Category Archives: Technology

VC School

Best ways to learn about something new, in order:

  1. Start doing it
  2. Help someone do it
  3. Listen to someone who knows about it

For #3 I have recently built myself a VC School.

I downloaded Digg (now an excellent RSS reader) and connected it to my ten favourite VC blogs. Now, online and offline (important in London since half my commute is on the tube), I have a constant stream of high-quality posts available on my phone.

Posts I read today:

  • Web vs. native apps for consumer startups
  • Sticking with struggling investments
  • Dealing with recruiting mistakes
  • Bitcoin prospects
  • Snapchat/no revenues debate

Why VCs in particular? Three reasons:

  1. Connections: they know lots of entrepreneurs with new ideas
  2. Incentivised to be open: their aim in blogging is partly to attract interesting new cos, so they have good reason to share what they know
  3. Long-term perspective: unlike tech news (mostly ephemeral and therefore dull), VCs want to invest in ideas that have long-term relevance

So I’m finding Digg + VCs’ RSS feeds a great way to learn. It’s also an efficient way to discover new products, since they’re always plugging their portfolio companies. Combo bonus.

Sounds interesting? Here are the blog feeds, in alphabetical order:

Bill Gurley, Above The Crowd – blogRSS
Paul Graham, Essays – blogRSS
Chris Dixon – blogRSS
Mark Suster, Both Sides of the Table – blogRSS
Fred Destin – blogRSS
Fred Wilson, A VC – blogRSS
Andreessen-Horowitz – blogRSS
Semil Shah – blogRSS
Tom Tunguz, ex post facto – blogRSS
Dave McClure, 500 Hats – blogRSS 

Enjoy.

Slides: How Data Can Make You More Creative

Slides from a talk I gave to the 3rd-year media students at Regent’s University in London a few days ago. Lots of examples from TV and from my own experience.

Aim is to offer advice to anyone who is working in / wants to work in a creative industry.

In short, data is important.

Roll the dice

(Russell Westbrook slams it)

 

My girlfriend Emma told me that sports photographers use cameras that take 11 photos per second.

 

(Carmen Basilio beats Tony DeMarco 1955)

 

That’s because everything happens in a split-second, and they don’t know exactly which will be right shot.

 

(Wladimir Klitschko – BOSH!)

 

So instead of taking one shot and hoping it works, they press the button and spread their bets. It’s a focused scattergun approach – you’re taking many shots, but you still need to be in the right place, press the button at the right time, and nail a really great shot.

 

(Bob Beamon breaks the long jump world record in 1968)

 

It’s hard to make something great. But if you roll the dice over and over again, you are loading them in your favour.

 

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The best way to predict the future

The best way to predict the future is to invent it

– Alan Kay, Wired 06.12

I think this applies both the grand, world-changing things, and personally too.

Also - Alan Kay has the greatest tech CV of all time. He worked for Xerox PARC, Stanford, Atari, Apple, Disney, UCLA, MIT and HP.

 

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Am I right and early, or am I just wrong?

Am I right and early, or am I just wrong? You always have to wonder.

– Peter Thiel, Wired 06.12

I’ve wondered this several times. Mostly I’ve been wrong. But this is the question you always ask yourself when you’re innovating.

And it’s the most exciting and tantalising question ever, because you know that when the wondering is over you could have something really incredible on your hands.

Blowing ancient minds

Over Christmas I watched a lot of episodes of Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. It’s a fun rattle through famous earthly and not-so-earthly mysteries.

One of the most surprising things I learnt was that the Ancient Greeks made a computer. Yep, a computer!

In 1901, divers near the Greek island of Antikythera found what turned out to be a complicated mechanism for making astronomical calculations – so complicated, in fact, that nothing like it is known to have existed again until the 14th century.

The whole thing is truly extraordinary, and there’s loads of interesting info on the Wikipedia page, the project website, and in an article on Gizmag. One smart guy even built a working replica out of Lego. And it is in Arthur C. Clarke’s show:

What say you?

The thing that interests me most about it is how people of the time might have reacted.

We’re surrounded today by technological wonders – being able to speak to my friends in Rwanda via Skype video always amazes me, never mind being able to go into space or fit millions (billions?) of transistors onto a tiny microchip.

So think how mind-blowing it must have been to see something like the Antikythera machine in action over 2,000 years ago!

Maybe God is great

In 2006 I was living in Germany. In Cologne, where I was based, there is a gigantic cathedral. Construction began in 1248 and although for some reason it wasn’t deemed to have been officially finished until 1840, I expect that it has made quite an impression on everyone who has seen it ever since the very beginning.

It is an imposing, ominous-looking building that towers over everything else in the city. Even today, for someone fairly used to being among skyscrapers, it is remarkable. But imagine seeing this in the Middle Ages when your house and most of the other buildings around were wooden huts, and even the greatest rulers had little more than a castle! Definitely enough to make you believe that there might be something in all this God stuff.

I’m going to keep an eye out for info on how people of the time responded to things like the Antikythera machine and the Cologne Cathedral. There might be an interesting comparison between their reactions and ours.

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If you liked this post, you might enjoy reading this: Technology and magic

Cologne Cathedral photo credit: Maurice van Bruggen

 

Universally Speaking

Recently I was writing up a post on studying the history of our time, and how different it would be to when I studied History at university. It struck me that one of the most interesting changes would be that students will be able to access lots of materials in foreign languages.

