My 2018 year in books

Just like my annual tradition of blogging about my travel experiences from the past year, I also like to write about my year in reading. Growing up, I hated reading, and in hindsight I believe that was because I had to read for school. As an adult, I love to read! Now, it’s the absorption of information and ideas that I love so much. That’s why I mostly read non-fiction, specifically books on business, behavioral economics, and self-help.

In 2017 I read just 9 books, so I set my 2018 goal at 12….a simple 1 per month. Unfortunately, I fell far short of that goal with 8.5 books read in 2018 (more on the half, below). Similar to the prior year, thats 1 book every 6 weeks or so. So I didn’t meet my goal, but didn’t regress much either. I’m not beating myself up about it, I’ll do better in 2019!

Without further to do, in no particular order, below are the books I read in 2018, with links to Amazon.com.

When Breathe Becomes Air

This was hands down my favorite book of 2018! I first heard of this book when Bill Gates recommended it to his social media followers. This book is a memoir written by a neurosurgeon after being diagnosed with cancer that would likely kill him (it did). His writing honestly and vividly shares the struggles he faced with his new reality, such as his own mortality, the affect on his career if he survived, the impact to his wife and yet to be conceived child, and more. He did not finish the memoir before dying, his wife did that, and I did not finish the book without crying. I remember reading the last couple chapters stuck in the back of a delayed airplane at Boston Logan airport. I probably cried for 20 minutes straight as I finished the book just as my flight lifted off the ground and ascended into the late night sky. That was a good, healing cry, and I am not ashamed of doing it in public.

Hillbilly Elegy

In my effort to understand why so many low income people support Republican’s and President Trump, even when their policies are counter to the needs of these voters, I picked up this book. The author grew up as a self proclaimed hillbilly, before breaking from the norm and getting out of poverty himself. This memoir gives a view into the social and economic drivers of poor white Americans. It is not a political book, and I think the author may be a conservative himself, so expect a fair account. The reader must figure out on their own what if any connection there is to the way of living and the voting habits of the people in question. What you will learn if you read this book is that pride is a massive force, one that is at times greater than hunger, happiness, and health.

Zero to One

This book came out a few years ago. I heard nothing but great things about it from fellow entrepreneurs and product managers, but I resisted picking it up in protest of the author’s politics. Peter Thiel, the author of this great book on innovation, is an entrepreneur that co-founded PayPal and one of the first investors in Facebook. He is also a supporter of crazy conservatives and enemy of the free press.

However, I LOVED this book! It is a fantastic view into what makes it so hard to go from nothing to something in the world of product development and entrepreneurship. This book has helped me reframe my approach to building software products in my work, and helped me position the task, difficulty, and risks to my bosses and stakeholders in an effort to do things differently. The book also does a great job of explaining why venture capitalists operate the way they do, and a great job of demonstrating why the common VC approach to investing is ineffective. If you are an entrepreneur, read this book!

On Tyranny

Anyone that knows me personally knows that I am a liberal and I am disgusted by President Trump and bewildered by his supporters. I believe our country is at risk of falling into turmoil and ruin because of the way some of our leaders behave, and the willingness of the people to allow them to behave this way.

On Tyranny is a book of 20 short essays that each look at a 20th century example of tyranny in our world, and then passively relates them to the Trump Administration today. It is a good historical refresher, and a scary warning of what could easily happen to America today.

Just F*ing Demo!

This is another short book for the year. In software development, it’s common to demo your work to the team, to other teams, and to company leadership. I lead a few teams at PagerDuty, and each demos every other week. In order to pick up some ideas of how to use demos to drive urgency and speed, and to learn to conduct more compelling demos, I picked up this short guide. Lots of common sense and good reminders for a product manager like me.

The Power of Moments

Chip and Dan Heath are author-brothers that use the science of human behavior to help businesses and business people understand how to better serve their customers. I read their first book, Made to Stick, many years ago, and picked up this latest book after a colleague mentioned it.

The power of Moments is about how products and businesses can create memorable experiences that stand out from the crowd and pull the user/customer in. They cover 4 concepts that must be present in some combination to create a memorable moment with positive impact. It was an interesting enough read, but not my favorite book of theirs, of the genre, or of my year.

Killers of the Flower Moon

This was a book recommendation from my dad, and I am so glad I picked it up! Killers of the Flower Moon recounts the true story of the Osage Native American tribe, their sudden accumulation of wealth, and how white men went as far as serial murder to steel money from the Osage people. I knew that Native Americans had been treated horribly throughout history, but this story opened my eyes to the true extent of what our government and individuals did to treat Native Americans as less than human, with unequal rights.

