Thursday, December 30, 2004

A Feed of Feeds

As the number of blogs and other feeds increases towards infinity, I predict that the concept of a "feed of feeds" will emerge.

The model comes from the world of financial services, where funds of funds select an a group of funds for investors. While a feed of feed doesn't provide the same financial diversification, I think it will help readers better manage their burgeoning blogrolls.

The fact is that not everyone has the time to manage their collection of feeds. Just yesterday, a friend of mine in the tech biz asked me what a BitTorrent was, and why he hadn't heard of it before. While I gave him a few pointers, wouldn't he have been better off receiving a pre-packaged set of "What's Hot" feeds?

Blogs are messy things, and for right now, human editorial selection adds a lot of value.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Age of Feeds

I've discussed many times how low the friction is to start a business today. Tonight, I found a business that is nothing but a feed:

HitBargains is a shopping service from a couple of Stanford alumni. What makes it interesting is that it is essentially nothing more than a feed of shopping bargains at various stores. None of the information is proprietary or unique; what makes it valuable is the editorial selection of deals. Furthermore, the site is nothing more than a WordPress blog, and cleverly takes advantage of standard blog features (regular posting, categories, search).

I can forsee many such businesses springing up in the future. People are already intimidated by the 500-channel world of television. When the number of feeds numbers in the millions, editors will be more important than ever.
Chicks dig giant robots

Ever want to make your own giant robot? This guy is doing just that, and plans to try it out at the local monster truck rally. Watch out, Truckasaurus!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Polyjuice Potion

Many news outlets breathlessly reported that British scientists had concocted an age-defying diet that would cut the risks of heart disease by 80% and extend men's lifespan by an average of 7 years. All that was required was a daily dose of red wine, dark chocolate, garlic, and almonds. Hmm, already sounds like a Ben and Jerry's flavor!

Alas, what the news outlets failed to mention is that the "polymeal" concept was a tongue-in-cheek paper designed to amuse. What am I supposed to do with my 100 pounds of almonds?
Soda Pop

One of the parlor tricks my college linguistics teacher liked to use was to ask people what they called a carbonated beverage. The answers would inevitably show sharp geographic distinctions between "soda," "pop," and "Coke."

Side note: Isn't it amazing what kind of power the Coca-Cola brand has? There aren't any regions where people use "Pepsi" as a generic term for carbonated beverages, let alone RC Cola.

Now the folks at Pop vs. Soda have produced a detailed map of where each of the big three carbonated beverage terms rules the land. I'm a proud resident of Western Soda-land!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Holla!

Now that The Lord of the Rings is finished, Gollum needs a new gig. How about rap star?
Make up your own joke about "spearing" or "high-sticking"

Hallmark, in an apparent effort to create some new theme cards, surveyed Canadians and found that 12 percent of couples have sex while watching hockey on the tube.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Spam Poetry

I found this particularly poignant example of spam text (designed to get past the spam filters) in my inbox today:

World War I Lyrics
As follows in 1924,
Mother's Day.
Let's shake hands.
How's life? I'll speak my mind.
It's nice; accept my sympathy in 1918.
Why not? Cheats!
I'm sorry, what's troubling you?

Mind you, I had to add the punctuation and line breaks, but I think it paints an evocative picture of a veteran of that terrible war, speaking with his mother on Mother's Day years later, unable to communicate the horrors that he saw to a blandly reassuring parent. The haunting refrain, "I'm sorry, what's troubling you?" epitomizes the plight of the shellshocked doughboy in a world that doesn't understand him.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Teachers Union is to Education as....

Like many parents, I'm unhappy with the state of education in the U.S. today. We spend vast amounts of money on education, yet fall behind other countries. Only our unprecedented ability to import the best brains in the world through immigration has kept us on top, and this is threatened by the current economic and cultural booms in India and China.

Many people are to blame for the perilous state of K-12 education in the U.S.--meddling politicians and judges, the parents who aren't sufficiently involved, the kids themselves--but part of the blame has to be shouldered by the teachers' unions which put the quality of teaching last by trying to limit accountability by fighting school choice and standardized testing at every turn.

The Coyote Blog does a fantastic job of summing up the situation: Today's teachers' unions are like the Detroit auto workers unions in the 1970s--wedging out money, banning competition, and doing everything but actually improving the end product.

I am fortunate enough to be able to live in Palo Alto, where the combination of ridiculous land values, involved parents, and a community focus on education have produced some of the finest public schools in the country, but I encourage every parent and politician to consider what the teachers' unions are up to the next time they vote.
A Room of One's Own

In her 1928 essay of the same name, Virginia Woolf argued that, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

To the same extent, I think the same thing applies to entrepreneurship. Most entreprenuerial dreams die an early death because they are starved of the most precious resource: Time. I can attest to this fact from personal experience; with two small children under the age of 3, I can barely find time to keep up with a real job, let alone work on a new entrepreneurial idea (though I have several, and if you are looking for an idea and an advisory board member, drop me a line!).

An entreprenuer needs money and a room of her own to efficiently and quickly create a company. In my own mind, I've done a hypothetical analysis, and concluded that if I did not have to work a job, had my own office, and $50,000 per year to spend, I could start one new business per year.

Thanks to the relentless progress of Moore's law and the death of distance, it is orders of magnitude cheaper to start a company. I can incorporate online for about $150. I can get a corporate identity designed by Romanian freelancers for $100. I can get an entire custom e-commerce back-end built by Indian programmers for less than $10,000. All of those would have cost 10, 100, or even 1,000 times as much during the pre-Internet era.

I hope that in the not too distant future, I will be successful enough to own my own home, have enough money to pay my living expenses and spend $50,000 per year on business startup expenses, and have the time to be serial entrepreneur. And if you already have those things, what's your excuse? Get out there and create!
The 1,000 Year-Old Man

Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey believes that most people alive today will live to be hundreds of years old, thanks to advances in anti-aging treatments.

"Each method to do this is either already working in a preliminary form (in clinical trials) or is based on technologies that already exist and just need to be combined.

This means that all parts of the project should be fully working in mice within just 10 years and we might take only another 10 years to get them all working in humans."


Thursday, December 02, 2004

Hasta La Vista, Baby

The US Army is about to deploy robots armed with machine guns. While I applaud the use of technology to protect soldiers' lives, I do get a little nervous when I see pictures of the Talon robots. Perhaps I shouldn't have watched Terminator 3 over the Thanksgiving holiday!

Monday, November 29, 2004

What a day...a lot of interesting news of note. I'll get right to it:

I feel incredibly old.
Apparently, young people in South Korea think that email is for old fogies, and only use it to communicate with the geriatric set.

Why is there a stem cell controversy?
The Koreans are busy today. Doctors in South Korea used stem cells to allow a paralyzed woman to walk. She had been wheelchair bound for 19 years; within three weeks of beginning treatment, she was able to walk.

Also, note that the stem cells used were from umbilical cord blood. It is unconscionable that we don't have a universal cord blood bank here in the US. I would have gladly donated my children's cord blood had that option been available. Moreover, there could be no controversy since cord blood has no relationship whatsoever to abortion.

Harvard MBAs as a stockmarket indicator
Consultant (and HBS grad) Roy Soifer has gotten a lot of press by pointing out that the percentage of HBS grads that go into finance is a near-perfect contraindicator for the stock market. In other words, if lots of HBS grads go into finance, sell!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Immortality, Part II

In a previous post, I dealt with the issue of physical immortality, and the likelihood that some sort of electronic immortality would be achieved within my probable lifetime. Yet even if physical immortality becomes possible, there will still be a higher form of immortality.

In a future where everyone is immortal, we will still reserve a special place for those who achieve immortal fame. And in the present, immortality through one's works is still the only game around.

The problem is that not all vocations are created equal when it comes to immortal renown. Indeed, our modern world seems biased against it. A culture in which everyone gets 15 minutes of fame is unlikely to produce an eternal fame for any of its members.

To help understand this kind of immortality, I'm posting a list of five "immortals" in each broad category, with a few of my conclusions tossed in along the way. This list is drawn solely from my own memory--doing research contradicts the very experiment--though I have tried my best to eliminate cultural biases. Feel free to propose your own candidates!

