Tag 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.

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.

 

+++

Follow @toddmgreen

Radical transparency

I hope I have the balls to do this if I ever become a CEO.

This is an interview from foundation.kr with Philip Rosedale, founder and ex-CEO of Linden Labs, who made Second Life.

In case you can’t watch the video, here’s what he did: once every quarter, he sent all his employees a survey – which they could answer anonymously – asking them whether he was doing a good job. Then the day after, he sent everyone the results.

The absolute numbers are not so important, so long as they’re not too low – but the trend line certainly is.

Radical transparency of this kind is only possible with real confidence and real commitment to improving your own performance.

But if you lead a decent number of people and you don’t do this, why not?

Ok, here goes: if I ever have a team of 10 or more, I’m going to do it.

(Ouch – it took ages to write that sentence. What have I done?)

 

Video: Montreal snow walk

Everyday experiences are shared and aggrandised – on Facebook and Twitter, ‘The best thing ever’ and ‘OMG’ moments abound.

In that context it makes sense to find new ways of representing our personal experiences so that others can share them, and to explore the means by which internal experiences can be externalised.

This video is a single shot, 4-minute video of a walk through the snow in Montreal. The soundtrack – Sufjan Stevens’s All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands – is the song that was running through my mind at the time. Very little happens (though it finishes with a nice shot starting around 03:48), but that’s the point – it’s a way of externalising an internal experience.

It’s also got a pretty neat dreamy style, thanks to slowing down the video to 75% speed (and to YouTube’s stabilisation skills – to some extent it was unintended!).

+++

If you liked this, you should also read A time machine for interests and A personal on this day.

 

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.

+++

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:

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.

Gary Vay-ner-chuk – a name for the internet age

An easily Google-able name is an asset in an age when most people navigate the web via Google’s homepage.

Gary Vaynerchuk – who set up Wine Library TV, has written three books, and is a cracking speaker – seems at first glance to have a terrible name for Googling.

So he breaks it down – into Vay-ner-chuk – and actually writes his name like that so that people will know how to spell it.

You can see it on his latest book, and here’s a snapshot of the top of his website:

Nice work – it turns a tricky-to-spell name into a name for the internet age.

‘Todd Green’ isn’t bad in Google terms, though most of my links have been knocked of Google’s page 1 by an unfortunate stuntman who tried to jump from one plane to another and missed. RIP that other Todd Green.

P.S. Gary Vaynerchuk also does pretty awesome ads:

Surveillance technology sales is the new arms sales

An interesting article in Fast Company contains a quote from John Villasenor of UCLA on surveillance technology:

For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders.

The high-tech scandals of the last generation were over arms sales – Iran-Contra, Saudi Arabia-BAE.

This generation’s biggest ‘selling stuff to bad guys’ scandals may well be over surveillance technology.

Companies like McAfee have been accused of selling technology that helps the governments of Iran, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, and others to censor their citizens.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, which brought social-network powered action against repressive regimes to the front pages, and the SOPA/PIPA dispute, that has spread ‘Stop censorship’ badges across the internet in protest against the actions of major corporations, surveillance technology sales seems likely to become a much hotter issue in the next few years.