Must. Blog. More.

I’m mostly writing this post just to get back in the act of blogging. If for no other reason than I’m working on some stuff that requires me to remember how to blog. It’s never a good sign when you’re updating your blogging software more than you’re writing posts, which has been the case for me of late.

Since I declared my return to the Interwebs nearly a month ago, I’ve found my todo list may have been a bit ambitious for someone whose mind was still readjusting from a 3.5 month sabbatical. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a bunch of stuff: updated my resume and interviewed with a bunch of companies in both LA and SF; reconnected with many friends and former colleagues in Hollywood and Silicon Valley; web2.0-ized my friend Happy Joel’s online presence (seriously, go check him out — he’s fricken’ hilarious!); helped my buddy Tom with some of his attempts to break into Hollywood; went on an awesome river float near Sacramento and a party at the Playboy Mansion *in the same (really costly/painful) weekend*; started research (i.e. ordered a bunch of books and read 1.5 of them) for one of the screenplays I’ve been wanting to write; and cultivated a mustache that invariably shocks everyone who already knew me and must really creep-out anyone who has recently met me (pictures forthcoming…maybe). What I haven’t done is pretty much all the stuff I ended my last post saying I would do: digging out from a backlog of email/FB messages; uploading what’s now 1 year of travel photos to Flickr (yes, Mom that includes Croatia too 😛 ); and writing those blog posts about what I was up to when I was MIA (I really do have some great tips on Buenos Aires…if I can remember them anymore). I’ve also added new backlogs, like so many open browser tabs that my MacBook is chugging away like a fat kid and its battery life is down to 2 hrs from 4 (it’s getting to the point that I’m seriously considering trying Sam‘s PushPopURL — but, I’d see that as an admission of defeat 😉 ).

But, it’s all good in the ‘hood. Over the last month, I’ve come a long way in figuring out what I’d like to try next careerwise. Going through the whole interview process, even with companies that turned out not to be the best fit, was an exercise I found very helpful in defining my criteria for an exciting and compelling next job. So, the bad news is my todo list has gotten seriously longer. But, the good news is I’m more psyched than ever to tackle it 😀 .

Back in Action

I’ve been a bit MIA of late, and it hasn’t just been limited to this blog — I’ve been slacking on replying to emails and other forms of electronic communications as well. To be honest, I kinda checked out the last few months since leaving Yahoo!. And it’s been great! I got in some awesome skiing in Colorado, my first trip to South America, and a couple visits to Europe, as well as a much needed chance to clear my mind and decompress a bit.

And now, I’m back. Clearing my mind was only the first step, of course. Now comes the fun part of figuring out what I want to do next. I’ve updated my resume (html, pdf), and have started exploring various opportunities. I have pretty diverse interests, so I find it hard to conjure up the ideal job description in the abstract. But, the most important things to me are finding a project about which I can be passionate and people with whom I’m excited to work. After spending nearly 4 years at a large corporation, I think I’d like to check out the start-up world a bit (the smaller, the better). But, I’m keeping a very open mind at this point. So if you come across anything cool you think might be a good fit for me, please drop me line (jonathan[at]jonathanhstrauss[dot] com). In addition, I have a couple interesting ideas of my own I’m exploring. So who knows, I might end up looking for employees instead of a job.

I’m also planning to take this time to catch up on my various backlogs that have accumulated over these past few months, including responding to emails, uploading photos to Flickr, and blogging about some of my trips. So, look forward to hearing more from me soon 🙂

Buh-bY!e

Early Morning Purple & Yellow

The week before last, I announced my plans to leave Yahoo! to those following me on Facebook and Twitter (oh yeah, I told my team in person first 😉 ), and last Tuesday, February 12 was my last day in the office. I’ve already sent out an internal farewell email, and I really appreciate the unexpected number of very kind responses. I guess I consider this post my public farewell to Yahoo!.

First of all, thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone with whom I had the pleasure to work in my nearly 4 years. I met some great people at Yahoo!, and I look forward to continuing our personal and professional relationships wherever my career may take me. A special thanks to those who took a chance on me — Gerald See, Toby Coppel, Keith Nilsson, Gerry Horkan, Marco Boerries, Dan Rosensweig, Paul Brody, and Patrick Barry. At seemingly every step in my Yahoo! career, I was an unproven quantity pushing the bounds of the responsibilities that should be reasonably entrusted to someone of my age and experience. My time at Yahoo! would not have been anywhere near as challenging, educational, and exciting without you placing your faith in me, and I hope I’ve made you proud.