Interestingly, this is also the story of the founding of the FBI and the rise to prominence of J Edgar Hoover. If you have any interest in American history, do yourself a favor and pick up this book.

Sprint

This was a re-read for me. I first read the book in 2016 to help up-level my skills around rapid prototyping and building products that truly solve problems. In 2018, I tried to start a book club at work with the people I work hand-in-hand with to build new products for our company, and this was the first book we read. I say tried to start because we never picked up a 2nd book.

As I said in my 2016 write-up, this book helps innovators and product developers rapidly prototype and test products with customers in just 5 days. If you are in Product Management or Software Development, it’s a must read.

Leonardo da Vinci

This is that half of a book, and it kinda bums me out. I love Leonardo da Vinci, I think he was the most brilliant person to ever walk this earth. I’ve read other books about him, but all somewhat short and focused on his inventions and his innovation practices. This book is a true biography, by Walter Isaacson, one of the best biographers alive right now (he wrote the brilliant 2011 biography of Steve Jobs).

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t finish this long book (it’s about 625 pages). While I love the story of Leonardo, and I learned a lot from the parts of this book I did read, it didn’t manage to hold my attention as the author describes deep details of painting after painting. I hate not finishing books, but I put this one down for good when I was just 58% of the way through it.


What’s on my reading list for 2019, you ask? I’ve already started a book called Flow, which talks about the psychology of happiness, and I have another book by the author of Sprint to read, called Make Time. I also want to read some old school innovation books that I’ve never gotten around to reading, like Crossing the Chasm and The Innovators Dilemma. I also plan to read Radical Candor along with my finance, as we both seek to be better managers at work.

My 2018 year in travel

New year, new opportunity to reflect on how I opened my mind and my world through travel! Every year, I like to do a blog post which makes me reflect back on my travel throughout the past 12 months, and set some goals for the new year.

In 2017, I was bummed to not have traveled internationally (Canada excluded). This year I am happy to report that I did 3 personal, international trips! Additionally, I did spend a significant amount of time in Toronto, Canada this year. While technically international, it’s a very similar culture to the US, so hard to count. That said, I am really growing to love Toronto! I have my employer to thank for these opportunities to spend time there, we have a major office in Toronto, where most of the teams I work with are based.

My favorite trip this year was the trip to Paris that my fiancé and I took! We were having a particularly stressful time at work (we work together), and decided we needed some time to ourselves. So, we booked a week-long trip to Paris over the Thanksgiving holiday. There, we explored the city by foot and by Uber, checking out both tourists spots as well as local neighborhood life. The weather was cold, but dry, which made for a romantic setting as the holiday decorations came out.

Another highlight was a 5 day trip to Sayulita, Mexico. This small town north of Puerto Vallarta has a bohemian, surfer vibe. It’s a quiet, simple town, not overrun with tourists, but full of American expats. We rented an Airbnb right on the beach in a newer condo complex, and enjoyed an outdoor kitchen and living room, with Pacific Ocean views! When we weren’t at the pool and beach, or eating freshly made guacamole while relaxing in our outdoor living room, we were strolling the dusty cobblestone streets to shop and drink. We then got engaged shortly after this trip, so decided to do a destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta in 2019, “forcing” us to do a scouting trip in May of 2018!

Another highlight of the year was taking my 15 year old, soon-to-be nephew on his first flights! He lives in Connecticut and hadn’t had a reason to fly until we brought him to San Francisco to spend a week with us. Since he hadn’t flow before, I decided to fly to Hartford and fly back to San Francisco with him. We were scheduled to fly through Chicago, but a major thunderstorm was about to hit, and I quickly changed our flights to go through Newark. After a short, bumpy ride from Hartford to Newark, we had a long smooth ride from Newark to San Francisco, and he is now a comfortable and veteran flyer. He’ll be flying to Puerto Vallarta in March to be at our wedding!

I was also happy to see 2 new metro areas that I hadn’t been to before: Pittsburg and Raleigh-Durham. Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend much time there, with only 1 night in each and a schedule packed with meetings, but still fun none-the-less.

