Butters no parsnips

I found myself using a phrase recently which no-one in America seems to understand: "butters no parsnips". This is generally used at the end of short sentence describing a useless action.

For example: using the phrase "butters no parsnips" in the USA butters no parsnips.

My usual helper, Wikipedia, failed me, so I have to fly solo.

This phrase denotes that the action of the sentence does not help in any useful way. Buttering parsnips (ahead of roasting, perhaps), is clearly thought of as a positive outcome. This nifty little English phrase pours scorn on an attempt to do something by saying that the action will have no good outcome, not even buttering any parsnips (which, the phrase suggests, ought to be easy).

Of course, explaining this to Americans butters no parsnips, either.

Fallacies of Distributed Computing

For my tech minded readers, I found this through Andy's (my brother's) blog.

The Eight Fallacies of Distributed Computing
Peter Deutsch

Essentially everyone, when they first build a distributed application, makes the following eight assumptions. All prove to be false in the long run and all cause big trouble and painful learning experiences.

  1. The network is reliable
  2. Latency is zero
  3. Bandwidth is infinite
  4. The network is secure
  5. Topology doesn't change
  6. There is one administrator
  7. Transport cost is zero
  8. The network is homogeneous

For more details, read the article by Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz.

I am not a sophisticated software engineer, and I rarely create distributed applications (who am I kidding? I never do!). However, I know exactly what all these fallacies mean. I even know what #6 is about (which Andy says mystifies him). It means that you can never find the right person to fix your problem if the application is spread all over the internet.

This leads me to wonder what are the fallacies of being a Venture Cyclist ... hmm, a topic for a subsequent post.

Sustainable Chanukah Gifts

In a posting about this time last year I posted a link to a Green Gift guide. This year I am pleased that I can point to a Sustainable Chanukah Gift Guide on jcarrot.org (The Jew and the Carrot - a blog sponsored by Hazon).

Happy Chanukah!

Why am I interested in Healthcare

Why am I interested in healthcare?

First, I don't want to die.
Second, it's interesting.
Third, I'm a venture capital investor ... Healthcare is a major (and growing) area of our economy and as such presents investment opportunities. Finally, healthcare and IT are converging.

One area of healthcare that is of interest to an IT investor is known as "personalized medicine". As usual Wikipedia explains this well. My precis is that personalized medicine is old-fashioned medicine plus computers. Personal genetics is a case in point.

Take 23andMe, the genetics company founded by (Google founder) Sergey Brin’s wife Anne Wojcicki that launches today. You can send 23andMe a saliva sample, and they extract lots of information from your DNA about your ancestry and other information that may be health related such as genetic markers for predispositions to certain conditions.

My (lay) understanding is that 23andMe surveys your genome for SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms). Competitor Navigenics will offer a similar service, but will also offer partial or full sequencing of your DNA as well. Sequencing is more expensive for lots of technical reasons, but can provide more information because not all genetic markers are found only in SNPs (or so I'm told).

All this information about your genes is discovered by computerized lab systems, stored in large computers using sophisticated databases, protected by hi-tech security, accessed by complicated software designed to uncover interesting facts and generally spends its life inside IT infrastructure. In the same way Google thinks this is an interesting business (Google invested in 23andMe), I think so too.

The policy implications of all this personal data overlap, for all sorts of reasons, with policy issues related to personal health records, which I wrote about last week. The US Congress is currently considering the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The issues of privacy for this information are magnified in the US because of the perverse healthcare system. Insurers and employers are directly charged for the healthcare costs of their subscribers/employees and so may be tempted to use genetic (or other personal health) data to discriminate against applicants. Some physicians do not even order some tests because they know that an insurer or employer could use the fact of just the diagnostic event to exclude someone from employment or coverage (whether or not the test is positive - which also ought not to be a factor).

Between managing the data, creating secure appropriate access for family, care-givers and health providers, and using anonymized data in aggregate for research there are lots of opportunities for a venture capital investor to dabble in this field, as many already have.

However, as you can see, there are good reasons for everyone to be interested and informed.

By the way, one reason NOT to get yourself tested by 23andMe or Navigenics, at least for now, is the fact the medical community has no idea how to deal with the incidentalome.

Personal Health Records

Ever since my involvement with Phase Forward, I have been intrigued by the possibilities of introducing information technology across the health care world. One of the hot topics in this arena right now is the use of Personal Health Records (PHRs).

I am speaking on a panel about business models for PHRs at the '07 Personally Controlled Health Records Infrastructure Conference talking place today and tomorrow. I attended last year's first conference and found myself rubbing shoulders with luminaries from government (HHS, VA, CDC), academia, startups, large employers (WalMart, BP, Intel), technology providers (GOOG, MSFT, YHOO, INTU) and more. There was then, and even more so now (vis Dossia), a feeling that PHRs really can deliver value for all players in the health care system.

The trouble is that there is no clear business model that has emerged. The work on PatientSite at BIDMC, Healthvault from Microsoft, and Dossia illustrate three of many disparate approaches, any one or more of which may take root and grow well.

I am scooping myself by previewing my panel presentation and analysis of the 26 (or more) possible economic models that I have distilled from my exposure to the field thus far... and I expect to hear about more at the conference this year. I will share my thoughts of the conference and the panel later this week.

Goodbye multitasking

The Atlantic Monthly recently ran an article called "The Autumn of the Multitaskers", by Walter Kern (subscription may be required to read the article). He talks about his own conversion from multi-tasking to single-tasking as his car flew through the air towards a telegraph pole as a result of trying to look at a picture sent by his girl friend to his cell phone while driving. He lived to tell the tale, but only tells that tale when he is not doing anything else.

Kern quotes Publilius Syrus, a first century B.C.E. Roman slave: "To do two things at once is to do neither." This old wisdom seems to stand up to modern research. Kern notes that neurologists are finding multi-tasking is bad for the tasks you are doing all at once, and actually bad for your brain, too.

I for one plan to stop multi-tasking, or at least I plan to stop multi-tasking when I am doing something else, anyway.

Brits on Bikes 1955

Someone pointed me to a delightful movie made by British Rail in 1955 to promote day trips for cyclists to get out of London and enjoy cycling in the British countryside. (If you sent this to me, please remind me by posting a comment - I hate not to attribute my sources!) It is in two parts, below.

If your viewer does not show the actual embedded videos, here are the links to part one and part two.

Don't Panic...

I did get out for a ride on Sunday (feels so long ago now)... but first I had to deal with a flat rear tube that had magically appeared since my previous outing. This was no small thing for someone who has only once before had to deal with a flat on my own. The fact it was on the rear wheel was an extra hassle, because of navigating the derailleur mechanism when removing and replacing the wheel.

However, with "Don't Panic..." ringing in my ear (thank you Peter Jones), I happily set about my task, and was able to get going after just a few minutes (well maybe 20). Luckily this all happened at home so I had my trusty stand pump (much easier to get to 120 psi than with my road pump).

I was only planning a short ride and happily went out to Weston and back (about 15 miles), enjoying my sense of mechanical (pneumatic?) mastery, and the fun of cycling in the fall.

Idan Raichel again

Dorit has noticed that favorite songs contain particular sections that are what make the music so wonderful. The sax solo at the beginning of Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty comes to mind, the opening hypnotic bars of Space Oddity by David Bowie, the guitar riffs of Mark Knopfler in Dire Straits' music, and so on. Often it is the chorus, and sometimes the bridge. We love the songs for their "good bits".

However, Dorit went on to comment, with the Idan Raichel project, the entire song is the "good bit". This is so true!

It was only February that I last wrote about going to see the Idan Raichel Project in concert.

They were here again last night, playing at a more hip venue, the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. We went with cousins from Toronto, happened to meet up with other friends at the concert, and we all had a blast.

They played some new material, and they had a fabulous brass section to add new dimensions to familiar songs. My recommendation remains the same: well worth listening to!