By far, the most challenging and fulfilling role I held at Yahoo! was the last 20 months I spent working on the Connected Life Desktop team. We built a fantastic team, that was not only exceedingly talented and hard-working but also tremendous fun. The thing I already miss the most is the daily Widgets team 1pm lunch. Regardless of what else was going on, this was a constant bright spot in my day and reminder of why I loved my job. Thanks more than I can express to Ed Voas, Bryan Mayes, Scott Derringer, Shan-lyn Ma, Brady Wood, Laurie Voss, Matt Hackett, Rob Marquardt, Ricky Romero, Marcus Harvey, Jet Lim, Matthew Lock, Michael Galloway, Ken Neville, Sam Magnuson, Sylvio Marcondes, Kevin Driscoll, Derrick Whittle, Ashit Gandhi, Joe Morrissey, Justin Whittle, John Hayes, Steve “Dallas” Dowds, and everyone else on D-1 and in Atlanta for putting up with my shit, making me look good, and just being good people. It would be my great pleasure to work with any of you again (if you’d have me 🙂 ), and count me as a reference anytime.

As for why I left, I spent more time at Yahoo! than anywhere else in my life since elementary school — a full 13% of my 27 years on this earth — and I’ve been ready to move on for a little while. Recent events provided an opportunity for me to transition my responsibilities, and I took it. For right now, my plan is to take some time off to travel and do some of the things I love, like skiing (I’m actually writing this from Aspen 😀 ), that I haven’t been able to do as much the last few years. I’m also following Scoble’s (pretty sage, IMHO) advice on unemployment, which means I’ll be attending events and taking meetings on my travels. So if you have any interesting ideas on things I should check out, please drop me a line at jonathan[at]jonathanhstrauss[dot]com.

Yahoo! people, please keep in touch by connecting with me on Facebook and/or LinkedIn. For those interested, my travel schedule is below and I’ve started a photo set on Flickr to chronicle this little adventure. Best of luck, and keep in touch.

P.S. Oh, and can someone *please* get my photo off the investor relations site already?! 😉

…In With The New!

A couple of days before Christmas ’07, my boy Ian sent me an SMS that said “…anyone that rolls into 2008 with 360 as their blog is a sucka!” And so, I started the process of setting up a new WP blog where my old site used to be. While I haven’t quite finished getting everything exactly the way I want it yet, I’ll be posting here going forward and maybe migrating some content from my old 360 blog. And since my first post of ’08 is on the new blog, I’m saying I met Ian’s deadline and am thus not a sucka (at least not for this reason).

For those (few) who may care, the new addresses are:

Adios 360. Word is bond.

My Friend the GM

I don’t have a lot of people I call friends, but those I do it is always with pride. And this week, I am particularly proud of my friend Ian Rogers, who has officially been named GM of Yahoo! Music.

w00t!

Ian and I met on the intranet, swapping emails and IMs about fixing Yahoo! from the inside and just generally plotting world domination. He is one of the most intelligent and well-rounded people I know, with a wealth and diversity of experience that should be the envy of men twice his age. I know many of the big players at the intersection of media and technology, and Ian is widely acknowledged by those who know him as one of the preeminent thinkers in this incredibly fluid space.

Professionally, this is one of those things that makes you actually believe there may be justice in the world after all. And it is definitely the most exciting thing to happen to Y! Music in a long time.

Personally, I really couldn’t be happier. The longer I have known Ian, the more ways I have come to admire him. And his achievement of this latest goal has just added to that. It is truly amazing to witness someone successfuly pursue such lofty professional ambitions with both single-minded focus and genuine altruism. In all of my observations of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, I have never seen anyone achieve so much so quickly and make so many *friends* along the way. Ian’s apolitical approach to climbing the corporate ladder should be an example to us all.

When I told my mom the news Wednesday night (yes Ian, I didn’t even tell my parents until it was announced), she responded “Zoe must be so proud.” We all are pal.