The Immortals

Conquerors:
Alexander of Macedon (when you can convince someone to spend $150 million to make a movie of your life over 2,000 years after your death, you've made it, even if the movie turns out to be a turkey)
Napoleon Bonaparte
Genghis Khan
Attila the Hun
Adolf Hitler (nobody said that immortal fame had to be positive!)

Being a great conqueror is one of the best ways to achieve immortal fame. Unfortunately for would-be conquerors (but fortunately for the rest of us), ruling the world is now left to fictional supervillains.

Scientists:
Isaac Newton
Charles Darwin
Galileo Galilei
Leonardo Da Vinci
Albert Einstein

Another classic category, but again, another category where it's increasingly difficult to do something remarkable enough for the world to remember your name. The Stephen Hawkings of the world study subjects too abstruse to capture the imagination of the people. All bets are off, however, if someone discovers time travel, anti-gravity, limitless energy, or warp drive.

Artists:
Michelangelo
Vincent Van Gogh
Raphael
Leonardo Da Vinci (Leo becomes the first man to make two appearances on this list; they won't be his last.)
Pablo Picasso

"Ars longa vita brevis," as the expression goes, but it's increasingly difficult to make a name for yourself in the art world. Even the fame of such luminaries as Andy Warhols and Jackson Pollacks will be extinguished in a few short centuries.

Musicians/Composers:
Johan Sebastian Bach
Ludwig Von Beethoven
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Elvis Aaron Presley
Bob Dylan

Thanks to "Classical" stations and PBS, the three immortals at the top of the list seem pretty locked in, though I still feel bad for Bach. Rather than getting his own movie like Mozart or Beethoven, his name was appropriated by Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach. I also think Elvis has a chance to move up this list if he becomes a religious figure.

Explorers:
Christopher Columbus
Marco Polo
Ferdinand Magellan
John Glenn
Jacques Cousteau

There just isn't much to explore these days. John Glenn makes it on the list instead of Neil Armstrong or Yuri Gagarin because of his post-space fame.

Businessmen:
John D. Rockefeller
Henry Ford
Bill Gates
Warren Buffett
Andrew Carnegie

The sad fact is that it's hard to achieve immortal fame as a businessman. Tycoons like Rockefeller and Carnegie are now known solely for their philanthropy. The average person has no idea where they made their fortunes (oil and steel). Ford was wise enough to name his company after himself, but his fame has certainly fallen since the days Aldous Huxley speculated that he would be worshipped as a God.

Philosophers:
Aristotle
Plato
Socrates
Confucious
Lao Tse

Before Prince, before Madonna, the philosophical triumvirate of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle made the single name cool. Alas, like art, modern philosophy is too esoteric to achieve lasting fame. I dare you to find 10 people who can tell you who John Rawls is, and name one of his books.

Religious Leaders:
Jesus of Nazareth
Mohammed
Siddhartha Gautauma (the Buddha)
Moses
Martin Luther

If you can start a religion, you've hit the jackpot. Not only will you earn everlasting fame, you'll have an excuse to build an entire organization to preserver and proselytize your memory. It's tough to do, but folks like John Smith, Brigham Young, and L. Ron Hubbard have proven that it's possible, even in today's modern era. If I had to choose a single category to strive for to achieve immortality, I'd pick religion.

Athletes:
Pele
Muhammed Ali
Michael Jordan
Babe Ruth
Jackie Robinson

While athletes achieve fame an adulation in their time, that fame is fleeting. Can anyone name the top wrestler of Ancient Greece? The rise of television may help the cause of athletic immortality, but I wouldn't bet on any of these guys being remembered 1,000 years from now.

Writers:
William Shakespeare
Homer
Dante Alighieri
Aesop
The Brothers Grimm

Perhaps the pen is mightier than the sword. I would argue that the immortals in this category outstrip those of every other category, with the exception of the religious leaders. It is important to note that all of these authors were popular authors, not literary authors writing for a tiny audience. I would argue that immortality is better achieved through the bestseller list than the Booker Prize. Who knows? In 500 years, perhaps Stephen King or JK Rowling will make the cut.

Inventors:
Thomas Edison
Johannes Gutenberg
Leonardo Da Vinci
Archimedes
Orville and Wilbur Wright

In many ways, I'd argue that the inventors and scientists are the immortals who had the most lasting impact. Perhaps someday contemporaries like Tim Berners-Lee will make the list.

The upshot is that immortal fame is difficult to achieve, and even more difficult in certain categories. All vocations are not created equal, and today's world is less conducive to eternal renown. Finally, how about a special congratulations to Leonardo Da Vinci, who made the cut in three categories--he was truly a renaissance man.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Ivana Tinkle

Thanks to the sleuthing of Venture Economics, the true identity of the Apprentice's Ivana is revealed! Ivana Ma is a former associate from Advent International and ABS Capital Partners who lives in Boston with her fiancee, who is attending HBS.

Many thanks to Martin Tobias, who first pointed out the Venture Economics article.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Go East, Young Man

Ultimately, offshoring is about cost-of-living arbitrage. Because it costs less to live in India, employees there are willing to accept lower salaries. No law states that those employees have to be Indian!

At least one enterprising fellow, Prashant Sahni of Tecnovate, is taking advantage of this oft-overlooked fact. He hires young Europeans to work in his call centers on Indian salaries, and they couldn't be happier.

For these young adventurers, they get to work in an exotic land and live well, even if their paychecks would be poverty-level in their home countries. Sahni recognizes that the value he provides his employees is beyond monetary. He provides free housing, money for furnishing their apartments, subsidized meals, and time to travel and explore the country.

It's a win-win situation for everyone. And while this story is limited to a few Western tourists, the death of distance means that in the future, more and more people will follow this same path. People in Silicon Valley get paid 6-figure salaries, yet can't afford to buy a house. You don't think some of them would be willing to telecommute from a lower cost area where they could afford a 9-room mansion?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Does anyone else think it's a bad idea to build robotic cockroaches for pest control? Cockroaches are already indestructible; I shudder to think of an army of out of control robotic roaches.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

"There's only two kinds of people I hate--the prejuidiced, and the Dutch." --Nigel Powers

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where George W. Bush's re-election has prompted many people to speculate about the intelligence and character of the so-called "red staters" that supported him. "Stupid," "ignorant," and "inbred" are some of the kinder words I've heard.

Now I won't discuss the strengths or failings of the Bush administration here--there's nothing I could say that would sway anyone's opinion, and, as Michael Jordan remarked when asked to endorse a Democratic candidate, "Republicans buy shoes too."

What I will say is that I'm dismayed by the fact that the educated, open-minded people around me seem just as prejudiced the people they revile. Tolerance has to work both ways. If you support school prayer, you should support gay marriage, and vice versa.

Furthermore, many people I've spoken to have been aghast that many working-class people voted for Bush because the considered values more important than the war in Iraq, or that some consider faith more important than reason. Again, I'm not going to pass judgment. I'm not particularly religious, though I did take my daughter to be baptized this morning. However, I can see just as much justification for using faith as a decision criteria as for reason.

Reason and science aren't infallible, while faith plays a critical role in helping make sense of the world. One of the pastor's at today's baptism is the chaplain at the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. She's often called upon to perform emergency baptisms on dying children; when confronted with such tragedy, reason fails and we are left with faith as the only option.

While we may disagree with their choice of president, if we "blue-staters" don't extend our tolerance to include "red-staters," we are are being just as hypocritical and prejudiced as those we oppose.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Here's where you can find a copy of Mosh.
Mosh

I finally caught the new Eminem music video, Mosh. You can thank my 5-month-old daughter, whose desire for warm baby formula results in my watching television at 3 AM while I feed her.

Regardless of your political beliefs and whom you support in today's US Presidential election, I think you should see this video.

It is an outstanding example of an artist who actually uses his art to make a statement (in this case, that those who oppose the Bush Administration should get off their duffs and vote).

In contrast, I also saw some footage this morning of some kind of concert/political rally with Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and the Dixie Chicks singing some sort of protest song.

To me, this is another example of everything that is wrong about entertainers trying to make political statements (as the South Park boys have so wonderfully lampooned in Team America: World Police).

If you have something to say, let your art say it, not your fame. If you really care about the election, make your own movie, write your own song, or do something original. Don't just offer a celebrity endorsement.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Opposite of Immortality

You've probably already seen this, but the average adult American is 25 pounds heavier than was the case in 1960.

