Like the Patagonia jackets preferred by its residents, San Francisco too likes to bundle up under a puffer of clouds. San Francisco clouds are not fluffy like the ones in Umbria. They aren’t high clouds like those that dot the Midwest skies. Instead they are low altitude stratus clouds, born offshore over the ocean and whisked into the city quickly. Somedays the sky is pewter, other times it is dark and gloomy. Often it is hidden behind the fog. Like a Tinder hook-up, the clouds are gone even before the clock tower strikes twelve. San Francisco deludes you into thinking that it is cold outside, but when it really is cool bordering on normal. Unlike New York, where cold turns bones colder than granite three months of the year, the only day you can dream about wearing a sweater, a big coat and a proper woolen hat in San Francisco is really February, the 30th.
What we have instead is about three-to-five weeks in the entire year when temperature dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It usually rains, though lately the rain is as sparse as the hits have been for U2. You need a raincoat — for when it does rain around here, it is nice and lively — between four and five inches a month. Not a monsoon, but good enough for San Francisco drivers to loose sense of direction, their decorum and along with it, their driving skills. It is a perfect time, for one of my favorite garments: the sweater.
I have quite a few of them: V-necks (but no crewnecks), zipped sweaters, quarter-zips and cardigans. I love nothing more than a basic white shirt layered under a nice, colorful sweater. Salmon, pink, lavender, aqua — they are perfect antidote to the gray skies and gloomy winter. But my favorite is this old cardigan — I have owned it for as long as I have lived in this country. There are a couple of holes in the arm. The shawl collar is showing its age, much like an old man who has patronized a bar too long. And like that quiet patron in the corner, I can’t exactly tell you its age. It is not cashmere. It isn’t scratchy either. The buttons are still original, though once or twice I have to sew them again.
I bought it at a flea-market in New York. The flea market used to be held on the weekend, next to my office in a parking lot on the northeast corner of 24th street and Sixth Avenue. It is now an apartment building. I spent a lot of time walking around, looking at the remains of someone else’s life. For a few dollars (or more) you could walk home with memories of someone else. I looked and looked, because that is all I could do. Money was rarer than a shylock’s smile. And one day I saw this cardigan — it was a little too big, but it was quite handsome. It was black in shade and blue in sunlight. I knew I had to have it. It cost me $23 — after quarter of an hour of haggling. I saved $2, so my inability to negotiate with a street vendor ranks right next to Idina Menzel’s New Year’s eve performance.
Since then I have bought many sweaters — even today I have about a dozen and every year, I buy one or two, to replace one or two. Some are inexpensive, some expensive. But none make me happy like this old cardigan. It is as if it is a reminder of journey, and where it started. It was one of the first things I bought in America and for some odd reason, I have not let it go. It has traveled to many places, lived in more than a dozen closets. It was lose when I bought it. It was snug as I aged. It was loose when I came back from kissing heaven on the lips. And now it is getting snug again, quietly telling me perhaps it is time for me to get with it. It is like an armor of happiness — I wear it and suddenly, it’s back to future.
The coming week — the first work week after the long holiday break — is going to be warmer — it will be difficult to walk around in a sweater. Perhaps a light jacket, though not a Patagonia!
January 4, 2015/ San Francisco
The core of San Francisco might be changing, but sometimes when the fog kisses the ground, the dusk adds a pinkish hue to the evening and the chill in the air makes you hug your coat a little tighter, you know this is still the city that stole Tony Bennett’s heart. It is still the place that Sam Spade called home. As I walked down the Embarcadero earlier this evening, the majesty of the San Francisco Bay and the shadow play on the horizon between Fog and fading light made me realize how wonderfully unique and original San Francisco can be.
Originality has been on my mind, lately. I keep asking the question: can we be original in this time of a networked society? How does one be original, and not be influenced by what is happening around us, all the time? We are being bombarded by information, and even unknowingly, we are getting influenced by it. We are living in a remix society, that is remixing so fast that at times we forget what is original. Today it is hard to tell what is an original news source and what is not. The headlines don’t really mean anything. People repurpose the original, profit from it, and then try and penalize the original version. It hard not to feel disgusted by companies such as Xiaomi, whose only originality is their rampant blatantness.
How to find originality in a “networked society” is on my mind, because I have recently come across three individuals who have been original for such a long time. During a conversation for my new art project, Pi.co, Frank Clegg, a US-based bag maker put it best when he said, “If I make something different, then I don’t really have any competition. Either people like what I do, or they don’t like what I do.” Such a simple statement, but so hard to implement, because many find so much comfort from hiding in the herd.
