Talking to Yourself in Public

How good does voice recognition need to get for us to start talking to ourselves in public?

There’s a lot of buzz these days around voice-as-an-interface, most of it centered on Amazon Echo and the use cases it enables within the home. For good reason, the home is the one place where a voice interface---hands-free, always-listening---trumps mobile. At least for now.

Smartphone makers aren’t going to relinquish the space so easily. They have a lot at stake here (see Tim Cook’s ode to Homekit in yesterday’s event) and are starting to think about how they’ll design for the hands-free, always-listening voice experience that consumers are learning to expect with products like Echo. 

We got a peek into this thinking yesterday when Apple announced its new wireless earbuds, the Airpods. With a light tap, they engage Siri and the user can demand away. Not exactly hands-free. Still, better than what consumers are used to with Siri today.

As the headphone jack controversy settles, I think we’ll see Apple start pushing the Siri-Airpod-voice use case more and more. Expect new media portraying the young, urban go-getter, on the move, never without an Airpod in an ear.

Still, hurdles to the chic voice-on-the-go use case remain.

For one, is voice recognition good enough to consistently pick out our requests in the fray of the L train? How about other crowded, awkward places? Will we have to shout at ourselves in public? IS THAT SUCH A BAD THING? Yet to be seen, but I’m bullish on the technology getting there (without shouting as a requisite.)

The other question, is it chic? Will people subject themselves to the dangling appendage of the Airpod? Is a (nearly) hands-free voice interface worth always having something hanging from your ear? That’s the psychological consumer preference element that I’m less willing to bet on.

When it’s designers in a room, the use case is always worth the sartorial secession. When it’s real consumers on the street, not so much.

Still, with the Airpod and continued good news from the forefront of voice recognition, it’s not hard to imagine a near future in which talking to ourselves in public is the norm. When we hop onto an elevator, and the scene looks like this.

her phone scene.gif

What Google Wants | I/O '16

Last week Google hosted its annual developer’s conference I/O. There are a number of announcements to unpack here: all revolve around Google doubling down on AI as a core competency to win search, no matter the interface.

Before I get into the I/O announcements, it’s helpful to remember Google’s end game and what they’re after here: ad spend. In the aughts, Google defined and won the digital ad spend pie by becoming the default runtime for consumers web search. When those users started leaving for mobile, Google started looking for ways to place themselves within the mobile path to content.

Google’s mobile efforts have had varied success, none anywhere near their web browser monopoly, and so last week’s conference seemed to be a combination of two things:

  1. Google continuing its pursuit of search share on the current runtime. (Mobile.)
  2. Google starting its pursuit of search share on the future runtime. (Voice.)

Let’s start with how Google pursues user attention on mobile.


With mobile applications fragmented across the OS, many have looked to messaging (and the model built around it in Asia) as the runtime to rule them all. In reality, mobile users in the U.S have grown too accustomed to the current state of affairs---search for restaurants on Yelp, search for friends on Facebook, search for random tidbits of knowledge on mobile browser---to shift the entirety of their search behavior to a messaging app. Still, tech companies are trying, and Google is no exception.

Allo was the big messaging announcement last week. It’s a standalone messaging app with contextual response suggestions based on image recognition and machine learning. The Google-specific add-ons are cool from a tech lens, but Allo faces two challenges.

First, it’s another messaging app.

Two, it’s machine learning will need to be really great to make it worthwhile to users relative to their current messaging apps. Google says predictive responses make for a messaging app that is “simple and more productive,” but it’s hard to see how anyone can make messaging simpler than it already is today. The addition of predictive responses actually makes Allo a more complex user experience, as now the user needs to determine whether or not to use Allo’s suggested responses instead of doing it the old fashioned way (i.e. typing.)

In my mind, the smarter messaging play from Google is Gboard, an OS agnostic keyboard extension that lets users run a Google query within any messaging app. Easier GIFs and emoji are the advertised benefit to consumers but it’s putting search directly within consumer messaging apps that makes this valuable to Google.