While some of this increased weight can be attributed to an overall size increase (adults are also, on average, one inch taller), the average Body Mass Index (BMI) of adults has increased from 25 to 28. 25 represents overweight; 30 represents obese.

It's amazing that medical science has been able to increase the average life expectancy despite the chubbification of America. It's also amazing that despite the rise of health food, low-carb, Weight Watchers, and everything else, Americans are worse off than in the meat-and-potatoes 50s and 60s.

If we'd just all eat less, we'd be healthier, live longer, have a lower impact on the environment, and probably spend less time watching or starring in reality television. Something to think about! As usual, I recommend "The Hacker's Diet" for an engineering perspective on weight loss. It helped me lose 30 pounds in a year.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Immortality, Part I

When Ben Casnocha stopped by today, he reminded me that he was still waiting for my thoughts on immortality. What can I say? It's harder to be a blogger when you have two children in diapers, and are busy launching a new product.

I have a lot of thoughts swirling around, so I'll start with the easiest one.

Mankind will achieve physical immortality in my probable lifetime.

It's pretty clear that Moore's law or some facsimile thereof will enable us to build computers that are more complex than the human brain. Ray Kurzweil has famously predicted that by 2019, or just 15 years, a $1,000 computer will exceed the power of the human brain. We've already demonstrated brain/machine interfaces that give people the power to control devices with their minds. It's only a matter of time before we have the ability to upload ourselves into silicon form.

The question is, what will we do with this gift? Will we turn outward, using robotic immortality to conduct space exploration? Will we turn inward, using the ability to create our own existences to generate ever more elaborate MMOGs (or even more solipsistically, our own private fantasy universes)? What will happen to biological humans when electronic humans have orders of magnitude more processing capacity, and operate at the speed of light?

The answer, as always, is yes. Some will choose to explore--witness the number of people who have already signed up for Virgin Galactic. Some will choose to spend their time building their own virtual worlds to replace the physical one. And some will no doubt reject going electronic, and continue to live and die the old fashioned way.

Personally, what will you choose to do? Will you use "Save As" to retain copies of yourself at different ages--The perfect portrait of an artist as a young man? Who will have legal ownership of your property? Your biological self, or your electronic self? What if you use Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V to replicate yourself? And how long will it take for the adult entertainment industry to find a way to exploit this?

What will happen to economics when the majority of mankind deals solely in digital products? Can you copyright yourself? And how long before some enterprising hackers decide to hack themselves?

There are no answers of course, but the impact on human society will be measureless.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Resistance is futile....

I can't tell you how many times over the past year I've wanted something like this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Big 3-0

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. The occasion was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, I have a lot to be grateful for--I'm happily married, have two beautiful and healthy children, and enjoy a good career. On the other hand, being "young" has been such a huge part of my self-identity over the years that turning 30 is a bit of a shock.

I've been "young" ever since I was a kid. I always wanted to do things as early as possible. I went to high school when I was 12, and Stanford University when I was 15. I got used to being around older people.

Now, I am the older people, and the fact that I'm 30 instead of 33 hardly warrants mentioning.

And of course, I'm reading a biography of Alexander the Great, and realized that by the age of 30, he had conquered the known world. Of course, he died at 33, so perhaps I shouldn't emulate his example too closely!

Ultimately, the best advice I got came from my (older) sister, who advised me that I was only as old as I acted or felt. I reflected on all that I had accomplished in the past 10 years (graduating from college, getting my first job, going to business school, getting married, starting three companies, meeting tons of fascinating and wonderful people), and decided that the best thing to do was to resolve to make the next 10 years even more productive.

And I do promise that I'll be back with some thoughts on Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Moore's Law, and immortality....

Thursday, October 07, 2004

More on the travails of micro-entrepreneurship

I haven't forgotten about my thoughts on immortality, but I don't have time to fill them out now. Instead, read Eric Sink's report on the success (or lack thereof) of his micro-ISV. He shouldn't feel too bad. I think I made exactly $100 on my first venture as a freelance graphic artist back in the early 1990s.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Immortality, Part 1

I've been thinking a lot about mortality. Perhaps it's because I have kids now. Or perhaps it's because I'm turning 30 next month.

Immortality, in the sense of immortal fame, is hard to come by. Regardless of one's present fame, a few generations generally suffices to erase one's memory.

The question is, what kind of greatness is best suited to bringing immortality? Politics? Science? Art? Business? Entertainment? Sports?

Ponder for a bit, and I'll be back with my thoughts.


Friday, September 24, 2004

The Unwedding

Normally, I try to steer clear of Britney Spears. As I'm fond of saying, "no comment necessary."

In this case, I have to highlight the fine work of the folks at The Smoking Gun. They have truly outdone themselves by unearthing a copy of the legal documentation for Britney's "wedding."

Rather than saying, "I do," the legal document says "I don't." Just the sort of thing to kick off a romantic honeymoon, eh?

Thursday, September 23, 2004

"Gifted" Children

I happened to run across this Time magazine article on the subject of gifted children and skipping grades.

It's a balanced article that describes how the preponderance of research shows that most gifted children who skip grades do just fine, though some do not.

Unfortunately, as the article points out, many people are uncomfortable with the idea of gifted children, and seize upon the examples of troubled kids to argue against grade skipping.

My own perspective is biased; I went to a school for gifted children, which means that most of my childhood friends were of genius-level intellect. Of course, even at a gifted school, there are relative jocks and nerds.

I had classmates who were taking Calculus at age 10. When I returned to the normal public school system, I was miserable. Being forced to take classes below my grade level was sheer torture.

After a miserable year punctuated with many fights with school administrators, I was allowed to skip two grades and head straight to high school, which was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Today, I and the rest of my old classmates are doing just fine. We work in a wide variety of fields, ranging from teacher to chef to rock star, and everything in between. Time is a miraculous thing--everyone gets old. Ultimately, it's irrelevant whether you skipped a grade or two. What's more important is that you have a chance to be happy, and that's what acceleration offered us.
Marilyn Manson's Respectable Brother

Ever wonder what happened to Paul from the Wonder Years? Now he's an attorney in New York:

http://www.mcsw.com/attorneys/jsaviano.html

And yes, he does look like Marilyn Manson.
Betting the Farm

Joe Kraus, the founder of Excite (and a fellow Stanford grad--albeit from one year before me), has a great post about how Excite bid three times their cash on hand for the rights to Netscape's "NetSearch" button.

Essentially, Excite bet the company and lost. They bid $3 million, when they had less than $1 million on hand (which in itself is a fascinating lesson). Yet they lost the bidding to MCI.

The story doesn't end there, however. Like their lead VC, Vinod Khosla, Excite didn't give up. They hounded Netscape for almost a month before MCI backed out at the last minute, which resulted in Excite winning the bid.

Sometimes it takes an irrational stubbornness to succeed. I've noticed that many of the CEOs I've worked with are uncommonly stubborn and resistant to reality. The bad ones are simply disconnected from reality, and live in their own world. The good ones are in touch with the real world but don't accept things the way they are. If the rules are against them, they change the rules.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The American Idol-ization of Commerce

Sean Carton of ClickZ wrote this article about Threadless.com, a community where the members vote on which T-shirt designs they like the best, and the top vote-getters are produced and sold.

To me, Threadless is just another example of the American Idol-ization of commerce. After all, the current system of producing content, where artists create content, and a publishing industry decides which artists to distribute, is terribly inefficient. The reason it exists is because the costs of distribution and infrastructure were too high for artists and audience to connect directly.

In the world of the Web, those costs have declined by orders of magnitude. But it isn't enough to simply create a product and start hawking it. As Steve Jobs put it, "It's called taste." Not everything is fit to print.

That's where American Idol comes in. What American Idol shows is that if you simply throw open a competition to every budding artist, and let the nation decide what it likes, you can eliminate the uncertainty of the publishing process. Each American Idol winner has a massive built-in audience of fans, which helps explain why recent Idol winners (and even runner-ups) have debuted with platinum records.

Threadless does the same, on a smaller scale, for T-shirts. What can you do to Idol-ize your business?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Pocket Farming

Sometimes bigger isn't better. Concerned about the quality of the milk in supermarkets? Just raise your own cattle herd.