A solar light unto the nations

My regular readers know I am a great fan of Yosef Abramowitz. He is a true mensch, an innovator, and an amazing leader.

Earlier in the year, when Jews all round the world were reading the first chapters of Genesis "... and there was light!", Yossi gave the d'var Torah ("sermon") in his kibbutz synagogue that week. It is inspiring in so many ways... well worth a read as we head into the darkest few weeks of the year. And it has a shout out to Nigel Savage at Hazon as well.

Hot globally, cold locally

It is getting colder in Boston.

When it's cold, I hear jokes about global warming (and there not being enough of it). I am well aware of the complexity of understanding human impact on the environment, but these jokes no longer sound funny to me. My work with Hazon is one reflection of my concern, but that work has many facets, and I am well aware that Hazon's impact is unlikely to register on the global warming thermometer.

As an optimist, I hope that new technologies will both slow the speed of our impact and ameliorate the damage that has already been done. The speed with which large developing economies are increasing their energy usage will overwhelm all our efforts to use energy efficient lightbulbs. Breakthrough technologies seem to me most likely to provide the biggest opportunities for change ... Just as some late-developing countries went from no phones to all mobile phones (without landlines in between), perhaps we can hope for escaping ahead with new infrastructures built on low-carbon energy sources.

Think globally, act locally: I got on my bike today for some carbon neutral exercise.

I rode 30 miles with Guy in the middle of the day, through Needham and Dover, and we could definitely feel the chill in the air (low 40s). The ride was great, nonetheless, with beautiful fall foliage lit by sun from a cloudless sky. The talk was of French cinema and cold weather gear. My thoughts are about staying fit in the winter, and I am glad of the new spinning center that has opened in Newtonville. Now, I just have to find time to get over there on a regular basis.

VC:VC The Exit

This is a VC:VC post - comparing venture cycling with venture capital. I am going to talk about "The Exit", which is a focus of attention in the venture capital world, and much less in the venture cycling world.

This week Sigma celebrated with portfolio company EqualLogic, which announced a definitive agreement to be acquired by Dell Computers, for $1.4b. Congratulations to Greg Gretsch who was the Sigma lead on this deal! This transaction is a particularly successful exit for the company and for Sigma, who gets to share in the proceeds. The company has exited its VC stage and moved on to being part of a larger story (assuming all goes well and the regulatory and shareholder approvals follow as planned). Although many startups fail, those tend not to be called exits (yes, we do call them failures). An exit is generally an IPO ("going public") or being acquired. As it happens EqualLogic was fairly close to going public when this acquisition was announced. Other good exits for Sigma over the last year or two included Broadware being purchased by CISCO, Topio by NetApp and M-Qube by Verisign. At the end of the day a venture capital firm is always working towards a successful exit. When this happens, we all do well: the founders and management of the company, the VC investors, and those whose money we invest (charitably and university endowments, and others).

Venture cyclists don't have "exits". I have no plan to trade in my bike for a cash payout (although I suppose it depends on the offer!). Instead, as a venture cyclist, I see the returns from investments show up in my own well-being, and in the impact of the work in which I am involved in the community. Sometimes two non-profits merge with each other, but this is not an exit - just a better position to do the good work. I think in fact that non-profit work is about entrances, not exits. Non-profits like Hazon (or even JCDS where I also serve on the board) are about bringing people in to something that brings benefits. The benefits accrue the more entrances there are, not the more exits.

Evoking place

Two of the books I read over the summer this year evoked their place particularly strongly. This was no accident: both were written with the place as a strong character.

The first was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, set in Savannah, GA. This is a fun read even though it ends up being a journalist's recounting of the investigation of a murder, and his interactions with many of the characters. He demands that you treat Savannah as the protagonist in the story, despite the other strong characters. Based on this book, Savannah scares me a little, but should chance take me there, I believe that having read the book will bring me some sense of familiarity with its mood.

The second book, Hillel Halkin's A Strange Death, is about Zichron Ya'akov in Israel. Zichron of the past (from its founding) is a strong presence in the book, and its more modern incarnation from the 1970s or 1980s also shows up, but with less impact. In this book, the founders of the town and their children are really the protagonists, but the feel of the place is well drawn. The story itself meanders around the strange deaths of four women after the first world war.

In both books the mystery remains a mystery. In the first, the strength of Savannah outweighs any need for a resolution. In the second, Zichron is overgrown with real and fictional memories the same way the old buildings are overgrown with weeds. We wish for a resolution but realize it has disappeared with the crumbling remains.

For those looking for recommendations. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a great read. A Strange Death is less compelling for me to recommend, but worth it if you are interested in a parochial history set in Israel exploring both the toil of pre-state settlement and the complex view of past memories from the present.

In the news

I posted previously in this blog what a great time we had at Hub on Wheels. Now, you can see us in glorious monochrome on page 44 of this weeks Newton Tab.
Click on the picture to see a bigger version.

Not a biker? Be a hiker?

Many of my posts are about cycling. If you are not a biker, perhaps you might be enticed by a really great opportunity to hike.

Join Hazon and The Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership on a 4-day hike from northern Israel to the Kinneret. It all happens late March 2008.

More details at the Hazon website.

Israel Bike Trail

I had the pleasure to chat to Jacob Ner-David by phone this morning on a work matter. He and I are both double VCs (venture capitalist, venture cyclist). His big charity ride of the year is the currently running Alyn ride (please consider sponsoring him). Alyn Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Hospital - a private non-profit hospital - is one of the world's leading specialists in the active and intensive rehabilitation of infants, children and adolescents - regardless of religion or ethnic origin - affiliated with a broad range of physical disabilities.

Jacob mentioned that the long awaited Israel Bike Trail is now finalized and the improvements to the pathways are about to start. This is reported nicely here in Ha'aretz English Edition, so I will let them take over.

In January, I reported (here) about Todd Balf who bicycled the length of the Israel Hiking Trail (Shvil Yisrael). His exploits seem more adventurous than I would be up for, so the idea of a bike trail on which I am welcome seems inviting. Watch this space... but don't hold your breath!!

Social graph-iti

There's less to Facebook and other social networks than meets the eye.

So begins an article in The Economist (the headline of which I stole for the title of this posting). A social graph is the data which describes your friendship relationships in a social networking site like LinkedIn or FaceBook. Since I have been writing recently on these topics (here and here), I keep my eye open for real journalism on the subject. Later in the article we find something that echoes my own thoughts in those previous postings I referenced:

But unlike other networks, social networks lose value once they go beyond a certain size. [...]
This suggests that the future of social networking will not be one big social graph but instead myriad small communities on the internet to replicate the millions that exist offline. No single company, therefore, can capture the [grand unified] social graph.

However, The Economist finishes off by downplaying the potential marketing value of Facebook and the other social networks. I think this is wrong. I think that marketing in these environments will be immensely valuable through the ability to target users by interest and for users to spread the word through the network. I think that Facebook's own sponsored ads, Facebook flyers, the Causes application and other new opportunities may well outshadow the performance of display ads, but that as a marketing platform Facebook and its ilk will do just fine.

One billion dollars

My close friend and colleague, Paul Bleicher, called me yesterday and shared the news that, for the first time, Phase Forward's market cap surpassed one billion dollars during the day yesterday. It closed a little below that number as you can see in the image.
The market cap (market capitalization) number is on the PFWD Google Finance page at the top of the middle column of numbers. This is a simple calculation of the number of shares of Phase Forward that exist multiplied by the price per share at that moment. It means the market currently values the company, as a whole, at that number.

Many of you may know that Paul and I co-founded Phase Forward together more than 10 years ago. Paul is still a key member of the executive team and clearly much (most?) of Phase Forward's success is due to his creativity and hard work. Although I left after the formative years in 2000, Paul has always been generous by including my name in the history of the company. Today I salute Paul, again, and enjoy the knowledge that I had some part in creating this successful company.