Instant Apps

The other big news in mobile came with Instant Apps, an Android update that lets apps run instantly, no installation required. Though this isn’t directly related to the AI-driven Google Assistant news, it’s still key to Google’s core objective in mobile. With Instant Apps, Google removes the primary barrier consumers face in mobile search.

It’s great news for android users and a good reminder that making mobile content easier to access is big time for Google. The other reminder is AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages,) Google’s HTML framework that optimizes web pages for mobile.

In summary, Google wants to make it easier to find mobile content by making search contextual and predictive and widely available across the OS (browser app, proprietary messaging app, keyboard extension for other apps,) all while making it easier to access that content (no matter its host app) once it’s been found.

Google Home

The announcement of Home signals Google’s move towards the future runtime. Home is a voice recognition product -- the first big-name competitor to Amazon Echo and further evidence that the next wave of personal computing is voice interface.

It’s good to see Google moving in the direction of things to come, but Home as a concept seems to fall short in the same way that the company’s mobile efforts have to date. Google’s web browser search engine was a hardware-agnostic, OS-agnostic search runtime monopoly that dominated the digital advertising industry for the last fifteen years. Google Home is not that.

Primarily, it’s not platform-agnostic. Amazon won’t secede the query runtime of their own hardware to Google, even if the latter has a search experience that is smarter and more predictive. There is too much at stake in the direct purchases that Echo users make through the device.

For all of the R&D Google has poured into NLU and AI, when it comes to contextual runtime in the home, they will still find themselves competing with another piece of hardware. That is a problem never had to consider.

The good news is Google is pushing forward and trying to find the next big thing. They’ve made a big bet on AI and its ability to serve contextual, predictive queries, but for all the innovation here -- and Google has done incredible things with AI -- it’s still not obvious that proactive responses are what consumers need in a messaging app, or a home assistant.

And so, for all the announcements at I/O, I was still left wondering, do Google and consumers want the same thing?

Full Stack Food

Earlier this week FastCompany wrote about Maple, a local food-delivery service here in NYC. The article quickly made its way around our office, where Maple has become the de-facto delivery option for lunch and dinner.

Unlike its closest competitors (Seamless and GrubHub,) Maple manages its own kitchen. This puts Maple in a class of full stack startups that create value through supply chain aggregation within a specific industry.

Here’s Sarah Kessler with Fast Company:

Maple, a David Chang-backed restaurant in New York City, doesn’t have any tables, cash registers, or waiters. Instead, its customers order meals through its website or mobile app, and a fleet of bike couriers deliver them. By eliminating the dining room and bringing meals to you, Maple is betting that it can sell more meals per hour, using less real estate, than a traditional restaurant.

The article outlines Maple’s business strategy -- full stack food delivery, and only food delivery --  and explains how the company approaches its logistics challenges. It’s a great summary, but the heavy focus on logistics directs attention away from another key element of the Maple value prop: lower prices to the consumer.

Since Maple is delivery-only, they avoid the occupancy costs associated with a normal restaurant -- rent, wait staff salary, and insurance, to name a few. No occupancy costs means that when compared to dine-in restaurants with equally priced ingredients, Maple will always win on price, thanks to their cost structure advantage.

Maple’s cost structure comes into play with their delivery app competitors, too. When you order food through Seamless or Grubhub, your food comes from restaurants that have to maintain occupancy costs. That means higher prices.

Right now, I can order dinner from Maple for $15. A Seamless meal of the same price amounts to $18. That’s ~20% more, part of which goes to occupancy costs, part of which goes to the service fees Seamless charges the restaurant. By eliminating third parties in their consumer value chain, Maple eliminates these costs and gives consumers a better price.

This value chain control gives Maple another upper hand: data. Kessler makes this point in her FastCompany article -- Maple is the only delivery app with full visibility into their kitchen operations. They know the order demand they should expect across a given menu, the exact time it takes to prepare each dish, and the time at which an order will be ready for delivery. As they feed learnings from this data back into their business, Maple will only continue to improve their supply costs and their logistics efficiency.

