Recent Books — Silent Patient, Underground Airlines, Quicksand, Klosterman

  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.  A woman murders her husband and is found insane, and a therapist digs in to get the truth.  Very twisty and fun.
  • Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters.  A suspense story set in a world where the Civil War never happened and slavery continues to this day.  Tough topic, disturbing at times, good tale.
  • Quicksand by Malin Perrson Giolito. Well reviewed but I couldn’t make it through, might be due to a weak translation.
  • But What If We’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman.  Very thoughtful discussion of our conventional wisdom about culture, science, and other topics.  We are certainly wrong about many things we believe — how are we probably wrong, where is truth likely to be found, and does it matter?

Recent Books — Circe, Another Timeline, Washington Black, Last Good Kiss

  • Circe by Madeline Miller. Excellent retelling of the story of Circe, making her the central and most human part of so much of Greek myth. Very good.
  • The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz. Eh, just didn’t care enough to see where this was going.  Great reviews tho so your mileage may vary.
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.  Great novel of a slave born in the Caribbean plantations, slowly escaping and building a free life, helped and hindered by fallible people and society around him.  A page turner.  Deserves all the recognition.
  • The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley.  Excellent hard-boiled detective tale.  The hero is a drunk, deeply-flawed, yet still honorable, and finds himself pulled into a pit of snakes.  Great read

Recent Books — Starless Sea, El Salvador, Daisy Jones & The Six, Deep State, Sunnyside

  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I am ambivalent. Certainly the story is creative, and much work was done to plot it out. But I am not really convinced the story went anywhere. I was compelled to finish but I don’t know I will remember much.
  • What You Have Heard Is True by Carolyn Forche. Brutal look at El Salvador during the Civil War in the 80s and 90s. Horrible. We have done so little in the US for our Central American neighbors, and actually have been behind so many terrible people.
  • Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I would not normally seek out a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick but this was a great tale of rock and roll, drugs, sex, love, betrayal, forgiveness, redemption, consequences, responsibility. Tore through it.
  • Deep State by Chris Hauty. Embarrassed to say I read this — shoddy characters, shoddy dialog. But enthralling, couldn’t put it down, nice twists.
  • Sunnyside by Glen David Gold. No idea why I bought this years ago. I like weird and this was too weird to finish.

Recent Books – Red Mountain, Wanderers, Open Borders

  • Red Mountain by Boo Walker. Outside my normal interest range and for good reason, this is horrible. A Hallmark movie. Cloying, ridiculous.
  • The Wanderers by Chuck Wendig. Post apocalypse, zombies, nano-machines, AI, pandemic, white nationalists, climate change, conspiracies, this has it all. Long but I enjoyed it.
  • Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration by Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith. Very readable walk through the basic arguments for immigration. Might be a little simplistic but everyone should at least be informed on these arguments.

Recent Books — Noumenon, Stephen King, Reacher, Tropic of Kansas, When Paris Went Dark

  • Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity by Marina Lostetter. A space exploration trip returns to Earth after centuries away and can barely relate to the evolved human culture. And so on. Fun.
  • The Institute by Stephen King. Very average Stephen King. So still highly entertaining but not amazing.
  • The Midnight Line by Lee Child. Another Jack Reacher book, a very good one, dealing with a missing veteran who may be a criminal or a hero or both.
  • Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown. A fascist nationalist leader arises in the US in the 1980s. Years later we follow along as young rebels try to undo the damage. Very entertaining.
  • When Paris Went Dark by Ronald Rosbottom. Paris during the WWII occupation — what happened to the city and the citizens. Some dark times.

Car OEMs are taking Tesla seriously, but not seriously enough

Three articles worth reading:

Owning a good EV is a transformational experience. Is my Tesla as good in all respects as a traditional car? No. But it is so dramatically better in a few regards that I will never go back to an internal combustion engine vehicle. And I don’t think this is discernible in focus groups or other traditional market research vehicles.

I am reminded of 1988 when I joined Microsoft. I sat in meetings with senior leaders from DEC who regularly pooh-poohed the PC. And they were “right”, the PC was primitive and incomplete. And in 10 years DEC was gone as an independent entity, despite their amazing technical and business strengths, despite being “right” in their judgement about the PC.

When the tide comes in, you don’t want to be trying to fight it.

