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  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:02 pm on May 19, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Amazon.com, Arbitrage, , bad software, business magazines, , Financial markets, , , healthcare, , , Rich Dad, Soviet Militia, trusted technical co-founder, , web professionals, worse run software   

    Arbitrage 

    It boggles my mind to think that I grew up in a country where most private enterpreneurship was a criminal offence, a felony. It was like this: create a business, be scorned by your customers at best, and at worst get caught and go to a labor camp.

    There were of course people engaged in small business that escaped persecution. One particular example stuck in my memory: my father once pointed out a disheveled man rooting around in books at our favorite second hand book store. The store accepted books on comission, with the book owner setting the price. The disheveled man, my father explained, did not work anywhere. He made his living from his encyclopedic knowledge of the Soviet book market. He picked underpriced books and relisted them at market prices. I did not know it back then, but this is a very common tactic called “arbitrage”. In the US it is employed by multitudes of people, from library sale scroungers as disheveled as that man, but armed with handheld computers and laser scanners hooked up to Amazon.com, to venture capitalists buying bad software companies from badly run companies and selling them to even worse run software companies at billions in profit.

    In the US “Rich Dad, Poort Dad” author is making millions explaining the benefits of enterpreneurship over salaried proffesionalism, and I am in fact workin for not one, but two business magazines: Fast Company and Inc. I spent almost five years here, but it’s almost time for me to go. I did not line up the next job yet, but months ago I told my boss that I was leaving so that he could hire a replacement. My replacement is here, and I’m close to finishing knowledge transfer.

    I have a few startup ideas, but what scares me is not the Soviet Militia, but the lack of affordable healthcare and the lack of a trusted technical co-founder. I am mulling taking another corporate job, and luckily Google and its ilk hoovered up web professionals, so the market looks promising.

    For months I would tell myself that I would leave when the Freedom Tower would eclipse WTC 7 where I work. I’d say that time is near.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 3:39 am on June 1, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Amazon.com, Andy Kelp, Arnie Albright, Black Bellamy, Caper story, , , , Daniel Defoe, , , , , football, getaway driver, , , John Dortmunder, , , Osmeridae, Pirates!, Roe, , Smelt, Stan Murch, The Pirates! in an Adventure with Napoleon, thuggery specialist   

    Bread and Circuses 3: Smelts and Westlake; Uni and Defoe 

    This is a third, and likely last article in which I pair up food with books. The previous two did not generate a single comment, but I still want to finish the series.

    My third favorite cuisine is Japanese. The best Japanese cooking is about the ingredients. Think about it: sashimi is basically sliced up raw fish. It’s an ingredient with the least preparation possible. Yet it’s one of the tastiest things ever, if the fish is good and the chef sliced it well. Simplicity and lightness, that’s what I like about Japanese food. I’ve picked two of my favorite dishes, a fried fish and sea cucumber roe, and paired it up with two simple light reading book series.

    My father grew up on Sakhalin island, a place where salmon and even sturgeon roe were dirt cheap and widely available. Kids would thumb their noses at their caviar and smoked fish, my dad said. But there was one fish still highly prized. A humble smelt. Easily caught, it was usually full of delicious roe. Fried – the tastiest thing ever. While fresh, interestingly enough, smelts smell like fresh cucumbers. I first tasted a fried smelt in a Japanese restaurant Yakitori East, one of the few places in New York that serves them. They are also available in Japanese and Korean supermarkets, I’ve bought and fried them at home many times.

    Fried smelts are just as addictive as books from the Dortmunder series by Donalde E. Westlake. These are masterpieces of a particular subset of subset of crime fiction genre: a comical caper story. You get too root for a band of bumbling crooks led by John Archibald Dortmunder, a very competent, but extremely unlucky master thief with a beer-inspired last name.

    You know how the two Alice stories have a chess game and a card game theme? Well, Dortmunder stories can be thought of as games of American football. The characters are highly specialized, just like football players, they face constant fumbles and setbacks, but from time to time they get to score. In fact, if I remember correctly, one of Dortmunder books even has chapters based on football: “First down”, and so on to more downs than there are in game rules.

    Dortmunder’s core crew includes an all-purpose crook Andy Kelp, a thuggery specialist Tiny Bulcher, a getaway driver obsessed with New York City traffic patterns Stan Murch. Kelp and Dortmunder can pick locks, but when the job calls for it experts are called in. So are extra drivers, computer experts, and other colorful characters. Everybody except Stan Murch has long time girlfriends who take part in criminal acts from time to time. Stan’s cab-driving Mom known as “Murch’s mom” is a frequent cast member.

    The now-canceled Firefly tv series is definitely inspired by the Dortmunder stories: as a nod, Joss Whedon named one of the big Alliance ships IAV Dortmunder.

    There’s something amazingly likable about a competent, but unlucky master thief with a hang-dog look about him. I, for some reason deeply identify with Dortmunder. On the other hand, in real life I’m probably more of Arnie Albright, the friendless and obnoxious (and aware of it) fence. Arnie’s so obnoxious that nobody willingly deals with him (unless they have to). Dortmunder would much prefer dealing with another fence, Stoon who’s unreliable and pays much less.

