These posts were originally published on the Tempo book blog between 2011-14, and imported here in 2019 when that blog was shut down and replaced with a single page.

The Best Chips in the World

I suppose I must seem crazy to some people. I added a whole hour to my drive to Nebraska just to pass through St. Louis. Not for the arch, but for Billy Goat chips. I first found them in the Chinatown Coffee Company in DC, and decided they were the best packaged chips I’d ever had, easily beating out all but the freshest house-made pub chips. They are local to the St. Louis area, and Chinatown Coffee special-orders them.

When I stopped by and announced I wanted to “buy some chips,” the folks inside looked puzzled. Then they explained that they only made the chips there and that I could go to a retail outlet a few blocks down the street to actually buy them.

But then, one of them got curious when it became clear I knew nothing about the neighborhood and asked where I was from. I explained the DC Chinatown Coffee connection, and the guy said, “well, that’s quite a story, now you’ve got to sell him some chips.” So I scored a large, discounted wholesale bag of chips for $8 (no, it isn’t one of the huge bags in the picture, much smaller. I am not that crazy).

I am all set for the rest of the trip, as far as chips go.

I am not sure if you can order small quantities online, but if you do order any, mention my name and tell ’em to send me a free bag as a commission.

Now to see if I have enough time to actually do the arch. If not, that’ll be for the next visit.

Mississippi Flooding

The drive from Memphis to St. Louis promised to be extremely dull, and then there was the section of the road with some flooding.  Now I have a story for this leg.

Startup Deathwatch in Memphis

The paradox of creative destruction is that some of the most vibrant environments — like raw nature and the startup scene — are also the ones that best showcase those Darwinian dynamics. I mean, just look at the smiling faces here at the Seed Hatchery, a Memphis startup incubator co-founded by Eric Mathews, the guy in the blue t-shirt at the head of the table in the back.  I cadged an invitation to their regular Founders Dinner via Daniel Pritchett. These guys — about a half-dozen entrepreneurial teams — have just had a round of grilling from an experienced entrepreneur (Tom Federico, the other guy at the head of the table, founder of — he was surprisingly gentle, compared to some of the bloodier such scenes I’ve witnessed) and are still all smiles. I rarely find such all-around smiling in bigger companies. Okay, I provoked that by saying “Everybody say ‘Series A’,” but I bet you they’d still be smiling if I’d yelled “9 out of 10 of you will fail!” Heck, they’d probably be laughing.

What’s more, they are aware of grim realities like that. They even put up cues to remind them of the fact. Here’s their countdown clock till their investor day.

They already know that for some of them, this will be the end of the road. At least for whatever idea they are pursuing right now. Between infant mortality right out of places like Seed Hatchery, and death by old age as a large company with an obsolete business, every one of the business ideas in the picture above is going to eventually die. Contrary to the popular image of the entrepreneur as a delusionally optimistic breed, I find that among the ones I meet, the ones with the clearest perception of this stark reality tend to have the soundest strategic thinking in their business plans. Based on anecdotal evidence, I’d say they are also the most successful ones. There is a sense of intrinsic, organic urgency to their thinking that exists quite independently of such extrinsic urgency drivers as countdown clocks. It is an energizing, Sisyphean kind of fatalism.

Now that I’ve shifted over from the gold-miner side to the selling-pickaxes side in the entrepreneurship game via writing on themes relevant to entrepreneurship and product marketing/launch consulting, I find a grim sort of solace in contemplating truly intense creative destruction close up (not that writing/consulting careers are immune to the creative destruction cycle; they just have a less intense cycle).

Maybe that’s why I like to go around taking pictures of both rusting infrastructure and things bursting with youthful vigor. For those of you who have gotten through most of Tempo, you know that the book is based at a very fundamental level around mortality-driven (as opposed to immortality-driven) thinking and creative destruction. I think the reason mortality-driven narrative frames work to guide decision-making well is that they lend the right emotional tones to your actions. The right kind of tempo begets the right kind of sense of urgency appropriate for each phase of a birth-to-death story, and catalyzes the right kind of energy.






The Memphis Drum Shop


The last time I was in Memphis, I dutifully went to the Gibson Guitar Factory like everyone else. This time, Airbnb-ing in the midtown Cooper-Young area allowed me to stumble serendipitously onto the Memphis Drum Shop. Much more apropos for Tempo and an ex Tabla player like myself.

Rabble Rouser: Seattle WA


Deepak Jois has launched a copy of the Stealth Edition named "Rabble Rouser" on its journeys from Seattle. He writes

"I just finished reading Tempo, and found it very insightful for the most part. Reading the book took a significant amount of my mental
energies, so I am going to pass on an actual review :). However, I did take a photo of the book with the Seattle Space Needle in the

"For the most part." Ouch, that hurt.

A lot of people are finding the book quite a dense read though, again a surprise for me.

Lame name: Belmont, CA


The Tempo Tracer Game for the stealth edition is finally seeing some action. It is taking much longer for people to finish and pass on the book than I expected, and a surprising number of people actually want to keep their copy rather than pass it on.  But looks like a few people are game for the game.

Terry Smiley writes: "I really enjoyed the book; now I just need to get senior management to read it!" 

He's named his copy "Lame Name."