Recent Books — Eggshells, Misterioso, Rock and Roll…, Buffalo Soldier, Dorsey, Montaigne

  • Eggshells by Caitriona Lally. An odd woman in Dublin tries to connect with the world, or escape the world. Tiring.
  • Misterioso by Arne Dahl.  Another Swedish mystery.  Characters seem very cold.  Either A) Swedes are really different, or B) the author has made them seem really different by intent or lack of effort, or C) the translator has done a poor job.
  • Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond.  A book about rock and roll by a guy who clearly loves music. You can’t help but get drawn in by the author’s enthusiasm.
  • Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus.  Steampunk tale of a man and boy on the run through a very different North America.  Entertaining, brief.
  • Florida Roadkill by Tim Dorsey.  I am told by a great friend that this book nails the characters you meet every day in Florida, but I wouldn’t know, and don’t really enjoy farce.
  • How to Live by Sarah Bakewell.  There may be a time in my life when I want to understand the slow introspection of Montaigne, and it may be a sad commentary on me, but I just can’t get into this.

Strategy formulation is not optional

We get to spend two days with strategy consultants this week. I spent the first four years of my career as a strategy consultant and I have some perspective.

Strategy is not some task you do every once in a while as executives. Strategy formulation, implementation, testing, and revision is a daily, hourly task. The best operators in the company are deeply involved in it. Sales people are pitching your strategy, and getting data back from customers on acceptance, pricing, competitive alternatives, and unmet needs. Product people are implementing, identifying unexpected hurdles, and finding new innovations every day. Everyone is trying out competitive products, seeing competitive moves, every day.

Every day all this info needs to be processed by the org, and the strategy needs to adapt. Strategy formulation and reformulation is thus totally intermingled with operations, and the best orgs are incredibly nimble at incorporating all the daily data and evolving strategy.

Strategies created outside the operating team often fail because they are not realistic — they are not implementable, they don’t account for what is really happening in the technology or with the customers, they are uninformed by the daily competitive pressure the operating team faces. And the operating teams knows all this, and so doesn’t buy into the strategy.

While I was a strategy consultant, I was presenting some brilliantly conceived strategy to one of our senior partners, Tom. Tom had been in the consulting business a long time and had seen a jillion businesses. He listened to my presentation, and then said “this is all nice, but your strategy is what you ship”.

It was an aha moment for me that has stuck with me ever since.

Tesla V10 is coming — how will carmakers respond?

Tesla is just kicking ass in car apps — https://electrek.co/2019/09/15/tesla-v10-first-look-release-notes-features/.   They made an investment in a UX and data architecture and it is paying off.  Most carmakers are targeting where Tesla was 18-24 months ago, and by the time their cars ship, they will be even further behind.  

The carmakers have some options, none of which are easy:

  • Embrace the phone.  Support Android Auto and CarPlay, give up on competing on base car UX and apps, and build auto-specific features and services on top of Android Auto and CarPlay.  This is not a terrible strategy, carmakers can focus their energy on car-specific features.  Xevo works with a number of carmakers on upcoming solutions along these lines, these will be good experiences.
  • Try to drag race Tesla.  Some carmakers are trying this, it will be difficult to win this drag race if the carmaker is not tapping into software development talent in one of the software development centers — Bay Area, Seattle, NYC.  Xevo works with a couple of OEMs on this basis, tapping into the great Seattle ecosystem and labor market.  This is a tough strategy though and maybe the highest risk strategy.
  • Leapfrog Tesla.  Open up the car UX and car data to a full software ecosystem.  Get 10,000 companies targeting the vehicles.  Carmakers are historically resistant to this, wanting to hold onto all aspects of car UX and car data, but just as the industry transitioned from feature phones to smartphones, the industry will make a transition to a more open car software ecosystem, and benefits will accrue to those who lead the transition.  Xevo also works with OEMs on this basis.

These strategies are not mutually exclusive — every carmaker has many nameplates, model years, and regions — they have a lot of at bats, and can try out variants of these strategies, and learn from each trial.  The key thing is to set a reach goal for the software ecosystem in the car, and get moving aggressively on some of these strategies. 

Recent Books — Golem and the Jinni, Arcadia, Homo Deus

  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. In the late 1800s in NYC, a golem and a jinni struggle to fit into human society and become human themselves. Very entertaining and a nicely introspective about what defines humanity. I’d had this on the Kindle forever, Vlad goaded me into reading.
  • Arcadia by Iain Pears. A fantasy, science fiction, time travel, mystery, adventure, book within a book. A lot going on in here and very engaging.
  • Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. Some compelling ideas but boy a lot of words. And in the last third of the book he goes off the rails, he has a mechanistic view of science and biology that feels very off. Still a good read but could be better.

Car software is hard, so why do we do it?

Writing software for cars is hard. Processors are generations behind mobile phones. Compute/network platforms are byzantine and fractured within/across OEMs. OS environments/toolchains are clunky/archaic. Internet connectivity is unavailable, intermittent, and costly.

Long OEM production cycles are fundamentally inconsistent with modern agile software cycles. OEMs aren’t excited about having more software. Security requirements are tough, durability/reliability requirements are tougher. There are substantial regulatory issues.