Ainadamar: The Spring of Tears

Ainadamar - the Spring of Tears in Granada in Spain, the site of the execution of the poet and playwright Lorca in the Spanish civil war. Granada, where the stones cry out for Mariana Pineda in Lorca's play about this 19th century revolutionary martyr. Mariana Pineda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Margarita Xirgu, each brought to life in Osvaldo Golijov's amazing opera "Ainadamar" which Dorit and I saw last night. Ainadamar, from the Arabic, meaning Spring of Tears ... a linguistic neighbor also to the Hebrew which would be Ain Ha'Dma'ot. Ainadamar, an opera in which each generation sings to the next and teaches of art, freedom, poetry. Golijov would be too modest to place himself in this line, but this opera places him firmly there.

The music is alive with the story it tells, the memories it unfurls. These characters have been singing these rhythms and harmonies since they were born, and only now, through Golijov, can we hear it. The story of the fascist campaign against freedom and love and poetry, which has played out for centuries, is bared before us. Xirgu starts knowing Pineda and Lorca are political revolutionaries, and ends knowing they are poets and lovers of freedom.

I am not linking to the CD. Go and see the opera. You missed it in Boston - but find it and see it.

Facebook vs LinkedIn

Apropos one of my recent postings, I found myself sending this note to a professional acquaintance this morning:

I saw your Facebook friend invite ... I hope you are not offended that I do not connect... I really am keeping facebook links only to friends with whom I have an ongoing close relationship. If we are not already connected on LinkedIn where I maintain my professional network I would be happy to connect there.

I guess the specific situation tells me all I need to know about my true feelings of these two networks.

Jews, Food, Bikes

The marketing people hate it, but the tagline for Hazon, in my heart, is "Jews, Food, Bikes"... or maybe "Jews, Bikes, Food". Hazon works to make a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community as a step towards a healthier and more sustainable world for all. Hazon's projects fall into two main areas: outdoor activities involving physical challenge, and food-related programs. The outdoor activities have mostly been about bikes (although a 3 day hike makes its debut next March). However, all these programs include educational and practical elements relating to food: the food we serve is kosher and, as much as possible, organic and from nearby. As I have written before, as have many others, biking is about converting food into motion, and so even the act of biking is about food. Hence, my love, however forbidden, of the tagline "Hazon: Jews, Food, Bikes".

Today was a case in point: I went for a great bike ride with Guy Sapirstein and Ken Rosenstein (Jews, all three of us!). The weather was perfect, the ride was amazing, the company was fabulous. The food ... well, I have been eating a donut at our half-way point the last few weeks. Previously I had been eating a very politically correct energy bar. Today I felt more guilty on account of the donut because of a short recent correspondence with Gregg Stern.

Gregg had written this, worth repeating for all:
KING CORN starts its run at the Coolidge Corner Theatre tonight. This important and smart documentary peers into the American food industry. Called "clear-minded and fair, but just damningly descriptive enough to leave you distrustful of everything on your plate" by the Boston Globe, KING CORN features Harvard Book Store staff favorite Michael Pollan throughout, who expands on many points he makes in THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA. The film runs though next Friday, and one can't help but wonder what people will eat while watching.

In a subsequent note Gregg mentioned in passing "The kids love the high fructose corn syrup foods. To my knowledge, I eat almost none." Wow ... consciousness changing moment. Me, all high and Hazon mighty, and I realize that my food consciousness has been about kosher and maybe organic and a little of local... but I don't even know how much of this corn stuff I have been eating. When I do look at labels I certainly place High Fructose Corn Syrup in the "not good for me, any consumer, any producer, or the environment" category, but I don't actively avoid it the way I actively avoid, say, bacon. Thanks Gregg. Today, with all this reverberating in my head, I did not enjoy my donut, and I have a feeling that it may be my last!

Listen to this

Dorit and I went to the most amazing concert last night at the Boston Philharmonic Discovery Series, of which we have been subscribers for several years.

The highlight was an American premiere of a concerto for violin and tabla called Svara-Yantra by Shirish Korde. Korde is an Indian who also spent some of his childhood in Uganda and then moved to the US. This music was incredible. If you read this in time to get tickets for the Saturday or Sunday concerts in Boston, then run, do not walk, to do so. Korde created music that is a wonderful mixture of Indian music, western classical music and even jazz. The piece was commissioned by Joanna Kurkowicz, the wonderful leader of the Boston Phil, and she performed last night with Samir Chatterjee, one of the leading tabla players in the world. The tabla is (are) a pair of hand drums of contrasting shapes/sizes/timbres (more on Wikipedia). Chatterjee actually had three drums, of which he played a pair at any one time. Shirish Korde happened to be standing at the audio desk right next to our seats during the performance. When we congratulated him he was very modest and deflected the praise to the orchestra and soloists, but he was clearly emotional about the piece and the reception it received.

I was lucky to get both soloists and the composer to sign a CD I bought at the concert. Now I have to buy another copy of the CD (I am not about to risk the CD player wiping the sigs from the CD itself!).

889 miles

So far this year, my trusty GPS tells me I have bicycled 889 miles.

Before today I had ridden 40 miles less - or, in a less convoluted report, I rode 40 miles this morning, with my good friend Guy. We rode our usual Weston-Lincoln-Concord route. The outdoor thermometer registered 44 when we started, so I bundled up with lots of layers and had a wonderful ride. We had sunshine and blue sky, and it even warmed up ever so slightly during the morning. Guy was cold enough to share some hot chocolate at our halfway point (Dunkin Donuts at 9 Acres Corner). As usual, Guy was a very kind pace-setter - out in front most of the time, but always happy to stop and wait for me after long up-hills. We rode a slower pace than we had previously achieved, and some of that must have been due to the wind which was stronger (and more oppositional) than usual for this route.

Only three more of these and I will break the 1000 mile mark for the year. Expect a blog posting reporting this milestone in November, assuming the weather holds up!

World Series of Social Networking

Many non-Americans ask why the final competition of champions in Major League Baseball each year is called the World Series when it is only for North American teams. Wikipedia debunks the myth of an originating sponsorship by some company called World's Almanac -- apparently, the originators really did believe they would be crowning the world's best team at the end of this contest.

In that spirit (and since the World Series is nearly upon us, as all good Red Sox fans know), I offer a World Series of Social Networking between LinkedIn and FaceBook. I happily ignore MySpace (huge) and everything else (small, medium and large) in the space for the really important reason that I am active only on these two sites.

With LinkedIn you can see where your professional contacts are now, find them pretty easily, and connect to others through a chain of trusted connections. There are other features, but these are the valuable ones (in my mind) because they foster and utilize professional trust relationships in a unique way. Facebook allows you to share your news and thoughts and other data with your friends in a fun, easy way. Doing so with professional colleagues can be interesting, but there are certain aspects of my colleagues' lives and thoughts in which I am just not interested (their sports predilections, for example). I imagine their view of my Facebook life, mostly aimed at family and friends, is even dimmer!

So I find that Facebook is a much more compelling platform for me personally right now, but LinkedIn is more suitable for professional work. My personal and professional lives overlap significantly, and I do not really want to maintain two separate networks (one for friends, one for work colleagues). With this in mind, I was happy to read this analysis from Techcrunch that Facebook is now adding features that target the LinkedIn demographic. If Facebook pulls this off, and perhaps even offers a way to import LinkedIn profiles, it will be a really interesting move. It will take a considerable effort to duplicate the complete LinkedIn network on Facebook (perhaps only possible with an acquisition), but it could happen over time. The notion of Facebook allowing me to group friends so that they see different aspects of my life makes lots of sense. Keeping active on both is a pain (Facebook is winning the attention-share war in my case).

I think this is at least a best-of-seven-games series, and there are many more games to play, and all to play for.

Boston Bikes

After a wonderful experience with Hub on Wheels, I was happy (or at least hopeful) to see this post by Sean Roche summarizing recent news on biking in Boston. Sean points out that sometimes all the good work of community and advocacy groups amount to nothing, when compared to a suddenly motivated mayor.

