Yet Another Monday in Pandemic…by Om Malik


My work desk: iPad Pro w/KeyChron K2 keyboard & Apple TrackPad

On the news, on social media, and in personal communication apps, there seems to seems to be a continuous end-of-the-world vibe. Given that none of us can do much about the way things are going, except self isolating and pay attention to the needs of each others, you get the sense that much of this is misery porn. I can’t help but join writer Dan Samorodinitsky’s plea for “no more coronavirus takes.” What the hell does anyone know? Even the news is just a wash, rinse, and repeat of the same old stuff. Enough already!

For me, today is Day 38 of self-isolation. It is the start of another work week, and I am doing what I would normally do on any given Monday. I get up, go for a walk, come back home, and make a cup of tea before starting in on my list of things I need to do today. I am checking in with some of the founders I work with and figuring out if they need anything. There is a backlog of emails from the weekend, including newsletters that have piled up in my newsletter folder. In many ways, I am going to do exactly what I always do.

My partner Jon Callaghan sent a weekend email to the team, and he shared a slide that posed this question: Who do I want to be during COVID-19? (See Below)

I have emerged from the dark blue zone, and I am now in the growth zone. If anything, after a month of being alone with my thoughts, I have started to make notes about what could possibly be different. I think there is a better-than-good chance that our behaviors change as a result of this pandemic.

In recent days, I have had a series of conversations around the changes with many of my friends, and some shapes have started to emerge. Every time there is a shock to the system, things change — some for better, and some for worse. I am currently creating a ledger and thinking about opportunities, not just for innovation, but for a better humanity.

This dropped into my email box, this morning. A post at Om Malik’s personal website. Professional writer, reflective, subtle photographer – in my mind. A deeply caring human being involved with our species on a global scale. I suggest you spend time wandering through this and other sites he’s part of. He’s a creative voice in more than this; but, it’s how I know him best over the years.

Om Malik on changing old behaviors


Taking a picture of Om taking a picture

When I was a kid, my grandma told me the story of a hard headed man who decided that he didn’t like that his dog had a curved tale. He took the tail and encased it in a tube and left it like that for over a decade, confident that the tail would come out straight. A decade later, when he removed the tube, the tail was still crooked. It is a weird thing to remember especially since I am contemplating my own behavior modifications.

Or perhaps it is a realization that one of the hardest things to do in life is changing and modifying deeply ingrained behaviors. The longer you live, the harder it becomes to make the requisite adjustments. Sure, mortality, or more appropriately the fear of death, forced me to give up smoking (after chain smoking for nearly 25 years) and most of other bad behaviors — I am finding that there are some behaviors that are proving to be pretty hard to modify…

Blogging for me in the early aughts meant writing, short bursts, multiple times a day. That meant being hot wired into the news cycles and constantly monitoring what was happening in the industry. Unknowingly, my mind was being programmed to react and write to the flow of the news. As I have said before, this is a narcotic. My awareness of this problem is because I continue to struggle — that is react to the “news cycle” and often find myself writing blog posts that are well, news-focused blog posts that were the hallmark of the post-investment phase of Gigaom. I am acutely aware of this, because I am trying to turn back the clock to an older time when my blogging was decoupled from the happenings on the front page (or in my case business page) of the daily newspapers.

RTFA. Om sets the stage for a brief – and sharply focused – essay on changing our communication habits, skills. If we were seated in a small group – no matter where – taking the time to reflect upon his analysis and questions raised, I think the discussion would be as varied, interesting and fruitful as the number of individuals involved.

Om Malik is someone I listen to most often through his writing, occasionally via an appearance on TV or a video podcast. He provokes thought. Dangerous habit, I know.

The land where one in ten people will publish a book

Halldor Laxness

There is a phrase in Icelandic, “ad ganga med bok I maganum”, everyone gives birth to a book. Literally, everyone “has a book in their stomach”.

One in ten Icelanders will publish one…

Special saga tours – saga as in story, that is, not over-50s holidays – show us story-plaques on public buildings.

Dating from the 13th Century, Icelandic sagas tell the stories of the country’s Norse settlers, who began to arrive on the island in the late 9th Century.

Sagas are written on napkins and coffee cups. Each geyser and waterfall we visit has a tale of ancient heroes and heroines attached. Our guide stands up mid-tour to recite his own poetry – our taxi driver’s father and grandfather write biographies.

Public benches have barcodes so you listen to a story on your smartphone as you sit…

So what has led to this phenomenal book boom?

I would say it is due to a crop of darn good writers, telling riveting tales with elegant economy and fantastic characters…No wonder JRR Tolkien and Seamus Heaney were entranced and Unesco designates Reykjavik a City of Literature.

Solvi Bjorn Siggurdsson, a tall, Icelandic-sweater-clad novelist, says writers owe a lot to the past.

We are a nation of storytellers. When it was dark and cold we had nothing else to do,” he says. “Thanks to the poetic eddas and medieval sagas, we have always been surrounded by stories. After independence from Denmark in 1944, literature helped define our identity…”

An enjoyable read, too brief.

But, then, I have always loved Iceland. Even the first time I stopped over, changing planes from one Icelandic Air flight to another, followed by 2 FBI agents because I was on the way to Scotland to visit a friend doing post-doc cancer research and liaison between Madame Binh of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front and American activists opposing the US War upon the people of VietNam.

The salmon fishing is also phenomenal if you know how to cast a fly in a gale. 🙂

What should children read?