In Training (for now)

Back in November, I entered the Yahoo! Turkey Trot 5k on a whim. I have been running semi-regularly for a couple of years now depending on work (so, “semi-regularly” is probably a little too generous). I generally do 2.5-3 miles at a 7:30-8:00 min mile pace, depending on how much I’ve been running or not running at any given time. One day back in September when I had been running a little more than usual, I just decided to keep going and ran a personal best 6 miles. I actually felt like I could have kept going even further (after 4 miles I slowed down to an 8:30 min mile), but had to stop because of a meeting. I think it was that run that made me decide to still do the Turkey Trot, my first ever race, even though I was coming off several weeks of not running and didn’t get in the training I had planned.

The thing that scared me the most about the race was that I always run on a treadmill and have yet to figure out how to properly pace myself without one (I don’t really like wearing a watch when I run, which is the biggest issue). So, I decided to pick someone who I thought would run at a safe pace for me and challenge him to a match race. While it was a good idea in theory, my chump-picking skills are apparently a bit rusty. As we were walking from the meeting point to the starting line, I sidled up to Holger and, not so humbly, challenged him to a friendly match race (I believe my exact words were something like, “I couldn’t possibly lose to you, even though I haven’t run in weeks”). Well suffice it to say that I got mine. Not only did Holger beat me by 1 min and 13 seconds, but I nearly killed myself trying to keep up (not having a watch and falsely assuming that his pace was as slow as my normal one made me think that I was running slower than usual).

In the end, I actually won my age group and did it at a respectable pace of 7:32 min per mile. The joy of that victory was somewhat tempered by the fact that there were only 4 other people in the Male Under 30 group (however, I did take a bit of pleasure in the fact that this guy was one of them and finished 1:37 min behind me — sorry dude). But, none of that erased the fact that I lost my obnoxious challenge. I tried to make up for it by being a relatively gracious loser and giving Holger the gift certificate I won.

Anyway, Dag, the guy who got a bunch of us from Connected Life to run in the Turkey Trot, has been getting people to sign-up for the San Francisco Half-Marathon on February 4. I figured that if I started running hard 3 days a week 4 weeks before the race that I could have a reasonable shot of completing 13.2 miles in a not embarrassing time (or at least without walking). Well, t-4 weeks was last Sunday, and I ran exactly once last week. So, I’m thinking that the Half-Marathon might be out of reach this year. However, I want to start running more anyway. So, I’ve decided to pretend for the next 3 weeks that I’m going to run on February 4 (regardless of the fact that it’s also Super Bowl Sunday and the weekend of my mom’s birthday — but, what’s wrong with a bit of self-delusion for a good cause?).

Today was my first day of training, and I ran 4 miles at ~7:55 min per mile. I barely made it, which is not particularly encouraging. But, I was really sore from assembling furniture this weekend (you try crouching and crawling on the ground for 8 hours), and I’m hoping that had something to do with my suckiness today. I’m going to try to run again tomorrow, but I think I’ll just do 2.5 miles at 8:00 min per mile. On Thursday, I’m going to try to crack 6 miles again and hopefully hold it close to 8:00 min per mile.

Anyone want to handicap an over/under on how long this lasts?

As mentioned, I ran 4 miles @ 7:55 min per mile on Tuesday, then I ran 2.5 miles @ 7:43 min per mile on Wednesday and 5 miles @ 8:06 min per mile yesterday. Today, I rested — because it’s the Sabbath (no, actually that’s tonight and tomorrow). I plan to take the weekend off from running, and we’ll see what happens Monday.

Odds & Ends

I am trying to be productive by sorting through all the miscellaneous crap (like expenses, taxes, bills, etc) that you manage to justify ignoring when you are super-busy. I should have taken a before picture of the coffee table in my room that was piled high with the paper detritus of a modern life unattended.

As part of the process, I finally bought a bunch of things I had been meaning to get from Amazon. And as lip-service to the notion that I’m going to improve my record of bi-polar behavior in dealing with personal matters, I threw in a copy of David Allen‘s Getting Things Done. I hope I have better luck with it than Russ has had. For those of you not in the know, David Allen is like the Malcolm Gladwell of personal organization — they have both become famous putting common sense into book form. That alone has been enough to keep me from joining the GTD cult thus far; then there’s the small matter of the GTD cult itself, which I was exposed to in its full glory at BarCampLA.