All for the want of a nail

A famous nursery rhyme (at least in England) came to mind when I found myself riding without a bolt on the panier frame on my bike. The load metallic sound that came with every bump made me think my entire bike was falling apart, but it wasn't anything too terrible, as you can see. One new bolt later, and I was back on the road.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Mass Bike Action Alert

Help Get Bicyclist Safety Bill Out of Committee... http://www.massbike.org/news/action_alert_100507.htm

This is a time sensitive alert for Massachusetts voters to encourage our legislators to do the right thing for cycling and cyclists.

Judaism is Pluralism

Today is the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah ("Rejoicing with the Torah") when Jews the world over celebrate reading the end of Deuteronomy and restarting the cycle reading the beginning of Genesis. I say "the world over" but, this excludes Israel, and Jews who follow the Israeli calendar (many progressive Jewish communities). These communities celebrated yesterday... today is a regular day for them. (The reason why is for another post on another day). In fact everyone did celebrate yesterday - really, everyone - and today is a 2nd day of holiday but only for some, as explained noted. However, what a great idea: important legal strictures, thousands of years old, that distinguish when to celebrate very important holidays, that require different behavior according to where you live. And it's even weirder at Purim.

So for me, having grown up on the Israeli calendar, I always find these particular days complicated, ambiguous, uncomfortable. There are many approaches to overcoming this discomfort, and one of them is for me to spend the time with my family, but sneak in a little work here and there, and feel OK about blogging. Many of my friends will spend hours in synagogue today, and would certainly not use a computer... but they remain my friends because they basically have a pluralistic view of the Jewish community.

In this context the definition of pluralism (adapted from Answers.com) would be: a condition in which distinct groups, with various modes of expressing their Jewishness, are present and tolerated within a community, and the belief that such a condition is desirable or beneficial.

Pluralism can be seen to be commanded by God and Jewish tradition in various ways. The first angle is that all humans are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). That concept is well known and yet very mysterious. In terms of pluralism it requires us all to acknowledge the spark of the divine in every human. We may disagree with them, and even believe they are wrong, but if we are inspired by, or believe literally, in the words of the Bible, then we have to look every human in the eye and acknowledge they are made in God's image, no less than we.

This leads to another definition of pluralism that I like: to acknowledge and embrace the place of a person within the community even if we know they are wrong. This goes beyond the wishy washy cultural relativism of "everyone's OK, no-one has the only truth, ...", and this allows for the committed, the sure, the devout, to find a way to pluralism. You do not have to admit that maybe they are right and you are wrong. For many committed Jews (or, name your own religion), there really is a single truth, a single law, and those who do not follow it are just plain wrong. Pluralism is where they are able to maintain a community with all those who share basic values and identity, even if on some matters, you believe that they are wrong.

Another interesting text, relevant to this time of year, comes from the beginning of the liturgy in the opening to the Yom Kippur service. In a choreography that creates a Bet Din (a court of Jewish law), the liturgy begins with (from Birnbaum Machzor):
By the authority of the heavenly court
And by the authority of the earthly court,
With the consent of the Omnipresent One
And with the consent of this congregation,
We declare it lawful to pray with sinners.

Wow - the opening to the most solemn prayers on the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar, and we are letting everyone know it is lawful to pray with sinners. In fact, this is apparently based on the legal arguments of the Talmud where it is noted "that even a Jew who sinned is still considered a Jew."

I rest my case: Judaism is inherently pluralistic and we can be in a community with those we know are wrong.

Schrödinger's Goat

A few weeks ago, Nigel Savage started blogging (and talking) about shechting a goat at the Hazon Food Conference in December, as I previously reported. This created a series of conversations inside Hazon's offices, within the Hazon community, and way beyond.

The seed of this came from last year's food conference, as reported by Nigel:

On the Friday night of last year’s Hazon Food Conference I said, “put your hands up if you eat meat - but would not do so if you had to kill it yourself.” And a good number of hands went up.

Then I said: “put your hands up if you’re vegetarian - but you would eat meat if you killed it yourself.” And a different group of hands went up. And after a brief pause, everyone laughed.

As Nigel and I talked about this we both were very clear that, although it matters to the goat (or goats), the outcome of this discussion was less important than the conversation itself. Nigel put it wonderfully to me by saying, in so many words: "It has taken us several years to get the Jewish community to focus any degree of thought on how green vegetables arrive on our plates; no wonder it is another major effort to get us all thinking about the same process for meat."

I was reminded then, and Nigel since quoted me, of Schrödinger's Cat. This cat is the subject of a famous thought experiment about the interplay between our own view of the world and the probabilistic nature of the quantum-scale world (atoms and smaller). For some period the cat is itself both alive and dead, because its fate is interlinked with an atom that both has and has not undergone radioactive decay (which, believe it or not, makes sense in the quantum world).

As the conversation continues within and without the Hazon world, this goat's fate hangs in the balance (in this case between dying sooner or waiting for the food conference and dying later). It is probably more both alive and dead than most cats will ever be.

Hub on Wheels

I rode 25 miles with Hannah this morning ... we did Hub on Wheels, the Boston City bike ride supporting the The Boston Digital Bridge Foundation (technology for underserved schools).

The ride was fabulous - starting off with a couple of miles on a closed off Storrow Drive, and taking us round many neighborhoods, parks and byways. Highlights: Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum, Forest Hills Cemetery, Harborside bike path, JFK Library, Carson Beach and just riding in Boston, with my favorite 14 year old, on a beautiful fall day. What a treat.

We both felt nostalgia for the Hazon ride of only three weeks ago ... mainly because the community atmosphere built up over the shabbaton was much more intense there. However, riding in Boston with 5,000 other riders was just great. We look forward to doing it again in future years.

VC:VC Ever heard of a dot org crash?

"Ever heard of a .org [pronounced dot org] crash?" That's the question being asked, in its new advertising campaign, by TIAA-CREF, a financial services firm who caters to educators and others in non-profit organizations.

They are playing on the now famous dot com crash. The most common last three letters of internet or web addresses (in the US) are com for commercial entities, net for network providers and org for non-profit organizations. The dot com crash is the shorthand for the unravelling of the internet boom (or the pricking of the internet bubble).

The term dot com refers to the young internet startups, not all the large firms with their websites. Similarly dot org might be represented by Hazon and many other small new non-profits founded by social entrepreneurs, looking for new ways of connecting people and causes.

A dot org crash would be the systemic failure of a group of such organizations because of some common underlying problem with unsustainable growth. This is where the two meet - many new non-profits were started during and after the dot com bubble. These were funded by the dot com rich - mostly young and entrepreneurial, but also possibly fickle and also possibly only temporarily rich. Many dot com fortunes rose and fell with the stock market and did not leave lasting impressions on entrepreneurs' bank balances. Perhaps we will see a dot org crash as these family foundations and pet-projects-turned-new-non-profits run into problems as the founders' interest or bank balance diminish. Perhaps there is a similar phenomenon with celebrity foundations... some celebrities are not known for long attention spans (and, yes, I know many do great work: Oprah, Jerry Lewis' telethon etc etc).

Commentators took great relish at criticising Bill Gates for years: "so rich, and yet he doesn't contribute anything to charity!" Now of course, their criticisms are seen to be premature and unfounded. I am glad he waited and worked deliberately on his philanthropy which seems as solid and well-grounded as any such effort ever seen. Otherwise he may well have fuelled a dot org bubble and when his interest faded, caused a dot org crash.

I see no immediate signs of irrational exuberence in the dot org world - a sure precursor to a dot org crash - but the thought-provoking question "ever heard of a dot org crash?" should be on all of our minds when we look at new charities asking for our support.

Solo 40

As you know from yesterday's posting, my good friend Guy rode a century yesterday - mostly in the pouring rain - and so I did not have my regular Sunday morning ride partner today.

