idea in economics that it is best to specialize and only do one thing as everybody gets better goods at cheaper prices in that theoretical world. His point is that the world changes, and if you put all of your effort into one thing, you are in a fragile state with the unlimited downside if that thing is made worthless for some reason (e.g. being an expert in Cobol was great for years, until it was worthless).
  • Another nice observation is that the best way to predict what technologies will last into the future is to look at how old the technology is. A technology that has been around for a hundred years (e.g. the car) is more likely to be around for another hundred years than a technology that has only existed for a year (e.g. Snapchat). This is consistent with my long-standing bias against technological determinism – technology does not drive social change – technology is adopted when it serves a social need. Technology that has been around for decades has been shown to serve a social need, and is thus likely to stick around.

All in all, I can’t recommend the book as it is really terribly written, but I think the core ideas are worth considering. If you’ve read it, I’d love to get your take, and if you haven’t, let me know if this summary is useful.

P.S. I’m hosting a salon in SF this Wednesday evening with this as a potential discussion topic – contact me for details if you’re interested in attending.

2013 review

January 6th, 2014

I’m a little late to this, but a 2013 review is an easy post to kick off my theoretically renewed commitment to blogging in 2014.

For the first time since joining Google in September of 2008, I wasn’t completely swamped by work, and thus had time to invest in the rest of my life as well as in my job.

At work, I started a new role in November of 2012 as the chief of staff to the product VP of AdWords. Instead of the fire drills and processes of finance (month close P&Ls, budget planning cycles, etc), my role was more open-ended, helping out on whatever concerned my boss, whether it was strategic questions, coordinating with sales or finance, or nailing down operational processes. The lack of structure was both wonderful (I wasn’t working like crazy) and terrifying (it was up to me to get the right stuff done without much direction). I’m still figuring out how best to focus on the big questions and issues facing Google, and convert my hand-waving ramblings into concrete actions and forward progress, but it’s a great opportunity to use my generalist tendencies and meld my finance and technology and product management perspectives.

Outside of work, I decided that 2013 was the year of Yes – whenever I heard about something that sounded intriguing, I said yes and did it, even if it wasn’t something I would normally do (with confidence built by my India trip last December and my bike tour last July).

  • I went to both Overlap and Yes By Yes Yes despite knowing nothing about either “conference” beforehand, and actually talked to people I didn’t know (which is terrifying for introverts like me) and made new friends that had no connection to my existing circles.

  • I went backpacking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness despite not having done a backpacking trip in 10 years.
  • I went to a wedding in Milwaukee where I only knew the bride and groom, and I was nervous that I’d be that weird guy off by himself all weekend, but I was welcomed with open arms by their friends and had a fantastic time (we went trap shooting and saw the Fonz!).
  • I went to Tulum, Mexico, even though I didn’t think beach vacations were for me.
  • I took a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon!
  • I volunteered for the MIT Venture Mentoring Service despite not having been an entrepreneur myself and not being sure what I could add. It turns out I have plenty of thoughts to offer the company I’m advising (I don’t know how useful it is to them, but I’m having fun so far :) ).
  • I started mountain biking, which I’d never really done despite having a mountain bike for ten years – it had always been my commuting bike, but after buying a dedicated commuter bike a couple years ago, it was time to actually use my mountain bike on the trails. I’m still terrified of hurting myself, but I’m gaining confidence slowly.
  • I even made a real effort at dating, going on ~50 dates with ~20 women. While that effort did not result in a relationship, I considered it a success in getting more comfortable with putting myself out there, talking to people I didn’t know, and building my social confidence.

To balance all the new things, I returned to a couple old familiar activities. Over the summer, I started playing volleyball regularly for the first time in years, finding a group of coworkers to play doubles with on the sand volleyball court at Google a couple times a week. And in the fall, I started singing again, joining the Collage Vocal Ensemble, a small chamber group in Los Altos. Plus there was the occasional pickup ultimate frisbee game at Google or weekend road bike ride (like this overnight trip to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse).

It was a good year. Now I have to figure out what my focus will be for 2014. Since 2013 was an outward year, this might be an inward year – thinking and reading and writing more. I’d like to update this blog more regularly with “Deep Thoughts I Have Thunk” (™ Jofish) and read more challenging books. I also want to more regularly have challenging conversations with people that stretch my mind – it might be time for me to restart SF salons for that purpose. We shall see.