Nothing is easy, every line of code we ship seems to take a herculean effort. So why do we do it? There certainly must be easier hills to climb.

Well, cars are iconic products in our society. We use them every day, we spend an incredible amount of time in them. Our friends and family all use them, and when we do something right in them, everyone we care about will notice.

And there is plenty of room to do better. The user experience for software and services is not good today. With a very few exceptions, people don’t like their in-car experience.

We are in the “feature phone” period of car UX; Xevo and other companies working to open up the car software and data platforms to 1000s of apps, and open up the environment to the kind of continuous iteration that has driven advances in mobile and cloud software.

And the opportunity for innovation and learning is great. We are working on deeply interesting UX problems and distributed processing problems that are unique to the automotive space today, but have very broad applicability.

Figuring out how to do engaging distraction-free apps, how to partition processing across widely-distributed networks of untrusted vehicles, how to monetize data while protecting privacy — these are all interesting and fascinating and are being driven by the automotive environment.

And that is what attracts us — the chance to make big changes in the auto experience, the chance to learn and work on great problems, the chance to work with great like-minded people. If you know of anyone who might be excited about the challenges, please introduce them!

Recent Books — Girl Waits With Gun, How to Hide an Empire, Feeling of What Happens

  • Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. Great story based of a budding female detective in the early 1900s. Based on a real person, this is a great retelling.
  • How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr. The history of the US’s various territories and possessions. Guess what, we have often treated the people in these territories poorly (and still do today). Kind of a goofy title for the book but interesting.
  • The Feeling of What Happens by Antonio Damasio. There have been times in my life when I would have eaten this up, but this isn’t one of those times. A very deep look at emotions and consciousness and the body, and I find it wearing.

Recent Books – Thomas Perry, John Scalzi, Disappearing Spoon

  • The Old Man by Thomas Perry. A lazy suspense novel, unimpressed. The action moves along ok but the characters are tissue thin. And when I see a character arrive in Vancouver on a train and “catch a cab to Victoria”, I just get pissed off, the author is just sloppy.
  • The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi. Entertaining and fun, kind of an homage to Asimov’s Foundation series.
  • The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. A delightful walk thru the periodic table and all of the human stories behind the elements.   Very engaging.

Recent Books — Walkaway, Less, Babel

  • Walkaway by Cory Doctorow.  My first Doctorow, and I am not sure I will do any more.  A hash of steampunk, cyberpunk, biohacking, post-gender, libertarian themes all jammed into a stew, and there just isn’t much story or character in there.
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Contrast with above, a great character finding himself in the middle part of his life.  Informed by the generations before and after him as they deal with their own crises.
  • Babel by Gaston Dorren.  A look at each of the top 20 most used languages in the world.  And a lot of cultural insight along the way.  Very good.

Recent Books — Genius Plague, Empty Planet, Magpie Murders

  • The Genius Plague by David Walton. Award Winner, and has some great concepts, but wasn’t an amazing story. Fun but forgettable.
  • Empty Planet by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson.  Very interesting book about declining birth rates and the implications for us.  No real conclusions but thought provoking.  There are some vitriolic reviews on Amazon claiming bias, and as you read the reviews, it is clear the reviewers are heavily biased, which just made me more interested in the book.
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.  Good but not great.  I love books that play with structure, but this didn’t really go anywhere with the concept.

Recent Books — Good Strategy Bad Strategy, Helicopter Heist, Snap

  • Good Strategy Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. I hate pop business books but this book does not belong in that category. A timeless approach to the basics of strategy, whether in business or any other setting.
  • The Helicopter Heist by Jonas Bonnier. Gripping, the last half of the book was a rollercoaster. Looking forward to rumored Netflix treatment.
  • The Plotters by Un-su Kim. Thriller, a little surreal, even a bit of a parable. Interesting tho not something I would want to diet steadily on.
  • Snap by Belinda Bauer. The cover claims this book is long listed for the Man Booker Prize, and that is normally the kiss of death for me, I find the winners to be unreadable. But this is a great thriller and a lot of fun.

Recent Books — Thinking in Bets, Change Agent, Mueller Report

  • Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. Really great book about decision making, and how to think probabilistically about decisions. Very good.
  • Change Agent by Daniel Suarez.  Suarez is always super fun, this is a great tale of genetic editing and the criminal behaviours it may lead to.
  • The Mueller Report.  A bit of a slog but something everyone should read.
    • I came away angrier at FB/TWIT for failing to aggressively address their roles in election interference
    • I am angry at the Trump administration and all parts of the government for failing to aggressively defend our political system.  The identified Russian actions to manipulate our elections are certainly just the tip of the iceberg.
    • And there seems little doubt about obstruction, and obstructive actions continue today.
  • A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White.  Fun space romp.