Advent Calendar Day 1: My Shot

There’s a grand tradition for those who celebrate Christmas: The Advent Calendar. Each day starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas Day, you open a flap on the calendar to reveal something: A poem, a candy treat, or a tchotchke.

(Yes, I recognize the irony of using a Yiddish word to describe a Christian celebration. I’m multicultural like that.)

Over the years, a new internet tradition has developed. Bloggers with large audiences create online advent calendars, with links to items that might generate a few shekels in referral fees.

I don’t have a large audience, but I’m gonna take a shot with this tradition anyway. So… starting today1, I’m writing about items I bought with my own hard-earned moola in 2016. Every item will be something I found interesting, useful, or just plain fun. I’ll link ’em up to Amazon or somewhere else you can buy ’em easily. And if you do, a few pennies get redirected to me, yet costs you nothing more.

And I make this pledge to you, my loyal reader: Whatever amount I generate from this brazen scheme, I will use it to buy something I love and will make me happy.

I promise.

My first pick will not come as a surprise if you’ve met me in person, as I’ve been obsessed with this musical since buying the CD in February. My friends and family have had to put up with me quoting lyrics from it at the slightest provocation.

I won’t make you wait for it: I’m talking about the original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton: An American Musical.

You’ve no doubt heard about this record-smashing hit musical. It won a Grammy. And a Pulitzer. And a Tony. OK, 11 Tonys. And tickets are virtually impossible to get2.

If by chance you haven’t heard about it, it’s “a story of America then, told by America now“. It’s a hip-hop history lesson on the life (and infamous death) of the ten-dollar Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton.

And it’s fucking brilliant.

I grew up listening to hip-hop. And I’ve always enjoyed musicals3. But I never thought those two could be combined, and I certainly didn’t imagine they could be combined well.

Turns out, the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a genius (and not just because he took home a MacAurther “Genius” Award).

The music, story and lyrics are all sublime. A mix of hip-hop, R&B, traditional musicals and even some BritPop, the album rewards you for repeat listens. Even after nearly a year, and hundreds of plays, I still hear nuances, from musical motifs that pop up unexpectedly, to Miranda-as-Hamilton’s angry growl as he exclaims to George Washington during Meet Me Inside that detractors “take your name and rake it through the mmud!”

(When you’ve binged enough, you too can identify every single “yo!” used in the show.)

The brilliance doesn’t stop at Miranda’s work, though. The cast itself is phenomenal, starting with Leslie Odom, Jr as Aaron Burr (the damn fool that shot Hamilton), Phillipa Soo and Reneé Elise Goldsberry as two sisters, one he loves and marries, the other he just… loves, and Daveed Diggs fast-rapping his way through two very different roles.

(I’m unjustifiably proud that not only do I know most of the album’s lyrics, but I can actually do even Daveed’s fastest raps. That’s right, I match his practical, tactical brilliance.)

Of course, when you’re this obsessed, would it be enough to just listen to the cast album, non-stop? No, you will never be satisfied until you buy Hamilton: The Revolution, the behind-the-scenes book and libretto. It’s beautifully produced, with stories explaining how the sausage got made. You just assume that it happened, but this book really puts you in the room.

And then you find yourself wanting to read the biography of Hamilton that started Miranda down this crazy path, because you want to learn the real story about the man whose enemies destroyed his rep and America forget.

And then, and then, you learn Miranda decided to “reimagine” songs from the musical and collaborate with massive artists like The Roots and Busta Rhymes and Usher and Queen Latifah and Kelly Clarkson and Alicia Keys, and Ashanti and the end result is yet another drop of brilliance called The Hamilton Mixtape.

(Hearing Ja Rule and Ashanti do Helpless, knowing that Helpless was in part inspired by Ashanti and Ja Rule made me shudder.)

So, that’s the story of tonight, the first day of this advent calendar. I hope you’ll be back. I mean, how can you say no to this?


  1. The plan was to actually start on December 1, but life got in the way. 
  2. But I got some, in both San Francisco and New York! Woo! 
  3. I wish I could remember my first. It might be the movie version of The Sound of Music. Or the cast album for Jesus Christ Superstar. I honestly couldn’t say. 

A Master Class on Thinking

A Master Class on Thinking

About a year ago, I and fifteen or so other company leaders participated in a seven-session “master class” , where we talked extensively about what being a “leader” means at our company, and how we tackle the “big questions”.

These sessions, held every two weeks or so, lasted two hours, followed by dinner.

Each session focused on a concept, anchored by one of these books as the jumping off point for our discussions. Each of the books are either classics of philosophy, or soon-to-be classics. All are worth reading.

The conversations were thoughtful, frustrating and always insightful.

The concepts and associated books were

Debate: On Liberty, chapter 2

Stories: Thinking, Fast and Slow, chapters 1, 4-8, 16-18

Design: The Sciences of the Artificial, chapter 5

Focus: Scarcity, Introduction, pages 19-65

Loyalty: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, chapters 1-5, 7, 9

Meritocrarcy: Capital in the Twenty-First Century, pages 11-16, 20-27, 237-304

Rightness: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, chapter 2; Utilitarianism, chapters 1-2

While the master class focused on specific chapters (mainly to limit the amount of reading busy managers needed to do!), I encourage you read the entire book if you can.

If you can arrange a “master class” of your own to discuss with others, I strongly encourage it.