Full stack startups (e.g. Uber, AirBnB, Netflix) have already taken over their respective industries through value chain logistics and analytics, and cost structure control. It was only a matter of time until someone applied the model to food delivery. That’s Maple.

Amazon Echo and the New Runtime

Amazon Echo and Smartphones in the Home

Last month Amazon announced that owners of their voice-controlled speaker, Amazon Echo, could now use it to control Nest thermostats. This is a big win for Amazon, who gains a sizable user base with Nest and cachet as a hub in the integrated home ecosystem with other manufacturers. (Honeywell is also included in the announcement.)

The Amazon Echo has been a surprise hit with consumers. Upon its initial release, it earned phenomenal customer reviews, and was heralded as a success by a tech cognoscenti that was, until recently, largely convinced that consumers would just leverage smartphones for the use cases presented by Echo (e.g. adding items to grocery lists, asking for the weather.)

Instead, Echo users are finding that, when they’re home, they use Echo more than they reach for their smartphones.

This is the biggest surprise that the Echo presents in its success. Not is it just an alternative to the smartphone, it is a superior alternative when a user is stationary within their kitchen or home. Ben Thompson articulated this well in his post covering the Amazon-Nest announcement.

"What makes smartphones the center of our lives is the convenience of them being mobile and always-connected; at home, though, we are rather stationary yet still connected. In other words, while we know that nothing matters more than convenience, what makes a smartphone so convenient most of the time — the fact it is pocketable and always with us — actually makes it less convenient at home, where getting something from your pocket is a pain, presuming it’s not plugged-in in the other room."

This is a bigger development than it might appear on the surface. In the mobile era, in which popular opinion states that “mobile is the sun” and that all content discovery is driven through it, the success of Amazon Echo signals a broadening in the runtime clients available to end consumers for discovery and general interface with the web.

“We are looking for a new discovery runtime.”

To understand the significance of Echo, it’s important to define what analysts mean when they talk about ‘discovery runtime’. In short, discovery runtime is the client (or interface) a consumer uses when they are looking for content on the internet.

In the web era (pre-smartphone, post-general adoption of the internet) discovery runtime was synonymous with Google. If you needed to find x on the internet, you opened up your web browser and searched for x on Google, regardless of what x was. This is why Google owned the last decade. They controlled the gateway to content discovery. What’s more, because users could only access the web through the browser, and because Google owned browser search, all content searches came through Google, regardless of what was being searched for. The browser-based discovery runtime was content-independent.

With the rise of the smartphone and its fractured app ecosystem, discovery runtime changed. Users started leveraging specialized apps to find things, instead of typing them into Google. This meant that the mobile discovery runtime was content-dependent, or contextual. That is, if you’re looking for a restaurant, you use Yelp. You don’t open up your chrome app and search for the restaurant using Google.

As this shift from web to mobile has taken place, companies (including Google) and investors have been looking for the one mobile discovery runtime that might consolidate the fractured app ecosystem users interact with today -- Google Now? Siri? notifications? messaging apps? As Ben Evans says below, investors are looking for the next Google, the mobile model for directing users to a single discovery runtime that is content-independent.

“Really, we’re looking for a new run-time - a new way, after the web and native apps, to build services. That might be Siri or Now or messaging or maps or notifications or something else again. But the underlying aim is to construct a new search and discovery model - a new way, different to the web or app stores, to get users.” -- Ben Evans

Others say there won’t be a clear victor in mobile runtime, that mobile search will remain contextual and we’ll use different applications based on the context of the situation we’re in. Here’s Fred Wilson in response to Ben Evan’s take on mobile runtime:

“I agree with Ben but I think there won’t be one runtime in the mobile era. I think what is emerging is multiple runtimes depending on the context – “contextual runtimes.” If I’m building a lunchtime meal delivery service for tech startups, that’s a Slack bot. If I’m building a ridesharing service, that’s going to run in Google Maps and Apple Maps. If I’m building a “how do I look” fashion advisor service, that’s going to run in Siri or Google Now. If I’m building an “NBA dashboard app”, that is mostly going to run on the mobile notifications rails.”