Thus, I took off this morning to do my 40 mile loop through Weston, Lincoln, Concord and Sudbury on my own for the first time. As I feared, I got to a couple of intersections and was completely blank as to which way to go. I actually called friends who knew the route so they could keep me on track. Mark Leiter commented rightly that you only "get" a route when you are lead rider (on a bike) or the driver (in a car). Being a passenger or a follower is fun, but you just don't learn the route.

The morning was cool - around 52 - when I started, and only got into the 60's by the time I was done at the end of the morning. However, the sun was out and it was beautiful riding weather. I had a marvellous time. I could not help thinking how much I owe Hazon, and it's founder Nigel Savage, for getting me on a bike. This has been a wonderful addition to my life both in terms of well-being and as an avenue for friendships with other riders.

This is the time of year in the Jewish calendar for reflecting, for returning to our best selves. Last year I commented on the cycles of the year and the word play it invites for a venture cyclist. This year I am proud that being my best self includes many things (husband, father, son, brother, friend, Newtonite, Americanizing-Brit, Jew, venture capitalist, non-profit board member) and now includes being a cyclist.

A baker's century

A baker's dozen is 13. Apparently, in years gone by, the punishments were harsh for bakers whose weights and measures were in any way disadvantageous to the buying public. To avoid such a fate, the bakers would give 13 items to someone who ordered a dozen, ensuring the total weight was well over the advertised amount.

Thus, I can congratulate Guy Sapirstein, my regular Sunday morning ride partner, who today completed a baker's century - 110 miles - from Boston (well, Revere) to Portland (Maine). The weather was pretty miserable for much of the day ("only the first 102 miles") with driving rain and wind. However this was Guy's first century ride (one more than me), and even with a spill on slick roads at 20 mph early in the day, he completed it at a pace of around 15 mph in good spirits.

Guy rode in the "Ride to Cure Parkinsons" and you can read more about it and sponsor him here.

Congratulations, Guy!

Food on Paper

Anyone who writes blog postings about Food (note the capital "F") has to say something about the New Yorker food issue.

Much as I would like to be a supercilious Brit and tell you how dull it all is, I have to say I enjoyed it (I still am, actually).

As a Jewish food commentator, I am positively obliged to call out the lovely article on Claudia Roden (covered in too many other places to make anything I can possibly say original).

However, if you want a short, fun read please enjoy "Choke" by Anthony Lane. The issue has a series of these short articles about memorable meals by a variety of writers. This one is great.

One day at a time

If you live in America long enough you get to know that "one day at a time" is a slogan used in twelve-step programs for battling addiction. (This is not something familiar to me from my youth in England, but perhaps it is the same there now.)

This time last week Hannah and I and 200 others had just started our Hazon NY Ride. We had experienced a wonderful Shabbat retreat and were embarking on a cool but beautiful morning on our fabulous adventure on wheels.

Pretty much the entire experience was a "high", and this week I have been whistful and sad that it is over. I feel a craving to recreate the same charge. I can understand how addictions start, because in a way I am addicted to the feelings the ride engenders. Like any such experience, the aftermath is a let down. A friend commented that my posting about this year's ride was something I had been building up to all year, and now it was done what else am I going to write about. The bigger question is, what is going to keep me on my bike?

This morning I am looking forward to my "regular" 40 mile ride with Guy Sapirstein, who is training for a century ride in a couple of weeks. And, this year I hope to stay more fit over the winter (instead of "letting go" as I did, more or less, last year).

All in all, my strategy is to take it one day at a time.

Food for bikes redux

I have written before about my favorite energy bars for cycling. I thought I would share here another great training tip from Hue Rhodes who is an outstanding leader in the Hazon NY Ride executive committee with deep previous cycling experience. I love Hue's comment about "Hazon's general dietary recommendation", referring (I assume) to the generally negative press processed foods and sugars get on Hazon's jCarrot blog.

I am not a dietitian. If you have special dietary restrictions, ESPECIALLY related to sugar, don't listen to me. Talk to your doctor.

I'm going to make the case for eating more carbs before and during a long ride. Not hiking food, or backpacking food - riding food, which is high in carbs. The rule of thumb on a ride is "drink before you're thirsty, eat before you're hungry." I'm posting some useful links below, but as a rule of thumb: Don't eat to the point of discomfort. We're talking normal portions.

Dinner the night before: whatever you have, add carbs - pasta, potatoes, etc. Breakfast the morning of: a bagel, a pancake or two, some oatmeal or a muffin, etc. On the ride: raisin bagels, leftover pancakes, fig newtons, energy bars. To drink: plenty of liquid (a bottle an hour), both water and sports energy drink.

Before I joined the Stanford team I'd never ridden a real bike, so on my first long rides I didn't eat well, and I bonked repeatedly. "Bonking" is when your body doesn't have enough fuel to feed your brain in real-time. Your brain starts shutting down - you get sleepy, light-headed, feint, etc. It's misery. Your body has two calorie-rich sources of fuel - fat and carbs. Fat has the most calories, but your body can't burn it fast enough to fuel your brain on fat alone. You need at least some carbs. On average, you have enough carbs in your body (without eating) to ride for 1.5 hours. Eat carbs the night before and you get a boost. Eat carbs for breakfast the morning of, you get more. Eat carbs during the ride, even better.

The theme is, easy-to-digest fuel. Breads, energy bars, fig newtons ... easy to digest. Course multi-grain bread, raw vegetables, nuts ... not so easy. Be kind to your body on a ride. Give it what it wants. It wants carbohydrates, believe me. What about fruit? Fructose needs to be absorbed through the blood, which takes longer than simple sugars which go through the stomach wall. So eating fruit makes your body wait for the fuel it wants. And fruit is high in fiber. Your body is stressed. It's pedaling a bike for hours at a time. If you force your body to choose between riding your bike and digesting fiber, it will abandon the digestive process. And you will be racing for the nearest bathroom in extreme discomfort.

What about protein? Protein takes a lot of energy and water to digest. Eat protein the night before (with your carbs) and grab some protein during lunch. But you could skip protein and eat pure carbs and you'd be fine. Eating pure protein and skipping carbs is a recipe for disaster.

If you find yourself bonking, and you can't pedal another minute, do what every cyclist does - eat a snickers and drink a Mountain Dew. I can't tell you how many times this year riders have gotten to the half-way point of a ride, and not had enough energy to get back. I have them eat some sugar and drink caffeine, and they recover miraculously. This isn't in keeping with Hazon's general dietary recommendation, but if your body is shutting down, you do what you need to do.

But Hue, you say, we're not racing. That makes eating even more important. Our bodies aren't used to long exertion like racers are, and we haven't trained ourselves to burn fat at higher heart rates. So we need carbs even more.

Here are those articles:
* Pre-ride meals
* Sugar

Wow 2.0

I have recently been playing with widgets. For example, I added a Hazon Bike Ride fundraising widget to the web version of my blog (note: this is temporary - if you are reading this after Oct 2007 it will not be there). Widgets are a manifestation of Web 2.0, of which I have posted previously.

Right now I am very pleased and grateful to my many friends who have contributed so generously to Hazon by sponsoring me - I am very close to $10,000 as I write, and still hope to break that. If that includes you, please accept my sincerest thanks! (If you want to help me get over $10,000 - click here.)

The widget graphics and data are pulled from the fundraising database (hosted by Kintera) automatically. This widget was added very easily just by copying/pasting a few lines of code that the Kintera website gave me onto my blog template. Neat huh!

I have also been playing with more Web 2.0 "toys" recently, especially Facebook. Facebook has been written about in many different places. If you are at all interested in Web 2.0 get an account and find some friends to link to ... the rest becomes easy. Another example, I have just now added a feed from this blog onto my Facebook page so that postings show up there as well.

There are a million other Web 2.0 toys that help mash things together from different places on the web. If I had the time, for example, I could display a map of the Hazon ride route right here on this page using Google Maps.