Aaron Sorkin writes a letter to his daughter

Sorkin, to his wife, and 15 year old daughter Roxy, following Trump’s win:

Here’s what we’ll do…

…we’ll fucking fight. (Roxy, there’s a time for this kind of language and it’s now.)

I originally quoted three paragraphs, but that seemed unfair. Go read the whole thing.

On a totally unrelated note, I miss Jed Bartlet.

“Trump definitely has the 1L Terror Shits”

Fantastic take on the initial Trump-Obama meeting the other day:

This was Obama’s chance for the most perfect revenge that would never be picked up on as revenge at all. He was gracious, polite—everything he needed to be for a peaceful transition and a good review from the press. And that would continue when the doors were closed, because that’s the key. Not a Come to Jesus meeting, oh no. If Obama were smart—and he is very smart—he would have treated Trump like an equal, and brought the discussion to a level that assumes far more of Trump than anyone has so far. Assumes that he’s an adult who’s been paying attention. Statistics, esoteric minutiae about the executive branch procedure, economic growth numbers, labor figures, domestic policies, countries Trump has never even heard of, shit that would never in a million years have been in Trump’s campaign soundbites or digestible summaries.

No way to escape. No aides to remember any of it for him. Just the two of them.

Because that’s what would strike a precise chill into Trump. The thundering realization that he’s woefully unprepared for the hard, boring, thankless reality of this, and Obama’s version of a smooth transition won’t and shouldn’t include remedial civics.

That’s what I saw when they shook hands and Trump stared at the floor instead of looking back into Obama’s face. He’s just figured out how little he knows about any of this.

I can only hope this is true.

ACLU to Trump: See You In Court

The day after Trump’s win, the ACLU published an open letter to him on their site, then took out a full-page ad in the New York Times:

If you do not reverse course and instead endeavor to make these campaign promises a reality, you will have to contend with the full firepower of the ACLU at every step. Our staff of litigators and activists in every state, thousands of volunteers and millions of card-carrying members and supporters are ready to fight against any encroachment on our cherished freedoms and rights.

Right now their website is very focused on fighting Trump and his policies. He’s been huge for fundraising:

In just five days, our Facebook followers have increased by 25 percent to nearly one million people; 400,000 people viewed our open letter to President-elect Trump on our website; and 150,000 new people have joined our e-mail list. We have also heard from thousands of people offering to volunteer their time and services and have received roughly 120,000 donations, totaling more than $7.2 million.

This is the greatest outpouring of support for the ACLU in our nearly 100-year history, greater than the days after 9/11.

ACLU will be getting a big donation from me this year. You should donate too. And check if your company matches donations to increase your impact.

Tesla Motors End Free Access to Superchargers

Elon Musk, talking about Tesla’s super charger network in 2013:

They will be free forever.

Tesla today:

For Teslas ordered after January 1, 2017, 400 kWh of free Supercharging credits (roughly 1,000 miles) will be included annually so that all owners can continue to enjoy free Supercharging during travel. Beyond that, there will be a small fee to Supercharge which will be charged incrementally and cost less than the price of filling up a comparable gas car. All cars will continue to come standard with the onboard hardware required for Supercharging.

Translation: We found a loophole: We never promised “free unlimited charging!”

These changes will not impact current owners or any new Teslas ordered before January 1, 2017, as long as delivery is taken before April 1, 2017.

Translation: Screw you, future Model E owners.

Trump doesn’t want to live in Washington

New York Times:

Mr. Trump, a homebody who often flew several hours late at night during the campaign so he could wake up in his own bed in Trump Tower, is talking with his advisers about how many nights a week he will spend in the White House. He has told them he would like to do what he is used to, which is spending time in New York when he can.

And

The questions reflect what Mr. Trump’s advisers described as the president-elect’s coming to grips with the fact that his life is about to change radically. They say that Mr. Trump, who was shocked when he won the election, might spend most of the week in Washington, much like members of Congress, and return to Trump Tower or his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., or his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach on weekends.

Does he realize the presidency is a full time job? You can’t live where you want. It’s not a commuter job.

The man want to be called president, but he doesn’t want to be president.

On “faithless” (but democratically faithful) electors

Apropos the aforelinked push to a national popular vote, Lawrence Lessig responds to a change.org call to elect Hillary Clinton at the Electoral College vote in December:

I apologize for the technical, law-geek reply but: Hell yes!

The Framers created the electoral college as a safety valve. They were not certain how the states would establish the process for selecting a president. Most assumed they’d have popular elections. But to avoid the chance that some insane passion would sweep the nation, and drive it to elect a nut, or a demagogue, they embedded an electoral college as a kind of circuit breaker. If the people go crazy, the college would be there to check it.

It’s a nice fantasy, but not going to happen. We’re going to have to live with this one.

National Popular Vote

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Lots of people suddenly want to eliminate the Electoral College, but the National Popular Vote bill has been recommending it since 2006.

The National Popular Vote interstate compact would not take effect until enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough to elect a President (270 of 538). Under the compact, the winner would be the candidate who received the most popular votes from all 50 states (and DC) on Election Day. When the Electoral College meets in mid-December, the national popular vote winner would receive all of the electoral votes of the enacting states.

The effect is to remove the effect of the Electoral College’s influence without actually ending the Electoral College, which would require a change to the constitution, and allow the winner of the national vote to become president.

It’s already in place with jurisdictions to tallying 165 electoral votes, or just about two-thirds of what it needs to be enabled.

What a brilliant hack.