Today, I’m going to write about 2 articles and 1 video that I recently saw and found pretty interesting. Not much to report in my life other than some market volatility, some really good snowboarding trips and an increase in my snowboarding interest, an increase in cooking (trying to perfect baked boneless buffalo wings) and a couple good indie/alternative concerts.
1) Mike Tyson’s My Life as a Young Thug from http://nymag.com/news/features/mike-tyson-2013-10/:
We were beefing with these guys called the Puma Boys. It was 1976, and I lived in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and these guys were from my neighborhood. At that time I was running with a Rutland Road crew called the Cats, a bunch of Caribbean guys from nearby Crown Heights. We were a burglary team, and some of our gangster friends had an altercation with the Puma Boys, so we were going to the park to back them up. We normally didn’t deal with guns, but these were our friends, so we stole a bunch of shit: some pistols, a .357 Magnum, and a long M1 rifle with a bayonet attached from World War II. You never knew what you’d find when you broke into people’s houses.
So we’re walking through the streets holding our guns, and nobody runs up on us, no cops are around to stop us. We didn’t even have a bag to put the big rifle in, so we just took turns carrying it every few blocks.
“Yo, there he goes!” my friend Haitian Ron said. “The guy with the red Pumas and the red mock neck.”
When we started running, the huge crowd in the park opened up like Moses parting the Red Sea. It was a good thing they did, because, boom, one of my friends opened fire. Everybody scrambled when they heard the gun.
I realized that some of the Puma Boys had taken cover between the parked cars in the street. I had the M1 rifle, and I turned around quickly to see this big guy with his pistol pointed toward me.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he said to me. It was my older brother, Rodney. “Get the fuck out of here.”
I just kept walking and left the park and went home. I was 10 years old.
I often say that I was the bad seed in the family, but when I think about it, I was really a meek kid for most of my childhood. My first neighborhood was Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. It was a decent working-class neighborhood then. Everybody knew one another. Things were pretty normal, but they weren’t calm. Every Friday and Saturday, it was like Vegas in the house. My mom would have a card party and invite all her girlfriends, many of whom were in the vice business. She would send her boyfriend Eddie to buy a case of liquor, and they’d water it down and sell shots. My mom would cook some wings. My brother remembers that besides the hookers, there’d be gangsters, detectives. The whole gamut was there.
When I was just 7 years old, our world got turned upside down. There was a recession and my mom lost her job and we got evicted out of our nice apartment in Bed-Stuy. They came and took all our furniture and put it outside on the sidewalk. The three of us had to sit down on it and protect it so that nobody took it while my mother went to find a spot for us to stay.
We wound up in Brownsville. You could totally feel the difference. It was a very horrific, tough, and gruesome kind of place. Cops were always driving by with their sirens on; ambulances always coming to pick up somebody; guns always going off, people getting stabbed, windows being broken. We used to watch these guys shooting it out with one another. It was like something out of an old Edward G. Robinson movie. We would watch and say, “Wow, this is happening in real life.”
My mother would do whatever she had to do to keep a roof over our heads. That often meant sleeping with someone that she really didn’t care for. That was just the way it was.
By then, I was going to public school and that was a nightmare. I was a pudgy kid, very shy, almost effeminate-shy, and I spoke with a lisp. Sometimes my mother would be passed out from drinking the night before and wouldn’t walk me to school. It was then that the kids would always hit me and kick me. We would go to school and these people would pick on us, then we would go home and they’d pull out guns and rob us for whatever little change we had. That was hard-core, young kids robbing us right in our own apartment building.
Having to wear glasses in the first grade was a real turning point in my life. My mother had me tested, and it turned out I was nearsighted, so she made me get glasses. They were so bad. One day I was leaving school at lunchtime to go home and I had some meatballs from the cafeteria wrapped up in aluminum to keep them hot. This guy came up to me and said, “Hey, you got any money?” I said, “No.” He started picking my pockets and searching me, and he tried to take my fucking meatballs. I was resisting, going, “No, no, no!” I would let the bullies take my money, but I never let them take my food. I was hunched over like a human shield, protecting my meatballs. So he started hitting me in the head and then took my glasses and put them down the gas tank of a truck. I ran home, but he didn’t get my meatballs. I still feel like a coward to this day because of that bullying. That’s a wild feeling, being that helpless. You never ever forget that feeling. That was the last day I went to school. I was 7 years old, and I just never went back to class.
