Thursday, November 29, 2007

Social Networking Data

I've been looking at the various social networking technologies, and I've been intrigued by the degree to which they focus on sharing information that seems like there is no conceivable reason to share. Example: I'm listening to "X" or I just bought "Y". In other cases, I can see real privacy concerns being an issue. Then I realized how much of this stuff I was actually making notes about and even googled around a bit for information on music artists that I hadn't heard of.

I've been listening to music most of the work day in the background and fortunately the iPod is able to tell me exactly what I've been listening to. In the spirit of the times, I'll share. So the three most listened to albums are:

1) Anna Netrebko's Russian Album.

Netrebko's voice has been described as dark, but it seems perfect to me in this album. I also have her doing Aria's from La Traviata with Rolando Villazon, but I much prefer this album, in general and day to day.

2) Wynton Marsalis's Black Codes (From Underground)

Marsalis remains one of my favorite musicians and an indispensable part of my daily life, despite my overall lack of enthusiasm for the latest and somewhat dreary From the Plantation to the Penitentiary album. Black Codes is a classic from an amazing and creative talent.

3) Helene Grimaud's Beethoven: Piano Concertos

Stunning. This album will take you to another place.

Not sure what is to be done with this information, but it's a minor contribution to the personalization of the web.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Good Reads

A few books I've snuck in over the last month, all of which I'd recommend:

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee: there is a reason that Coetzee received the Nobel Prize in literature, epitomized by this book, which is both extraordinarily difficult to read and almost impossible to put down. The book deals with complicated topics in such sparse text, that it seems like the literary equivalent of a spring trap: an ugly thing designed as a masterful piece of craftsmanship that traps the reader in a painful grasp. Far and away the best book I've read this year.

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins: ever since the Selfish Gene, a really great book, Dawkins has been an indispensable popularizer of evolutionary theory. The Blind Watchmaker is quite good, piggybacking off the deist conception of life as the bi-product of a designer (where have we heard this recently?), to illustrate how evolutionary processes actually work. The most striking point by reference to the popular imagination is this: there is no point, or more properly, no fixed design. Infinitely better than the cringe-worthy God Delusion, this is a book that really ought to be required reading for high school students taking biology courses.

Corporate Finance: A Valuation Approach by Simon Benninga and Oded Sarig: ok, I confess, I had to read this book for a class, and the class was given by the authors. I probably would not have read this otherwise. (An interesting aside: both professors commute from Israel to Philadelphia to teach. I thought I had a bad commute!) However, I have done a series of courses on corporate finance touching on the topic of valuation and have read several books on valuation. This book continually gave me new insights into how to approach valuation problems, which, as I've noted, are a persistent challenge for entrepreneurs and software startups. The book is worth reading on its own, or at least worth knowing someone who has read it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Moorestown Running Company

In the software business many people know Bob Bickel, who helped build up Bluestone Software through an IPO and sale to HP. After that, he ran HP's middleware business and then went on to build out JBoss (the company), which he in turn helped sell off to Red Hat. Pretty amazing guy.

I've had several people ask what Bob's up to these days. I had a chance to stop by his latest venture, the Moorestown Running Company. The store specializes in running gear and does a full fitting program to get runners paired up with the right shoes. Turns out that I am suffering from some moderate to serious pronation, and the folks at MRC were able to get me fitted with shoes with extra support. They feel great and I feel like I've lost another excuse not to exercise.

Moorestown is the tech center of the east coast (we like to think so anyway), stop by for a pair of sneakers on your next visit to the area.

Selling your IT Business

Like many people in software, I have cycled between large, established companies and startup opportunities. In recent years, I've focused more on large scale projects in bigger companies, but I've always tried to stay in tune with what's happening in the startup world. My interest in managing young software businesses was sharpened when I co-founded a company, which as ultimately unsuccessful, at the bottom of the crash. The thing I realized then was that I really did not understand much about valuations and financial measures. Over time, I've found that many other entrepreneurs struggle with these issues, so my first piece of advice to early stage companies that are looking to sell or raise capital is always: make sure you get a good finance person to help you. It can be hard to get a CFO involved at a very early stage, so this may have to be a board member with some knowledge of finance. Any capital of quality will have a huge advantage over the entrepreneur in this area, so this is one of the most important areas to manage, since it impacts the value entrepreneurs will realize from their venture. (Ironically, finance has changed for me from something of a weakness to an area in which I am much more comfortable, but this took a lot of time and pain.)

Anyway, there's a book I want to recommend for entrepreneurs that I just finished reading: Bob Chalfin's Selling Your IT Business. This is a very readable, easy to understand guide to the many of the legal issues involved with doing a business, including valuations. I don't think it can be a replacement for assistance, but it's a great overview for anyone thinking about selling a smaller business and wants to understand many of the core issues involved in the process. I know Bob from an investment project I've been involved with, so I can also say that he lives this stuff.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Master and Margarita

As many of my friends know, I am a huge fan of Russian literature. Though I do not speak Russian (aside from a few holiday greetings I picked up as a kid), there's something intangible about Russian novels that I cannot find in any other national literary tradition that persists through translation. Perhaps it is the modernity of Russia's literary golden age or perhaps it is purely a personal bias brought on by my youthful recollections of exported Russian culture. Whatever the case, I still respond strongly to the works of Gogol and Dostoevsky, even on multiple readings.

I have not had a lot of time to read books for pleasure recently, but I did have a chance to revisit Bulgakov. The Burgin/O'Connor translation of The Master and Margarita is entrancing. Within the first few chapters, I found myself unable to put the book down: the first description of Pilate's trial of Yeshua is irresistible. I read one complaint on-line on the translation, but it reads wonderfully and is supposed to be quite true to the original. Definitely recommended.