While reading this story about Japanese fashion label Comme des Garçons (“like some boys”) and its CEO Adrian Joffe, in Bloomberg Pursuit magazine, I learned a little bit about Joffe’s wife and founder of the brand, 72-year-old Japanese reclusive designer Rei Kawakubo. She has been immensely original for nearly 45 years and her clothes still leave you gaping. The New Yorker once wrote: “Kawakubo doesn’t have a story line, insisting, not always plausibly, that she works in a vacuum of influence and a tradition of her own creation.”
The pressure to consistently be original must be quite amazing. The New York Times recently caught up with iconic chef Ferran Adria to find out what he is up to since shutting down his restaurant, El Bulli. They also wanted to find out why did he shut down the restaurant — was it money troubles? Or family squabbles? Adria was “was scared of repeating himself” according to the Times. “Can you imagine this pressure? You cannot.”[ I also am bemused by the fact that Chef Adria is an ambassador for Telefonica, a phone company making society even more networked.]
The pressure to be original within our connected society, has to be even greater than in our unconnected days. We are living with what designer Mark Rolston, founder of design firm Argo Design, calls “quantum consciousness” which essentially means that “many of us are coming up with similar solutions given similar conditions and a shared experience.” Just as this collective has its benefits, it also has its downsides, for it quickly reinforces the “safe” route in our minds.
As my walk along the Embarcadero came to an end, I could see the outlines of a lot of new buildings sprouting up, unoriginal in design, uninspired, and only there to take away from the originality of San Francisco’s skyline. They lack the dare-do of the Pyramid Building. They are just towers of glass and steel, lacking permanence and presence. Unfortunately the San Francisco of tomorrow, might be less magical than its past, because there isn’t anyone who is daring enough to be original in shaping its cityscape.
Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios writing in his book, Creativity Inc., put it best: “It’s easier to plan derivative work—things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal.”
January 3rd, 2015/ San Francisco
The New Year has a two-day stubble. I am looking forward to a new year — hopeful about what is to come — though my wish list includes more technological breakthroughs that make networks faster and smarter. I am hopeful for breakthroughs that help chips get smarter, smaller and less power hungry. And even more importantly, I am looking forward to new ideas that finally reshape batteries that power our increasingly digital world. It would be good to focus the much needed spotlight on “tech” in the tech-business.
On a professional front — now that I am a full-time investor — I am earnestly looking for interesting ideas — that go beyond the consumer desire and instead focus on the underbelly of our technology infrastructure. Can we make our networks smarter, be it through hardware or software? What about the next generation cloud infrastructure for an algorithmically powered future? The opportunities abound, both as an enthusiast and also as a professional.
On a personal front, I am looking forward to writing often — though I am going to stay away from media-style pieces and tying myself to a schedule. There is a design modification underway, mostly to reflect this new approach to writing. More essays and hopefully, a semi-regularly written journal full of ideas and observations about interesting people I meet on a daily basis. And some recommendations too — for instance, I think if you are in San Francisco and are craving some Jewish deli-style food, you should check out the Rye Project, the newest establishment started by the folks behind the DeliBoard sandwich shop. 7th Street is becoming interesting!
Talking about interesting — I just published the fourth in my series of conversations for my new project, Pi.co! I had a chat with Frank Clegg, a bag maker of some reknown about technology, social media and what quality means in society that is getting faster and faster. We also talked about the state of American manufacturing and the copycat culture. If you value craftsmanship, artisans and traditions, then Clegg is a guy you want to know about. Did you know President Obama is one of his customers? (link)
January 2, 2015/ San Francisco
Every year, much like every day, there is a moment where the end is the beginning. Today, perhaps is as good a moment to reflect on the year which is winding down. It was quite a wonderful year — travel, food, family moments and a chance to meet the mighty, the marvelous and the famous.
It has also been a year of self reflection — an attempt to slow down, get off Internet’s rigmarole, be less anxious and perhaps like a piece of chalk, soak in life. I have enjoyed reconnecting with old friends, made new friends and have slowly start to appreciate personal time.
But it hasn’t been the easiest of years. The relentlessness of internet publishing has a dangerously narcotic effect — the instant gratification and feedback on one’s work is enough to make rest of the world seem slow and plodding. My new life as a full time venture capitalist for True Ventures commands more patience and calm — and if anything 2014 has been a transition towards a more tranquil approach to life, crisis and creation.
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Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures, reflected on 2014 and came up with a list of 10 things/trends that happened during this really active year from a technology perspective. What I would add to Fred’s list: 2014 was the year online video became the norm. It was also the year news happened elsewhere than established media brands. Fred Wilson’s blog.