Cuban Rancher Raul Hernandez has bred a herd of miniature cows that are a little over 3 feet tall. Despite their small size, they are able to provide about a gallon of milk per day if fed a diet of grass and weeds.

This is taking the Stonyfield farms "have a cow" concept to new extremes!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Springfield Project

No, not the long irrelevant BigStep (though give yourself some points if you actually remember what the original "stealth" company actually does).

Instead, it is a detailed map of the fictional burg of Springfield, home of the Simpsons. Everyone who's ever wanted to know that Herman's Military Antiques is next to Snippy Longstocking's Newsstand, eat your heart out!


Saturday, September 11, 2004

Under Pressure

The New York Times published a good article on how some people are able to deal with stressful situations, while others are not.

People who are resilient have a couple of characteristics in common. They accept stress and change as a natural part of life, and view themselves as having control. In other words, they take responsibility for their lives rather than bitching and moaning.

While the Times article dealt mostly with architects and corporate America, I wouldn't be surprised if most entrepreneurs fall into the resilient category. Running a startup is a constant exercise in dealing with unpleasant surprises and unexpected twists and turns. If you aren't resilient, you'll go nuts.

I also wouldn't be surprised if former entrepreneurs are more resilient and able to cope with the stresses of the working world than normal workers.

Of course, the least surprising finding of the article was the following:

"In studies, researchers have found that perhaps the only time pessimists thrive is when they become lawyers."

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Republicans and Democrats

I abhor politics. The whole political culture nauseates me, as does the partisan willingness to argue endlessly.

On Thursday night, I spent an hour listening to my aunt and sister argue about the Republican National Convention. What is the point of arguing if everyone's mind is already made up?

However, I did feel the need to respond to Fred Wilson's recent post on "Republican or Democrat?"

Fred and several others had created Cosmo-style quizzes to help people decide if they were Republican or Democrat.

While I agree with Fred's goal--to give his kids a way to make up their own minds--I think that the methodology is flawed.

It seems to me that the choice and weighting of questions is critical here. Rather than a simple quiz, we really need to provide a weighted decision matrix.

For example, the young tend to be more idealistic, especially on social views. In general, the Democratic party's beliefs are more compatible with youthful ideals, especially given the Republican party's conservative social views.

On the other hand, parents tend to view things like school choice and public safety as paramount, since their primary concern is the well-being of their children. In this regard, the Republicans usually have the advantage (though the give some of that back with their opposition to gun control).

Personally, like most people, I am socially liberal and fiscally conservative. In practice, that means that I vote Republican, though I oppose the party on every social issue. My wife on the other hand, is in the same position as I, and shares the same beliefs on social issues, but votes Democratic because of the Republicans' stand on abortion, gay rights, and so on. We simply weight different categories in different ways.

There was an excellent article in the New York Times magazine on how Democrats and Republicans actually have different brain types. Democrats tend to respond with greater emotion to violence and suffering. The Republican viewpoint is that this makes the Democrats soft and irrational. The Democratic viewpoint is that this makes the party caring an empathetic.
Both viewpoints are correct, but which is correct for you depends on what you value (and possibly even how your brain is constructed).

Of course, I think the ideal would be for someone to create a party that stood for business sense without being in the pocket of the religious right, or a party that supported people's right to choose without taking away to right to choose a school.
Focus on the big picture

Seth Godin has a terrific set of two posts about how little things like trade shows and the political pundit class reflect the reality of the mass market.

I can't add anything to Seth's analysis, so I'll just quote what I think are the two most important points:

"What's extraordinary is the huge disconnect about what people in the industry care about and what the public cares about."

"Instead of worrying about the finest details of your competiton and our offering and your media buys, what really matters is this: who's going to talk about you? What are they going to say?
Your prospects are just like the undecided voters. They are woefully uninformed, extremely difficult to contact and very prone to quick judgments and first impressions."

Let's face it, positioning statements are less important than the impression that you leave in your customer's mind.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Micro Entrepreneurship

Eric Sink has written an excellent article on his plans to start a micro-ISV (independent software vendor).

Eric was fascinated with the world of one-man software companies, and his interest comes through in his writing.

That got me to thinking about the world of micro-entrepreneurship.

I'll define micro-entrepreneurship as a one-person company that has a scalable business. That means no professional services; a one-person services company is a freelancer.

I come from the traditional Silicon Valley world, where you raise a couple of million in venture capital, build a team, and spend 1-2 years building a product before you launch.

In comparison, Eric spend 1 month of after-hours time to launch his first product, "Winnable Solitaire," a standard Solitaire product with the clever twist that every hand is winnable.

The rise of the Internet and the death of distance have dramatically increased the opportunities for micro-entrepreneurship. A Web site can cost as little as $6 per year for the domain name and $4 per year for hosting.

But what about folks who, like me, can't code? What can we do that is scalable?

One possibility is to produce content. An author, for example, is a micro-entrepreneur because her work product is scalable. With the proliferation of blogging, authorship is easier than ever.

Another possibility is to design a product, but outsource the manufacturing and fulfillment, as with an ODM.

What possibilities can you think of?

Friday, September 03, 2004

How To Write A Bestselling Fantasy Epic

It wouldn't be as funny if it weren't true.

Of course, one could argue that the formulaic nature of most such epics is due to their ability to tap into deep human archetypes, dating back to the Epic of Gilgamesh.

That, or the fact that Terry Brooks was able to get away with a scene-for-scene remake of The Lord of the Rings without losing a plagiarism lawsuit.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Noisy Sex Session Awakens Entire Street

I'm sure all my male readers are telling themselves, "That happens to me all the time."

Monday, August 30, 2004

From the man bites dog department....

Fish catches boy.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Blogs as the future of journalism, revisited:

Sadly, many journalists just don't seem to get it. This Techdirt article chronicles its attempt to engage in meaningful dialogue a reporter who wrote that the Wikipedia concept was dangerous and unreliable. Go read the article yourself--it's definitely worth the 2 minutes.

The reporter seems to believe that "journalists" can only be trusted if they work for a mainstream outlet with an editorial board. Never mind the fact that said publications can be as bad as any personal blog (as I pointed out in my previous posting on the WSJ article on purported terrorists that turned out to be Syrian musicians).

The fact is that the public is more sophisticated than ever, and with access to primary sources of information, are more than capable of filtering that information and forming their own opinions.

The rise of the Internet and the death of distance allows me to learn about any event straight from the source. And while I may have to endure a Rashomon-like uncertainty about what really happened, I'll end up with a better understanding than had I waited for some AP hack to put together an official news story.

To claim that people can't trust open source news is akin to claiming that file-sharing will destroy music, or that VCRs destroyed the movies.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Digital Pinup Girls

It was bound to happen. Rayne, the eponymous, vampire-slaying protagonist of the Bloodrayne videogame, will be appearing in the October issue of Playboy. To quote the article:

"Rayne is 100% topless and smokin' hot in the October issue of Playboy magazine. This is a first in videogame history and trust us when we say that Rayne does not disappoint."

As I always do in these situations, I quote Scott Adams, who stated that the holodeck will be the last invention mankind every produces. When the PS5 includes fully holographic pinup girls, I fear that no male will ever work again.
The Party of Active Amygdalas

Ben Casnocha points out a fascinating article by Steven Johnson on the differences between Democrat and Republican brains (insert your favorite political joke here).

It turns out that Democrats tend to have more active amygdalas, and thus experience stronger emotional responses. Of course, as Johnson points out, a lack of emotion can be just as big a barrier to decision-making as an excess of it.


Hostage Taker Shot, Falls Five Stories, Wakes Up In Coffin

So unbelievable it has to be true. A man in China armed himself with two kitchen knives and took two small children hostage on the ledge of a 5th story window. When he tried to harm one of the hostages, a heroic police officer snuck up on him from the window ledge of the adjacent room and shot him twice in the head at point blank range. The criminal was pronounced dead. To top it all off, he funeral home workers discovered he was still alive when they opened the coffin to prepare his body for cremation!
Transparent Aluminum

Scientists at 3M have created transparent aluminum. Coincidentally, Star Trek IV was on the Spike Network yesterday. Many thanks to BoingBoing for pointing me to the story.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Party Animal

A 2-year-old black bear was found passed out at Baker Lake campground, Washington, after drinking 36 cans of beer. This alone would make it worthy of inclusion in this blog. What really makes the story special are two further facts:

1. The discerning bear started his binge drinking Busch, but quickly switched to local microbrew Ranier Beer after only one can of the low-end lager.

