Saturday, April 01, 2006

Reading Lately

A fan wrote in last week to ask where I’ve been all month. ;-) March sorta came and went without a single post. Well... there’s no simple answer. But, I have a couple of things to talk about this month, so I’ll take a shot at turning my webpage back into a blog.

A couple weeks ago, I finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. Stephenson is a brilliant writer, and the breadth and depth of his books are simply amazing. Cryptonomicon is no exception. Chapter 56 is one of my favorite examples of the depth of Stephenson’s writing – an introvert’s geeked out technical observation of minutia so detailed that it clearly could only have originated from genius. The sentence that I think perfectly exemplifies this detail:

He would like the milk to be so cold that when he reaches in and grabs it, he feels the flexible, squishy pod stiffen between his fingers as ice crystals spring into existence, summoned out of nowhere simply by the disturbance of being squished.

So, having wrapped up all 918 pages, I was ready for a little “light” reading. Alec Klein’s Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of AOL Time Warner seemed to fit the bill. ;-)

I’m a little over half way through the book, and after a slow and somewhat painful start, I’m really loving the detail covering AOL’s growth from 1995 through 2001, the behind the scenes history of the merger between AOL and Time Warner, and the anecdotes describing the evolution of AOL’s culture during this time.

During the February Corporate All Hands,
Google’s Dr. Eric Schmidt commented “When you say Programmer and we say Programmer, we mean very different things…” Although I got what he was saying, I didn’t fully understand the context, until I encountered one of the first notable quotes from Stealing Time, p. 64:

In a message from which he would not deviate during his tenure at the company, Pittman preached that AOL, at its core, was not a technology company. We’re a media company.

Kudos to Sree and our new CTO, Maureen Govern, for recognizing that while the entire company may not be in the business of technology, that technology is absolutely at the core of everything we do.

Another great bit of history... describing the forces rallying against the AOL-Time Warner merger, on p. 122 Klein writes:

Margaret Heffernan, the iCast chief executive, locked into the debate. “Tear down that wall,” she blurted out.

A phrase that
Ted Leonsis has embraced, and reiterated in a positive context over the past few months, talking about the birth of

The last bit of history that caught my attention helps explain a phrase Dick Parsons has used on occasion, one that I had misunderstood as “swinging from the fences.” (“You're cuter than I thought. I can see why she likes you. Who? But not too bright, hmmm.”) Describing a visit by Dick Parsons to FTC chairman Bob Pitofsky’s office, on p. 138 Klein writes:

What Pitofsky really prized, though, was a photograph of graceful power: Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, swinging for the fences.

For, from… makes a big difference.

Although the meaning of each of these sayings is clear, understanding their origin provides a new depth of understanding. If you've joined AOL within the last two or three years, and haven't already read it, I strongly recommend this book.

Next up… my reading list.

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