Why entrepreneurs should never retire!

This poem about an idling Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson brings to mind what might happen to an entrepreneur who sold his company and is now whittling away inside a large firm or on the beach.

Conquer and be merry!

Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,– cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honor’d of them all,–
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,–
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me,–
That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,– you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive,
to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Conspirata was disappointing

As a self styled Roman history buff, I should have loved Robert Harris’ Conspirata. It tells the story of Cicero’s year as Consul written from the perspective of Tiro, his slave secretary. The book does a good job at immersing us in the politics of Republican Rome which foreshadows Caesar’s rise and fall and the Republic’s ultimate demise, but falls short of being great.

I appreciated the struggle between Cicero and Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. The intrigue, full of riots, murder, civil unrest, corruption, treachery, and betrayal is interesting, but somehow something was missing from the story. It did not quite resonate with me the way Edward Champlin’s fantastic lectures on the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire resonated at Princeton or the way HBO’s fantastic TV show Rome did.

I am not sure to what extent the writing is at fault. I might just be disappointed with Cicero’s cowardice at various points of the story, his willingness to corrupt his ideals to pay for his dream house and his pompous arrogance about his accomplishments as consul. All those make him a much less compelling hero.

If you want to immerse yourself in the politics of Republican Rome you could do worse, but if you want a fantastic historical thriller look elsewhere.

The Ghost Writer was disappointing

While significantly better than Alice in Wonderland, the move did not live up to expectations. The movie’s overt political stance and explicit criticism of Tony Blair would have been better served by a better story.

As it stands, Evan McGregor (the Ghost) comes up with his conspiracy theory based on almost no evidence as he’s stumbling around trying to edit the first draft of Adam Lang’s (Pierce Brosnan) biography. One of the red herrings convincing him of the conspiracy is a Google search suggesting a potential link between someone Lang knows and the CIA. I suppose, McGregor also believes Elvis lives on the moon, we are hiding aliens in Area 51, 9/11 was organized by our government and the moon landing was staged in Hollywood and never happened!

The story’s pace is also very slow. There were long periods where I was openly wondering when something would happen. The movie would have been better if they had kept the pace even and kept building up the tension like they do in great mysteries like The Spanish Prisoner.

The real star in the movie is the gorgeous house with intricate decorations that Lang is staying in in what seems to be Martha’s Vineyard. I just wish as much effort had gone into the story as into having a perfect setting!

Salon at my place

Last Monday I organized a gathering of smart individuals at my place. To broaden my horizons, I mostly invited people I did not know. I asked four of the guests to speak for a few minutes about something (non promotional and non partisan) that was on their minds of late.

Shelly Palmer who heads Digital Life with Shelly Palmer and wrote the jingle for Meow Mix spoke on the state of the union of digital media.

His speech was followed by a brief questions and answer session.

Mara Mourao, the award-winning Brazilian filmmaker of Doutores de Alegria spoke about her upcoming movie on social entrepreneurship: Who Cares?

Matthew Bishop the US Bureau Chief of the Economist first spoke about the consequence of giving First Amendment rights to corporations and later spoke about his new book The Road from Ruin.

My good friend Niro Anandasabapathy who is an MD PhD trained in immunology and cancer biology, now working in translational medicine at Rockefeller University, explained why we don’t have an HIV vaccine yet.

Alice in Wonderland is boring!

I had heard good things and went to see the movie this week-end in IMAX 3D. I was extremely disappointed and this review is reminiscent of my Avatar review. The movie is visually stunning, but the pace is incredibly slow, the characters are all one note (which is intentional but disappointing when you have actors like Johnny Depp and Anne Hathaway) and the story is just not gripping. I did not care about the characters or their quest and spent half the movie hoping it would end soon!

It’s disappointing given Tim Burton’s previous work and I hope this does not foretell an ever increasing trend of movies focusing on style over substance!

I hear I will get good story telling in The Ghost Writer. Fingers crossed!

The Greatest Trade ever is a thrilling read!

It’s rare for nonfiction books to read like thrillers, but Gregory Zuckerman manages the feat in The Greatest Trade Ever. The book tell the story of how John Paulson realized the real estate and subprime markets were grossly inflated and how he made $15 billion in 1 year betting on a blowup, a difficult feat given how many other celebrated investors had failed trying to short bubbles.

It reads partly like a thriller, a race against the clock and other potential investors, and partly as a detective story, as John Paulson and his team work to identify when the real estate and finance bubbles will burst and how best to trade them.

Once I started the book, I could not stop reading it and spent hours after I finished it thinking about its lessons. The story resonated all the more as I also believed that real estate was inflated, had moved to renting and encouraged all my friends to sell their houses and rent instead. However, I never thought of trading my beliefs – I don’t particularly care about investing and was not exposed to real estate. The idea to use Credit Default Swaps (CDS) to limit the downside and maximize the upside was brilliant, so was the idea of shorting the financial institutions that were on the other side of the trade!

This begs the question of whether I could use CDS as some form of hedge against the world economy falling apart given my extremely bearish outlook. Food for thought…

Regardless, read the book, it’s informative and tons of fun!

Open is a must read!

Open is not only the best sports autobiography I ever read, it’s one of the best biographies I ever read and one of the best books I read in the past few years!

As I am in Buenos Aires for three weeks on business, I am on a book reading binge. Open was the third book I read in three days, but the moment I started, I knew this book was going to be different and I could not put it down.

Autobiographies of famous people, mostly written by ghost writers, are usually terrible. What first struck me about Open is how well written it is! In addition, it has a raw honesty that draws you in. You feel what Andre is feeling at various points in his life – the highs and the many lows.

I am a huge tennis fan and have always been an Agassi fan and clearly remembered many of the matches he recounts which made the story even more poignant. It’s shocking to learn what it was like for him – it’s so different from what I imagined it would be. I could not fathom someone hating tennis as much as he does succeeding at it as much as he did. It’s also interesting to see how little input he had in creating his public image. He did not participate in elaborating the “Image is everything” campaign. He just said the words for the ad, not imagining the campaign would come to define him. Likewise, none of the image changes perceived by the press were orchestrated; they were just what reporters thought they noticed from the outside.

I loved every part of his book: his childhood obeying his father while fighting the “dragon”, his matches, his courtship of Stefanie, his charter school, the humbling meeting with Mandela… You don’t need to be a tennis fan to enjoy the book as his struggles are all too human with a positive wrinkle as we know the story has a happy ending.

The story is inspiring and a tribute to perseverance. Read it, you won’t be disappointed.