What's interesting about both of these takes on the future discovery runtime is that they both assume it will take place on a smartphone. And this is an assumption that has pervaded the tech community since the smartphone gained general adoption. It’s why every integrated home solution of the last five years -- Nest, Wink, et al -- was built off the assumption that its user would be operating their home devices through a smartphone interface.

The New Runtime: Content-Dependent, Environment-Dependent

Now with Amazon Echo, we’re starting to get visibility into a future in which discovery runtime isn’t just content-dependent, it’s location-dependent as well. In this future, there will be a number of devices, each with their own discovery runtime, that we use to find services and products. These runtime we use will be both content and location dependent.

An example of a location-dependent runtime. If I’m at home, cooking with raw chicken germs on my hands (a thing,) it is not convenient to thumbprint-unlock my smartphone and find the next step in my google-searched recipe. I’m going to holler at Amazon Echo ("Alexa") instead. That’s location-dependent runtime.

An example of a content-dependent runtime. If I’m at my computer at work and I need the address of the restaurant I’m headed to that night, I’ll just open a chrome browser tab and find the restaurant. If I need a list of restaurants in the area nearby, I’ll pull out my smartphone so I can filter the search by proximity. That’s content-dependent runtime driving the device I use.

Expand this logic to include other use cases, and suddenly there are lot of potential devices available to users, depending on both the content of the query, and the location in which the user is making it. Mobile will likely win the majority of these use cases, but the point is there’s a fringe available to new (and old) runtimes. Whether you’re driving in your car (smart car operating systems), sitting at your desk at work (browser), or looking for 360 degree content (VR).

For the meantime, Amazon will look to strengthen and expand their position as the runtime of the home. Last week, in addition to the Nest partnership, Amazon announced the release of two additions to their Echo product line, Amazon Tap and Echo Dot, signaling a continued investment in the space. I’d expect more home product manufacturers to announce partnerships with Amazon Echo soon.

Stripe Atlas and What Scales

Last week Stripe released Atlas, their new solution for international startups seeking to incorporate a business in the U.S. The announcement raised a hoopla on Twitter, and for good reason. Stripe Atlas is a service that seeks to 1) reduce government bureaucracy and 2) help foreign businesses establish an international presence. It’s a good idea, a good product (assuming Stripe executes as they have in the past,) and a good story.

For $500, Stripe Atlas enables international companies to incorporate their companies as a standard Delaware C corporation, giving them a U.S. financial presence and the added payment channels that come with it. There are additional services included with the invite-only Stripe Atlas beta. A business account with Silicon Valley Bank, a $15,000 free credit with AWS, tax and legal guidance from Orrick and PwC, and a payments account with Stripe (duh.) All of this makes Stripe Atlas a sort of starter kit for businesses.

It’s easier with a starter kit.

I especially enjoyed this Atlas endorsement from George Grellas, a well-known lawyer in tech.

I can't tell you how often in my many years of working with startups I have had foreign founders reach out to me in bewilderment over how to solve even the most basic problems as they sought to grow internationally and to gain a U.S. presence. It is not that the challenges are daunting or insurmountable. Many companies have dealt with them before. But they have had to do so in the context of having to grope around in the dark until they could figure things out. This cost them time. It cost them money. And it often meant they made mistakes that could set them back. With a platform such as Atlas, they will now have a turnkey solution to this traditional problem.

All of this being said, Stripe Atlas is very exciting news. But there is a counter argument to highlight here.

With Atlas, Stripe is entering a new type of business that won’t see the same operations scalability as the core payments products that first earned them success.

With Checkout, Subscriptions, Relay, and Connect, Stripe took existing payments technology and improved it with a usable, compact API. Stripe’s selling point, for many users, was that it was a payments API with an easier, more flexible configuration process than PayPal. As with any (efficient, well-run) software company, once Stripe had developed their product, it was an advantage that scaled.

The challenge Atlas looks to solve is a different beast. With Atlas, Stripe isn’t automating the manual process of incorporating a business in Delaware, they are bearing it on behalf of their customers. The customer fills out a web form on Stripe, and someone at Stripe does the rest. 