2. The wildlife agents captured the bear by setting a trap with donuts, honey, and two cans of Ranier Beer.

While the bear was not named, a sneaking suspicion tells me that it might go by "Homer Simpson."

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Worst Movies of All Time

I was pondering the IMDB's list of the worst 100 movies of all time, as voted by the readers.

It's very hard to make a movie, any movie. The amount of work that goes into one is staggering, as anyone who's worked on a set can attest. While the filming was going on, did the participants realize that they were helping to create one of the worst films of all time?

Alas, the list did not include one of my favorite worst movies, "Avenging Disco Godfather." Trust me, the title is the best thing about it. Chalk it up to the foolishness of living on an all-male floor during my junior year at college.

On the other hand, the theme song was pretty good. "He's the godfather...of disco. He's the godfather...of disco."

Friday, August 13, 2004

Reality Movies

The current mania for reality television has yet to make a successful leap to the big screen. I'm afraid that MTV's "The Real Cancun" just doesn't count.

In contrast, "Open Water" promises something much more interesting. "Open Water" is a fictional story about a scuba diving couple who accidentally get left behind by their tourist boat, and are stuck in the middle of a shark-infested stretch of open water.

While the movie sounds interesting, what's even more interesting is how it was produced. Rather than cheesy special effects sharks, the filmmakers simply plopped the lead actors in the middle of the ocean and let nature take its course. 120 hours of footage and several friendly sharks later, the result is available for your viewing pleasure.

In many ways, this scheme is a sane version of the crazy plan I read about by one production company to shoot a war movie in the middle of the Iraq invasion. If "Open Water" is a success, who knows what might be next?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Ultimate Couch Potato

Here's a cautionary tale for folks who like to camp out on the couch and watch TV:
What if you sat so long that your skin fused to the couch and you couldn't get up?

That's what happened to Gayle Grinds, age 39, who died after rescue workers were unable to lift her from the couch where she had spent the past 6 years.

Grinds, who at 4' 10" weighed almost 500 pounds, officially died of "morbid obesity."

Here's the story for people with strong stomachs, courtesy of BoingBoing.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Once you have virtual currencies and virtual central bankers, why not a virtual investment bank?
Is The Technology Industry A Primetime Soap?

Shower thought of the day: Is the technology industry a primetime soap opera?

I'm not talking about unbelievable antics and drama queens, though both Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison can give any soap opera hero/villain a run for their money.

Rather, I'm talking about how primetime soap operas rise and fall in 5 year cycles. The soap opera fits our times; the 80s give rise to Dallas and Dynasty, only to see their tales of glittering excess fall short in the 90s. The 90s gave rise to Melrose Place, decidedly more down-market, but considerably sexed up. So far, the 2000s have given us new fare like "The OC," pushing the age of lost innocence further and further away from the traditional definition of adulthood.

It doesn't take much imagination to think of the DECs and Wangs giving way to the IBMs, giving way to the Dells. "Jumping the shark" ain't just for TV shows.

What is it that makes the prime time soap so topical and cyclical? Can we, the technology industry, learn any lessons from the Heather Locklears of the world?

Friday, July 30, 2004

The Design Era

Nicholas Carr has written that IT doesn't matter.  Whether or not you agree with his controversial stance, the logical follow-up question to ask is, "What does matter?"

To me, the clear answer is design.

In a world where technology is ever-present and commoditized, function follows form.

Or less sensationally, the design of the consumer experience is more important than the underlying technology.

Need proof?  The UK's Design Council recently worked with the FTSE index to track the stock market performance of companies that placed an emphasis on design (they used design awards as a proxy for placing an emphasis on design).

The 63 companies that were consistent design award winners outperformed the index by 200%, with outperformance during both the bull market and bear market of the past decade.

Meanwhile, Virgin--a design-led firm if one ever existed--recently started Virgin Electronics to challenge the Sonys and Apples of the world.  Virgin Electronics has a staff of 10; they focus on designing the brand and experience, and let Taiwanese Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) figure out how to make the products.

When good enough technology is available to all, design is what counts.  As Seth Godin writes in Free Prize Inside, it's more important to make your products remarkable than to have to latest technology.  Design is one of the highest-leverage ways to make your products remarkable.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Job-related Benefits

Here's another story from the "truth is stranger than fiction" files:

Foreign strippers must supply nude photos to officials
"Foreign strippers planning to table dance in clubs must now provide photos of themselves with no clothes on to qualify for a visa for Canada, said immigration officials."

This reminds me of a story I once read about a graphic artist whose job was to airbrush out the nipples and genitalia for photos that would be posted on pornographic Web sites.  I'm sure that after a while, it gets old.

On the other hand, the Canadians note:

"In a memo to fellow visa officers around the world, Mercado said if a dancer passes the no-clothes test, they may then require a police certificate or medical examination."

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Guys Really Will Screw Anything

One enterprising individual modified a classic Eliza chat bot to sound like a dumb, sexually rapacious teenager.  Then he took the bot for a spin in a sex chat room.

While some of the men who encountered "jenny18" realized that she was a bot, many did not, keeping up their end of the conversation until they, er, lost interest.
Why Journalists Are No Better Than Bloggers

There's been a lot of fuss about Annie Jacobsen's recent article in the Women's Wall Street Journal.

In this article, Jacobsen describes the terror she felt on a recent plane flight, when half a dozen Middle Eastern men were talking amonst themselves and visiting the bathrooms.  Despite Jacobsen's concerns, nothing occurs until after the flight, when the FBI questioned the men and released them.  After the flight, Jacobsen was told that the men were musicians, and were travelling to play a show at a casino.  Jacobsen uses the incident to criticize the FAA for its prohibition of racial profiling, which prevented the airlines from questioning the musicians before they boarded the plane.

Various pundits lined up to alternately excoriate Jacobsen to overreacting, or blame the FAA for endangering passengers to be politically correct.

Only Clinton Taylor, a Ph.D. student at Stanford University, bothered to try confirming the musicians' identity.  Within an hour, he had located the Sycuan casino in San Diego, which had booked Nour Mehana (the Syrian Wayne Newton) and a backup band to perform on July 1, and confirmed that they had been on the flight in question.

The most terrifying thing about them?

"And then I noticed something that was truly terrifying, something linking Nour Mehana to a figure of such repulsive evil that I felt a rush of prickly fear not unlike Jacobsen's: Just one week later, the same company that arranged Mehana's performance, also booked Carrot Top!"

Why is it that some of the world's biggest publications couldn't spend one hour to check the most important part of a story on terrorism?

While there is no doubt that we should be worried about the potential for racial profiling to endanger our skies, we should also be worried about the validity of mainstream journalism.
A Pot of Ink at The End of the Rainbow?
 
Everyone knows that printer ink is expensive, but it takes a story like this to ram the point home.  Apparently, a swimming pool of HP ink would be worth $5.9 billion!

Friday, July 23, 2004

Maybe Politicians Aren't As Dumb As They Look

From the "future is now" category:

The Schwarzenegger administration is the first California gubernatorial administration to adopt the BlackBerry on a wholesale scale.  80 people on Ah-nold's team carry BlackBerrys wherever they go, including assistant press secretary Julie "Thumbs" Soderlund.

The interesting thing is the reason why the Blackberrys are so useful--they allow the administration to gather, broadcase, and respond to events in real-time--given the Governator a critical edge in speed.  The example in the article shows Team Schwarzenegger instantly responding to an assertion by the Democratic Assembly leader in near real-time, allowing them to get their sound bite into the same evening news segment.

It's not about the technology, it's about speed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Mmmmmmm...liquid donut!

Again, some times the truth is stranger than fiction.  Krispy Kreme, hit hard by the low-carb craze, fights back with a drinkable donut.

The small size has 440 calories, the large 730.
Calendar Integrity

The word of the day is "calendar integrity."  In other words, showing up on time.  A simple courtesy that boosts productivity, but little practiced today.
French-bashing of the Day

I saw the following on an ESPN.com story on Lance Armstrong's ascent to the yellow jersey:

"His rivals melted away like the French Army defending Paris."