Widgets and Web 2.0 are definitely here to stay. The question now is how much more will their impact grow.

A Marvellous Ride

I've been talking about looking forward to the Hazon ride all year, and now I can report on a marvellous ride.

Early on Sunday morning... 6am... Hannah and I tried to eat a big breakfast before the start of the 2007 NY Jewish Environmental Bike Ride. It was cold and we were wearing cycling gear with added leggings and sleeves and very fashionable 2007 NY Ride cycling jackets (photo by Jon Drill). The dining room was an open sided tent at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat center, and that meant it was cold inside as well.

Unlike last year, however, it was a beautiful morning - the mist was rising from the pond, and the sun was peeking through the trees at the horizon line. Hannah again read the Traveller's Prayer (tefilat haderech) in English, and someone else read it in Hebrew. Then with a shofar blast off we went. It took an hour or two to warm up, and then it was a glorious, wonderful day. The weather really was perfect both days.

Unlike last year Hannah's bike behaved wonderfully and my bike was fine (after I replaced a flat inner tube late Saturday night before we even started). It was such a pleasure to ride with Hannah for both days ... we had a great deal of fun just chatting and riding. The route was very similar to last year and is through absolutely gorgeous scenery mostly on very quiet roads (photo by Marni Mandell). This year I rode up the 3 mile ascent with Nigel Savage - he chatted with me all the way up - and I made it all the way and able to chat right back. This was unlike last year when I did pretty poorly on the same stretch. I have been enjoying riding pretty strenuously with friends all spring and summer - and it clearly paid off: thanks Guy, Jason and all my other riding companions.

Day one ended well for almost everyone, although one dear friend fell when she tried to avoid a dead animal on the road and lost control of her bike. We were all pretty worried initially and she ended up with a broken bone (or two) in her left shoulder. She was in hospital overnight for observation but able to join in the closing celebrations at the end of the ride in Manhattan. The safety and incident plan, always meticulously prepared ahead of time, kicked in very well, and although a broken bone is very serious we were all glad it was not anything worse and that the system for taking care of an injured rider worked well.

This year the Hazon ride was more special because of the number friends who joined us. We had a bus full from Boston, including parents and children riding together from our shul (synagogue) and the kids' schools, as well as others who we met for the first time. On top of that we got to see old friends from LA with their wonderful five kids, as well as reconnecting with Hazon ride friends from last year.

The keynote lecture - always given on Friday evening at the shabbaton that precedes the ride itself - was given this year by my old friend Rabbi Mike Comins of TorahTrek. I met Mike in the 1980's and we shared an apartment in Jerusalem together around 20 years ago. He and I have stayed loosely in touch and it was wonderful to see him, meet his fiance Jody, and hear him speak so beautifully about his work. On Shabbat (Saturday) afternoon, I was also privileged to hear Nehemia Polen teach (he was also a rider with his wife and one of his daughters). He lives in Boston and teaches at Hebrew College, but this was my first opportunity to hear him and it was wonderful.

Day two of the ride was a little easier in some ways because we started with breakfast inside (and hence, warmer). It was certainly an easier route than last year. Most of the day was spent on the Westchester Rail Trail - a wonderful zero motor-traffic riding experience. However day two follows day one and so the physical exertion felt harder even though it was basically downhill most of the day. The end of the ride is down the Greenway in Riverside Park to the Boat Basin, and then a critical mass ride to the JCC at 76th and Amsterdam. Six miles from the end I got another flat, but good friend Hue Rhodes helped me out, and we made it in. It was a wonderful high for Hannah and I, with other friends, to ride in and see Dorit with Asher and Rina cheering us in.

The closing circle was held, as usual, on the roof of the JCC. Lots of participants shared how amazing they found the entire experience. For myself, well, I cycled 100+ miles over the two days, spent wonderful time with my daughter, many great friends, and a diverse community of Jews and non-Jews who really feel we can make a difference in the world. I also found that even a book-loving, desk-bound, computer geek can be fitter this year than last.

Don't think about cutting and running

A few months ago I read Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff. If told not to think of an elephant, you cannot help but do so. The book discusses how the Republican party and the political right wing in the US has framed the conversations in society by encoding phraseology that traps us all in just the same way. Their prescription is to find ways to do the opposite for the liberal, or progressive (or Democratic) agenda.

I thought of this this morning when a not particularly eloquent Republican candidate for congress complained that yes, the war in Iraq was a mistake, but that's all history and we can't cut and run now. I have been incensed over the use of the phrase "cut and run" by the Republicans and their proxies as a way to completely obliterate any sane discussion of what we plan to achieve in Iraq or how to consider withdrawal options for US troops in Iraq.

So here is my suggestion for a different phrase. "We should not strand our troops in Iraq."

I am not in favor of leaving Iraq to be a failed state which harbors and sponsors terrorism of any kind. A failed Iraq and a less stable mid-East is not good for any of the countries I care about: the US, the UK, Israel ...

However, absence of strategy is not a strategy. "We should not cut and run" is the absence of a strategy, and leaves no opening for discussion or consideration. At least "we should not strand our troops" implicitly asks us to consider whether and when we might think of them as stranded, why 80 are being killed each month, and asks for a pathway to some acceptable outcome.

From year to year

This time last year (the Tuesday before the Hazon NY ride) I was worrying about the weather: a tropical storm was due over the route at exactly the wrong time. This year, the weather looks wonderful for both ride days (70's, 80's).

This time last year I had ridden 380 miles during my training. This year, I have ridden 530 miles so far, including a wonderful 40 mile Lincoln/Concord ride with Guy Sapirstein and Jason Glasgow on Sunday morning (at a personal best speed of 14 mph moving average).

Last year the Hazon NY ride route on the second day involved a well known miserable set of hills. This year it the second day route is mostly on a rail trail (grades of 2% or so).

Last year I helped Hannah with her fundraising (or did most of it for her). This year she has raised $2000 or more without any help from me.

Last year I was on track to raise about $6,000 for my favorite cause. This year I still have hopes of getting to $10,000. Please help out if you have not already done so - I am down to the wire.

Last year we knew very few of the participants ahead of time. This year we look forward to meeting friends from last year and are thrilled to be bringing a whole team of friends from Boston.

Life as a venture cyclist has its ups and downs. Right now it feels like there are many more ups than downs!

The Streets of Newton

I spent a very pleasant hour on the streets of Newton this morning, on my regular carriage lane 11 mile route. I am definitely stronger on hills, and hoping this will translate well on the Hazon ride (unlike last year).

There is one stretch of the Carriage Lane (between BC and Hammond Street) which really needs repaving. It reminded me of my idea (which you are welcome to steal) for a website which would allow people to photograph potholes and add them to a map mashup so others know the locations. Add to this the opportunity to tell the Dept of Public Works about all potholes as soon as they are first spotted, and it takes away the City's defense "we didn't know about it". Apparently they (at least the City of Newton) will pay for vehicle repairs related to potholes and the like if they knew about the pothole ahead of time.

On this note, I just found another wonderful Newton blog: Newton Streets and Sidewalks. This is written by Sean Roche, someone we have known for years, but it was only when I saw his name in the local paper did I realize this blog existed. Perhaps Sean will take my potholes website idea and run with it (at least for Newton).

VC:VC Blood on the floor

In my venture cycling world I rarely see blood ... I didn't even scrape myself when I fell off my bike last year. However, I find myself drawing closer to a bloody side of Hazon's world ... the plan to shecht (slaughter for food according to kosher rules) a goat (or two) at the Hazon food conference in December.

This was first publicised in the Hazon sponsored food blog, Jcarrot, yesterday when Nigel Savage described the plan, and the apparent need for two goats, based on the need to hang the meat for at least a week before eating it. On this basis the plan described the need to shecht one goat a week in advance to eat at the conference, and a second one at the conference itself for those who wish to observe how it is done.