…English teachers across the country…begin to implement the Common Core State Standards, a set of national benchmarks, adopted by nearly every state, for the skills public school students should master in language arts and mathematics in grades K-12.

The standards won’t take effect until 2014, but many public school systems have begun adjusting their curriculums to satisfy the new mandates. Depending on your point of view, the now contentious guidelines prescribe a healthy — or lethal — dose of nonfiction…

David Coleman, president of the College Board, who helped design and promote the Common Core, says English classes today focus too much on self-expression. “It is rare in a working environment,” he’s argued, “that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’ ”

This and similar comments have prompted the education researcher Diane Ravitch to ask, “Why does David Coleman dislike fiction?” and to question whether he’s trying to eliminate English literature from the classroom. “I can’t imagine a well-developed mind that has not read novels, poems and short stories,” she writes.

Sandra Stotsky, a primary author of Massachusetts’ state standards (which are credited with helping to maintain that state’s top test scores) challenges the assumption that nonfiction requires more rigor than a literary novel…

A striking assumption animates arguments on both sides, namely that nonfiction is seldom literary and certainly not literature. Even Mr. Coleman erects his case on largely dispiriting, utilitarian grounds: nonfiction may help you win the corner office but won’t necessarily nourish the soul.

As an English teacher and writer who traffics in factual prose, I’m with Mr. Coleman. In my experience, students need more exposure to nonfiction, less to help with reading skills, but as a model for their own essays and expository writing…

What schools really need isn’t more nonfiction but better nonfiction, especially that which provides good models for student writing. Most students could use greater familiarity with what newspaper, magazine and book editors call “narrative nonfiction”: writing that tells a factual story, sometimes even a personal one, but also makes an argument and conveys information in vivid, effective ways…

Narrative nonfiction also provides a bridge between the personal narratives students typically write in elementary school and the essays on external subjects that are more appropriate assignments in high school and beyond. David Coleman may dismiss self-expression. Yet he recommends authors, like the surgeon and medical writer Atul Gawande, who frequently rely on personal storytelling in their reporting.

Think about this, RTFA for more detail. I can’t easily come down on the side of the author because my own experience was exactly the opposite. My parents taught me to read before I entered kindergarten and virtually everything I read was fiction, fiction of every imaginable kind.

My parents subscribed to two monthly book clubs. And the centerpoint of Saturday was the 4-mile roundtrip my mom walked with my sister and me to and from the nearest neighborhood Carnegie library. A building I worship to this day. About the only non-fiction I read was autobiographies – a suspect category if there ever was one.

Dorset Police solve the mystery of the manuscript that never was

I’ve been holding this tale for the weekend. Though I found the article in one of British papers I read every day, it’s nice to see the NY TIMES has picked it up. Some editor has a heart for a good cop.

When she went blind as a result of diabetes, Trish Vickers set out to fill the void in her life by writing poetry. Then she turned to writing a novel, her pen guided by a system of elastic bands stretched across the paper. With 26 pages written, and a plot that turned on a woman whose life implodes, she began to dream of finding a publisher.

Then the dream imploded, too. When her son Simon visited her at her home, near the town of Lyme Regis in the Thomas Hardy country of Dorset, she showed him what she had written, and he gave her the bad news: Every page was blank. Her pen had run out of ink before she began, and what remained was an empty manuscript, void of all her imagination had captured.

Then came a twist in the story of a kind that would serve in one of the detective stories that have entertained mystery buffs for generations: Mrs. Vickers, 59, and her son turned to the forensic service of the Dorset County police.

After five months’ work, done on her lunch breaks, one of the experts there, a woman usually set to helping solve cases of murder, arson and fraud, cracked the case, delivering a typescript of all the missing pages to the bereft author.

I am so happy, pleased and grateful,” Mrs. Vickers said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. “Being blind is very restrictive as far as going anywhere. I have always been interested in writing. I have one of those imaginations that run riot. Everybody who has read it so far seems to like it, and the police also said they enjoyed the bit they read and can’t wait for the rest…”

“It was nice to do something for somebody, and it was nice to read the book as well,” said Kerry Savage, the forensic specialist. “Fortunately, apart from one line, we managed to retrieve the whole lot.”

As interesting as anything else is the fact that Trish Vickers and her son had to turn to the local coppers for technological aid rather than, say, a library or university. I guess most Western societies haven’t a problem coming up with funding for police when they might be giving short shrift to education. One of those cultural phenomena where the UK and US are as alike as two peas in a pod.

“The prefix cyber is going the way of the prefix electro”

The rapid rate of technological and social change means the future comes crashing towards us faster than ever before, says visionary science fiction author William Gibson.

“In the 1960s I think that in some sense the present was actually about three or four years long,” he said, “because in three or four years relatively little would change.”

That stood in sharp contrast to late 2010, he said, when big changes had become a daily occurrence.

“Now the present is the length of a news cycle some days,” he said in an interview with BBC News.

That ferocious rate of change made writing about the present day exciting, he said, and explained why his current novel, Zero History, is set around about now.

“The present is really of no width whatever,” he said…

For instance, he said, the flying drones depicted in Zero History and used for surveillance have the potential to inflict big changes very quickly once they become cheap and ubiquitous.

“They are actually going to change the landscapes of cities,” he said.

“People in tall buildings, particularly in cities like New York or Chicago, have been living lives of utter privacy quite unconcerned that anyone might be looking in the window.”

“That’s just not going to be the case anymore,” he said…

Big Brother will be watching 24/7. With the full collaboration of our legislatures, politicians and pundits, media and most ignorant voters. Security is the watchword for cowards.