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Great Chekov

And no, I'm not referring to Walter Koenig.

Not only was Anton Chekov the first great master of the short story form (and many consider the greatest ever), he is also one of the greatest playwrights, trailing only Shakespeare, and holding his own with Ibsen and Jonson.

What made him truly special, beyond his literary genius, is that he was also a great person. As my old teacher, the great John L'Heureux once said, "Every writer is a bastard. Except for Chekov." A medical doctor who wrote stories to support his family after his father's death, he eventually died of tuberculosis contracted while helping the poor.

Take a few moments today to read about Chekov, or better yet, pick up a copy of his short stories and read them for yourself.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Headlines 'o The Day

Some things you just can't make up.

Druid charged for carrying sword.

The best part is that his legal advisor was, I kid you not, chief druid King Arthur Pendragon.

Britney was my sex-mad bride

The sub-headings in the story are:
"Thong"
"Moans"
"Shattered"

Kinda says it all....

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Life Is Entrepreneurship

I highly recommend talking with today's young entrepreneurs. As an old man of 29, I'm totally out of touch. I went to college in the pre-Netscape days. I can even remember using Gopher to access content.

Today's 16-25 year olds grew up with the Web as an established fact. They all had cell phones in high school and college. They've probably never used a desktop.

On Friday, I met Ben Casnocha, an experienced entrepreneur at the ripe old age of 16. Ben will probably never even consider taking a corporate job. Heck, given his age, he could be starting companies for the next 50 years, or even more.

On Sunday, I went to Steve Oskoui's birthday BBQ. The most amazing thing about the party is how so many of the people there have found success without taking "a real job." Steve, like many of his friends, runs a small and profitable Internet company. It allows him to use his intellectual and engineering gifts, while also supporting a flexible lifestyle.

One of the guys I met, David Weekly, is a programming gunslinger who takes high-powered engagements so he can spend the rest of the time on his ironically named California Community Colocation Project and other activities. Of course, it may be that the name isn't ironic; after all, David was 11 or 12 when the Soviet Union collapsed!

What all of these guys have in common, besides the fact that I'm insanely jealous of them, is that they see life as an entrepreneurial endeavor. The whole concept of work/life balance is unnecessary, because the two have merged.

In my generation, folks proclaimed the "Free Agent Nation" as the old system of lifetime employment broke down. We were admonished to focus on building skills and human capital so that we could move from corporation to corporation.

Free Agent Nation is barely a decade old, and it's already dying. The future belongs to the Entrepreneurial Nation, where everyone works for themselves and the things that they care about.

The future is already here. Get used to it.



Friday, July 09, 2004

Beg, Borrow, and Steal

Joel Maske, the guy behind iSyndicate and old-school online financial shop Galt (back in the day, mutual funds paid him big money to set up brochureware sites in his mutual fund mall--before they realized they could set up their own sites), is back, this time with a C2C lending/rental play called Moogul.

Basically, it's eBay, but for borrowers. I like the concept (after all, who doesn't want free stuff), but I worry about the trust issues. What happens the first time somebody breaks something?

I think that a better idea is to set up sharing groups with your friends. I know that I would love to have a service of this kind, since many of my DVDs are still floating around out there!

You could also cross Moogul with a social networking play and really give it a kickstart.

Monday, July 05, 2004

If You Think Blogging Is Big, You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

As with any other technology, blogging enhances, rather than replaces, our existing way of life. Hidden away in this fascinating article on how teens are blogging is this remarkable fact:

"According to the research firm Perseus, 52 percent of all bloggers are teenagers, and an additional 40 percent are in their 20s."

And how about this one:

"At Evergreen, about 200 students -- or roughly one out of eight -- keep blogs at one popular site, Xanga.com. The term Xanga has even become part of school lingo -- students refer to their blogs as 'my Xanga.'"

I don't know what effects blogging will eventually have, but it's clearly here to stay.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Happy 208th Birthday, USA

Today marks the 208th birthday of the United States of America, the greatest force for good that the world has ever known. For all of its flaws, it is clear that our democratic form of government is superior to those that came before it (as well as those who came after it), and our focus on freedom and opportunity continue to act as a draw to the smartest, most talented, and most ambitious brains around the world.

Fred Wilson writes that he is not a nationalist. I am a nationalist. I believe that the US is the greatest country in the world, and that while it isn't always right, deserves the benefit of the doubt. I believe that there's nothing wrong with waving the flag.

On the other hand, as a nationalist who wishes to spread our values and way of life around the globe, I also realize that honey attracts more flies than vinegar. We need to pursue a course of humble nationalism, where we gently nudge people towards Teddy Roosevelt's "Americanism," rather than demanding that they change, or castigating them when they don't. We have to remember that we have it easier than everyone else, thanks to our Founding Fathers.

So on this 4th of July, celebrate your hard-won freedom. Whether you watch "Fahrenheit 9/11" or go to a ballgame, whether you express your support for the President, or your desire to impeach him, remember how lucky you are. Just as a fish doesn't realize that it's swimming through water, most of the time we don't realize that we are swimming in freedom. Most of us, me included, waste more freedom in a day than most people in the world have in a lifetime.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Rock The Casbah!

I spent last night at the SDForum Visionary Awards. This year, the awards were held at Heidi Roizen's house, which served as an absolutely stunning setting.

The most amazing feature of the house was the casbah, an entirely separate building decorated in the style of a luxurious Moroccan villa, complete with a private screening room with velvet couches.

As I remarked to my friend Ted Cahall, a lot of people have mocked my dream of someday owning a home with an indoor basketball court. Well, if Heidi can have a casbah, my little dream seems eminently achievable!

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Now You Can Listen To Hatebeak

Here is the free MP3. Thanks BoingBoing!
Life Is A Feed

As blogs and aggregators continue to gain in adoption and importance, I predict that one of the most important effects will be changing the way we think about our daily activities.

The experience of reading an RSS aggregator forces one to develop the ability to rapidly switch context between different domains. I compare it to my customary habit of reading 4 to 6 books and magazines at once: One in the bathroom, one in the living room, one in the office, and one in the car.

As more and more people start looking at life as a series of feeds, the lines between blogs, books, magazines, television, movies, and interacting with other people will blur. After all, what is episodic television other than a weekly multimedia feed? Taking it a step further, isn't the weekly family dinner a feed as well?

Will we someday use "life aggregators" to place all of our feeds, online, broadcast, and offline into a master UI? Something to ponder....

***

By the way, here's an update on the Hitler ads:

Dave Winer, being a generally honorable fellow, has admitted some wrongdoing in his criticism of the Hitler ads. Better yet, he linked to Scott McNulty's critique of his actions. Essentially, Scott points out the inconsistency in Dave asserting back in January that MoveOn.org had a First Amendment right to show anti-Bush ads featuring Hitler, and complaining now that Bush should be ashamed of using the anti-Bush imagery in his own ads.

On a side note, I'm reading Edmund Morris' biography of Teddy Roosevelt. If you think politics today is worse than the past, you're guilty of nostalgia and sentimentality. Politics was, is, and always will be a bare-knuckle brawl. The sooner people accept that, to sooner we can move past moralizing to actually getting things done.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Playing the Hitler card

It's a truism that you know that a flame war has hit bottom when someone compares the other side to Hitler.

The normally perceptive Dave Winer writes, "Bush is an awful leader, but so far there's no indication that he's comparable to Hitler. But he's running an ad with pictures of Hitler, between pictures of John Kerry, Al Gore, Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean. How could someone want to win so badly that he would be willing to do that?"

This would be a devastating critique if it were true, but it's not. I'm not a huge Dubya fan, but Dave's comment is either biased or careless.

I followed Dave's link to the Bush-Cheney Web site and watched the offending ad. The ad makes it very clear that the Hitler images are sampled directly from anti-Bush attack ads by MoveOn.org.

I don't know about you, but if someone were comparing me to Hitler, I'd want to hit back. Shame on you, Dave, for being too careless or lazy to watch the ad you're criticizing.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

And He Wants To Release A Solo Album

The latest trend in heavy metal? Lead singers that don't just act like animals, but actually are animals.

Hatebeak features a parrot on lead vocals, singing songs like "Beak of Putrefaction" and "God of Empty Nest."