So, without further to do, here are my key travel stats for 2018:

  • 68,384 miles traveled (83% increase from 2017)

  • 52 flights (30% increase from 2017)

  • Average of 1,315 miles per flight (41% increase over last year)

  • 3 Airlines flown (United, Air Canada, Alaska)

  • 5 trips to Portland to visit family

  • 4 trips to Toronto for work

  • 3 trips to Las Vegas for work

  • 2 trips to Mexico for vacation (Sayulita, Puerto Vallarta)

  • 1 trip to Paris for vacation

  • First flight of 2018: Seattle to San Francisco, on January 1st

  • Last flight of 2018: Portland to San Francisco on Dec 27th

  • Longest flight: Paris to San Francisco, about 5,580 miles

  • Shortest flight: Hartford, CT to Newark, NJ, about 105 miles

I expect 2019 to come in about the same as 2018. I already have 2 Mexico trips booked in the first 3 months of the year, one for our wedding! We plan to take a honeymoon, and expect to make that an international trip, but we haven’t decided yet among Europe, South America, or Tahiti. I like to visit my colleagues in Toronto about once a quarter, so should have about 4 trips there in 2019. I hope to do one or two trips out east to visit customers, and will surely do 4-6 trips to visit family back in Portland, with the first trip already scheduled for January 26th.

Here’s to a fun, eye opening, rewarding, and safe year in travel for 2019!

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Officiating a wedding

Last year, two of my dear friends got engaged. To my surprise, a couple weeks later, they asked me to officiate their wedding. This was a first for me, and I was not only honored, but also scared! Not scared to talk in front of a group, but scared to have big responsibility for such an important milestone in their lives!

I put a lot of effort into being an officiate that this couple could be proud of. I also really enjoyed playing that role in their lives. Below is the wedding ceremony script that I wrote. I'd like to thank Zoe and Todd for asking me to play this role in their wedding, and for giving me permission to share their ceremony text with the world. I'd also like to thank my co-workers Ryan and Dave for sharing their wedding officiate experiences with me!

Enjoy....


Intro

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today for the wedding of Zoë Dixon and Todd Andrich. My name is Jeff Martens and I’ll be your guide for the ceremony.

I’ve known Todd and Zoë for a few years now, but I was still surprised when they asked me to officiate their wedding. Many of you have known them longer, laughed with them more, and enhanced their lives greater than I.

As I thought about it, I realized that asking someone to officiate a wedding is less about the length of a relationship and more about finding someone that won’t screw up and ruin the most memorable day of their lives! And honestly, that says a lot more about you all sitting in silence than it does about me standing up here!

So knowing that each and every one of you sitting here today have played an important role in the lives of Zoë and Todd, I’d like to start out by asking you a question. I’d like to ask for your permission to be the representative of all of you here today. I may be the one that is performing the ceremony, but I do so only as a representation of all you here today, the friends and family that support and love these two people and the life they are building together.

If you give me that permission, please respond with I do.

The Story of Todd & Zoë

Zoë, I’d like to thank you for joining us and being here on time. Yes, I know she is the bride so of course she has to be here, but if it weren’t for a groom that knows how to wait patiently, we may not be here today. One of the very first things I learned about Zoë and Todd as a couple was that Zoë showed up late for their first date. Very late. But Todd, he waited, patiently, and it paid off.

There is so much that is different between Todd and Zoë, but also so much that is the same.

Zoë, she is a free spirit that’s up for anything and willing to say “my date can wait!” She carries passion for what’s important to her, and is a fiercely loyal sister, daughter, and friend.

Todd, an engineer, is well organized, calculated and on time. He is a stable rock to all those in his life, a voice of wisdom, with a deep offering of care and love.

Together, these two combine to be something even more special. They are two free spirits, two voices of wisdom, and two hearts filled with love for those around them. They carry each other’s burdens, share in each other’s joys, and bring out the best in the other.

Any of you that have attended one of the amazing birthday parties they throw for each other, know what I mean. Any of you that have watched The Bachelor with them, those of you that have had a holiday dinner at their home, know what I mean. If you’ve asked one of them to be a friendly shoulder in a time of need, if you’ve heckled college basketball refs with one of them, or somehow had body glitter as part of your day with them, you know what I mean. We love Zoë, and we love Todd…..we deeply admire and celebrate Zoë and Todd together.

What is Love/Marriage

Marriage isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t between just anyone. Marriage is a choice that symbolizes the ultimate commitment between two people. The most successful marriages I’ve witnessed are between two people that, like Todd and Zoë, are strong individuals on their own, but choose every day to bring joy to their partner’s life and to elevate the couple over the individual.

The quote, by A. A. Milne, that Zoë and Todd asked to be read today exemplifies the special love of a couple in marriage:

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart I'll always be with you."

That, friends and family, that is love. That is the intent of this bride, and this groom before us today. And with that, let’s make this official.

Declaration of Intent

Will you, Todd Andrich, to take this woman to be your wedded wife?

Todd: I do

Will you, Zoë Dixon, take this man to be your wedded husband?

Zoë: I do

Wedding Vows

Now, I’d like to invite Zoë and Todd to exchange their own vows to each other, with all of us as witnesses.