This type of service, though beneficial for the customer, will pose new challenges of scale for the team at Stripe.

First, they’ll need operations resources to appropriately ramp with the demand of international companies that want to incorporate in Delaware. Hence the initial ceiling on Stripe Atlas customers -- from the Atlas site: “Stripe Atlas is starting out with an invite-only private beta. We want to make Atlas available to as many people as possible as quickly as we can, but we can only accept a limited number of entrepreneurs to start.”

Second, because there’s only so much you can automate when it comes to working with the government (on anything,) there will always be a human operations element to Stripe Atlas. This means lower margins. (Note: Stripe might be breaking ground here with the good people of Delaware by building an integration into whatever back-end systems manage business incorporation in the U.S. If this is the case case, I stand corrected, though from the documentation on Stripe’s website, it sounds like this is a back-office process.)

I’m reminded of Zenefits, a company that offers the value prop of shouldering a laborious bureaucratic process on behalf of its customers. In the browser client, the customer sees an elegant web form. On the back-end, an operations employee handles the paperwork. As we know, this caused operations scale issues at Zenefits. To poorly quote Bismarck, “sometimes, it’s better not to see how the sausage is made inside the sausage factory.”

The Johnsonville mild Italian party pack.

This isn’t to say Stripe is doomed (nor is it to say that Zenefits is, they are going through growing pains but still remain a big success.) Stripe’s play with Atlas isn’t their tentpole, it’s their wedge into a new market. With Atlas, Stripe doesn’t need to make big margins, or even a profit. Every international customer they bring in through Atlas (and you know they’re getting their pick of the best through the Atlas Network) is an instant customer of Stripe’s core payment products. As long as Stripe makes enough from their core offering, they can continue to invest in the operations required to run Atlas. Stripe brings more international customers into its payments platform, and more international startups gain access to U.S. incorporation.

For the time being, it’s a win-win. What remains to be seen is how other countries react to Stripe’s “bring it all back to the ol’ U-S-of-A” play. There’s already been some tension between American tech companies moving into foreign markets (India and Facebook Free Basics; China and everything,) so we’ll have to wait and see how Stripe Atlas is received. In the meantime, a hefty bravo to the team at Stripe.

Top 5 Years of All Time: 2015, A Year in Review

In 2015, I set out to read 25 books. The goal for 2016 is 52 blog posts - one a week. I’ll be using this site as a notepad for ideas - a place to jot down what’s on my mind concerning technology, books, and anything that else that catches my interest.

With 2015 wrapped up, I wanted to reflect on the year through a list of my favorite reads and listens from the past twelve months. In deference to one of my favorite movies ever, High Fidelity, I’m taking a Top Five Records approach to the list.

For those who haven’t seen High Fidelity, its characters spend the movie lounging around a record store, coming up with top 5 lists. My brother and I have since adopted the habit, drafting top 5 lists for music, movies, ideas, cities to live in abroad, etc. It’s an effective way to structure opinion on both the abstract and the pragmatic.

A quick note on the structure of the top 5 list: its contents are in no way listed by priority or rank. The contents of a Top 5 list need no rank, for they have made it to the Top 5, and that is achievement enough. Here we go.