Regardless, happy new year! Hope y’all have a great 2014.

Inequality, Globalization and Technology

November 26th, 2013

There has been a discussion about economic inequality on an email list I’m on. It started with a link to this CNN summary of “must reads” on inequality, and has continued over a few other threads the past couple months. I’ve written a few thoughts in those threads, and thought I would assemble them here to see what others have to say.

My main theory is that the rise in inequality is linked to the rise in globalization. Capitalism (theoretically) links income to the impact that a company has. When that company can operate globally instead of locally, they (a) can make more money because they are having a bigger impact with more customers and (b) are out-competing local providers who are losing their customers. So the successful companies get richer while the local providers get driven out of business, which increases inequality. Within the US, you can see this in Amazon and Walmart rising to dominance at the expense of local shopping.

This dynamic of greater competition from globalization is also playing out in the labor market. A manual laborer is now competing with billions of people worldwide, and with that greater supply of people, demand has gone down and thus the price for their labor has gone down. At the same time, highly skilled software engineers can now be employed worldwide, and with companies from around the world bidding for their services, incomes for those engineers have gone up. Again, globalization is increasing inequality. The best in the world at their professions, whether they are a CEO, athlete, or engineer, are reaping the benefits of their expertise while those without similar skills are losing out.

One other effect that is happening is that technology is enabling more work to be done by less people. For instance, the graph at http://inequality.is/expensive shows average productivity going up without wages going up, with the implicit statement that these should go up in parallel. But suppose an engineer creates a machine that increases productivity by 10x, such that one person can now do what 10 people did before on the factory floor. 9 people are now out of a job, and if the engineer gets paid, say, 50% of that difference, the difference between average productivity and wages will have increased while also increasing inequality. A similar story is in play when a technology company is willing to give away a product for free (e.g. “Android may be the greatest legal destruction of wealth in history”).

If those inequality trends are linked to globalization and technology, as I posit, then I don’t see how efforts to decrease inequality by mandating pay caps (e.g. this Swiss law proposing that executives can make no more than 12x their lowest-paid employees) are going to work without also breaking the market economy. Under such caps, somebody is not getting paid “fairly” – either the executives or engineers are not getting paid enough, or the janitor is getting overpaid.

“Fair” has two meanings here, which is also part of the confusion. I am using “fair” in the sense of “people should earn what they are paid”, and so people who have more impact should get paid more, and that people who aren’t contributing don’t deserve anything (shades of the Protestant work ethic). But many liberals believe that it is unfair for one person to earn orders of magnitude than another because we are all humans and all interconnected. (thanks to Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind for identifying this interesting split on the meaning of “fair”)

So is the rise in inequality intrinsically a bad thing? Many liberals, using the second definition of fair in the previous paragraph, take the stance of “Inequality is growing. That is unfair. QED.” I disagree and believe that inequality is “fair” in and of itself, as it is a reflection of the greater impact that people and companies can have in a world of rising globalization and increasingly powerful technology. But that’s not the whole story.

One thing that came out of the email discussion is that the effects of inequality serve to perpetuate inequality. In particular, highly concentrated wealth uses the existing system to reinforce itself. There are two ways in which this happens:

  • Money buys access in our political system, such that those who make a lot more money can change the rules to preserve their advantage in a de facto plutocracy.

  • Money buys access to education. For children, parents need money to afford private schools or to afford houses in great school districts. For college students, the best universities cost an absurd amount of money, but I still think those elite universities are worth it. So having more money gives a huge advantage to the next generation also, making it more difficult for people outside the wealthy class to get a “fair” chance to break into that class.

These are both problems that need to be addressed, but I don’t think that the problem is inequality per se. A cap on how much people can earn does not feel right to me, as it is attacking inequality directly, when I think it is these effects that are the problem. And trying to cap how much people or companies can earn via laws feels like it will be a game of Whack-a-Mole, as people will find loopholes in the laws, and other countries (e.g. tax havens) will write their own laws to attract such people and companies.