Clearly, non-book materials will be much more important, and video especially. Google Translate on the web does a passable (but improving) job of translating text. But the idea of studying using foreign-language video got me thinking – wouldn’t it be cool if you combined Google Translate with Siri to make something that would translate speech on the fly?

Turns out I’m about a year behind on this one. In January 2011, Google announced a new feature in the Google Translate mobile app that enables you to translate conversations. And a company called Vocre is way ahead even of them right now.

The possibilities are amazing. You would no longer need to speak the same language as the person you’re talking to in order to have a conversation!

Here’s a video of the Google’s version:

And here’s Vocre, via TechCrunch:

Beyond tomorrow: the 10,000 Year Clock

There is a Clock ringing deep inside a mountain. It is a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years.

This clock actually exists – it’s being built right now in the desert in western Texas.

Why?

Entrance to the Clock tunnel

The idea is to create something that will outlast everyone alive today, so as to make people alive today consider what happens after they are gone.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (who is funding the clock and providing the land on which it is built) gives a neat overview on the official site, and futurist guy extraordinaire Kevin Kelly is involved in some way too. The group behind the project is the appropriately-named Long Now Foundation.

I wonder whether we will end up owning more and more things, much smaller than this clock, that outlast us.

If you’re not already pretty old, then your home is the only thing you own that you know will outlast you. Everything else is likely to break or decay.

But in future, more durable materials might extend the lives of clothes, furniture, crockery, or cars. When those things are likely to outlive us – not just by a little or by accident, but by decades or more – perhaps we will we see them differently.

The creeping awareness that whatever digital records we create could theoretically live on forever makes some of us more careful about what we type, post, or share.

If we know that, unless we wilfully destroy them, our many household items will long outlast us, would we value them more and look after them better than we do now?

Or would we treat our near-indestructible possessions with abandon, and not worry too much about the faceless masses to whom we are ancestors?

It’s impossible to generalise – different people would act differently.

But if the things we own start to live longer and longer, our relationship with them is likely to change.

Sunrise at the site of the Clock

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If you liked this post, you might find these two interesting: A time machine for interests and A personal On This Day.

Dedication: this post is for Rich Stebbings, who loves all things mechanical.

Ronald Reagan and the year(s) of mobile

Facebook declared 2011 their year of mobile. More importantly (for me), my girlfriend tells me that one of the big trends in marketing for 2012 will be mobile.

I discovered the other day – much to my surprise – that we have former US President Ronald Reagan to thank for GPS, the technology powering all this mobile stuff.

In 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down by the Soviets over the Sea of Japan. It was en route from New York to Seoul when it accidentally strayed into prohibited Soviet airspace.

Reagan ordered the US military to make GPS available for civilian use. 29 years later, here we are!

Ronald Reagan on location (bom-bom!)

The future of History

Libraries today are full of books. The Radcliffe Camera in Oxford is a fine example – a beautiful library with space for no fewer than 600,000 books.

Books are the main way in which we understand the past five hundred years or so. We supplement them with art, architecture, and other physical relics (bits of things, bits of people) to create an overall picture of the past.

Studying history, though, basically means reading lots of books – certainly when you’re studying History (with a capital ‘H’) at university, like I did – because it’s in books that previous cultures and societies were recorded best.

And the times, they are a-changing

Clearly that’s not going to be true of our culture or society today.

The ability to create artefacts that in some way record aspects of the current age has been democratised. It’s quick, cheap and easy to create and store material in blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube, on SoundCloud – and that material is likely to be around a good while since digital items should degrade much more slowly than physical ones.

That will have an impact on how our era is studied by the historians of the future. The Radcliffe Camera won’t be as useful for the early twenty-first century as it is for the eighteenth.

What might the study of History look like in the future?

1. Increased scale: There will be a whole lot more material to get through. In 2010, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation up to 2003. Even if it’s not quite as much as that, that’s an incredible amount of info and it’s only going to get bigger.

2. Fewer books: As described above, a smaller proportion of the information created about our time will be stored in printed books.

3. Language barriers will get smaller: There are numerous web-based tools and apps that translate foreign languages on the fly. Google Translate is going to get better rather than worse, so written texts in other languages will become increasingly accessible, and combining it with something like Siri will open up spoken texts too. The end game here is that studying becomes language-agnostic, since texts in all languages are accessible.

4. Digitisation: As pretty much everything will be digitised (either its original form will be digital, or a digital copy will be made), it should be much easier to access information that might be of interest. Many books and journals currently exist only in paper form, so you need a physical copy in order to reach the information they contain.

5. The role of the librarian will be reinvented and become much more highly-valued: Students of the history of today will need expert sherpas to guide them through the wealth of information available. There’s an interesting parallel here with some of the suggestions on how high street shops (including bookshops) might survive – as locations in which subject-matter expertise can be delivered in person.

6. Standardisation to assist discovery: We may need international standards for meta-tagging, categorising, or otherwise making information searchable. Otherwise even the experts will find navigating a path through it rather tricky.

Those suggestions will do as a starter, but I think this merits further exploration.

The future of History will be very different to its past.

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