*** RYAN TATE: Shocking secrets--revealed! ***





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Recent San Francisco Business Times stories

Table set at Ferry Building (Jun. 6)

S.F. out to rattle chains (May. 30)

S.F. plan sets goal of 10,000 homes (Jun. 27)

Stanford's new senior class (Jun. 13)

Is San Francisco's housing crisis over? (Jun. 20)

Stanford Shopping Center on block (May. 23)

Insurers locking up condos (May. 23)

Developer makes bold housing play (May. 16)

Williams-Sonoma revs web (May. 9)

Residential Real Estate Deals of the Year (May. 9)

More ...

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Private property (Oct. 8)

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Anne and her Cheese Diaries





David Warsh

Dave Winer


Philip Greenspun

Joel Spolsky

Sunday, May 25, 2003

I am writing this under the influence of my first cup of coffee -- Peet's Arabian Mocha Java -- in quite a while. I was listening to Bennett Alan Weinberg on NPR on the way to the grocery store earlier, and he was discussing the many benefits of caffeine, along with the fact that there are no real deleterious side effects, aside from not sleeping if you drink it too close to bedtime, or issues particular to your own brain or digestive tract. In fact, just 65 mg of caffeine produced substantial anti-depressive effects throughout the day. Also, caffeine is an anti-oxidant more powerful than vitamin C, bringing with it all the alleged anti-aging and anti-cancer benefits of anti-oxidants. Of course, it also delays the onset of fatigue and is said to produce mental acuity.

Of course, Weinberg is not a doctor as near as I can tell, and the New England Journal of Medicine, in a generally favorable review of his caffeine books, said, "I do not think that in a book of this size it is possible to present enough of an understanding for readers to reach their own conclusions on adequate grounds about the health and safety aspects of caffeine."

While it is known that coffee blocks Adenosine receptors in the brain, and that this can delay the onset off fatigue late in the day, it is not known why coffee improves mood or why it sharpens the mind earlier in the day when you are well rested. Most of the mechanisms are mysterious. What is clear is that coffee spreads quite rapidly to every pore of your body, including semen and, in mothers, milk-production glands.


Via Dave Winer, an excellent speech by Jerry Zucker at U Wisc commencement. One of the great things about this time of year, especially living next to the Berkeley campus, is that you get to hear and read all these graduation addresses, like the one Barbara Ehrenreich gave at Laura's Boalt graduation the other day on the erosion of the rule of law in the U.S. over the last several years, what with corporate scandal at Worldcom and Enron, civil liberty issues with current anti-terrorism law and the legally problematic 2000 election (not sure I agree there).

Anyway, Zucker says, "If you have a dream, now is the time to pursue it, before you buy furniture." At the ripe old age of 27 minus one month, and as the owner of an Ikea couch, and as the recent muller of a king sized bed purchase, and earning a comfortable (though not handsome) living, I do worry that perhaps I am too settled and too comfortable.

I have taken to listening lately, for inspiration and because it resounds more philosophically true than I appreciated at age 13, to Too Short's "Life is Too Short" track off the 1988 release of that same name. Too Short, for those who don't know, is an Oakland rapper whose late 1980s debut album "Born to Mack," to which "Life is Too Short's" eponymous album was a highly successful follow up, helped pioneer aggressive, honest, dirty lyrics, yes, along with NWA and such, but also created a simple, bass-driven sound, southern in flavor, which had a profound impact on hip hop music and which would only be fully appreciated after it was seized upon and expanded by double-Grammy-winning rap act Outkast of Atlanta about a decade later.

Life is Too Short is, at heart, a Horatio Alger story about hard work and the American dream, along the lines of Notorious BIG's Juicy, Gang Starr's The Planet, MC Ren's Hounddogz or Dr. Dre's What's the Difference. And it does not deny institutional barriers or class and racial struggles. But it is also an explicit indictment of victim identity politics, of personal inertia, of laziness, of complacency, sung by an artist who was not only commercially and musically successful at the time of the song's release but who has become so in spades in the interim.

The song came to the fore of my thinking and made its resurgence in my stereo after pulling a random tape out of a drawer to play while wheeling around town. It also came around the time I interviewed Charles Condy, founder of Aqua Development Corp., which runs the restaurant Aqua in San Francisco, along with two other restaurants in SF and a couple of other Aquas in Vegas, Monarch Beach and perhaps elsewhere. Condy is very much a self-made man -- he started and sold a $500 million-per-year energy company before handpicking George Morrone and flying him from New York to start Aqua -- and he told me, and I do not believe the interview is online, in response to one of my questions about his business philosophy or somesuch, that he believed in that famous Nike slogan, "Just Do It." At first this sort of made me want to roll my eyes, but then he went on.When he was in the Navy after college, he said, working as an engineer on a ship, they used to talk about guys who were "used-tos" and "gonnas." "They used to do this and they're gonna do that, but they ain't doing anything right now." And the only way to really learn how to do something, the only really important thing above all else, is just to get out there and fucking do it.