Zoë vows…..

Todd vows….

Ring Ceremony

Todd, as you place the ring on Zoë’s finger, please repeat after me:

I, Todd, take you, Zoë
To be my wife, my forever best friend, and my love
I give you this ring, as a daily reminder of my love for you

Zoë, as you place the ring on Todd’s finger, please repeat after me:

I, Zoë, take you, Todd
To be my husband, my forever best friend, and my love
I give you this ring, as a daily reminder of my love for you

Ending

Todd...Zoë...from this moment forward, even if you are apart, you will never be alone. May you together be brave with belief in your love, strong in your commitment to each other, and smart with how you spend your lives together.  

By the power of your love and commitment, on behalf of all the friends and family in attendance, and with the permission of your cat Gettysburg, I now pronounce you husband and wife!

Family and friends, please give a round of applause for the newlywed couple!


My 2017 year in books

Just as I believe that travel is critical to being an empathetic, intelligent, and thoughtful person, reading is a big piece of my effort to be a better human. To that end, I mostly read non-fiction but occasionally mix in a good novel.

My level of reading in 2017, like most years, was less than I aspire to. Nonetheless, I read some great books! This year, it appears that every book was in Kindle format, no physical books. Despite being a Kindle enthusiast since the early days of e-reading, 2017 was probably the first year that I didn't read a single book in print format. According to Amazon, I read a measly 9 books. That's one book ever 5 weeks and 4 days...pretty pathetic. Although, looking back at my 2016 in books blog post, I increased my reading by 80% over the past year, so I'm proud of that. Like last year, only one of the books I read was fiction.

In no particular order, here are the books I read in 2017 (titles link to Amazon.com):

Cracking the PM Interview

In 2017, I changed jobs....twice! I only planned on doing it once, but life brings unexpected opportunities your way! Anyway, I hadn't interviewed in a while and wanted to brush up on my skills. Additionally, I was interviewing with Google in January and this book came highly recommended by both Google recruiters and other people that had interviewed there. Like many publications on career advice, this book was filled with good stuff that is mostly common sense. A nice reminder of what to do, but nothing earth shattering.

Mindfulness

My job change, move out of Oregon, and moving in with my girlfriend brought a lot of stress to me all at once. To help deal, I read Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. The book offers tactics for grounding yourself by clearing the mind and going into a state of connection between body and soul. It includes links to digital audio files that walk you through guided meditation, which was probably my favorite part of the experience. The author of this book literally 'wrote the book on' Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which is now a well accepted treatment for phobias and anxiety.

The First 90 Days

This is a book for managers and leaders that want to get off on the right foot at a new job. It offers strategies for evaluating the work situation you are entering, planning for success, winning buy-in from your manager, and executing on the plan. It has a lot of great insight for anyone that isn't a manager, but is or wants to be a leader, as well as specific advice for managers of people. The book even covers situations like inter-company transfers, being promoted above your peers, and other situations that could lead to failure if not planned for. Great stuff, but again, mostly common sense and a good reminder.

Everybody Lies

I heard about this book while listening to a podcast and I bought it immediately. The author is a former academic turned Google data scientists turned independent author/researcher. The book is anchored on his work using Google search data to uncover the hidden (and not so hidden) racism surrounding Barack Obama's 2008 (and then 2012) election as President. From there, it uses search history to unlock a variety of topics, even using pornography web site searches to make that case that there are way more gay men in the US than are out of the closet. If I had to pick a favorite book of the year, this would be a strong contender. I learned so much about human psyche and basically don't trust people as much now (only partially kidding). I also learned a lot of tips and tricks for data analysis. This book was an enjoyable, easy read that taught me a lot.

Never Split the Difference

My brother-in-law, who shares a passion for lifelong learning, recommended this book to me. Its a book about negotiation, written by a former FBI negotiator. I picked it up because I wanted to be more successful in my daily negotiations, recognizing that every single day in my personal and professional life, I am dealing with some form of negotiation. Not every negotiation is life or death, like what the author faced as a FBI hostage negotiator, but the tactics he used can be used in daily life. Its not just about winning, either. This book helps you what you need, which is sometimes simply clarity or agreement.

What happened

This book by Hillary Clinton was a tough choice for me. On one hand, the election was over and my candidate lost...why rehash old things? On the other hand, this election may prove to be the most important, critical, and unusual election of my lifetime, shouldn't I learn more? I picked it up, am glad I did, but would struggle to recommend it as a read for others. In this book, Clinton describes just what the title says, what happened, from her point of view. I learned a lot of things about her as a person, which I enjoyed, but also read through a bunch of "but Bernie!" and "but Trump!" commentary over, and over, and over again. What I did walk away with was an evidence based belief that Hillary was undoubtably treated differently by the press and other candidates because she is a woman. I now blame the press more than I blame her, Trump, or Trump supporters. She was treated differently, and it is despicable. Glad I read this book, but not eager to read another like it for a long time.

