The Monday Media Diet with James Cham
James Cham was introduced to us by our longtime pal Harper Reed. He’s a partner at Bloomberg Beta and all around interesting guy. We’re pleased to have him on the page this week. -Colin (CJN)
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles. When I was in the fifth grade I wrote a report saying I wanted to live in Silicon Valley and work as a developer evangelist. I got close: I live in Palo Alto and invest in software companies. I work at a seed-stage venture capital firm called Bloomberg Beta. We mostly focus on the future of work, which often means a lot of AI and data businesses. I started my career as a programmer and sometimes miss it.
Describe your media diet.
My job gives me an excuse to read widely, and to reach out to folks when I’m trying to learn more.
I believe in paid media. I get the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, SF Chronicle, New Yorker, Economist, Atlantic, and Financial Times.
I still use Feedbin as my RSS reader but I haven’t added anything new in a while.
The new generation of media companies has done a great job of shifting my attention back to email. The Information, Stratechery, and Puck are all recent email-centric must-reads. I also spend too much money on Substack. Favorites include economist Noah Smith, VC journalist Eric Newcomer, startup founder Holly Liu, tech exec Steven Sinofsky, Christian entrepreneur Rusty Rueff, and product manager Lenny Rachitsky.
We’ve got very strict protocols in our household about buying new physical books. Basically, I’m not allowed to buy new physical books. So I’m very liberal about buying ebooks. I wish there were better tools for connecting ideas between books but for now, I export my highlights and notes onto my laptop for future searches.
I mostly watch videos on my laptop or iPhone. We’ve got a great TV system but somehow everyone wanders away when I try to get my family to watch Dune or the latest 3blue1brown video essay. I miss movie theaters.
That said, I listen more than I watch. I was a big public radio kid growing up and I’m on the board of the local public radio station (support KQED!). I listen to a mix of the KQED mobile app, Overcast, Voice Dream, and a stealthy audio startup. My podcast tastes have shifted during the pandemic but Overcast is still my preferred podcast player. Recent additions include Metamuse on Tools for Thought, Cardiff Garcia on economics, and anything by Tim Harford. But I’m often looking for something so specific that a majority of my audio consumption is through Voice Dream, which is an app that takes text from articles and papers and converts it to audio.
I also love Twitter. I try to control my experience by consuming Twitter mostly through human-curated lists rather than Twitter’s algorithmic feed. I’ve got a list that I’ll look at if I’m tempted to procrastinate during the day, and another list to look at when my favorite basketball team is playing. I’ve even got a list to avoid my left of center political filter.
What’s the last great book you read?
I just reread The Uncertainty Mindset by Vaughn Tan. WITI had Vaughn on before and this book will be a classic someday. It looks like an academic management book but it is also a behind-the-scenes look at some of the best restaurants of the 2010s. If you are trying to encourage the conditions under which great teams make new things (which is basically my job), or you wish you could visit spectacular restaurants (which is harder these days), you should read Vaughn’s book.
What are you reading now?
I’m in the middle of revising a reading list on AI, economics, and ethics. There’s so much smart and pragmatic thinking out there! But what I was actually reading last night was All of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk. The premise is ridiculous and delightful. Wolk read through every single Marvel comic book and treated it as one big coherent story. I just hope whoever is making the new Fantastic Four movie reads Chapter 4.
What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?
On most Saturday mornings, I’ll sit on my front porch and read a physical copy of the Times Literary Supplement. It is a welcome alternative to the just-in-time, urgent news I get the rest of the week. It is always at least a dozen days old, and the reviews are of books that someone started writing at least a year ago. I’ll glance at the table of contents and gleefully rip out the pages that I find potentially interesting. After reading through the pile, I’ll put a few reviews in a manila folder that I’m sure I’ll revisit in about a decade. The rest goes into recycling. It is a very satisfying process and highly recommended.
Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?
Joe Mathews is my favorite writer about California. If you want to understand how we ended up in the mess we’re in, you should read his book California Crack-up. And if you want to figure out why you should still love the state, read his weekly column.
The science-fiction writer Bruce Sterling somehow sees the contours of the world we live in more clearly, with a mix of bemusement and fury.
What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone?
I’ve already mentioned Voice Dream (2.5K reviews) so I’ll make a plug for Shortcuts. If you have an iPhone, Apple has made it easy to make little custom apps. So I’ve got apps like “Find my wife’s phone” and “Text the Yees” (both 0 reviews) on my iPhone home page. If Shortcuts looks too intimidating, ask a technically inclined friend to help and I guarantee you’ll improve your quality of life.
Plane or train?
I love the delirious feeling you get in the middle of a long transpacific flight.
What is one place everyone should visit?
You should rent a car and drive down Sunset Blvd from the Pacific Ocean to Chinatown. Hollywood remains the cultural center of the world and you’ll understand it a little better if you make this trek. You can take a few hours or a few days. Just make sure to listen to KCRW or Karina Longworth’s podcast about Hollywood along the drive.
Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into.
I fell down a James and Roger Deakins podcast rabbit hole over the last year. Deakins is the cinematographer of some of my favorite movies. Parts of The Hudsucker Proxy, Skyfall, and Blade Runner 2049 will often play silently in the background when I’m working late (like tonight!). James is his collaborator and spouse. During the pandemic, they started a podcast interviewing people they work with, from famous directors and movie stars to production designers and key grips. I love listening to people who are good at what they do and who also desperately care about their craft. Hollywood has more parallels to tech startups than I realized. I was obsessed enough that I modified an AWS sample application to transcribe many of the podcasts and created a network graph of all of the movies and artists mentioned in the podcast. (It is surprisingly easy and cheap these days to build powerful applications by modifying just a few variable names, as long as you make sure to shut down the servers afterwards because Amazon will keep charging you otherwise.) (JC)
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WITI x McKinsey:
An ongoing partnership where we highlight interesting McKinsey research, writing, and data.
The impact of ageism. New research quantifies the struggles that midcareer workers—those 45 and over—worldwide face and suggests possible interventions to level the playing field. Listen to a new episode of The McKinsey Podcast where Mona Mourshed, CEO of Generation, unpacks a recent report.
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & James
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & James (JC)