Not to be outdone, Caninus features Budgie & Basil, two pitbulls, on lead vocals.

Thanks BoingBoing!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

I'm not an overtly political person, so I will restrict my comments to the following:

1. I've enjoyed some of Michael Moore's work (having Steven Wright ask a bishop whether Satan will triumph over good was a stroke of genius), but it is clear that he prefers broad targets that he can lambast with ease. Nothing wrong with that--those are my favorite targets as well.

2. It's clear to me that much of Michael Moore's critical acclaim is politically motivated, just as is much of the criticism leveled against him. Which you believe largely depends on your political beliefs.

3. Overall, the reviews of the film are mixed. Yet you can count on the intense controversy surrounding the film to guarantee strong box office.

The irony here is that both "The Passion" and "F911" were blacklisted by the major studios for being controversial...only to to have that controversy make them more commercially successful than the vast majority of studio releases.
And Star Trek Fans Everywhere Are Asking, "Where Are These Clubs?"

More salacious legal documents from The Smoking Gun. Recently released divorce filings claim that Senate candidate Jack Ryan of Illinois asked his then wife, Jeri Ryan of Star Trek fame, to have public sex with him at swingers' clubs.

The former Miss Illinois (and National Merit Scholar and Northwestern grad) alleges that her politico husband tried to convince her to have public sex with him at swingers clubs in New Orleans, New York, and Paris, with such features as "cages, whips, and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling."

Gee, I hope he's not running on a family values platform!

Monday, June 21, 2004

1.21 Gigawatts!

Ever wonder what lightning looks like up close and personal? Thanks to Marc Laidlaw, now you can see for yourself. Laidlaw was in his backyard snapping photos of a lightning storm when a lightning bolt struck the tree in front of him right as he was taking a picture.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Somewhere, My Rabbi Is Rolling Over In His Grave, And I'm Not Even Jewish

Madonna has decided to change her name to Esther as her Hebrew name. This sounds like a dastardly plot that calls for The Hebrew Hammer!

I'd say more, but I'd just get myself in trouble.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Offshoring Run Amok

You know that offshoring has hit the big time when the Roman Catholic Church outsources prayers to Indian priests.

I wouldn't have believed the post (via BoingBoing) unless I went to the NY Times and confirmed it myself.

It seems that folks will pay priests $5 to say a prayer for a specific purpose. Because of the shortage of available priests in the US (insert your tasteless joke here), these requests are being routed to India, where the going rate for a prayer is $.90.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

He Hate Me

I heartily recommend David Hornik's VentureBlog entry on who hates whom in Silicon Valley. Having just witnessed Steve Jobs' hatred of Dell firsthand, I can testify to the accuracy of his observations. My favorite line?

"Ellison truly does hate Gates. He was not playing games. He made Carly Fiorina's hatred of Dell seem like puppy love. The other executives should take hate lessons from Larry -- it was a thing to behold."
My Reagan Moment

After Ronald Reagan's funeral, my mother reminded me of our particular Reagan moment. Ronald Reagan lived in the Pacific Palisades, which meant that he generally took 26th Street to the freeway. We lived right by 26th Street, and generally took it in the opposite direction to go to Franklin Elementary School.

One morning, as my mom and I were driving to school in our Dodge Dart along a nearly deserted 26th Street (I was probably 5 at the time), we met a presidential motorcade coming the opposite direction, as Reagan was probably on his way to the airport. As we drove past, I waved at the President. My mom was worried that a nervous Secret Service agent might open fire, but no concern was necessary. Instead, the most powerful man in the world instantly recognized his audience and waved back to a 5-year-old boy in an aging compact car. No cameras, no photo opportunities, just a chance to reach out to one of his constituents, no matter how little.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

And 75% Of Children Are Above Average

When asked by the New York Times why people would choose to post pictures of themselves at HotOrNot.com, University of Georgia Psychology Professor Abraham Tesser responded, "I don't think you can discount for the fact that some people who
get very low ratings indeed think that they are hot."

Or to quote two UC Berkeley undergrads that my friend overheard, "All of these Asian chicks come to Berkeley, and all of a sudden they think they're hot, just because they're competing with the other Berkeley chicks. All the of the really hot ones went to UCLA."

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

But Some Of His Best Friends Are White People

Basketball great Larry Bird had this to say about race in the NBA:

"I think so," he said. "You know when I played, you had me and Kevin (McHale) and some others throughout the league. I think it's good for a fan base because as we all know, the majority of fans are white America. And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited. But it is a black man's game, and it will be forever. I mean, the greatest athletes in the world are African-American."

Bird also said he felt insulted during his playing days when he was guarded by a white player. He remembers telling them, "You got no chance."

Monday, June 07, 2004

The Reality Distortion Field

I've read many times about Steve Jobs' famous "reality distortion field," but never had the chance to experience it firsthand.

(Sidenote for investors: For a while, my friend Matt Josefowicz and I toyed with the idea of starting a hedge fund: We'd buy Apple before MacWorld, then sell afterwards when the Jobs RDF boosted the stock by 10-20%. Unfortunately, we never had any other investment ideas.)

I attended the Harvard Business School Alumni club of Northern California's annual Entrepreneurial Company of the Award dinner, honoring Apple and Steve Jobs. Steve was in his usual form, and had the entire audience eating out of the palm of his hand within the first 60 seconds. By Godfrey (as Teddy Roosevelt would say), that must be nice!

***

Steve: "We last won this award 20 years ago, which is pretty amazing. I guess that means in about two years I'll be fired again."

Q: Why did Apple stumble?
A: Apple is a recovering monopoly. We had a monopoly on the GUI for a decade. When that happens, the focus shifts from making great products to making money. The sales and finance people gradually take over the company, and you lose the ability to make great products.

We focus on making great products, and then on making money. We have a passion for making great products. We make money so that we can continue to make great products.

Q: What do you see as the role of MBAs at great companies?
A: How many of you out there are VCs? Raise your hands. (Approximately 50% of the 1,000 person audience raises its hands.) Your salads were poisoned.

In the old days, when you started a company, and you needed a CEO, you pulled someone out of HP to run it. Now all these companies have pulled all the good people out of HP. Sorry guys, no offense (to the HP table). That's why you had fresh MBAs running companies.

Let the product people focus on making great products. Then figure out how to sell and market them. Don't tell the product people what to make.

Q: What makes Apple different from other companies?
A: It's called taste. If people knew what they wanted already, they'd go to Dell and get it at the lowest price. They're willing to pay us extra to show them what's cool.

***

The funny thing about the whole evening is that Steve never mentioned Gil Amelio's name one time, despite referring to the previous regime many times. Poor Gil, it's as if he's been erased from existence!

P.S. Sorry about the infrequent posting--that's what the arrival of the second kid does to you! I'll try to get back into a steady rhythm soon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Cookie Monster Metal

BoingBoing is on a roll today, with this post on a Cookie Monster tribute band that plays metal versions of Sesame Street songs.
From the you can't make this stuff up department:

San Francisco cop, previously honored for heroism, and sheriff's department employee make porn movie. From BoingBoing.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Looking Presidential?

Alexandra Kerry made an appearance at Cannes this week, and somehow managed to upstage Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911.

I think South Park put it best, when the kids discovered that their parents were more concerned about Cartman's nudity than the fact that Kenny had knocked out Butters' eye with a shuriken.
Blogging is Big Business

If you ever wondered whether or not blogging is big business, check out this paragraph from WWdN (WilWheaton.Net):

"Thanks to WWdN readers, Just A Geek climbed as high as number 21 on Amazon's Top 100 this weekend. At one point, it was the third highest pre-order they carry, alongside books by Stephen King and Bill Clinton. Dancing Barefoot also climbed back up from the 9000s to number 208!"

Friday, May 21, 2004

This Week's Sign Of The Apocalypse:

Former Knight Rider and Baywatch star David Hasslehoff is going to be releasing a rap album. Hasslehoff, whose trademark coiffure has helped make him the Julio Iglesias of Austria, has tapped good friend Ice-T to produce.

Some things you just can't make up.
The Cos Takes On Ebonics

While some academics have tried to convince folks that urban slang constitutes a different language, and should be encouraged, Bill Cosby feels otherwise.