But despite my self-righteousness, I can admit that I have an issue dealing with the mundane but mandatory administrative tasks of our age. Plus, as one of David Allen’s minions astutely paraphrased, getting things done just feels better than procrastinating. The scary thing is that I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t feel like there was something else I was supposed to be doing (I always *HATED* homework, and rarely did it).  And if that isn’t enough, Ian recommends this book and he is astonishingly productive. So, we’ll see how it goes.

As part of my productivity spree, I am also catching up on the charitable donations I’ve been meaning to make. The Yahoo! Employee Foundation will match any employee donations up to $1,000 per year if they are made through the GivingStation (internal link). So, I have spent a few minutes navigating through the clunky GivingStation UI adding my charities. And even though I already knew to which charities I wanted to donate, I spent some time surfing around Charity Navigator, which does financial analysis of non-profits’ public filings (check out the CEO pay numbers!).

The charities I am giving to are:

And finally, there’s a little newspaper clipping that I have been carrying around for months. It’s from a NY Times review of a book called The Big Why by Michael Winter. The review was lukewarm, but it excerpted the title passage from the book, which I vowed to blog:

The question is not were you loved. Or did you love. Or did you love yourself. Or did you allow love to move you, though that’s a big one. Move you. The question, Rockwell, is did you get to be who you are. And if not, then why. That, my friend, is the big why.

How do we know if we are really being ourselves? That’s definitely one to ponder.

 

The Discipline of Gratitude

Many of you who know me, would say that I am not a particularly religious person…in fact few of you probably know that I’m Jewish. That’s ok, because, although I am proud of my heritage, I believe that religion is a relatively personal thing that needn’t be advertised (my late grandmother taught me there are 3 things that should not be discussed in polite conversation: money, politics, and religion).

Both my parents are Jewish, but growing up I was exposed to two very different cultures. My mother is a first-generation American, whose family came here as World War II refugees. That side of the family spans the spectrum from Orthodox  to Conservative; many of them keep kosher, and all of them attend temple on a regular basis. My father’s family has been in the US so long that there is some dispute of our country of origin (my late grandmother always maintained that we were of German descent, but many think she was just trying to cover up Polish roots). Wherever they started, my great-great-grandparents ended up in Chicago in the middle of the 19th Century. There, in order to survive, they assimilated…my late grandmother, who was a theater actress, took the stage name Colbert (instead of Goldberg) and forbade her children from using Yiddish phrases (like “oy vey”). Members of this side of the family are Reform Jewish (the least traditional) if not agnostic, and few ever go to temple.

Growing up against this backdrop and being a student of philosophy, which owes many of its great works (Rene DescartesThomas Aquinas, David Hume, etc) to the inspiration of religion, I had a lot of data points on which to base my theories of religion. Behind the veneer of dogmatic faith that is the most visible and often problematic (a very wise man once told me that “all the trouble in the world is the fault of true believers”) aspect of religion, I believe there are two primary components: tradition and spirituality. My own practice of religion is a personal combination of the two, as exemplified by my observance of the High Holy Days this year: traveling to New York to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with my mother’s family at extremely Conservative Park East Synagogue and returning to LA for Yom Kippur, where we  attended services at the very Reform Temple of the Arts. While there are many things (and people) at Park East that I find distasteful, I am proud to sit in the seats that I shared with my late grandfather when I was younger and to carry on the traditions that were so important to him. And while some members of my family would likely scoff at Temple of the Arts’ avant garde service conducted mostly in English, I find Rabbi David Baron‘s flair for the dramatic (link irony) to be powerfully effective in evoking the spirit of Yom Kippur, especially in those who do not have the same connection to the traditions as myself.

All of this has been a long-winded introduction to talk about the speakers I heard at temple this Yom Kippur and the resonance of what I took from them. (I will digress a little more to give mad props to Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who gave a surprisingly provocative sermon on Rosh Hashanah that castigated his affluent and insular congregation for failing to take responsibility for their role in the problems that plague the world today [e.g. oil consumption].) The message of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is one of repentance, forgiveness, and renewal. Much like the Christian tradition of Confession or Lent, the 10 “Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the time when through prayer, atonement, and charity your sins of the past year can be forgiven allowing you to enter the new year with a clean slate. In order for us to have such annual renewal among our fellow man as we are to have in the Book of Life, it is incumbent upon each of us to not only ask forgiveness from others but to do what can be even harder than that, forgive those who have hurt us.