A second post on this topic on Jcarrot today brings more to the story. A blogger in failedmessiah.com picked up on this, and reminded Nigel that in Temple times animals were slaughtered and eaten almost immediately. Other comments included mention of the original Passover ritual in Egypt also, famously, eaten immediately. As can often be the case in the blogosphere the comments get heated and a little unpleasant in writing off Nigel and Hazon as all the wrong kind of (a) Jews, (b) food experts, (c) kosher food experts, and (d) environmentalists. Oh well ... more blood on the floor.

In venture capital we rarely see blood. The odd paper cut or two is an imminent threat at many board meetings. Sometimes discussions get heated, but I have not heard of too many instances when punches are thrown and blood is drawn. The awful times when either an executive is let go, or a company workforce has to be cut have been likened to bloody moments, but we generally try to make them as unbloody as possible.

In both sides of my life, venture cycling and venture capital, I am grateful that there is little real blood. Just thinking about the demonstration planned for the food conference is enough to make me blanch, and I don't even plan to be there.

VC:VC How to raise money

Raising Venture Capital money is not easy - ask any entrepreneur. This fun video from Israel (Hebrew with English subtitles) is worth the three minutes.

How to raise Venture Cycling money? Click on the "click here" text below... thanks!

Click Here to Donate

VC:VC The first twenty miles; the first twenty million dollars

Po Bronson wrote a great book about the high tech startup world: The first $20 million is always the hardest. The $20 million in question is the beginning of an entrepreneur's fortune. It certainly seems that way to me, being a long way off from my first $20 million! It is also true that for most startups the first $20 million are much harder to earn than subsequent revenue.

However, the first 20 miles is (pretty obviously) much easier, talking about bike rides, than the subsequent 20 miles, or any 20 miles after that. Apart from the warm up at the very start, the fresher I am, the easier the cycling feels. This was the case today with another, slightly faster than last time, 40 mile ride with Guy Sapirstein out to Concord and back.

The contrast is a result of the direct linkage of effort to action when riding a bike, and the very complicated linkages and dependencies when thinking about a startup. A startup has to put in huge amounts of effort into specifying and building its product or service capability, tuning it to the market needs, finding customers, convincing them to buy (from a startup, no less), agreeing on business terms for the transaction, and then doing it all again for yet more customers.

Compared to the humble bicycle chain this process of a startup earning $20 million in revenues is a Rube Goldberg-esque endeavor (or Heath Robinson-esque, for my English readers). The process is rarely pretty, although it is generally very edifying. Once at $30 million in annual revenues, however, a startup often falters as the organization struggles to scale operations and management capabilities (repeated again at $100 million). However, those stutter steps are a matter of business execution by the management team, and are (mostly) easier than the leap of faith and effort that we undertake for that first $20 million.

The Companionship of the Long Distance Cyclist

I am related, not too distantly, to Alan Sillitoe, author of a collection of stories called The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I have never been a runner, but it does look like a lonely sport. Even when running with someone the focus of the runner seems inward. Cycling, at least as I practice it, is very companionable. I get to ride with Hannah, my daughter, as well as my friends, and even when by myself I find myself nodding or waving to all other cyclists I pass.

Yesterday Hannah and I drove down to Dennis on Cape Cod, and then rode the entire length of the Cape Cod Rail Trail to Wellfleet, and back. This was a total of 45 miles, and is a good training ride for both of us ahead of the Hazon ride in a few weeks. We happened to meet some friends on the trail who are staying on the Cape for vacation and happened to be out on a family bike ride.

This was especially hard work for Hannah for whom it was the longest one-day ride she has ever done. However, we had lots of fun just chatting, learning about how it feels on a long ride, working hard and earning good feelings of achievement. At the end of the ride (around 6pm) the trail was almost deserted, but we had each other for companionship, and never once felt lonely.

Biking Boston

Two opportunities to bike Boston over the next few weeks...

First, thanks to Laura Segel, I heard about The Back Bay Midnight Pedalers which will hold its 19th Boston by Bike at Night on August 18th.
The ride starts at midnight downtown, watches the sun rise and ends at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park. The tour hits the city's many historic sites when the hour and darkness offer riders freedom on otherwise crowded and narrow city streets. (More details.)

Second, Hub on Wheels is running its citywide ride and bike festival in Boston on Sunday Sept 23 (more details).

I am unlikely to do the midnight ride (like Cinderella's carriage, my bike turns into a cucumber at midnight), but really hope to do Hub on Wheels event. Let me know if you want to join me.

First time visit to Concord MA

Today was my first visit to Concord, MA ... as a cyclist that is. I cycled 40 miles with Guy Sapirstein and Josh Musher. Lee Goldfinch joined us for the first 15 miles but decided as a less frequent cyclist not to push too hard and peeled off. It was fairly hard work (average moving speed of 13.3mph), but seems manageable and is a good sign for the Hazon ride in 3 weeks. It feels harder to manage hydration and eating after a strenuous trip than during the ride itself when I kept myself pretty well in balance.

The route we take is really pretty - especially in Lincoln and Concord. You get to see lovely views of purple loosestrife and goldenrod and many other wild flowers. This reminded me how much I love Jon Regosin's Natural Newton blog. He opens my eyes to what is right in front of my nose. For example, he recently shared that there are five species of goldenrod in Newton. To my untrained eye I "saw" just goldenrod -- now I have to look for the differences.

Getting serious

I snuck in a nine mile ride yesterday afternoon -- not quite in between rain showers. I only had an hour and so I did my Carriage Lane ride but really attacked with a moving average to 12mph. Given it is lots of hills, this is not too bad, and is much faster than I usually ride it (even though my pace is a little faster on less hilly routes such as the Lincoln ride).

It is only three weeks to the ride and I am getting much more serious over this final stretch. Tomorrow I have a 40 mile ride planned with friends, and another one mid-week with Hannah.

Orthodox Paradox

I was chatting with my friend Paul Gompers this morning and he mentioned the Noah Feldman article in the NY Times Magazine from a couple of weeks ago called "The Orthodox Paradox". The article starts on the basis of Feldman's treatment at the hands of his high school alumni department at our very own local Maimonides School, so I understand it is the subject of much discussion in our community -- I must have missed it because of our wonderful vacation.

I will not rehash it here - you can read it on the NY Times website ($$ subscription required) and read all about it elsewhere (Google "feldman orthodox paradox"). However I was struck by this to-the-point article on JTA's website which I think asks the right questions.

I am hoping that Yossi Abramowitz will weigh in as well on his Peoplehood.org site.

From Boat to Beach to Bike

Hannah was on a boat, then we were all on a beach, and now we are back on our bikes.

Hannah and I cycled 20 miles on the Arlington-Bedford Minuteman bike trail a couple of days ago. I am planning a 40 mile ride on Sunday morning.

It is only three weeks until the Hazon bike ride and we are starting to get excited (and nervous)!

This photo was taken last Sunday morning, and it already seems like a fading dream...


Is a blog backlog a backblog?

We are just back from a fabulous vacation in the British Virgin Islands. This is not a usual time of year to visit the Carribean (hurricane season starts June 1) but we had an idyllic time there. Hannah (our 14 year-old) spent three weeks learning to sail on ActionQuest (check out her boat's log here). We met her shipmates and the ActionQuest crew when we picked her up last Tuesday ... she had a spectacular time. Then, as a reunited family, we spent the rest of the week going from beach to beach relaxing and having fun together.

The venture cycling content of our week was zero, although the very steep roads made us think of our bikes on every ascent and descent.

The venture capital content of our week was not quite zero - I met a high-tech entrepreneur turned resort owner who still dabbles in tech investing. I quite understand why he sees the BVI as an excellent place from which to invest!

Saddles for Real Men

A double thanks today to Guy Sapirstein. Guy and I rode our nearly 30 miles Lincoln loop last Sunday for the third week. My heartrate was a beat per minute slower (on average) and my speed a tenth of a mile per hour faster ... both good signs.