Zone to Win

This is a business book that is the 4th in a 4 part series that includes Crossing the Chasm and Escape Velocity. Oddly enough, I haven't read any of the first 3 in the series. I picked up this book because the leadership at my new employer, PagerDuty, is using the concepts as a guiding framework. Essentially, the book lays out 4 zones for each product investment at a company. The first 2 are for existing products, the second two are for new/future products. Good read, all made good sense. That said, probably should have read the first 3 in the series ahead of this one.

Origin

The only fiction book in my reading list in 2017, Dan Brown comes back with another Robert Langdon thriller. I first fell in love with his style after reading The Da Vinci Code. I've read every Dan Brown book since, as well as going back and reading Angels & Demons, which was published before his The Da Vinci Code popularity. Origin is the same style and main character as every other book, its no longer a unique or interesting style, but I still love his books! My guilty pleasure, I guess. This book takes place in Spain, one of my favorite places on earth, so the familiar sights and locals added some extra interest for me.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

This book had been on my reading list for years, and with a new job in September where I'd be building a new product from concept to delivery, I figured the time was now. In the book, author, entrepreneur, and investor Ben Horowitz tells the stories of his startup life. He tells tails of near failure, some incredibly tough decisions that turned out to be critical turning points, and the hard thing about doing something new and difficult: there is no playbook. I really enjoyed the real life stories and was engaged from cover to cover. If you are an entrepreneur, or an intrapreneur, pick up this book and study how Horowitz behaved. He didn't know at the time that he was doing the right thing, but his approach was the difference between success and failure.


Those are my nine of 2017! On deck for 2018 includes When Breath Becomes Air, the memoir of a neurosurgeon exploring the meaning of life, recommended by Bill Gates; Zero to One, a book on startups and innovation by controversial entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel; and Hillbilly Elegy, the memoir of growing up in "hillbilly country" and insight into what drives some people to vote against their own interests. I want to read at least a dozen books, so I need 9 more...what would you recommend? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!

My 2017 year in travel

A number years ago, when my personal and professional life took a major turn, I committed myself to traveling more. Prior to that, I was fully wrapped up in work, and when i wasn't, I just wanted to stay local where I was comfortable. It was a short-sighted view that kept me from really experiencing life.

Since then, I've had some of the best times of my life while traveling near and far. I've grown in my knowledge, respect, and appreciation for other cultures. I've improved as a human being, and I think I've even gotten better at my job because of travel.

In 2017, I failed at traveling internationally. I try to do at least 1 international trip a year, but this year that didn't happen (I don't count Canada as international...its too similar to the USA to be considered a growth experience for me). I had planned to go to Argentina, but job changes resulted in putting that trip on hold, for 2018.

So, 2017 was a year of domestic travel for me! I traveled a fair amount, returning to some places for the first time in years, and revisiting common destinations. In fact, in 2017 I moved from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco, California, so some of my travel was to PDX, the first time I've been an adult visitor to my 'home' town.

This year's travel included:

  • Two trips to San Francisco as a visitor, before I moved in February

  • Five trips to Portland as a visitor, after moving to San Francisco in February

  • Moline, IL/Davenport, IA...also called the Quad Cities

  • Chicago, IL

  • Wichita, KS for a family reunion

  • Orcas Island, in Washington's San Juan Islands

  • Las Vegas

  • Seattle three times (once for work, twice to visit friends)

  • Two Hawaiian islands (Oahu and the Big Island)

  • Hartford, CT

  • Isle La Motte in Vermont's Lake Champlain (with some time in Burlington)

  • Toronto

I also got to explore my new home of Northern California a bit! I spent a few various days in wine country, including a spa day in Calistoga on one trip, some wine tasting around Heildsburg on another, and kayaking in Lake Sonoma while playing hooky from work. One weekend my girlfriend and I went to Palo Alto, just 30 miles away, in search of a hotel with a pool and air conditioning...totally worth it!

With that, here are my flying stats: 

  • 40 flights

  • 37,307 miles traveled

  • Average of 933 miles/flight

  • Most unusual flight: About 70 miles on seaplane with 3 take-offs and landings

  • 5 different airlines (mostly United)

  • Thats 23% fewer miles, 20% fewer flights than 2016

Here's to more international travel in 2018! Where should I go? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
— Mark Twain