The Cos was speaking at a dinner commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, the Supreme Court decision which struck down segregation in schools. His hosts, NAACP President Kwesi Mfume and Howard University President Patrick Swygert were unprepared for what followed:

"They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English," Cosby said. "I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't.' 'Where you is.' ... And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. ... Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. ... You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"

Saturday, May 15, 2004

For Everyone Who's Ever Been Kept Waiting In A VC's Lobby...

Maybe it isn't funny unless your in the biz, but this was the funniest thing I'd read in a long, long time. Right up there with Steve Martin's parody of a studio exec's script note on "The Passion."

"The studio is very high on Johnny Depp right now. Just saw him in "Pirates." He was hilarious. Might be right for Jesus?"

Friday, May 14, 2004

The Videogame Workout

First came Dance Dance Revolution. Now the Gamebike has debuted at E3. It's a stationary bike that doubles as a PS2 controller--the harder you pedal, the faster you go. It sounds like a step in the right direction--forget spinning, just imagine how much people would pedal in a competitive race!
Friends, Seinfeld, and Focus Groups

The always enlightening folks at The Smoking Gun have unearthed this little gem: The focus group report on the initial screening of the "Friends" pilot. The testers graded the future hit as "weak," scoring it 41 out of 100. Seinfeld also earned a similarly dismissive result.

Nonetheless, NBC decided to air both shows anyways, and the rest is history.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Stupid Criminal Tricks

Some idiot in Oklahoma went through the trouble of stealing 5,000 pounds of cooking grease (resale value: $380).

Amazingly enough, the fact that this very crime was featured as one of Homer Simpsons' batty get-rich-quick schemes is only the second stupidest criminal that comes to mind when reading this article.

You see, my ex-business partner's wife's ex-husband (now there's a mouthful) managed to acquire the nickname of "The Bottle Bandit." Why? He and his buddies decided to make a few bucks by renting a U-Haul, heading down to the Coca-Cola bottling plant, and stealing a truckload of empty bottles, presumably to turn in for the recycling value. To make a long story short, the police caught them (the Bottle Bandit's brother ended up being the arresting officer in another remarkable coincidence) and the case was pretty much open and shut--thanks to the fact that they found the U-Haul rental receipt in the getaway truck, which the Bottle Bandit had rented using his real name and identity.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Leisure Suit Larry Lives Again!

Remarkably, Activision is reviving the long-defunct Leisure Suit Larry franchise. For those who don't remember the 1990s, LSL was a tongue-in-cheek game where the titular character tried to score with women.

A couple of years ago, I was talking with an old friend about the killer app of pornographic MMOPRGs, but we concluded that graphical sophistication just wasn't sufficient. Not many men are desperate enough to derive titillation from pixelated or polygonal women.

However, I'm sure that within a few years, we will have that level of graphical sophistication, which scares the heck out of me. To quote Scott Adams, "the holodeck will be society's last invention." As the quality of graphics increases, and the sophistication of MMORPGs rises, we are rapidly approaching the point where real life just won't be able to compete.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

From the "What A Way To Go" Department:

Here's another story that proves the maxim, it's funny because it isn't me. The headline says it all:

Aroused Horse Bites Man Dead

Monday, May 10, 2004

Let's try this one more time.
Let's see if the new Blogger comments functionality is working....

Friday, May 07, 2004

Google Envy

The Mercury news did a great job of dissecting Google's S1 to determine how much employees would make out of the Google IPO.

As it turns out, employees hold options on 16.6 million shares. If Google ends up going public at $100 per share, that's $1.7 billion dollars of paper wealth, spread between 1,900 employees. That's nearly $1,000,000 per employee. I shudder to think what that will do to the real estate market in Palo Alto!

I have the fortune (good or ill--you can decide) to have personally known a number of Stanford folks before they became centi-millionaires, including Google's employee #1 and original CTO, and most of the founding team at PayPal.

While it's hard not to feel envious, I've eventually settled on the following rationalization: Regardless of my own financial situation, I'd like as many of my friends as possible to become absurdly wealthy. A) That's just one more potential angel investor; B) That's one less person that will ever ask me for help or money; and C) Hey, guess who's picking up the check the next time we go out to dinner!
The Report On The Abuse Of Iraqi Prisoners

Regardless of one's political beliefs or feelings about the second Iraq war, this U.S. military report on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners is a must-read.

The litany of abuse is chilling, and the perpetrators should be prosecuted vigorously. The skeptical might ask how different these abuses are from the abuses that occur in prisons within the United States every day. The difference is that jailhouse atrocities in the United States are unlikely to lead to increased terrorist activity and the deaths of U.S. soldiers.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Consultant, Consult Thyself

A lot of people come to me for advice. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because I know a lot of people, or because I've written a lot of articles.

Regardless of why they ask, I almost always enjoy giving them advice. I like to help others. I also like to feel wise and important, so don't think I'm that altruistic!

And regardless of what they ask, I always seem to have an answer. Money problems? Financing advice? What books to read? I've always got something to say.

Many of the friends that I help with advice are extremely smart, competent people. Why couldn't they figure out their problems on their own, before coming to me? And as a converse, how can I have so much helpful advice for others, yet struggle with my own problems?

That's when it hit me--I could consult myself! Instead of fretting about my problems, I could call in Chris Yeh, crack coach and consultant to tell me what to do. What I discovered is that if I pretended that I was helping out a client with the exact problems I had, I could unlock my creativity and generate quick, punchy action plans.

It helps to talk to yourself out loud, though I wouldn't recommend doing so around other people! Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.
Google Post of the Week

No, I'm not going to talk about Google's IPO, though every VC I know spent yesterday poring over the S1 and crying.

I'm simply going to point out that you can search Google in Klingon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Virtual Worlds + Offshoring = ?

While I was in the shower this morning, I was musing on how real virtual worlds are becoming. The Merc had an article on how Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, had hired a freelance journalist to report the virtual news.

That got me to thinking about how the real and virtual worlds are becoming increasingly blurry. If people can pay real money for virtual services, why not virtual money for real services?

Somehow, my mind jumped to the question of offshoring. Every white-collar worker, including me, has at least some worries about whether or not their job functions can be shipped overseas. I've comforted myself with the reasoning that my ability to navigate the Silicon Valley way of doing business, which necessitates personal contacts and networking, can't be replaced by India. Yet.

But....putting on my prognostication hat, I can envision a world in which the majority of working age people who grown up using virtual worlds for real-world collaboration. What's to stop the next generation of Linden Lab from replacing WebEx or PlaceWare?

And if the majority of businesspeople are used to doing business via a virtual world interface, why would distance matter? Whether your VP Marketing is in Bangalore or Palo Alto would become irrelevant.

I don't know whether the death of distance is 15 years in the future or 50. But it will have major consequences for the real and virtual world.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Amorous Rhino

No, it's not the name of a rock band (though it should be!).

The news report says it all:

"Sharka, a two-ton white rhino, got amorous with Dave Alsop's car when he stopped with three friends to take pictures of the animal mating with his partner Trixie at the West Midland Safari Park.

The 12-year-old rhino tried to mount the Renault Laguna from the side, denting the doors and ripping off the wing mirrors before Dave drove away with a puffing Sharka in pursuit."

The amazing thing, of course, is that rhinos are so unselective as to mate with a Renault. I had hoped for better!

Monday, April 19, 2004

The greatest force in Silicon Valley: Optimism

One of the great things about living in the Valley is the sense of optimism and excitement. Now a recent survey of California residents reveals that Valley residents are more optimistic than the Angelenos in SoCal. Despite having lost more jobs than any other region in the state, the Valley is more confident, more optimistic, and more upbeat.

Even those who have felt the impact of the downturn are upbeat:

"Barry Campbell has lost two jobs in the past two years. He's traded a sprawling home in the Milpitas foothills for a one-bedroom apartment, and a Lexus coupe for a Honda Accord. He's now been out of work for six months -- and the unemployment checks just stopped.

Yet he remains upbeat -- and talks about the valley with the fervor of a tech evangelist.

'Silicon Valley is still the primo place to do tech,'' said Campbell, who is looking for a job in high-tech marketing. 'It's the aura of this valley. This is where the money is.'"

Whether or not the optimism is justified, this kind of energy is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and is yet another reason why I'm glad to be here.