Guy also sent me a note about this wonderful article on bike saddles for real men from Sheldon Brown. Well worth a look. Of course, real cyclists really ride recumbents.

Sheldon Brown is the force behind Harris Cyclery in West Newton, which carries the Greenspeed recumbent trike.

Microfinance 2.0

That darn 2.0 label is showing up everywhere (see some earlier postings here and here). Brad Feld hates the fact that Enterprise 2.0 now has a Wikipedia entry, and of course there are 3.0 mentions springing up as well.

Microfinance is the provision of financial services, usually in very small amounts, to poor people. The key idea is that these services are market-based and without subsidy. The first successful stories of microfinance I heard about centered on the work of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Success in microfinance is generally measured both in terms of helping the population served and by usual business metrics of revenue and profit. Microfinance has indeed been successful as measured by helping the very poor start businesses that lift them out of poverty, provide needed services to their locales, as well as paying back the financiers profitably so they are thus able to repeat the cycle.

Ideas of microfinance have migrated back to the developed world to help underserved populations, including in the USA. Not every example is a success on either dimension, and each circumstance needs the right approach in order to work.

I recently saw a couple of new derivatives of these ideas. One is The Acumen Fund which calls itself a global non-profit venture fund. Another is Kiva that allows philanthropic and microfinance minded people in the rich world to provide loans directly to entrepreneurs in the poor world. Kiva's website says that
Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on Kiva.org, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.
Both of these are microfinance 2.0 if ever such a label was warranted.

Bikeway rage

Several people passed this on to me. A recent article in the Boston Globe recently discussed the problems of heavy and mixed traffic on a popular bike trail. It happens to be the Minuteman bike trail on which I spent many hours last year and have returned to once so far this year.

The article notes the presence of a pet llama on the trail (reported on this blog last year), and the problems of cyclists mixing with roller-bladers, pedestrians, kids and other pets. Apparently police are called regularly to deal with incidents of bikeway rage. What a shame.

A word to the wise: traffic on this bike path is very manageable during weekdays (apart from rush hour I guess), and, I believe, bright and early on weekend mornings.

Dreaming in Code

Yesterday I hosted the annual event for the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and Vice President of Engineering executives from the East coast Sigma portfolio companies. This is an annual event, and something we also do for the other groups of executives in our portfolio companies. The West coast has similar programs as well.
Over the last couple of years we have held a "book club" as one of the discussion sessions, and this year we read Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software by Scott Rosenberg.

The title may be familiar to adult students of foreign languages. You know you are getting the hang of a new language when you have a dream in that language. One of the programmers in this book talks about dreaming in code...

This book is a great read, and opens up, even for the non-technical reader, a feeling for the reality of creating software. It is an ugly reality. We struggle between engineering and art. We like to think we can build software the way we build bridges, but there is no physics to constrain us or inform us. Our industry is full of stories of individual programmers who are 10 or 20 times more productive than the rest, who produce "beautiful" code ... surely they are artists.

And yet, getting artists to work together on projects is not generally an effort of science or engineering. In a section of a legendary speech given in 1968 on this very topic, we are invited to imagine a group attempting to write down the criteria for the design of the "Mona Lisa". Nearly 40 years ago this allegory highlights the same problems described in Dreaming in Code, for which we have no more insight today. If creating software is truly an art form, why do we not teach it as we teach other art, by analysis and critique of the great works that have gone before (not so many, in our case). How do we harness large teams of people to engage in such an artisitic endeavor? This always leads back to a very famous book, written in 1974 called The Mythical Man Month by Fred Brooks. He was the first to show, unequivocally, that adding more programmers to a late project makes it later, and who reminds us that no matter how many women are assigned to the task, bearing a child takes nine months.

Dreaming in Code reminds us that software is brittle (it breaks rather than bends when stressed). We are also reminded that any decision is better than no decision. Mostly we are reminded that any software created by more than one person is driven by force of will, by leadership, discipline and strong management. It is not something that can be done in a commune. The "obvious counter-examples" are the open source community of programmers around, say, Firefox or Linux. However our group yesterday was unanimous in believing that existing software, with clear and articulated design, architecture and style can be turned over to a communal effort for improvement. Starting from scratch needs the force of will that only a lone programmer or a small well-managed team can accomplish.

Healthcare musings

I follow three healthcare industry blogs:

I recommend all three of them.

David's blawg is the driest, as a law blog should be ... but it sure opens your eyes to the extent by which crazy regulation runs our healthcare system. Stark rules, anyone?

Paul is at turns amusing, saddening, maddening and uplifting, as health care in America can be. However the blog really gives me a flavor for the sharp end of the system. Chect out this discussion of an interesting clinical trial, and the surprise ending which he added later.

Charlie comes across as an economist. His micro-economic world is trying to run a company that makes money; his macro-economic world is trying to envisage a healthcare system that is effective and cost-effective. Check out how he deconstructs what I previously found a compelling idea called Medicare for All.

VC:VC That was great! Do it again!

This is a VC:VC posting (of which a complete list can always be found by clicking on the VC:VC label). This series compares venture cycling with venture capital - this is the 26th in the series I believe - so I stand by my assertion that they have much to learn from each other (or at least tell each other).

A very small sub-section of my readers will know Becca Rausch, a local Boston icon of Israeli folkdance. Having had the privilege of dancing in a couple of her troupes, I can report that during rehearsals she is often heard to shout out "That was great! Do it again!"

Yesterday I went out for a bike ride with Guy Sapirstein and we more or less repeated last week's 30 mile route. It was a great ride, and my average speed was 13.6 mph - a tad better than last week's 13.5 mph.

Given that the Hazon charity ride I am doing with Hannah later in the summer is a two day ride, I know I need to be able to say to myself after day 1 "that was great; do it again!" So, this morning, I took myself out onto the Comm Ave Carriage Lane. Ouch! I went slower, puffed harder and enjoyed myself less, and I only rode 11 miles. Certainly riding alone is not half as much fun as riding with someone else, and I was not completely flattened by the hills - my legs do seem to be getting stronger. Nonetheless, doing it again was no easy thing, even if it was less than half of yesterday's ride length. The reasons are obvious(ish): yesterday I was fresh from a couple of days without riding and my muscles weren't tired. Just the "stress" of the fluid and energy usage or throughput means my body is less responsive to my desire to use my muscles today than it was yesterday (my Garmin Training Center software tells me yesterday's ride used 2200 calories).

This, of course, is just like the venture capital startup world.

Venture capital start-ups, all share the same goal of growing fast (both investors and entrepreneurs would not be working together if this was not a primary goal). After one of our startup companies gets something right, we tell them "That was great; Do it again!" Of course, what we mean is "That was great; do it again bigger!" You sold $3m of software this year? Great, now sell $6m next year! You serviced 450,000 consumers this year? Great, now service 1.5m next year!

Another mini-digression: the law of large numbers in business talks about the problem of growth for very large companies. It is extremely difficult for a company that has grown revenue by 100% from $5 billion to $10 billion grow again by 100% to $20 billion. The first time round was hard enough: 100% = $5b ... now 100% = $10b ... eek!

A startup starts with a small baseline: sell $1m this year - easy to sell $2m next year. However, even startups have a problem with growth numbers as they try to scale capacity along with revenue. And so, after a really tough year of working hard, pushing every sales person to work with every possible prospect to squeeze as much as possible from each sales opportunity, the company achieves a great revenue number. People are exhausted, there are no sales prospects left because we have sold something to all the prospects we knew about, the software has stagnated because we used engineers' time to help new customers install the software we sold them, and the VCs tell the company "That was great! Do it again bigger!"

The successful ones do. It is not easy, but they do it.

Just like venture cyclists.

We work out how to extend ourselves on day one, and be prepared to do it again (bigger) on day two. We plan ahead; we train; we think of what shape we need to be in; we have the right food on hand; we pace ourselves; we raise money; we find mentors; we get out there and do it.