For political access, I’d prefer to address that with Lawrence Lessig’s efforts to attack the money problem in politics directly. Let’s figure out how to get money out of politics and out of campaigns, and then it won’t matter as much if companies make a lot of money. They will have the same access everybody else does

For educational access, we need to break the connection between money and education. I don’t know if the right answer is better public schools (particularly preschools), funding public schools from the state level rather than the district level (to break the connection between property taxes and school quality), or just finding ways to pay our teachers more so that our best students can make a good living by teaching (I know several people who loved teaching but eventually give it up, because they can get paid so much more as an engineer). It’s a tough problem, but it’s the right problem to solve – not how to stop inequality from happening.

What do you think? Is rising inequality a problem in and of itself? Or is it in the effects of inequality perpetuating itself through political and educational access? And what should we do about it?

Consistency

October 30th, 2013

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve gotten back into playing volleyball this summer at Google, and have been really enjoying it. The sand court on Google’s main campus is in regular use, and I’ll occasionally stop by and watch to pick up some pointers. One Wednesday at lunch, I was watching the really good game with players that are probably AA-rated (one notch below the top beach players). One of my coworkers sat down next to me and asked me what was the difference between me and them.

He asked “Can you hit it like that?” and I said “Sometimes” and he asked “Can you make a defensive play like that?” and I said “Sometimes”, and so he didn’t understand why I said those guys were at a whole different level than I was.

Of course, the difference is that I said “Sometimes”. When I go up for a hit, I can hit it down hard 10-20% of the time – these guys were doing it 90% of the time. When my opponent spikes the ball down, I can dive for it and return a playable ball maybe 5-10% of the time – these guys were doing it 30% of the time. So watching them is amazing because one of them will go up and pound the ball past the blocker, and the defender will have read the hit and pop it up, and it’ll go back and forth a few times. Whereas when I play, half the time I screw up the initial pass and get a weak hit at best.

A similar situation arose when I was playing in a pickup ultimate frisbee game last week. I had the best game I’ve had all year – I was jumping over two defenders to catch the disc, I was throwing hucks for scores, etc. The frustrating thing is that I know I can play like that, but it is rare when I can put it all together – at the previous week’s game, I couldn’t get open and missed several throws.

And that’s the difference between the intermediate player and the advanced player: consistency. Anybody athletic can have an occasional great play, but being a great player means being able to make that play every single time. I am stuck at a certain level in these sports where I have moments of greatness, but am mediocre most of the time, because I can’t consistently play at that higher level.

To take the next step requires the patience of deliberate practice. It’s not just about doing the activity more – it’s about breaking the activity down to its component parts and practicing each of those parts so much that they become second nature. So rather than just playing volleyball, I need to do drills to practice passing over and over again, and then drills on setting, hitting and digging, to focus on each individual skill. But that requires effort and organization, so I just play instead and have to therefore be content with my current level of inconsistency.

As usual, this doesn’t just apply to sports. Every activity requires practice to embed it deeply into our unconscious expertise, whether it’s cooking or project managing or data analysis. If you have to use your limited conscious bandwidth to examine something, it will take too long. So if you’re stuck at a level of inconsistency, are you willing to take a step back and practice individual skills assiduously? If not, you’re going to be inconsistent for a lot longer.

P.S. I’ve written about this topic before, in posts on what it takes to achieve mastery and the importance of coaching and feedback in improving and getting results, but I decided to write about it again, given my recent inconsistent play in sports.

Being a good teammate

September 4th, 2013

As those of you who follow me on Facebook know, I have gotten back into playing volleyball this summer, specifically sand doubles volleyball. I have been playing with a variety of folks on the main Google court. We typically get 4 people together to play, and then rotate through teammates, so everybody plays with everybody else over the course of 3 games.

There have been a few times when I have jumped in with the advanced players because they needed a fourth. And whenever I play with them, I feel totally bad-ass because I play so well – I hit better and set better than I ever do in the intermediate games where I normally play.

It was only recently that I realized that my higher skill level when playing with better teammates wasn’t necessarily me stepping up my game.

Both teammates are typically involved in every point in doubles volleyball, with one teammate passing the ball to the other, who sets it up for the first teammate to hit the ball over. The teammates have to work together to be successful (and I love being part of a team).