There’s more to this excerpt at the link and I just thought the entire thing was a fascinating read. Tyson’s experiences as a child are just totally wild and alien to a kid who grew up in the suburbs like me (e.g., his obsession with pigeons), and yet somehow very vivid and realistic – like when one of his childhood enemies squashes one of Tyson’s pigeons in his hand like a grape. While you can’t relate to Tyson’s exact experiences of being poor and in the hood in the 70’s and 80’s, you can relate to his emotions – it’s very visceral. We were all defenseless kids in a big, big world at one point. I love his quote, “I still feel like a coward to this day because of that bullying. That’s a wild feeling, being that helpless.”
We all have memories like that. I remember clearly once when I was in the sixth grade taking PE class, one of my sort-of friends elbowed me in the balls hard while we were sitting next to each other in the locker room. I rolled around in pain for awhile – it was the first time I’d ever been hit there and then afterwards for some reason I didn’t do anything about it. Honestly, he was smaller and I could have wrecked him so maybe I was being restrained… or maybe it was because I was in shock. But several things bother me about this memory. To this day, I wonder why I didn’t do anything about it and why we remained sort-of friends afterwards. And I also still can’t figure out why he did it, other than that I had made a joke a couple minutes before. And then finally, I think he was really assertive after it happened, like “you deserve it.” But maybe I’m just imagining that last part.
A small incident… one that could be summed up briefly, as in “I got elbowed in the privates when I was a kid,” but one that sticks with you nonetheless because of the way you felt about it.
2) Steve Jobs Unveiling the iPhone in 2007: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vN4U5FqrOdQ
There’s an old guy who hangs around my office building’s gym. I’ve been seeing him since I joined the fund 9 months ago – really nice guy, usually comes in to get a massage, had to be at least 80 years old. I always looked at him a little tenderly because he seemed so frail. Anyway, he introduced himself to me as Arthur Rock awhile back and I never thought to find out who he is/was. Turns out he’s a legendary Silicon Valley billionaire who pioneered the field of venture capital. He helped start Fairchild Semiconductor (which then spawned Intel and really all of Silicon Valley), was an early investor in Apple, Intel and Teledyne and sat as the chairman of Apple during Steve Jobs’ reign. He was even on the cover of TIME magazine at one point. Wow.
Anyway this discovery got me poking around some Silicon Valley history and I stumbled across the iPhone unveiling in 2007. I had never seen it before but it’s really interesting to watch. At the time, I distinctly recall the feeling in 2007 that American phones were wayy behind their Asian counterparts. My friend Kenny used to drive me to orchestra practice. Kenny was Taiwanese and every summer would go back to Taiwan and then come back with some sweet phone. I remember he had a phone with a photo flash on it in like 2004, way before anything like that had showed up in American stores. Anyway, fast forward to 2007 with the iPhone introduction and since then, America’s really dominated the mobile phone. I mean yes, Samsung has more market share at this point, but they’re really a multi-national corporation than anything else.
Getting back to Jobs’ keynote though. The presentation is amazing and frankly in stark contrast to how bad the YHOO and GOOG founders are as public speakers. It amazes me that top executives can be in such public positions, constantly be meeting and speaking with people and yet be so bad at public presentations. I think the key characteristics of Jobs’ presentation style though are twofold. First, he communicates from first principles: what should a phone be? what are other phones like? where exactly does the iPhone sit? The result is so clean and logical and simple that it is attractive. He has an amazing ability to abstract and contextualize and that’s really helpful when you’re trying to revolutionize a product: get people to step back and reimagine what a phone should/could be. Second, rather than pontificate from and drop the iPhone from on high like the Ten Commandments, he actually demonstrates his own sense of wonder and awe with the iPhone throughout the presentation. Which is actually counter to what most people’s impression of Steve Jobs is – as some sort of controlling design impressario. Notice how he keeps asking the audience, “isn’t that neat?” He aligns himself with the audience, rather than against them. I love it.
3) Article on Youth in Silicon Valley: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/magazine/silicon-valleys-youth-problem.html?emc=eta1&_r=0
(Will get back this one later).