Week 3: Memphis, St. Louis, Omaha, Carhenge, Deadwood, Yellowstone

I am in Memphis, where I plan to meet up with Daniel Pritchett, some local entrepreneurs at a startup incubator, and anyone else who might be around. Next stop, St. Louis on Tuesday. As far as I know, I have no readers there, but I wanted to check out the Billy Goat chip company, maker of my favorite chips. If anybody is out there, it’d be great to meet up. From St. Louis I head to Omaha and after that, the road-trip basically goes into a sights-over-people mode, since my destinations in Nebraska and South Dakota (North Platte for a second visit to Bailey Yard, Alliance for Carhenge and Rapid City for Deadwood) aren’t places I am likely to find any readers. I’d be shocked to find somebody beyond Omaha. After South Dakota, I head to Jackson Hole in the heart of Yellowstone, where oddly enough I do have someone to stay with. After that, depending on how much time I have left, I might dawdle or dash my way to Vegas, the end point for this leg.

Posts from Week 2


Strategies, Counter-examples and the UnAha! Experience

I stopped for coffee and a chat with Peter Lambert-Cole at Highland Coffee in Baton Rouge. Peter is a mathematics graduate student at LSU and works on low-dimensional topology problems (knots, doughnuts and such). So naturally our conversation took a mathematical turn.

It is funny how a conversation with the right person will sometimes help me connect dots in my own thinking. Talking with Peter helped me figure out something about anti-strategies.

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On Ritual Time

When was the last time you coordinated a rendezvous with someone saying “I’ll meet you before sunset?” I did that with my New Orleans host, Dimitry Lukashov because he keeps Shabbat, and I wanted to make sure I got to his place before he turned off his phone, in case I got lost.

You should try a sunrise or sunset based  rendezvous sometime. It is interesting to look at the sun as an actual practical time signal instead of just a maker of beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Very calming. Scheduling around natural times tends to add a natural fuzziness which can be relaxing or anxiety-provoking depending on your relationship to clock time.

Post-Shabbat on Saturday, we went downtown, wandered past Bourbon street and the touristy French Quarter to a nightlife block preferred by the locals (I forget the name). I felt my age I guess. It was still too chaotically “happening” for me.  We wrapped up the evening with a 1:00 AM breakfast at a famous local diner.

I am starting to feel my age. One of Dimitry’s housemates (he’s a graduating Tulane senior) said to me, “you’re staying with Dimitry, right?…. and are you kinda older?” That cracked me up. “Yup, much older,” I said. It is curious how blogging gets you connected to people in age-agnostic ways. The ribbonfarm/Tempo readership seems to span the age range 18-70. In almost any other context, I’d find it very weird, as a 36-year old, staying with a college senior. The blog/book road-trip context reduces it to “only slightly weird.”

Hard Takeoffs and Landings

This morning, I left New Orleans after a creole-inspired brunch. The restaurant had the biggest selection of hangover drinks I’ve ever seen, including a very complicated DIY Bloody Mary bar. I am afraid mine wasn’t very creative. Dimitry’s (on the right) was a work of art. I can’t do okra in a drink though.

I’ve been mulling Alain de Botton’s evocative description, in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, of the tempo of industrial age workdays: “the hard takeoffs and landings of coffee and alcohol.”

In New Orleans, where the day seems to start around noon and end around 4:00 AM (the town allows you to walk around with alcohol containers on the streets and there is no legal last-call time), Alain de Botton’s description must be modified for New Orleans to “the hard takeoffs and landings of alcohol. Period.”

Though the city has great coffee, overall it is a far more relaxed place than any similar-sized city in America I’ve been. The locals have a curious self-perception of the city as actually being part of the Carribbean. An embassy for island time in the middle of mainland time perhaps.

I am also surprised by the number of people I am meeting on my travels who have quit coffee. Maybe we are heading towards a softer tempo age.





The Author’s Journey and the Blogger’s Journey

I am in New Orleans, ironically pretending to be an author in the traditional publishing-industry sense of the word. I am sitting in a seriously cliched writerly cafe, the Rue de la Course near the Tulane University campus. Jazz is playing in the background. Its the sort of coffee shop that conforms to your expectations of an archetypal artsy coffee shop so well, it is surreal. Like The Simpsons’ idea of an artsy coffee shop.

If I grew an instant goatee, slapped a beret on my head and called myself a flâneur, (a self-descriptor preferred by a certain celebrated evil twin of mine),  I’d be a perfect parody of a writer. A tres French writer at that. The only way I can continue sitting here (and I want to because it is actually a very nice place and the coffee is good) is to do so ironically.

Jokes aside, being in this coffee shop, doing what I am doing, got me to a serious breakthrough concerning the difference between being a blogger and being an author, a question I’ve been pondering ever since I started out on this road trip to promote Tempo nearly two weeks ago. Though I have now published a book, I view myself (and usually introduce myself/prefer to be introduced) as a blogger, not “author” or “writer.” It isn’t really about what medium you use or how you write. It is about how you view yourself. Author is a profession within the publishing industry. Blogger is a trade practiced by an individual. Professions and trades both wrap around a skilled craft and a specific way of seeing the world (the “art”), but there the similarities end. Blogger and Author are very different archetypes that lead to very different narratives. Specifically, Author leads to a standard redemption narrative, while Blogger leads to a life-as-performance-art narrative.

So here we go; my first serious and long post on this blog. And yes, it may be a bit confusingly self-referential for those who’ve read Tempo, since it i s a book about archetypes and narratives, but I am sure you’ll be able to keep everything straight. If you haven’t read the book, you should probably read this post first.

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