So what happens when I play with a better teammate? If I pass off target, they can recover and still give me a great set to hit – it’s placed perfectly for me to swing away. And when I am setting, my set doesn’t have to be perfect for them to be successful in hitting the ball down. When I was playing better, I was really just being made to look better by my teammate, because they could do more with my bad plays than my intermediate teammates normally could (which was in their interest because it made the team more successful).

And I realized that what is true on the volleyball court is also applicable to being a good teammate in general:

  • A good teammate sets you up with the inputs you need to be successful.
  • A good teammate takes your input and figures out how to apply it to make everybody look good.
  • A good teammate does both of those things without you realizing that you’re being helped so that you think you’re more badass than you necessarily are.

So I learned something about team building and management out on the court – that means volleyball counts as work, right?

P.S. I have now completed the restoration of blog posts from the Wayback Machine, and think I’ve gotten all of them. Unfortunately, I don’t have any way to recover comments, so I apologize to those of you that added insightful comments. I will be backing up more frequently (including after this post is up), especially since Textdrive has given me no indication that they are alive other than the server still being up (no email, no Twitter, no answering of service tickets).

Restoration in progress

August 18th, 2013

In case you hadn’t noticed, the server where nehrlich.com is hosted had a catastrophic meltdown a few months ago, and my hosting provider (Textdrive) was not able to recover files or backups. This is sad, because I’d last backed up my blog in 2009, so I’m going to be using the Wayback Machine to try to at least get some of the posts back, if not the comments.

But at least I still have the content back from when I was posting more regularly (once or twice a week) vs. the last four years when it’s been more like once a month (~40-50 posts lost).

I’m still annoyed at myself for not having kept my backups current and putting too much trust in my provider. Textdrive did terribly, and then didn’t have the courage to respond to any of my repeated status requests. Learning lesson. I should look into another hosting provider – after spending the few hours to get myself up and running on the textdrive blank slate server, transferring wouldn’t be that bad. Recommendations welcome.

Then maybe once I’ve done all that recovery, I can start posting again about the new thoughts I’m having.

I went to India!

January 1st, 2013

I just got back from a trip to India and thought I’d share my thoughts and some pictures.

I had only 17 days in India itself, as getting there and back took a couple days out of the three weeks of vacation that I had available. My itinerary evolved throughout the trip as I made adjustments on the fly, but I ended up flying into Delhi, then to Kerala, the tropical area in the south of India, then to Aurangabad to see the Ellora and Ajanta caves, then to the region of Rajasthan, where I traveled from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer to Udaipur to Sawai Madhopur (tiger safari!) to Agra (Taj Mahal) back to Delhi for my flight out. I packed way too much in, as I just barely saw the tourist highlights of each city (like coming to SF and only seeing Fisherman’s Wharf), and I wore myself out, but I feel like I got a nice flavor of India.

Udaipur PalaceWhile I was there, I decided to skip Delhi and Mumbai from my original itinerary, as other travelers said that they were more globalized cities and less specific to India – I disagree based on the two evenings I spent in Delhi, as I enjoyed observing the specifics of Indian interactions as an amateur anthropologist, but it was definitely not as scenic as the rest of my visit.

Kailash temple at Ellora CavesThe most amazing thing I saw was the Ellora caves – these are temples and monasteries carved out of the side of a mountain in 500-700 AD (1500 years ago!) that have amazing sculptures carved into almost every available surface. It was jaw-dropping to think of them doing all of these carvings perfectly, as they couldn’t start over with a fresh piece of stone if they made a mistake.

I'm on a camel!I also really enjoyed the camel trek I went on in Jaisalmer – we rode camels out to the sand dunes, ate dinner over an open fire while watching an amazing sunset, slept under the stars (more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life!), woke to an amazing sunrise, and rode back in the morning.

The different forts I saw were a highlight of the trip as well – the picture below is from Kumbalgarh, but I also saw Jaisalmer Fort, Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur, and Daulatabad Fort near Aurangabad, of which Meherangarh Fort was probably my favorite (partially because it had the best audio tour).

Detailed journal posts I made to Google+ while I was over there below, along with hundreds of pictures, in case you want to read or see more:I'm at Kumbalgarh

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