And that's what Too Short is saying. Beyond that, he is saying, you have to be willing to starve for what you believe. Are you? And if so, are you out there doing it? My brother's theater company at UCSD did a play down there in La Jolla a couple of weeks ago called Stage Door. I flew down to see him in it, and it is about commitment to one's work and more broadly to one's craft. The actresses, who all live in club that is a sort of boarding home, are tempted by Hollywood, by the call of love and family, by their own insecurities. One of the lines, delivered by a swaggering, idealistic if ultimately sold out actor, is literally what I just said -- "You have to be willing to starve for your work." Or, as Too Short puts it:

Then the new style came, the bass got deeper
Ya gave up the mike and bought you a beeper
Do ya wanna rap or sell coke?
Brothers like you ain't never broke

Maybe when your art becomes tough, or you feel left behind, or stagnant, then, when you've got the furniture, and the decent day job, and some money coming in, you can stay comfortable and forget the challenge. You can, in other words, never be broke. "Brother's like you ain't never broke," he raps, in what has to be one of the only times in the history of rap an abundance of cash has been used as a put down rather than as a boast. 

Alternatively, you can take the implied Too Short route, be willing to lose your money, be poor from time to time, or all the time, and force yourself, out of desperation if nothing else, to innovate, and to put yourself out there, to show up for gigs, to play, to call and ask for work. ("Brothers like me had to work for mine/Eight years on the mike and I'm not jokin'/Sir Too Short comin' straight from Oakland.") And stay committed to the excellence of what you do, and your own standards, even if that means ignoring others and passing on certain jobs, like a bad record contract, or the plastics job in The Graduate, or the catering job in American Beauty, or the seven-year Hollywod studio contract in Stage Door. And even if it means failing. Zucker says in his commencement speech,

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with no employable skills, unless you count jury duty. It meant I had to start from scratch and figure out where I fit in. I didn't have money, but I could afford to fail, and there were many failures. But I found out what I was good at.

Zucker was lucky enough to not have the chance to accept, or the burden of saying 'no' to, something easier, softer, more comfortable. And, unlike many of us, he had no choice but to fail a few times. San Francisco mayoral candidate Gavin Newsom says he gives out $1,000 bonuses to the employees of his Plumpjack restaurant and wine business who screw up the most. Around the newsroom, we joke that we wonder if he's hiring. But really, Newsom is on to something -- if we're not failing, we're not really living, and we're certainly not innovating, or creating, or in all likelihood having much of an impact. That's what people don't understand when they fume that Jayson Blair will be offered a book deal just like erstwhile journalistic fabricator Stephen Glass: that's how much the Universe rewards simply making an effort and taking a risk. It will reward you quite often even if you not only fail to succeed, but fail to try with integrity. The lesson isn't that the universe is twisted, or that integrity is unimportant. The lesson is -- if a book deal is what a person can accomplish with a corrupt risk, just think what can be accomplished with an honest one. It's like that Grateful Dead line Dave Winer is so fond of:

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
but it's all right

The thing about commencements is, I may be in my late 20s now, and Dave Winer in his 40s, but around this time of year we get to just listen again, to remember what it is like to not know what we can't do, to think about whether it is time to abandon the furniture and head out for a new gig, to try and find some spectacular failure for the sake of being spectacular. To renew, and in so doing, to accept the death of certain parts of yourself. It is a scary process, but luckily it is something more and more of your fellow Americans are taking a look at. Consider good, popular movies like American Beauty, or bad, popular movies like Old School.You don't need G-13 federal-grade pot like Kevin Spacey or a mandate from Harvard like Dave Winer. You just need balls. Or as Too Short puts it:

You can take back all the things you give
But ya can't take back the days you live
Life is to some people heaven on earth
Livin' every single day for what it's worth
I live my life just how I please
Satisfy one person I know, that's me
Work hard for the things I achieve in life
And never rap fake when I'm on the mike
Cause if a dream is all you got, homeboy
Ya gotta turn that dream into the real McCoy


Don't have time to list them now, but check out the new Business Times articles I've linked to, the new scoops page, and the new Business Times archive page.


Matrix humor


Philip Greenspun: "If we had sufficient economic growth and technological innovation we could, for example, develop and deploy the army of robotic infantry of which a physicist friend dreams." And of which Anne dreams. ;--)


I now have an RSS feed .


I am presently using a new beta of v2 of the simple and easy Windows-based content management software I have been using for about eight months now. A bug in the software is behind the extra spaces and linebreaks and odd formatting and layout choices on some of my new pages, so bear with me.

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