Top 5 Ideas I Read About in 2015

  • Aggregation Theory. How the internet enabled distribution at scale, and unlocked opportunities for new entrants to aggregate those parts of the supply chain closest to consumers. The theory does a good job of explaining the changing landscape of media, transportation, and hotels, as well as the success of Uber, WeWork, AirBnB, et al.
  • Messaging is the Future Runtime. In 2015 I became obsessed with the idea that in the mobile age, messaging apps will be where content search and discovery happen, and that they will happen contextually, not on an on-demand basis (as was the case with Google during the age of the web browser.) There was a lot of news around messaging this year. FB Messenger announced M, a semi-AI concierge that helps users find what they need (which also led to the anti-turing test.) In APAC markets, messaging apps have been the primary runtime for a number of years. Looking forward to see how this space evolves in American markets in 2016.
  • Growth v Fixed Mindset. We can always be learning and growing. I liked this read on the difference b/w those with fixed and growth mindsets, and how the latter worry not about proving themselves to third parties but about how they can constantly be challenging themselves to learn more.
  • The Evolution of Verbs in the Workplace. Benedict Evans did a good job of summarizing this idea, in which the on-premise, PC-generation of workplace tools (excel, ppt, email) are replaced by collaborative cloud solutions. These new solutions improve efficiency through the automation of manual work (e.g. data visualization tools replacing excel) or by giving users a single place to collaborate on content (e.g. users communicating on tasks in Slack/Asana/Percolate instead of through siloed email threads.) The workflows change. The output stays the same, it’s just produced faster.
  • The Tennis Ball Problem. A wry metaphor that articulates the importance of focus on a few (and not many) things.

Top 5 Stratechery Reads

2015 was the year I bit the bullet and subscribed to Ben Thompson’s daily update. It’s the best $10/month I spent all year (with the possible exception of Spotify) and how I start my morning when I get into the office. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Why Web Pages Suck. I love this post. It contains my favorite visual of 2015, the 2009-2014 comparison b/w % of consumer time spent v. % of advertising spend across digital and traditional channels (from Mary Meeker’s annual internet trends SOTU report.) The post also does a great job of explaining how programmatic advertising worked in the days of the web browser, and how the model will not transition well to mobile. In the future, native advertising (think Facebook feed and Snapchat Discover) will dominate media spend on mobile.
  • The Facebook Epoch. Facebook dominated 2015. This article explains how Facebook is winning the mobile epoch (after Google won the web/browser one) and how they’re positioning themselves to mimic the messaging platforms of APAC.
  • The AWS IPO. One of the biggest tech stories in 2015 was Amazon’s reveal of their AWS revenue numbers. Few predicted just how huge these numbers would be (~26B) or how essential AWS -- the default cloud infra provider for new companies -- would become across the internet. I like Thompson’s article as it posits just how big of a deal this is for Amazon, and what the implications are for Amazon in 5 years, when today’s startups (the majority of which use AWS) grow into massive companies.
  • Aggregation Theory. (Mentioned above in top ideas of 2015.)
  • Old-Fashioned Snapchat. I think a lot of people are still trying to get their head around Snapchat and how it will be successful long-term. “No targeting? No audience demographics? What’s the point?” This write-up is a nice outline of the brand advertising opportunity available to Snapchat, and how it’s enabled through Snapchat stories and Discover.

Top 5 Reads Directly Related to Technology/Startups

Top 5 Reads About Nothing in Particular

  • Astral Weeks, Lester Bangs. Astral Weeks was one of my favorite albums in high school. I put the title track and “Sweet Thing” on A LOT of burned CDs. This review from Lester Bangs says a lot about the album, and about human nature in general. It’s also a fascinating view into the mind of a legendary writer from the early rock scene in America -- the first exposure I had to Bangs was from Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s excellent portrayal of him in Almost Famous, so I enjoyed this deeper dive into his writing.
  • One Last Rave, Hua Hsu. This is a great profile on Jamie XX - includes a nice walkthrough on the 80s/90s dance scene in the UK and how it evolved into the music of today.
  • Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, John Updike. Updike takes a trip to Fenway for Ted Williams last major league baseball game. Even if you don’t like baseball, this is a must-read. At the very least, it’s a nice look into what it would be like to go to a baseball game as a literary genius. (What with the gift of perception and all.)  
  • The Five-Decade Book Party and Its Tireless Host, Warren St. John. Cool write-up on the literary parties George Plimpton used to throw.
  • Why Go Out?, Sheila Heti. I found this transcription of a Sheila Heti lecture a few years ago while living in SF, but I added it to my Pocket favorites list in 2015, so I’m tacking it on here. In today’s culture, where it’s the accepted norm to stay in and watch Netflix, to stay comfortable, this article says something interesting about why we go out and forgo this comfort.