    I’ve read every single Dortmunder book there is. Westlake is currently working on the next installment in which the gang participates in a reality show.

    ***

    Uni is a simple dish. Well, it’s not much of a dish. It’s sea urchin’s roe. You just dunk it in soy sauce and eat it. Uni had amazing taste: creamy, briny,sweet, custardy. If you watched Iron Chef at all, you probably spent hours listening to the judges rave about uni.

    What would go great with uni? Gideon Defoe’s Pirates! books. What are they about? Well, they are about oh, only the most important things in the world. Ham. Piracy. Marine mammals. Science, Philosophy, Love. Sea shanties. Ham.

    The nameless Pirate Captain leads a large group of child-like pirates and Cutlass Liz through most amazing adventures. His evil rival Black Bellamy constantly defeats an humiliates him and his crew, but the Pirate Captain does not like to dwell on that.

    If I were to trust what I’ve read on the Internet, Pirates! was written to impress a girl to leave her boyfriend (which she didn’t). Defoe also is somehow related to Daniel Defoe.

    There are three books out:

    [amazon cover 0375423214]
    [amazon title 0375423214]

    [amazon cover 0375423850]
    [amazon title 0375423850]

    [amazon cover 0375423974]
    [amazon title 0375423974]

    According to Gideon’s livejournal, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Napoleon is already out. Also he’s working with Aardman on a Pirates! cartoon.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 12:10 pm on May 3, 2007 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Amazon.com, , changing technologies, , , CueCat, , , , , , , Library 2.0, LibraryThing, Martin Eberhard, , , online tool, , , Social cataloging applications, , , Sony eInk, , ,   

    LibraryThing 

    When I attended a party thrown by Joel Spolsky at his apartment, I got to browse through his library. Joel’s library was somewhat bigger and better organized than mine, but with a significant overlap: on almost every shelf I encountered at least several books that I already had or had in my wishlist.

    Keeping a large library is something that I feel a little guilty about. Living space is precious and books take up a lot of it. One of my livejournal friends told me that he does not keep more than a small bookshelf of books at home (although he reads more than I do). Once he’s done with a book he either sells it at Half Price Books or gives it to a friend or acquaintance.

    So why do I keep all the books? Besides the obvious vanity: look how sophisticated and edjumacated I am, there are other, more subtle reasons. When I was little, my father had an even bigger library. It was a great: exploring hundreds of books right at home was a great joy. My bed was located right under a huge bookshelf – if I wanted some bedtime reading all I had to do was to stretch my hand.

    Joel put it best that evening: he feels that if somebody would read all the books that he has read, that person would start thinking similarly. A library is a sort of a mind dump, a memex chain. It becomes a part of who you are. Giving my library up would be extremely difficult for me. Call it the collector’s instinct, a fetish – it does not matter. Some poor people just are attached to physical books.

    One of the reasons I got a job at TV Guide was because at the time it purchased two most promising eBook companies, NuvoMedia and Softbook. It thought that the electronic revolution would finally happen and we’d be reading from small electronic tablets, like on Star Trek. I do love paper books, but the promise of instant gratification and the library in a chip that was promised to us so long ago was even more tempting.

    Sadly, the two companies were deprived of resources and smothered. I still think that the tablet reader is in our near future, and the Sony eInk tablet is a step in the right direction, although I am so displeased with Sony for a number of reasons (about which I’ll rant some other time) that I refuse to buy any of their products. In any case, my former co-worker Martin Eberhard, the founder of NuvoMedia (maker of the more successful and practical RocketBook) is now building awesome electric cars. I really wish I had a chance to interact with him at TVG — I share his fascination with Tesla and world changing technologies.

    Since the ebook revolution is not coming any time soon, I finally decided to do something about keeping my books organized and joined LibraryThing. LibraryThing is a great online tool that allows you to create a catalog of your books by either typing in an ISBN number or book title. The interface is super usable. To make cataloging even faster I dug out my good ‘ol CueCat that I “declawed” back in the day. Seeing how crappy it was, I broke down and bought a real usb laser barcode scanner off eBay. It works like a charm – there’s a rotating laser inside and everything. Indeed, you get what you pay for.

    I simply scan the barcode (if there’s one) or type in the title, add a tag that contains a shelf number – and that’s it. Now if I need to find a book I can simply search for it and find out which shelf it’s on. I don’t really need a more exact location. So far I’ve entered about 250 books. This covers the kitchen, bathroom and a couple of shelves in the living room. Altogether I have 2 Ikea Billys in the living room, 2 in one bedroom and 3 in another. In my estimation there should be at least 2000 books in my library, although a friend of mine thinks that it’s more like 1000. We’ll see who’s right once I’ll finish the catalog. My friend estimated (conservatively) that I spent about $5 per book, so my books must have cost me $5-10K. I feel kind of like Carrie from Sex and the City who had about $40K worth of Blahniks in her closet.

     
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