Rabbi Baron always does an excellent job of finding speakers with particularly poignant personal experience with the theme of the day. A few years ago, he arranged for Scott Waddle, commander of the USS Greenville when it sunk the Japanese fishing trawler Ehime Maru, to speak about his story of repentance. This year, Hillary Clinton spoke to the congregation (pictured) on a subject of great personal significance to her, forgiveness. Though people are having little trouble drawing a connection between Senator Clinton’s West Coast tour and rumors of her presidential candidacy, she spoke sincerely and eloquently about her journey of discovery on the road to forgiveness (a few elegant euphemisms were the only references to the impetus for this journey).

She began by telling the story of Nelson Mandela‘s inauguration, at which he asked three particular guests, among hundreds of dignitaries, to rise so he could thank them for coming. They were three of his prison guards on Robben Island, where he spent much of his 27 years in jail. Senator Clinton went on to tell of how, on a subsequent trip when she had the opportunity to spend some more time with Mandela, she asked him about this. She said that she understood how such a gesture was politically expedient at the time, when Mandela was trying to preside over a peaceful transition from Apartheid, but she could not fathom how he was able to sincerely forget what was done to him and forgive those who were instruments of his oppression. In response, Mandela told her of a particular day when he was smashing limestone in the quarry on Robben Island, his blows fueled in no small part by the hatred he felt for both those who were the instigators and the executioners of his torment. He said that on that day, he reflected on everything that they had taken from him, his freedom, his friends, his family…and he realized that all he had left that they couldn’t take were his heart and mind. He realized, by remembering, not forgetting, everything his enemies had done and every hardship he had to endure, that if he came through it all with hatred on his mind and bitterness in his heart, there would have been no point to any of his suffering.

Forgiveness, as Senator Clinton knows from her own experience, is hard work. Our natural instinct is to inflict pain on those who have hurt us, forgiving is a triumph of reason over emotion; in the words of Aristotle, it is one of those things that separate true happiness from mere contentment. In many ways, forgiving is a selfish act. It enables one to move on from the hurt and enjoy the life’s pleasures instead of dwelling in past pains. After her Mandela story, Senator Clinton spoke of the many other influences that helped her to make peace with those who had wronged her. Among these was the very Yom Kippur service in which she was participating, as well as the writings of a Dutch priest and philosopher, named Henri Nouwen. In Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, he writes of “the discipline of gratitude,” a phrase that immediately resonated with me. It is an incredibly elegant phrase that concisely captures the difficulty of resisting the natural inclination to take life for granted. Training ourselves to appreciate every day as a gift is necessary preparation for the hard work of forgiveness.

Now, it shouldn’t take any half-way decent first-year philosophy student more than 30 seconds to make a logical attack on the conclusion for which I appear to be to be heading, the assertion (popularized by the Christian Right) that life is so inherently precious that it is not within the mortal purview to end it. I therefore concede the boundary cases, like that of Terry Schiavo, where the likelihood of mitigating suffering is so low that a personal judgment call must be made. However, I do hold that no matter how slim the chance, as long as there is life there is always a chance for things to get better. Whether or not humans should be allowed to close that door for themselves (suicide) or others (abortion, euthanasia), is controversial and not material to this conversation. What is incontrovertible is the fact that we cannot open the door on our own and we often have little control over when it will be closed forever. No matter how tortured your existence today, the fact that there is a tomorrow in which you might have a chance to improve your situation is something for which we each should be grateful.

This message of gratitude for the daily opportunity of renewal that life grants us was driven home by the second speaker of the day, Aron Ralston. Aron is the hiker who cut off his own right hand in 2003 in order to free himself after being trapped for 6 days in a canyon in Utah. I had heard of his story, and I was admittedly a bit squeamish about sitting through a recounting of the gory details. But instead of talking about what he had done, Aron talked about why he did it. In that canyon, he made a conscious decision to keep living, knowing that it would be a very different life than the one he had led up to that point. Recognizing that he would be handicapped for the rest of his days, Aron decided that just having those days and the opportunities that come with them mattered more. When he spoke, there was not a hint of self-pity, there was no regret or sense of loss. Aron has mastered the discipline of gratitude; he thinks not of what he lost but what he gained…in fact, he says that this incident was the best thing that ever happened to him. Reading this, it may be hard to believe that he really feels this way, but I watched and listened closely, and I believed him. In closing, Aron quoted a passage from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 30:19, and I will do the same:

“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

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