Top 5 Novels Read in 2015

  • Moby Dick, Herman Melville. Everything is metaphor.
  • Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner. Friends are important.
  • In the Light of What We Know, Zia Haider Rahman. Two friends reunite after a long time apart and discuss mathematics, exile, and how they’ve lived their lives. This book will inspire you to think critically, and to keep a list of your favorite quotes.
  • Norweigan Wood, Haruki Murakami. I picked this up after a recommendation from a friend. Much more accessible than The Wind-up Bird Chronicle but still written in the same distant tone that is so unique to Murakami. I read this book in a weekend and then listened to Rubber Soul.
  • Emma, Jane Austen. This book just turned 200 years old. A really interesting look into a different time, in which people’s social motives were not so different than they are today. A masterpiece of character development and contrast -- every character represents a different, complex foil of Emma, the main protagonist.

Top 5 Non-Fiction Books Read in 2015

  • Astoria, Peter Stark. A must-read for any person from the Pacific Northwest. It used to take considerably longer to get from coast to coast.
  • Paid Attention, Faris Yakob. A great read on the current state of the advertising industry and its digital transformation. Outside of the marketing insight, this book has some really interesting passages on thought itself. Yakob shares wise words on how we come up with ideas through connecting stolen themes from the past, and on how the prodigious thinkers come up with the best ideas - that is, most ideas are bad, you need to get through the obvious ones before you can get to the margin and find the good stuff.
  • Give and Take, Adam Grant. A great business read about how takers, matchers, and givers match up in the corporate success ladder. In reading this, I was reminded a lot of the New Yorker feature on Reid Hoffman, the uber-networker who starts all of his conversations with a written agenda and ends them with softly asking "How can I help?" I liked this book - a good reminder of how to act in the workplace and in life.
  • The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman. I picked this book up after an email from Noah on his required reading list for new PMs. It starts with the basic design principles of human-centered design: affordances, signifiers, constraints, mappings, and feedback. They're the most valuable piece of this book and a great model to keep in mind when designing anything that will be used by a fellow human being.
  • A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace. The title essay is one of my favorite non-fiction reads of all time, and probably the most endearing thing DFW put on paper. It is hilarious, relatable, and devastating in its sadness, all at once.

Top 5 Short Stories Read in 2015

Top 5 Albums Released in 2015

  • Art Angels, Grimes. Claire Boucher retains the same ethereal weirdness from her last release, Visions, but puts it through a mainstream pop filter. Great to have Grimes back on the scene.  
  • Poison Season, Destroyer. One of my favorite concerts of 2015. Bejar is the man, and this album was the perfect accomplice for my move to NYC this year. The sax on “Dream Lover” reminds me of early E Street Band -- undeniable.
  • In Colour, Jamie XX. Incredible sampling and production throughout this album. My favorite track is “Girl”, which takes effervescent vocals from Freeez’s “I.O.U.” and turns them into something distant and dreamy.
  • If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake. Drake had a big year.
  • Vega Intl. Night School, Neon Indian. It’s been fun to see the chillwave artists develop their sound over the last years. I really enjoyed this release from Neon Indian, which is an impressively cohesive album. My winner for best closing track of the year.      

Top 5 Old Albums Discovered in 2015

  • Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley. Rhythm and swagger well ahead of his time.
  • Homogenic, Bjork. I started exploring Bjork’s catalogue leading up to her headline at Gov Ball. Great songwriting. Complex beats. Incredible vocals.
  • Let It Be, The Replacements. Answering Machine is a great closing song.  
  • Head Hunters, Herbie Hancock. You’ve heard this album before, you just didn’t know it. The opening bass synth line is deep and slinky. Everything else that follows maintains a similar level of cool.
  • Fresh, Sly and the Family Stone. Sly’s departure from the mainstream into more complex keys and arrangements. When Miles Davis heard the opening track from this album, he forced his band to listen to it on repeat for 30 minutes. It’s that good.

And that’s it. 2015 was a great year. Looking forward to 2016; another year of reading, writing, and learning.

See you there.